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News from the Acres - September 29, 2016

29 September 2016

bringing the right people to the table

NYCommons, a collaboration of 596 Acres, the Urban Justice Center Community Development Project and Common Cause/NY, was part of a workshop last weekend on community influence over neighborhood development and affordable housing in Red Hook, Brooklyn (photo above and more photos here). The workshop was hosted by our neighborhood partner, the Red Hook Community CollectiveThis Saturday, October 1 from 11am to 3pm at Red Hook Public Library (Wolcott and Dwight Streets), we will talk about parkland and NYCHA campuses, as well as next steps for the Red Hook Community Collective. Red Hook residents should come if they want to join their neighbors in organizing.

JOIN US NEXT FRIDAY
On Friday, October 7 from 7pm to 9pm 
at Patagonia (72 Greene Street, Manhattan), join 596 Acres, Sane Energy Project, and Green Map for We Are Here: How Radical Mapping Builds Community Power. We will celebrate the launch of Sane Energy's You Are Here Map version 2.0 STORYMAP. 596 Acres and Green Map will join the discussion to highlight mapping as a tool for people-powered movements. Facebook event here. Event information here

596 ACRES TESTIFIES AT NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL 
Earlier this month, NYC Council Members got clear on how little the City’s administration understands our public vacant land inventory, and how much worse a grasp it has on privately owned vacant spaces in our neighborhoods at the Housing Not Warehousing Act hearing. Now you can watch this powerful video of the hearing. The whole thing is worth watching; advocates from 596 Acres and our allies testify at the 2:31 mark. The three bills of this Act could be a game-changer by requiring transparency and accountability (read how here).

Just this morning, Paula Z. Segal of 596 Acres testified again at City Hall in support of people power over properties with deed restrictions placed on behalf of us New Yorkers. Read her testimony here

NEWS FROM THE ORGANIZING ACRES 
Highbridge, Bronx - Today, Thursday, September 29 at 4pm at Bronx Community College, the Department of City Planning is having a hearing on the Jerome Avenue Plan (PDF of draft scope of work here) that includes the vacant public lot, already parkland but without access, that Dian is organizing to open to the public! This is a good opportunity to talk about this park, which the city seems committed to opening at last. Meet your neighbors there or contact Dian at dian_mhawkn715@yahoo.com or (929) 575-3438; sign up to Organize here:http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/58248/; and here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/59053/

Far Rockaway, Queens - Organizers want to keep the long-vacant public lot on the corner of Nameoke and Augustina Avenues public so it can serve the soon-to-be-upzoned community as a community garden and compost. CLICK HERE AND SIGN THEIR PETITION! This Monday, the group painted signs for the fence and worked on the proposal including a draft plan for the garden and a mission statement. Plug in: connect with Allison: (718) 749-8830 or afionaj@gmail.com; learn more, read and share letters of support, and sign up to Organize here:http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/4155340070/

Edgemere, Queens - When we traveled to Edgemere last weekend to participate in HPD’s planning process, we met local organizers who joined the campaign to transform this giant lot on Beach 43rd Street into a needed space for growing fresh food and gathering. As we hung up signs, young neighbors stopped by: “If we had a farm here, I would come every day!” The localNYS Assembly Member Phillip Goldfeder and NYC Council Member Donovan Richards support the idea too (click here and here to read their letters). These new organizers are going to meet with the Edgemere Coalition and other longtime organizers to work together on their proposal. Find out when they will be meeting: contact Lexy at alexissmallwood83@gmail.com or (347) 608-3556, and sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/59126/

Crown Heights, Brooklyn - Your neighbors are organizing to transform a former Lots for Tots space on Prospect Place near Albany Avenue into a community garden. Next Tuesday, October 4 at 6pm, they are going to Brooklyn Community Board 8's Parks and Recreation Committee Meeting at St. John's Recreation Center, 1251 Prospect Place between Troy & Schenectady Avenues, with the pages of signatures they have collected. Meet them there and hear the pitch, or contact Mandy to get involved: kordalknitwear@gmail.com or (513) 317-4457; and sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/59081/

Weeksville, Brooklyn - Longtime community gardeners imagined the future of the vacant lot at 45 Somers near Rockaway Ave last weekend. Photo here. How can it bring new services to the community, like outdoor exercise space and film nights? The next meeting is planned for next Saturday, October 8 at 4:30pm in front of the lot. The group will discuss what to call the garden and how the tree-filled space can be used to meet everybody goals. Get in touch with young Brooklyn farmer Cyeann: Cedward268@gmail.com, (917) 202-1977 and sign up to Organize here to stay in the loop: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3015380043/

Cromwell, Staten Island - Our local partners from our pilot NYCommons workshops in Staten Island this spring have shared their desire for a soccer field on a vacant public DCAS lot on the water at Front Street through the NYC Council’s Participatory Budgeting interactive website,here. Get in touch with your neighbors and add your dream projects for our underused public assets to the NYC Council's budget map here. Contact us to connect and get help organizing your campaign! The city is rezoning Bay Street; you can find out what they are planning and sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/5004870100/

OUR LOTS WITH ACCESS
Bedstuy, Brooklyn - Join Healing for Black and African Diasporic Community this Sunday, October 2 from 2pm to 6pm at 462 Halsey Community Farm (Halsey and Lewis): With Third Root Community Health Center and Brooklyn Open Acupuncture, the Farm is hosting a healing space for Black and African Diasporic members of our community who are grieving, processing, ruminating. Free acupuncture, reiki, massage, acupressure, herbal medicine and of course, food and conversation. More information here. Healers interested in offering their services can sign uphere.

COLLABORATORS
This Saturday, October 1 from 7pm to 9pm, NYC Compost Project and Brooklyn Botanic Garden are hosting SOIL! An evening with Dr. Elaine Ingham and friends. Learn about soil health! It's free but there's limited seating, so RSVP here. Event information here.

JOBS AND OPPORTUNITIES
Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation has a special opportunity for paid internships available to young adults from the community – but act fast! Details and requirements here. Email chldcsyep@cypresshills.org by TODAY, Thursday, September 29 with your first and last name and phone number to save your spot and see if you are eligible.

GREEN FOR YOUR GREEN
East New York, Brooklyn - East New York Farms! Mini-grant program will fund local residents, organizations, and small business. Grants should be for projects that will increase access to healthy food in our community, and can be garden related or non-garden related, new projects or expanded projects. More information here. Application is here. Deadline: Tuesday, October 11.

Check out our list of micro grants and resources that can help you make your project a reality AFTER you have access to your lot.


What do we mean when we say “the community”? Paula of 596 Acres and Bedstuy organizer Mishon were among fellow artists, organizers and innovators as part of a complex and enlivening conversation this Tuesday at Local Connected and Creative: New Approaches to Community Building, presented as part of BRIC’s Stoop Series. Thanks for the invitation!

Yours,
596 Acres

Testimony in Support of People Power Over Properties with Deed Restrictions Placed On Behalf of Us New Yorkers

29 September 2016

Thank you for holding this hearing and accepting my testimony today. My name is Paula Segal. I am an attorney and the founding director of New York City’s Community Land Access Advocacy organization, 596 Acres.

I am here to wholeheartedly support Intro 1182’s requirement that the City produce a searchable electronic database of deed restricted property. I think the bill does not go far enough. It requires that the database contain “all real property of the city sold, exchanged, or otherwise disposed of if the deed to such property contains a deed restriction imposed by or on behalf of the City,” a historical record.

I urge that this bill be amended to require the searchable electronic database to also include ALL property in the City of New York if the deed to such property contains a deed restriction imposed by or on behalf of the City. The key difference between what Intro 1182 requires and my recommendation is that the database would contain not only those properties that have been disposed of but those that exist. A backward look at what has already been lost is important but in order for this Council and the residents of our neighborhoods to be able to protect the places that matter to them, we need to have a prospective list of all the properties that we as a City have interests in via the deed restrictions imposed by or on behalf of the City.

Intro 1182, the proposed rules that the Mayor’s Office put forward and the proposed Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) rules all add transparency to the process of lifting deed restrictions and I commend this as an improvement to the current process. But the legislation and rules do not go far enough. In the legal sense, “property” is not a single thing. It is a collection of rights that can be held by different parties in relation to a discrete legally defined place. A deed restriction imposed by or on behalf of the City is clearly a City property – it is one of the bundle of rights that is encompassed by the lay term “property.”

The New York City Charter that all dispositions of City property be subject to the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Process - ULURP. I am heartened to see that the rules that DCAS proposes recognizes that ULURP is the appropriate process for the approval of the disposition of such restrictions. But none of the proposed rules, or Intro 1182, clarify when ULURP is triggered. We look to the Council for leadership to clarify that ULURP should be applied to all such dispositions and to clarify the unique circumstances under which some deed restrictions of an insignificant scale may be exempt from ULURP.

For the property we are discussing today, I strongly urge the Council and the Administration to use the 16 Million set aside for the creation of nursing home beds in the neighborhood to replace the deed restriction on this property and thereby return Rivington House to a restricted use as a not for profit nursing home. $16 Million should be sufficient to do so since that is the valuation that DCAS placed on the restriction when it was lifted. 

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The proposed DCAS rule is here. The Mayor's proposed rule is here. Both of these proposed rules will be the subject of a public hearing at 6:00pm on Tuesday, November 1, 2016 at 125 Worth Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10013. We will see you there!

News from the Acres - September 23, 2016

23 September 2016

happy autumnal equinox!

We are so happy to have facilitated the creation and permanent preservation of Electric Ladybug Garden in Harlem! A former vacant public lot is now the site of film screenings, community gatherings, and children's concerts like the one pictured above (photographed by Murray Cox). Come by tomorrow, Saturday, September 24, 3pm to 6pm (237 W 111th Street between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvds) when the gardeners host a THANK YOU party to celebrate 596 Acres and our partners who got them here. You can trace the neighborhood-led campaign that made it happen on Living Lots NYC: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/1018270014/

Meanwhile, #eminentdomain4good is in sight for Maple Street Community Garden. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and neighborhood Councilman Mathieu Eugene have set aside $1.25 million in fiscal year 2017 to "acquire the garden lot at 237 Maple Street for parkland to be placed under the Department of Parks and Recreation." This is the result of the years-long community campaign, with 596 Acres' Paula Z. Segal as the gardeners' lawyer, to keep what neighbors made on an abandoned private lot in Prospect-Lefferts, Brooklyn. The fight for permanent preservation isn't over: learn the history and connect with organizers at their potluck also tomorrow, Saturday, September 24th from 2pm to 6pm on Maple Street between Rogers and Nostrand Avenues. Bring something to toss on the grill, something to drink, or a side dish to share. Trace campaign and sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3050300072/

Whether it's creating new gardens or preserving existing ones, we help you hold it down. Donate to support 596 Acres' New York City Community Land Access Program here. 

JOIN US THIS SATURDAY IN ROCKAWAY & THIS TUESDAY IN BROOKLYN
Tomorrow! Saturday, September 24 from 11am to 2pm at the Beach 41st Cornerstone Community Center at 426 Beach 40th Street in Far Rockaway, join 596 Acres at the Resilient Edgemere Final Workshop. NYC Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) will share the Draft Edgemere Neighborhood Plan which incorporates residents’ ideas for open space, community gardens and local development. This plan affects a lot of Rockaway’s vacant public land. Some of it could become gardens, parks or other public spaces; the ones designated for housing could be part of a Community Land Trust (our work as part of the New York City Community Land Initiative is paying off; more about CLTs here). Click the lots on our map hereto see what the plan has in store for them, and come on Saturday to add your voice to the conversation! Flier here: EnglishEspanol. Facebook event here.

Tuesday, September 27 from 7pm to 10pm, come hear how 596 Acres’ Executive and Legal Director Paula Z. Segal and other Brooklyn change-makers are using technology, art-making and wellness initiatives to create more powerful neighborhoods and networks at Local, Connected, and Creative: New Approaches to Community Building, a discussion and forum at the BRIC House Stoop, 647 Fulton Street (Enter on Rockwell Place) in Brooklyn. Event details here. RSVPhere.

NEWS FROM THE ORGANIZING ACRES
Rockaway Park, Queens - This week, Wanda presented the plan for bayside Beach 84th Street Community Garden at Rockaway Park Civic Association. They are writing an updated letter of support to add to this draft proposal, which NYC Parks is waiting for in order to take on jurisdiction of this long vacant public lot so the community can use it! Get involved by contacting Wanda at wandaone@optonline.net or Claudia at claudiaste@aol.com, (917) 848-1082. Sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/58968/

Far Rockaway, Queens - This week, Allison and Travis made a splash when they testified at the City’s Scoping Hearing for the Downtown Far Rockaway Redevelopment Plan (prep photos hereand here). They requested that the long-abandoned vacant public lot at Nameoke Street and Agustina Avenue be removed from the properties that the city is giving away to private developers in the Urban Renewal Area being planned for downtown Rockaway. Instead of becoming privately-owned housing that will serve very few, this lot could be a community garden, farm and compost facility that will impact a lot more people, especially in the high-density environment being planned. Agree? Tell the City: send an email by 5pm on October 3 to ebrunner@cityhall.nyc.gov. You can base your comments on the ones posted here. Connect with Allison: (718) 749-8830 or afionaj@gmail.com; read the testimonies and sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/4155340070/

Corona, Queens - Rafael lives in Corona and sees community land access advocacy and gardening as a great way to spend his retirement! He is going to revive a campaign to transforma vacant public DCAS lot at 111th Street and 44th Ave. Next steps: gather signatures from neighbors, come up with a plan for using the site, and make the case to the Parks Department to request jurisdiction so it can become a GreenThumb garden! Call him at 347-994-5974 to plug in. El habla español. Sign up to organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/4019990038/  

Weeksville, Brooklyn - The campaign to restore the vacant public lot at 45 Somers near Rockaway Ave to being a community space is underway! This week, teen organizer and urban farmer Cyeann worked with longtime Weeksville community gardeners Sharon and Patricia on a garden design (photo below), part of the crew’s proposal to have the lot transferred to NYC Parks. Join them this Saturday, September 24 at 4pm at Phoenix Garden, a legacy community garden where Fulton Street meets Rockaway Avenue that is directly across from this lot. Get in touch with Cyeann or Sharon to get looped in: Cedward268@gmail.com, (917) 202-1977; and tastiestmorsel@yahoo.com, (347) 581-9216. Sign up to Organize here:http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3015380043/

East New York, Brooklyn - New Lots and Livonia Avenues, meet New Life Farm! This week, teen organizer Al drew up a plan for the public lot under the train tracks (photo here). There's a hoop house, a compost bin, flowers, and a farmer’s market spot in the shade. He plans to call a meeting soon to build on the proposal he started on Wednesday. Contact Al to get involved: reidanthony64@gmail.com, (929) 385-9722. For updates, sign up to Organize here:http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3043130006/

West Harlem, Manhattan - Lawrence gardens and cares for bees at the Walter Miller III Memorial Garden, a former vacant public lot at W 119th between 5th Avenue and Lenox. Two or three years ago, he submitted an application to GreenThumb to gain access to the vacant public HPD lot next door as well. The lot remains vacant, so when we met at GreenThumb’s Harvest Fest last weekend, Lawrence was enthusiastic about hanging up a THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND sign there and making it happen at last. Join him: email iluvlarry2@gmail.com or call (212) 920-9247; and sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/1017180029/

Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan - Joselyn and Renee met us at GreenThumb Harvest Fest! They both want more space to garden in their neighborhood. Joselyn is going to hang this sign and make it happen at the vacant NYC Department of Environmental Protection lot at W 49th street and 10th Ave (photo here). Next steps: come up with a plan for the site, get local organizations to demonstrate support, and present at the local Community Board to get them on board, too! Call or email to get in on the campaign: Joselyn (646) 584-2702 and felicianojoselyn@yahoo.com; Renee (646) 465-4655, resimke@gmail.com. Sign up to Organize here:http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/1010770029/

Highbridge, Bronx - Dian hung signs on the closed Corporal Irwin A. Fischer Park on West 169th Street between Nelson and Shakespeare Avenues, as well as the lot next door. Most of these lots are already in the department of NYC Parks, but are closed to the public! She is collecting signatures and gathering neighbors to make the request for access loud and clear. Contact Dian at dian_mhawkn715@yahoo.com or (929) 575-3438 to join her and sign up to Organize here:http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/58248/; and here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/59053/.

OUR LOTS WITH ACCESS
Flatbush, Brooklyn - Q Gardens, right by the Q train on Church Ave and East 18th Street, is hosting Quick Compost Wednesdays: starting this week, drop-off hours for compost are from 6pm to 7pm only -- so come visit them before the sun goes down! They are organizing to expand fully onto the vacant public land where they founded a garden in December 2014 with help from 596 Acres. Stay tuned by signing up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3050780032/

Bedstuy, Brooklyn - Patchen Community Square needs your help cleaning up the garden and closing out the season this weekend on both this Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 3pm! The garden is on the corner of Patchen and Putnam. More information on their facebookhere. Flier here.

Crown Heights, Brooklyn - This Sunday, September 23 from 2pm to 6pm, come to 1100 Bergen Street Community Garden at 1107 Bergen Street and Nostrand Avenue for the second Sew WHAT in the Garden - a clothing swap and sewing circle. The rain shelter turns into a sewing studio and (all gender) clothing swap. Bring clothes you want to makes copies of (and fabric!), things you want to mend, and anything you're done wearing that you'd like to see walk out on a fabulous-looking friend or neighbor. We'll provide mirrors, curtains for privacy, 3! sewing machines and instruction. Don't forget a bag to haul away your scores in!

Red Hook, Brooklyn - The South Brooklyn Children’s Garden invites you to join them onWednesday mornings from 10:15am to 11:30am in September and October for families sing alongs and instrument exploration! Kyle, local music teacher extraordinaire, has experience with neighborhood classes and individuals. This is for kids and their adult caretakers! Let's enjoy the lovely fall weather and share some songs together in the garden. More info on the South Brooklyn Children’s Garden facebook page, here.

Harlem, Manhattan - Join Mandela Gardeners on 126th Street between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell this Sunday, September 24 at 10am to plan the path forward and turn soil! This garden is a Native North American Wildflower refuge where community members are restoring and replenishing the local aquifer, creating sustainable ecologies in the heart of NYC, and building community. Their goal is to make the garden completely sustainable. You can help by volunteering to maintain the garden (weeding and watering). You can also express your support of community green spaces by tweeting to Mayor DeBlasio directly. @BilldeBlasio use #savemandelagarden. Like them on facebook here.

COLLABORATORS
Brownsville, Brooklyn - NYC Housing Preservation and Development is leading a community planning process that will impact the future of several vacant lots in the area. The next workshop on the plan is coming up this Thursday, September 29 from 6pm to 8:30pm at P.S./I.S. 323 Cafeteria, 210 Chester Street in Brooklyn (flier here). Contact Giovania Tiarachristie at (212) 863-8539 or tiarachg@hpd.nyc.gov for an invitation the next workshop. You can also share you ideas on HPD’s online platform here. More information on the City’s plan for Brownsville’s futurehere.

Little Italy, Manhattan - Elizabeth Street Gardeners are fighting hard to preserve their beloved green space amidst all the buildings of Little Italy, and they need your voice! Write Mayor DiBlasio here! Find out how else you can help at http://elizabethstreetgarden.org/.

Lower East Side, Manhattan - This Saturday, September 24 from 9am to 2pm, join Suffolk Street Gardeners at 174 Suffolk St between Stanton and Houston as they build tree guards to protect the neighborhood’s street trees! Because our street trees need YOU to survive and thrive! Questions? Contact Matt Saba at matthew.david.saba@gmail.com.

Loisaida, Manhattan - Starting tonight and going all this weekend: LUNGS Festival!LUNGS is Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens. There are so many old gardens (and some new!) in Loisaida (a.k.a. Alphabet City in the Lower East Side), created by neighbors on vacant lots! Check out their wonders this weekend. There are so many events in so many places, from readings to dance to concerts to tours to parties to open mics. Meet your neighbors and enjoy some homegrown NYC art. See the full schedule on the LUNGS website here. Like them on facebook here.

GREEN FOR YOUR GREEN
East New York, Brooklyn - East New York Farms! Mini-grant program will fund local residents, organizations, and small business. Grants should be for projects that will increase access to healthy food in our community, and can be garden related or non-garden related, new projects or expanded projects. More information here. Application is here. Deadline: October 11.

Check out our list of micro grants and resources that can help you make your project a reality AFTER you have access to your lot.


This Wednesday, Cyeann and Sharon met at Saratoga Urban Agro-Ecological Center to draw up plans to expand community land in Weeksville, Brooklyn! Meet them and fellow volunteers this Saturday at 4pm at Sharon's garden, Phoenix Community Garden, where Fulton Street meets Rockaway Avenue. Get in touch with Cyeann or Sharon: Cedward268@gmail.com, (917) 202-1977; and tastiestmorsel@yahoo.com, (347) 581-9216. Sign up to Organize here:http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3015380043/

In solidarity,
596 Acres

News from the Acres - September 15, 2016

15 September 2016
let's make forgotten spaces into treasured places

This morning, 596 Acres joined advocates citywide at City Hall to testify on the Housing Not Warehousing Act. The Act will add transparency and accountability to vacant public and private properties in our neighborhoods: "The story that we often hear is that real estate in New York City is running out. In this atmosphere of scarcity, communities are asked to choose between necessities: parks and gardens, much-needed housing for seniors, a day care center. Yet we look around our neighborhoods and see thousands of holes: neglected private properties collecting garbage, tax debt and worse while absent private owners face no consequences. Boarded up houses and vacant lots collecting trash are not a part of New York City’s past. They are 2016.Read the full testimony here!

JOIN US!
This Saturday, September 17 from 11am to 4pm at Diamante Garden, on 118th Street between First and Second Avenues in Harlem, come to the NYC Parks GreenThumb Harvest Fair! We will be demonstrating our game designed to help community groups manage spaces together (download here). We will also be there to answer people's questions about vacant lots in their lives. Event details here.

NEWS FROM THE ORGANIZING ACRES
Belmont, Bronx - Last week, we confirmed that the Garden Of Youth in the Bronx (East 182nd and Prospect Avenue, est. 1992) was removed from the 2016 tax lien sale! Thanks to our advocacy, the decades-old garden is now out-of-reach of speculative investors. Read more here. Stop by the market at Tremont Avenue between LaFontaine and Arthur Avenues every Tuesday between 8am and 2pm until November 15 to buy Bronx-grown produce (EBT, WIC Coupons, FMNP Coupons and Health Bucks accepted).

Bedstuy, Brooklyn - Sandra and neighbors will meet this Sunday, September 18 to develop the proposal for a community garden at 37 Rochester Ave between Atlantic Ave and Herkimer Street. The sites was planned as as "Open Space (Park & Playground)" in the Central Brooklyn Urban Renewal Plan in 1968, and neighbors are organizing to make it happen at last. Sign up to Organize here to get meeting details as soon as they are announced: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/58273/. Contact Sandra to get involved: (347) 226-1643 or sandra.conner293@gmail.com.

Bedstuy/Crown Heights, Brooklyn - Last week, Shadel collected letters of support from community groups who will be part of the awesome programming that takes place at the SPACE Garden, a community garden focused on poetry that will replace a vacant lot at Malcolm X Blvd and Chauncey Street. (Photo here.) Send Shadel a letter of support from your local community group or business: hrshreyalitee@streetpoetsnyc.com. Get involved by signing up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3016860048/

Weeksville, Brooklyn - Neighbors! Join a campaign to transform a vacant lot at 45 Somers near Rockaway Avenue into a community garden! We are meeting this Wednesday, September 21 at 4pm at Saratoga Farm on Fulton Street to work on the plan! This lot was planned as “Open Space” and was formerly used as a Lots for Tots lot – and can be a public good again! Connect with youth organizer Cyeann: Cedward268@gmail.com, (917) 202-1977. For updates, sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3015380043/

East New York, Brooklyn - Organizers will be working on a plan for the abandoned public land at Livonia and New Lots Ave. They will also join the meeting this Wednesday, September 21 at 4pm at Saratoga Farm. Contact Al to get involved: reidanthony64@gmail.com, (929) 385-9722. For updates, sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3043130006/

East New York, Brooklyn - B.R.O.K.E. Youth Organization (Be Responsible, Keep Excelling) met last week to begin their proposal to turn vacant lots on Hinsdale Street between Sutter and Blake into a community garden. These lots have been vacant for generations, and now the grandchildren are grown up and doing something about it. Join them: email Auradis at brokeyouthorg@gmail.com or call her at (516) 582-1460. Read notes, see photos, and sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/59162/

Crown Heights, Brooklyn - Your neighbors are organizing to transform a former Lots for Tots space on Prospect Place near Albany Avenue into a community garden! They are working to collect signatures from the neighborhood, pass out surveys on how people would like to use the space and get endorsements from local non-profits in the area. They will bring all of this to the October meeting of Community Board 8’s Parks and Recreation Committee, coming up in October. Send your support and get involved by contacting Mandy: kordalknitwear@gmail.com or (513) 317-4457; and sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/59081/

Far Rockaway, Queens - This Monday, September 19 at 7pm at 1328 Augustina Ave, join Allison, join neighbors and 596 Acres as we prepare to testify at the following Tuesday’s Scoping Hearing on the Draft Scope of Work for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Downtown Far Rockaway Redevelopment Plan (details here). Neighbors want to eliminate food deserts in the Far Rockaway community and have identified a vacant public lot at Nameoke Street and Agustina Avenue as an ideal space to grow healthy produce locally. However, the City is planning to give this land to a private developer and create an Urban Renewal Area in downtown Rockaway. Then at the hearing this Tuesday, September 20, 6:30pm to 9pm, at St. John’s Hospital, Bocces Conference Room, 327 Beach 19th Street, come tell the City what impacts it needs to consider before it can responsibly move forward. Connect with Allison: (718) 749-8830 or afionaj@gmail.com. Sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/4155340070/

Harlem, Manhattan - Stefano passes this vacant lot on W 126th Street between Lenox and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. when he walks his kid to school. He saw our signs, started dreaming and called us. He thinks a greenhouse would go well on this shady lot – or maybe some culinary mushroom logs? Join his campaign to make it happen by contacting him at (646) 761-5782 orsmarracino@yahoo.com. Sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/1019110026/

LOTS WITH ACCESS 
West Harlem, Manhattan - This Friday, September 16 at 7:30pm, watch the movie Frozen atElectric Ladybug Garden at 237 W 111th street between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Jr.! Facebook event here (where weather cancellations will be announced).

Long Island City, Queens - This Sunday, September 18 from 2pm to 8pm, join Smiling Hogshead Ranch for their first-ever Harvest Festival! An action-packed event for all ages, featuring cooking workshops, carnival-style games, community cook-off, a raffle, and more! More information on facebook event here. On Friday, September 16 from 4pm to 8pm, join the Ranch for PARK(ing) Day 2016, as they transform a parking spot into a mini park to drink lemonade, have a community composting workshop, and share membership information on the corner of Skillman Ave. & Pearson Place. Facebook event hereStay tuned for news of incremental implementation of the Ranch on Railsthe Cutoff Coalition’s vision for expanding the use of this space to the abandoned elevated rail line, starting in 2017. It's time to plan: sign up to Organize here to get involved: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/58959/

Lower East Side, Manhattan - Next Sunday, September 25 at 2pm, come hear musical artists GoodLeaf and Carmine are performing at Siempre Verde Garden at Stanton Street and Attorney Street. Preview of GoodLeaf here!

Crown Heights, Brooklyn - Next Sunday, September 25 from 2pm to 6pm, come to 1100 Bergen Street Community Garden at 1107 Bergen Street and Nostrand Avenue for the second Sew WHAT in the Garden - a clothing swap and sewing circle (photo from the last one here). The rain shelter turns into a sewing studio and (all gender) clothing swap. Bring clothes you want to makes copies of (and fabric!), things you want to mend, and anything you're done wearing that you'd like to see walk out on a fabulous-looking friend or neighbor. We'll provide mirrors, curtains for privacy, 3! sewing machines and instruction. Don't forget a bag to haul away your scores in!

Bushwick, Brooklyn - On October 5 from 5:30pm to 7pmKnow Waste Lands at 1278 Myrtle Avenue between Cedar Street and Dekalb Avenue is hosting GreenThumb’s workshop onBuilding an Arbor! Along with signs, open gates, and colorful flora, an arbor at the entrance of your community garden can be a great way to welcome community members. In this hands-on workshop we will build an affordable wooden craftsman-style garden arbor together. More information and RSVP with Greenthumb here.

Southside, Brooklyn - Join your neighbors in designing Hooper Park! The lot on the corner of Hooper and South 5th has been waiting to become open space planned in 1992 for decades. Thanks to local organizing with our support, the land was finally transferred to NYC Parks! Get involved: email hooperstreetpark@gmail.com and sign up to Organize here:http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3024500028/

COLLABORATORS
Bedstuy-Bushwick, Brooklyn - This Friday, September 16 at 7pm, come out to The People's Garden at Greene Avenue and Broadway for a free night of tropical futurism. This is their last concert in their summer series. Line-up: Combo ChimbitaV4p0rúYotoco and DJ E's E. There will be vegetarian tamales for sale and they will disclose the AFTERPARTY w/ P'drito Criollo location at the time of the event. More information on the facebook event here.

Rockaway, Queens - NYC Honey Fest is this Saturday, September 17 from 11am to 5pm (rain date September 18) at Boardwalk 86th, Rockaway Beach (8601 Shore Front Pkwy, in front of Rippers). Returning to the Rockaway Boardwalk for its sixth year, NYC Honey Fest is a celebration of the amazing pollinators who call the five boroughs home. This free, daylong festival features food, art, kids’ activities and crafts, and a honey & bee-product marketplace. Details here. It is part of NYC Honey Week, a citywide, weeklong festival celebrating the honey bee! Find out what’s buzzing near you on the website here or on facebook here.

GREEN FOR YOUR GREEN
Check out our list of micro grants and resources that can help you make your project a reality AFTER you have access to your lot.



With love,
596 Acres

596 Acres Testifies at City Council on the Housing Not Warehousing Act

15 September 2016

The story that we often hear is that real estate in New York City is running out. In this atmosphere of scarcity, communities are asked to choose between necessities: parks and gardens, much-needed housing for seniors, a day care center. Yet we look around our neighborhoods and see thousands of holes: neglected private properties collecting garbage, tax debt and worse while absent private owners face no consequence. Boarded up houses and vacant lots collecting trash are not a part of New York City’s past. They are New York City in 2016.

Thanks to the municipal Tax Lien Sale, the City routinely gives up leverage the unpaid taxes offer (see http://citylimits.org/2016/05/10/cityviews-stop-the-tax-lien-sale-that-will-destroy-a-community-garden/).


And so communities and their elected representatives are doubly disempowered. We don’t know the state of vacancy in our neighborhoods and we don’t have the means to hold private owners of neglected places responsible.

 

The Housing Not Warehousing Act, a package of three City Council bills, will help change this by adding transparency and accountability to vacant public and private property in our neighborhoods. The bills in the Act:

 

  • create a registry that all individuals and corporations holding their property vacant have to enter or pay penalties for failure to register,
  • mandate the City perform an annual count of all vacant property in New York City, and
  • require the City to compile a list of all city, state, federally, and authority-owned vacant property.


The passage of the Act will lead to opportunities to replace abandoned spaces with public resources like gardens, parks, farms, cooperative business and permanently affordable housing. Local residents are best poised to know the needs of their neighborhoods, and often already have visions for what they would create if only they could access the space and resources needed to aid in the transformation.

The Act will also help protect existing community spaces that neighbors have created, out of desperation, on abandoned privately-owned land. Those living near abandoned private properties have few choices: continue to live with holes and dumping grounds in their midst, or make improvements without any cognizable legal interest in the properties they are improving. In desperation, community organizations advocate for demolition of dangerous structures and people get together to replace vacant lots with gardens and other shared outdoor amenities.

This Thursday, September 15, 596 Acres’ Director Paula Z. Segal and Rockaway Wildfire’s Outreach Coordinator Alexis Smallwood presented testimony before the Housing and Buildings Committee of New York City Council (event information here: http://596acres.org/en/events/873/). Their testimony is below.

Read more about the Act on the website of Picture the Homeless: http://picturethehomeless.org/announcing-the-housing-not-warehousing-act/  

Picture the Homeless and 596 Acres are both part of the New York City Community Land Initiative (NYCCLI.org).

Paula Z. Segal, Esq.

Thank you to the Committee for holding this hearing on the Housing Not Warehousing Act. I am speaking today as Director of New York City’s Community Land Access Advocacy Program. Over the last five years, we have facilitated the creation of over 40 community-managed open spaces in the form of farms, gardens and pocket parks that replace land that had been left fallow for decades. Most are on City property and the majority have been transferred to the NYC Parks Department thanks to our work together last year.

The story that we often hear is that real estate in New York City is running out. In this atmosphere of scarcity, communities are asked to choose between necessities: parks and gardens, much-needed housing for seniors, a day care center. Yet we look around our neighborhoods and see thousands of holes: neglected private properties collecting garbage, tax debt and worse while absent private owners face no consequences. Boarded up houses and vacant lots collecting trash are not a part of New York City’s past. They are 2016.

596 Acres has become the City’s hotline for vacant lots. My testimony today reflects five years of answering the phone when neighbors call asking what they can do about the abandoned and dangerous lot in their lives and on their block. Too often, the answer is “Not much. The property is privately owned.”

This Act, when passed, will change that answer. A registry that all individuals and corporations holding their property vacant will have to enter or pay penalties will put New Yorkers back in control of their neighborhoods. It will begin the process by which the City can chose to make a private blight into public good. An annual count will ensure that the registry is meaningful and enforced.

The Act, when passed, will also require the City to regularly compile a list of all city, state, federal, and authority-owned vacant property. Nothing comparable exists now, leaving advocates, their elected representatives and administration officials with an incomplete understanding of the opportunities we have to create positive change in neighborhoods.

To do our work, we have combed through the available data about property in New York City to arrive at a reasonable but still inaccurate map of vacant public land. You can find that at livinglotsnyc.org.

We use PLUTO and the IPIS database. We have access to everything you have access to. Yet the data we have about public land is confounding: state, federal and authority-owned properties are difficult to distinguish, if included at all. The MTA and NYCHA lots that appear on our map are there because neighbors identified them, not because they were located in any database. Yet all public property is a site of public opportunity.

For example, of the 40 community-run open spaces that we have helped to create, two are on MTA properties that the Authority didn’t acknowledge as vacant lots because from their perspective they only existed as subway tunnel roofs.[1] The successful land access campaigns that led to these thriving spaces also started with phone calls to our hotline made by neighbors. These were calls that ended in something more hopeful than “Not much,” but without a list of all state, federal, and authority-owned vacant property in the City, we are left waiting for neighbors to take initiative and call.

Data about City property is better but not by much: 2 inch slivers are “lots” in the parlance of the Department of Finance and hundreds appear in the lists of City-owned properties, a signal-to-noise ratio that makes understanding where City-owned property actually is a time-consuming and difficult task. Vacant lots are listed as “parking” and active gardens appear as “vacant.” The accurate accounting of municipal property that the Act requires would at least provide all of us with key knowledge of where the opportunities are.

We look forward to working together to reverse the narrative of scarcity and add even more vibrant places to our neighborhoods. Thank you so much for the opportunity to testify this morning.

 


 

[1] I am referring to the fledgling Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Corporation Garden in City Line East New York and Q Gardens in Flatbush.



Alexis Smallwood


I am here today to ask that you create a registry for private land and property.

 

The registry would force all individuals and corporations with vacant properties to register them. Those who fail would pay fines and the city could ultimately have leverage over their property and give it back to the community, improving neighborhoods dramatically.

 

Currently, these properties have been abandoned by their owners and have become major eyesores. These property owners are creating a quality of life issue because when properties are not maintained, they become a dumping ground and infested with rats and roaches. This adds to the problem of broken windows in the community. Homeless people and families move in, and because the city has no leverage over these properties, it cannot provide the support or homestead opportunities so that these families can live safely.

 

An example of this is 357 Beach 70th Street. Neglectful landlord, Tanisha Blair, has abandoned the property for the four years that she has owned it [The debt Ms. Blair owed to the City for unpaid property taxes has been sold in the 2015 and 2016 tax lien sales. -ed. ]The previous owner also abandoned it for years, accruing tax debt and sanitation tickets. Tanisha has not paid her taxes and the city has sold the tax debt to a private debt collector, who is now in the process of foreclosure. Tanisha likely would not have registered on the registry that this bill would create, and the city would then have leverage over the property.

 

We, Rockaway Wildfire, would like to turn this building into a worker-owned cooperative with a café. Because there is not a law in place to hold Tanisha Blair responsible, we cannot get the property. The city needs to hold private landowners responsible for their irresponsible behavior, and create this registry.

News from the Acres - September 1, 2016

01 September 2016
what can you do in a community garden?

 

 

When neighbors organize to create and preserve NYC’s community spaces, they’re creating the potential for so much more to take place. On Monday evening, 1100 Bergen Street Community Garden in Crown Heights held Sew WHAT in the Garden – a clothing swap and sewing circle hosted by the Sewing Science Society of Brooklyn. Neighbors new and old came together to exchange clothing, style, sewing techniques, stories, and more. 1100 Bergen Street Community Garden is one of Brooklyn’s oldest! Last year, 596 Acres worked with its gardeners to facilitate the land being transferred from the Block Association that created it to the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust, a stable steward that will ensure the park is here serving the community in perpetuity (read more here). Save the date for the next Sew WHAT in the Garden! Sunday, September 25, 2pm to 6pm, 1107 Bergen Street,Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

You can support community land access for the long haul by making a tax-deductible donation to 596 Acres.

WORK WITH US
We're hiring a Community Land Access Program Organizer. Each community land access campaign is slightly different, so we are looking for a self-driven problem-solver. You will continue our tested effective strategies to facilitate neighborhood groups accessing vacant land and, where needed, develop and pursue new ones. Click here for details.

The deadline to apply for Data Internships is tomorrow, Friday, September 2 at 5:59pm!You will learn intimately how to sleuth online for information about building transactions, city dispositions, the tax lien sale and warehoused public buildings. Click here for details.

 

NEWS FROM THE ORGANIZING ACRES
Staten Island - Great news! We got confirmation this week that the vacant land between Sand Lane and Piave Avenue is in the process of being transferred to the NYC Parks Department! This is a victory from a neighborhood campaign that got started in May 2014. Sign up to Organize here to be part of creating this new community space: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/58252/

Crown Heights, Brooklyn - Your neighbors have begun a proposal to create a community gardenon a former Lots for Tots lot on Prospect Place between Albany and Kingston Aves. This Wednesday evening, neighbors met and planned next steps: finishing their proposal and approaching Brooklyn Community Board 8's Parks Committee on Tuesday, September 6 at 6pm at St. John's Recreation Center, 1251 Prospect Place (between Troy and Schenectady Avenues). Meet them there! Or plug in by contacting Mandy at kordalknitwear@gmaill.com, (513) 317-4457. Sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/59081/

East New York, Brooklyn - Auradis grew up near these vacant lots on Hinsdale Street between Sutter and Blake, and recalls that they have been vacant since her grandmother's day! She wants to transform them into a community garden with her youth non-profit, BROKE Youth (which stands for Be Responsible, Keep Excelling). Next steps: come up with a plan for the space. Join them: email Auradis at brokeyouthorg@gmail.com or call her at (516) 582-1460. Read notes and sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/59162/

Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn - Sandra and a group of neighborhood parents, some of whom are retired, want to put plants in the ground on the fenced-off vacant lot at 37 Rochester Ave between Atlantic Ave and Herkimer St. These lots were planned as as "Open Space (Park & Playground)" in the Central Brooklyn Urban Renewal Plan in 1968, and neighbors have been waiting ever since. Next steps: Sandra is going to call a meeting after the holiday weekend, and her group will come up with a plan! Contact Sandra to get involved: (347) 226-1643 or sandra.conner293@gmail.com. Sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/58273/  

Bedstuy/Crown Heights, Brooklyn - Shadel and neighbors push forward on their plan for transforming a vacant lot at Malcolm X Blvd and Chauncey Street into a poetry garden. They are planning to meet in the next week. For updates, be sure to sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3016860048/

Weeksville, Brooklyn - Youth organizer Cyeann is teaming up with D.U.E.C.E.S. to reimagine the vacant lot at 45 Somers near Rockaway Ave. It was formerly used as Lots for Tots lot, wasplanned as “Open Space” by NYC, and has great potential to become a community resource. Join Cyeann’s team of volunteers: Cedward268@gmail.com, (917) 202-1977. Sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3015380043/

Rockaway Park, Queens - Coming soon: Beach 84th Street Community Garden! Last weekend, neighbors got together to work on the proposal the NYC Parks Department is waiting for so that they can approve the transfer of this City property to the GreenThumb program (photo here). The garden will include raised beds, native salt-water tolerant plants, solar panels, and a community gathering area! Get involved by contacting Wanda at wandaone@optonline.net or Claudia at claudiaste@aol.com, (917) 848-1082. Sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/58968/

Edgemere, Queens - NYC Housing Preservation and Development’s staff has agreed: several vacant public lots on Beach 43rd Street are more suited to become gardens and/or open spaces than housing. Check them out here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/59126/ and here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/59127/.

Rockaway Park, Queens - Travis has envisioned this lot in the inventory of DCAS at Beach 84th Street as a compost site to create healthy growing medium for Rockaway's gardens. Contact him at t.andersoncap@gmail.com or (646) 662-0585. Sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/4161030076/

LOTS WITH ACCESS
West Harlem, Manhattan - Next Saturday, September 10 from 10:30am to 12pm at Electric Ladybug Garden at 237 W 111th street between Frederick Douglass and Adam Clayton Powell Jr., kids can learn about the solar system - from other kids! Get a rollicking musical introduction to the workings of our solar system in an 'unplugged' performance by students from Jose Barbose PS112! Afterwards, kids create their own solar system hats to wear home.

Crown Heights, Brooklyn - Brooklyn Queens Land Trust (BQLT) has two events coming up at1100 Bergen Street Community GardenWednesday, September 14, at 6pm is Making the Season's Bounty Last Through Canning and Pickling. Next, stay tuned for The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA)’s Performance and Family Day, also coming up at this historic garden in September.

Bedstuy, Brooklyn - 462 Halsey Community Garden, on Halsey and Lewis, invites you to join them next Saturday, September 10 from 12pm to 3pm for fall planting, needs your help with their composting program every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday mid-morning, and has a sliding-scale community farmer’s market every Saturday! Find out more information about all of this on their facebook page, or visit their website, 462halsey.com, where you can sign up for their email list.

Flatbush, Brooklyn - Q Gardens, right by the Q train on Church Ave and East 18th Street, has hit an exciting milestone: Between April 2015 and July 2016, their community composting operation diverted 10 TONS of food scraps from landfills! They are always in need of more compost volunteers; learn more at: https://qgardens.org/places-to-drop-off-your-compost/ or contact Natalia, our sent-from-heaven Composting Coordinator, at nataliajsucre@gmail.com

COLLABORATORS
Next Saturday, September 10 at 4pm, join the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust (BQLT) to learn the Basics of Creating Good Soil for Growing Good Food. Mama Dee’s Garden, 1397 Bedford Ave (at St. Marks Ave) in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

JOBS AND OPPORTUNITIES
City Harvest, a non-profit food rescue organization, seeks full-time AmeriCorps member with strong communication and organizational skills to join an upbeat Nutrition Education Department. The Cooking Matters AmeriCorps member is being sought for a term of service starting no later than September 15, 2016 and ending approximately 1 year from start date, but will keep the position open until it’s filled. More information and application here.

GREEN FOR YOUR GREEN
Check out our list of micro grants and resources that can help you make your project a reality AFTER you have access to your lot.


Last weekend, Paula Z. Segal of 596 Acres and Murray Cox Documentary Photographer stopped by Electric Ladybug Garden as part of GreenThumb's 11th Annual Great Harlem Community Garden Tour. They enjoyed a children's concert in the garden and snapped this photo from above. This site went from from a decades-old vacant, fenced-off lot to permanent NYC Parks Department community garden through incredible local organizingfacilitated by 596 Acres! Now, look at all that growing.

Small parks, big picture,
596 Acres

We're Hiring a Community Land Access Program Organizer!

22 August 2016

Since 2011 596 Acres' Community Land Access Program has helped 36 groups transform vacant, City-owned pieces of land into community resources. We have developed several strategies to help New Yorkers gain access to vacant public land, including our online mapping tool Living Lots NYC, which makes information about public property available and easy to understand, and our THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND signs, which we hang on the fences of vacant lots.


Our organizers regularly present at Community Board meetings, since local groups need Community Board support for their projects; host how-to workshops for potential land stewards; connect diverse neighbors and organizations with one another to strengthen local plans; and win over elected officials. We are looking for someone to continue pursuing our effective strategies that facilitate neighborhood groups accessing vacant land and, where needed, develop and pursue new ones.


Each community land access campaign is slightly different, so we are looking for a self-driven problem-solver who will:


  • Develop and pursue old and new strategies to increase the effectiveness of NYC’ Community Land Access Advocacy Program in tandem with Executive Director and 596 Acres’ Advisory Committee

  • Continue tried and true methods of community land access advocacy:

  • Hang signs on fences of vacant lots City-wide

  • Lead workshops for various community based organizations and neighborhood groups

  • Table for 596 Acres at community events

  • Support and initiate relationship-building and cultivate meaningful collaborations with community leaders and community-based organizations

  • Represent the organization with local and state government officials

  • Collaborate with the press

  • Use social media as outreach and organizing tool

  • Write the News From the Acres

  • Manage 596 Acres’ volunteers and interns

  • Support the organizing efforts of local land access advocates around NYC by monitoring website activity and following up with active organizing groups regularly

  • Process and respond to new local organizers within 48 hours via email and phone

  • Maintain our email-oriented database with extreme attention to detail

  • Stay current on public land policy and processes of application for license and leases through relevant city agencies for community use

  • Liaise with city agencies and intervene in direct community outreach when needed

  • Facilitate monthly general meetings for our organizers in locations around the City

  • Present to community boards in districts with the highest concentration of vacant, public land to share information about 596 Acres' work, current neighborhood land access organizing efforts, and district-specific maps


Here's what we're looking for in an applicant

  • Experience in and commitment to bottom-up organizing, grassroots leadership, and collective decision-making

  • A commitment to urban land as a shared resource

  • Familiarity with City government processes (and willingness to learn more about them!)

  • Demonstrated ability to work in multi-racial, multi-lingual settings

  • Extreme comfort with email and filing

  • Comfort with responding to email immediately within regular working hours

  • Comfort with flexible organizing schedule to accommodate community event needs

  • Willingness to travel throughout the five boroughs

 

To apply, submit a cover letter and resume to organizers@596acres.org. This position is part time, 25 hours per week. Salary is $36,000, with benefits.

Data Analysis Internships for Fall 2016

18 August 2016

596 Acres is seeking two interns who can work with us 10 hours per week for 10 weeks exploring the data behind our built environment. Internship dates will be approximately September 19 - November 23, 2016. 

You will learn intimately how to sleuth online for information about building transactions, city dispositions, the tax lien sale and warehoused public buildings. Here are the kinds of things you will be working on:

- Exploring the impact of the City's Tax Lien Sale on Charities that own properties (read about that in CityLimits here)
- Tracking down NYC Department of Parks and Recreation Buildings that remain closed since the fiscal crisis of the 1970s (directions here, 10 frustrating example buildings here)
- Monitoring the City's transfer of public land to private developers for $1 (like this lot in Bed Stuy)
- Figuring out which Post Office and Library buildings in the City are actually owned by private developers (like this one)
- Archiving voice messages from the public about vacant lots in their neighborhoods

This is an unpaid internship, though we would love it if someone else was paying you! In the past, we have worked with the East New York Farms! Externship program (an intern reflection is here). 

You can work out of our office at Spaceworks (540 President Street) in Gowanus, Brooklyn or remotely. You can make your own hours and there will be opportunities for field research to support most projects.

Please send a resume and a letter of interest

Application due by 5:59p.m. on Friday, September 2, 2016, to organizers@596acres.org with the subject "Data Intern Application."


News from the Acres - August 18, 2016

18 August 2016
we made it out of vacant public land

In early 2013, Bushwick’s youth-run composting service BK Rot, identified vacant lots on Myrtle Avenue as a future place to compost food scraps and spread environmental stewardship with 596 Acres’ help. They led a community land access advocacy campaign that expanded to include Council Member Antonio Reynoso, Brooklyn Community Board 4, and many local residents. By summer 2014, the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation took jurisdiction of the long-forgotten lots for permanent preservation as a community garden: Know Waste Lands, which is now a thriving community resource! Join them in the garden! Open hours are Tuesdays from 8 to 10am for watering, weeding and relaxing in the cool part of the day andSundays from 10:30am to 4pm for composting, weeding, watering and hanging out with the BK Rot crew. Know Waste Lands is located at Myrtle Ave between Cedar Street and Dekalb Avenue. 

This is one story out of the dozens we have helped create in the five years (this week!) since 596acres.org first launched. Support more transformations by donating to 596 Acres. Happy birthday to all of us!

INTERN WITH US!
596 Acres is seeking two interns who can work with us 10 hours per week for 10 weeks exploring the data behind our built environment. Internship dates will be approximately September 19 - November 23, 2016. You will learn intimately how to sleuth online for information about building transactions, city dispositions, the tax lien sale and warehoused public buildings. Application due Friday, September 2, 2016. Click here for details.

NEWS FROM THE ORGANIZING ACRES
Weeksville/Bed Stuy, Brooklyn - There’s a vacant public lot dotted with beautiful trees at 45 Somers Street. Planned as "Open Space" when the City created a plan for the area, it used to be a Lots for Tots Park, but has been abandoned for decades. Neighbor and youth organizer Cyeann has started a campaign to revitalize this piece of our commons. She needs help collecting signatures from neighbors in support of activating the space as a community-managed Parks space. Join her! Email Cyeann at Cedward268@gmail.com or call her at 917-202-1977, and sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3015380043/

East New York, Brooklyn - Local youth want to make something great out of the abandoned public land at Livonia and New Lots Ave. Join them: Tewens (tewensv@gmail.com or 518-536-4267), Al (reidanthony64@gmail.com or 929-385-9722), and Jenae (brooklyngt@bedstuyagainsthunger.org or 347-418-2310). Sign up to Organize here:http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3043130006/

Harlem, Manhattan - Neighbors want to make something better at W 136th Street between Adam Clayton Powell and Lenox Ave. Join them! Sign up to Organize here:http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/1019210124/

LOTS WITH ACCESS
Bed Stuy, Brooklyn - 462 Halsey Community Garden needs your help! They say: "Our compost crew is very over-worked right now. We've been getting 1000 pounds of food scraps a week and we can't keep up! If we don't get the compost under control, we might have to close our gates. We really don't want to do that!" Visit 462halsey.com or email 462halsey@gmail.com for more information about helping out! ‪#‎ThankYou‬!

Bed Stuy, Brooklyn - Communal Spaces: A Garden Play Festival is happens in Bed Stuy gardens including 462 Halsey this weekend and next weekend! More information here.

COLLABORATORS
Bushwick, Brooklyn & Ridgewood, Queens -  Help spread the word about The Housing Not Warehousing Act in Council District 34! This is a set of bills that will add transparency and accountability to vacant public and private property in our neighborhoods. The bills in the Act: 

  • create a registry that all individuals and corporations holding their property vacant have to enter or pay penalties for failure to register,
  • mandate the City perform an annual count of all vacant property in New York City, and
  • require the City to compile a list of all city, state, federally, and authority-owned vacant property.
Picture the Homeless is coordinating volunteers to flyer on Wednesdays, from 12 to 2pm, at the Broadway/Myrtle station and Fridays from 12 to 2pm at the vacant lot at Bushwick Ave. and Himrod Street. Contact Jenny: jenny@picturethehomeless.org.

Long Island City, Queens - This Saturday, August 20 from noon to 5pm, join our friends from Smiling Hogshead Ranch at the Long Island City Block Party at the Sculpture Center, 44-19 Purves Street. Come drop off your frozen kitchen scraps and stay for the worm petting zoo for the kids, young and old.

Red Hook, Brooklyn - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a plan to remove toxins from the Baseball Field on Henry and Bay Street, and your neighbor Peter is keeping us in the loop about it. You can read the status and clean up plans they presented to the community earlier this month and their recent Community Involvement Plan. The EPA’s Community Involvement Coordinator (CIC) is Natalie Loney, and her role is to connect the community to the EPA’s work. Contact her at (212) 637-3639 and loney.natalie@epa.gov for more information. Sign up to Organize here for updates (thanks, Peter!): http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3005810001/

Bedstuy-Bushwick, Brooklyn - This Saturday, August 20 starting at 6pm, gather for another free summer concert at The People's Garden, Greene Avenue and Broadway with Escasos Recursos, DJ Miss Hap, and more. This summer concert series is a collaboration between the People’s Garden and Consumata Sonidera, Free. More information here. Promo video here.

GREEN FOR YOUR GREEN
Get your free daffodil bulbs for planting in public spaces! Register to receive some from New Yorkers for Parks by Thursday, September 1 at 5pm here.

Check out our list of micro grants and resources that can help you make your project a reality AFTER you have access to your lot.


Here.

Stay rooted, 
596 Acres

News from the Acres - August 4, 2016

04 August 2016
we built this city

 

Keap Fourth Community Garden on Williamsburg's Southside is open every day: the gates are opened by a garden member every morning and closed at dusk so neighbors can stop in whenever they feel like, rain or shine (there is a shelter to protect visitors from water and sun). On one recent Tuesday the garden hosted a singing class for the daycare set and a visit from a summer camp. Click here to see more of Murray Cox's beautiful photos of a Tuesday morning at Keap Fourth. This lot was planned as "Open Space" in the Southside Urban Renewal Area Plan, adopted by City Council in 1992. With our facilitation, neighbors organized to make this plan a reality in 2014. For the intervening 22 years, the land had just been waiting. Donate to support 596 Acres' New York City Community Land Access Program here. 

NEWS FROM THE ORGANIZING ACRES
Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn - The Hancock Street Community Block Association has a wonderful vision for the transformation of an 18-foot wide lot that has been abandoned by the City for decades. Click here to see it. They need your help getting signatures from neighbors and letters from local businesses and neighbors in support. Sign up to Organize here. Print the petition here. Contact Mr. Leo Morris at Lmmorri@msn.com to join the effort.

Lower East Side, Manhattan and Citywide -  596 Acres has started documenting un-used and under-used NYC Parks buildings. In Manhattan Community District 3 on the Lower East Side alone found ten (10!) buildings once built for the public, then closed during the fiscal crises of the 1970s and never re-opened. You can see them on our interactive map and add notes, files and photos and to become an Organizer; you can also see a printable map of all of them here, created based on our investigation as part of NYCommonsThese are opportunities for community centers, public restrooms, cooperative food businesses. Let's get them back! The City is doing well. We need our public spaces more than ever. In the coming months, we will spread our investigation to the rest of Manhattan and the City. Want to volunteer? Organizers@596acres.org.

OFF THE PRESSES
"Rapacious development is churning and devouring neighborhoods. Gathering places are first on the chopping block." Read more from Paula Z. Segal about development in Bushwick and our small contribution to the countercurrent in The Nature of Cities.
 
Around the world, people are recognizing that the city is a resource co-created by its users that must be shared equitably: a commons. The City as Commons: A Policy Reader, a publication of the Commons Transition Coalition, is a collection of specific recipes we can use to change the way we shape our urban environments. Paula Z. Segal's prescriptions for the use of data-driven information to empower the co-creation of open space and elimination of tax lien sales for charity and vacant properties are included. Click here to read it and let us know what ideas you find most relevant to New York City!

INTERN DISPATCH FROM MID-SUMMER
"This summer I am trying to visit each and every one of the spaces that 596 Acres has helped create in New York City. I want to meet the communities around them and learn as much as I can about the spaces' impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods." Read more from Francisco Miranda, one of our fabulous Summer 2016 team here

LOTS WITH ACCESS
Harlem, Manhattan - Mandela Garden steward training today, August 4, from 5:30 to 7pm. The training takes about 30 minutes. RSVP: harlemmandelagarden [at] gmail.com. Mandela Garden is a refuge for Native North American Wildflowers. The gardeners harvest rainwater for raised beds. Their goal is to make the garden completely sustainable. You can help by volunteering to maintain the garden (weeding and watering). 

Lower East Side, Manhattan - Next Wednesday, August 10, 2016, 6 to 7:30 pm come to Siempre Verde Garden for the next installment of the Art in the Garden Series: Musical Mobiles and Wind Chimes. Create your own unique, rustic and recycled wind chimes! RSVP on facebook here

COLLABORATORS
Bushwick, Brooklyn - Sure We Can, a community-run composting + bottle and can redemption center, has launched a campaign to collect 60 million cans from New Yorkers (that's us!) to raise the funds to buy the lot where they work, remove the land from speculation and secure the space for community in perpetuity. Click here to get your cans in!

Every year, over 140 million gallons of stormwater do not enter NYC's waterways with untreated sewage because New Yorkers have built and maintain hundreds of community gardens. Almost every time it rains, NYC's sewer system overflows, carrying stormwater and raw sewage together directly into our rivers, bays, and oceans. Community gardens absorb stormwater throughout the city, helping to prevent this, and many are in flood zones - particularly critical to protecting our waterways. Read more from Mara Gittleman, New York City Community Garden Coalition Board member here

GREEN FOR YOUR GREEN
Check out our list of micro grants and resources that can help you make your project a reality AFTER you have access to your lot.

Mandela Garden needs your tweets to Mayor DeBlasio (@BilldeBlasio): #savemandelagarden

Grass between the toes to all, 
596 Acres

Intern Dispatch from Mid-Summer: Francisco Miranda

28 July 2016

Photo by Murray Cox, copyright 2016. At Keap Fourth Community Garden

 

This summer I am trying to visit each and every one of the spaces that 596 Acres has helped create in New York City. I want to meet the communities around them and learn as much as I can about the spaces' impacts on the surrounding neighbourhoods.

 

So far, I have learned that these spaces are not only wonderful examples of how to build community and connections within different neighbourhoods, they are also key for inducing further changes in communities that are struggling throughout the city.

 

The process of transforming these pieces of land is in itself a political statement. The reappropriation of public assets is behind everything that goes on in these spaces and the people using them are aware of the constant struggle to keep the land accessible and public. These spaces are also platform for further political debate and action. Gardens work as a learning spaces for both children and adults, neighbours learn to share, to help one another and to improve their communities in a healthy and responsible way. Every single person I’ve talked to has remarked upon how they would have never met their neighbors before these spaces were available. Maintaining these spaces requires team work and this has been crucial towards building meaningful connections.

 

When it comes to real estate speculation and the ramifications of gentrification; these spaces allow neighborhoods to resist; they provide a place where people can start to organise and take specific actions directed at either City policy or specific developments in their local areas. These are public, accessible, open-for-all spaces where the community is in control and in charge. While space and land are constantly being privatised within the normative development logic of the City today, these are places that guide residents to rethink the way public land should be managed.

 

As I continue on my visits, I keep trying to challenge different definitions of ‘public land’ and ‘property.’ The stories behind the gardens are a strong and compelling testament to how we need to protect them and keep fighting for our right to public land.​

 

Francisco Miranda, Summer 2016 Intern

Francisco moved to New York from Lima (Perú) one year ago. He is an attorney and has previously practiced law in different law firms as well as in the mining and real estate/construction sector. In Fall 2015 Francisco started an MA program in Theories of Urban Research and Practice at Parsons The New School For Design. He is interested in urban themes that relate to public space, urban displacement, gentrification, property tax policies and the right to housing.


Photo by Francisco Miranda. Ten Neighbors Community Garden

Photo by Fransico Miranda. Greenspace on 4th

News from the Acres - July 14, 2016

14 July 2016
hand built city

 

Cleaning the office we found this vintage 2012 map of opportunities for community land access on Williamsburg's Southside in Brooklyn. Of the six we identified then, four have been transformed into permanent community spaces by neighbors organizing with our guidance. One became a building, and one remains empty, a scar left by the continued promise of private development on public land. You can support the impacts by donating here

LAND IN NYC: LET'S CHANGE THE RULES!
596 Acres would like you and your garden group, block association, business, club and organization to join us in endorsing the Housing Not Warehousing Act. This is a set of bills that will add transparency and accountability to vacant public and private property in our neighborhoods. The bills in the Act: 

  • create a registry that all individuals and corporations holding their property vacant have to enter or pay penalties for failure to register,
  • mandate the City perform an annual count of all vacant property in New York City, and
  • require the City to compile a list of all city, state, federally, and authority-owned vacant property suitable for the development of affordable* housing.

To endorse, send an email with the subject "Endorsing Housing Not Warehousing" to Ryan at our NYCCLI partner organization, Picture the Homeless: ryan@picturethehomeless.org. *We will still need to work together to make sure this means affordable to the right people, the ones in the neighborhood now.
 
NEWS FROM THE ORGANIZING ACRES
Rockaway, Queens - Wanda and Joe are gathering letters of support for a Bay-side garden on Beach 84th Street, including this one from our friends at Power Rockaways Resilience. Contact Wanda at (518) 693-9349 to add your organization to the proposal or Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/58968/

Crown Heights, Brooklyn - Join Mandy to organize the former Lots for Tots space on Prospect Place near Albany Avenue into a community resource today. Organize here:http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/59081/ or contact her directly: kordalknitwear@gmail.com or (513) 317-4457.

Lower East Side, Manhattan - Join us for a workshop on Land! Money! Power! in NYC Parkson Wednesday, July 27 from 6:30 pm to 9 pm at 30 Delancey Street between Forsyth and Chrystie Streets inside Sara D. Roosevelt Park. Come learn how to take control of our Parks and community spaces. Public parks and public open spaces are among the few places left in an increasingly segregated city that are truly democratic preserves. Here is more about a Lower East Side campaign to re-open a NYC Parks building that 596 Acres has helped revive as a a partner of NYCommons. The Sara D Roosevelt Park Coalition hosts this workshop. As part of our work on this project, we have started documenting un-used and under-used NYC Parks buildings. Check out a preliminary map here and email organizers@596acres.org to add yours!
 
INTERN DISPATCH FROM MID-SUMMER
"Since I started my internship in May, I have gotten a crash course in New York City land policy: learning by doing." Read more from Shannon Pepper, one of our fabulous Summer 2016 teamhere

COLLABORATORS
Design Trust for Public Space is looking for a range of Fellows to help "Open the Edge" at a public housing campus on the Lower East Side. Details are here. Apply by July 28. We are really excited about this project, which is poised to serve as a prototype for getting more New Yorkers engaged with more of our public lands.

GREEN FOR YOUR GREEN
Check out our list of micro grants and resources that can help you make your project a reality AFTER you have access to your lot.

Join the fun at new Hooper Park Community Garden (#36!) on Williamsburg's Southside, finally an open space bringing vitality to the neighborhood! They are also on facebook.

Until August, 
596 Acres

Intern Dispatch from Mid-Summer: Shannon Pepper

13 July 2016

Since I started my internship in May, I have gotten a crash course in New York City land policy: learning by doing.

The Gardens Are Community, Community Spaces in Jeopardy Bike Ride! bike tour with Public Space Party took me to Imani, Maple Street, and Elizabeth Street gardens, all of which are fighting for their right to remain community spaces within the city. What has struck me when visiting these is just how different each is, a reflection of the unique collections of people that make up the groups tending the spaces.

I also edited a blog post by Gabriel Park of Java Street Garden about decentralizing control in community gardens. Democratic management of a community space is often much more difficult and time-consuming than simply following a garden monarch. It does, however, make for a more stable and inclusive place, and helps us to imagine where else in our lives and world we could implement systems like these.

I tabled for 596 at a couple of Crown Heights festivals, talking with community members about the spaces in their neighborhoods, oriented them to existing and potential community spaces, and imagined new life for several vacant lots with kids and crayons.

I'm convinced that hanging a sign is a steady, visible way to initiate change and the spread of information. It really works: people read them and respond!

Recently I have been spending time on the Lower East Side (LES), investigating vacant or barely-used buildings in the NYC Parks Department inventory. I started making a map of them. This involved sifting through 3700 rows of data in a spreadsheet downloaded from the NYC OpenData portal to find these buildings. I sorted and plotted and found 11 buildings that could be serving their communities better.

An in-person scavenger hunt using our new map revealed some underused gems. The LES is just one part of a potentially larger map of underused parks-owned buildings in NYC. I’m getting excited thinking about how we can include and visualize public buildings—not just the land they stand on—in our network of public space resources.

Shannon Pepper, Summer 2016 Intern

Shannon hails from the west coast, bringing with her a love of land and hows it shapes and influences the people on it. She holds a B.S. in Resource Conservation from the University of Montana. After graduating she walked from Mexico to Canada on the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail and reflected on people and orientation and the importance of a flexible perspective when talking about land ownership. After her hike she lived and worked on a ranch in Washington stewarded by Sacred Earth Foundation, a nonprofit land trust with a mission to teach "children of all ages" how to care for the important land and communities in their lives. A road trip that never ended brought her to Brooklyn, where she works in a butcher shop and became fascinated with urban land use policy and how it relates to gentrification, as well as the importance of public green space to the sanity of all people. She spends her spare time with queer studies, figure drawing, hiphop classes, and walking around her neighborhood.

News from the Acres - June 30, 2016

30 June 2016

#thislandisyourland


GUEST BLOG: DECENTRALIZED ORGANIZING

Greenpoint, Brooklyn - Java Street Community Garden member Gabriel Park says there are 3 major components you need to “decentralize your organization:” good structure for the group, someone to be the secretary at all times, and clear communication. Read on for specific tips and tricks!

JOIN US!
Lower East Side, Manhattan - 596 Acres will join The Stanton Building Task Force of the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition at It's My Park Day at Sara D. Roosevelt Park on Wednesday, July 6 from 3pm to 6pm. 596 Acres will bring our What Do We Do With Our Land exhibit, which highlights the use of eminent domain and community land trusts to create community controlled land and housing on the Lower East Side. We originally installed this in front of the Stanton Street building in 2015 for the Ideas City Festival. You can listen to the audio pieces at this link, but you will need to come to the festival to experience the energy of the neighborhood!

Sunnyside/Long Island City, Queens - Join us at a GeoNYC Tour to benefit 596 Acres: The Second Renaissance of Railroads to see the past and the future with GeoNYC and the Queens Borough Historian on Tuesday, July 12 at 6pm. Details and RSVP information here

NEWS FROM THE ORGANIZING ACRES
Melrose, Bronx - Support the Hill Street Community Garden plan! The group is gathering letters of support from local organizations. Contact Victor Maldonado at maldonvic@aol.com to send yours and become an Organizer here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/6000020001/.

Bed Stuy-Bushwick, Brooklyn - We are thrilled to have connected neighbors to the Madison Community Garden, an NYC Parks Department Green Thumb garden ready for re-activation on Madison near Howard. The group will be meeting again during the week of July 11. Get in touch with Ijendu Z. Obasi at GreenThumb - (929) 295 1389, ijendu.obasi@parks.nyc.gov - and sign up to Organize here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/3014830027/. The group is also exploring the possibility of reactivating the lot on the corner of Howard and Madison, which was used as a playspace for the neighborhood in 2012 and then shut down without any community input. 

Crown Heights, Brooklyn - The land on Prospect Place near Albany Avenue used to be a Lots for Tots lot - it even still has the murals and equipment in it! But it's no longer managed as one. In fact, the whole Lots for Tots program closed about 20 years ago. A new community space here could take advantage of the nice murals and some of the furniture that is already here. A group could decide to make changes, too! Currently, the land is being held by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. It will need to be transferred to NYC Parks for community stewardship. Become an Organizer here: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/59081/ The next step is to have a meeting with the neighbors and the block association. Here is a meeting announcement template you can use.

Crown Heights, Brooklyn - Call all your elected officials today if you want the City and the State to actively preserve the Roger That! Garden on Park Place and Rogers Avenue before it disappears to make way for four expensive apartments. The only way this garden space will be preserved now is if someone buys it from the developer. The government can do that. Bills have been introduced in theState Senate and Assembly that direct the State Parks Department to do just that. NYC Parks can also step in to save the day! This week call Council Member Robert Cornegy, (718) 919-0740, Assembly Member Diana Richardson, 718-771-3105, and Senator Velmanette Montgomery, (718) 643-6140, and ask them to make acquiring this land for permanent preservation as open space a priority. The community really needs it!
 
COLLABORATORS
The Bushwick Food Coop is looking for a Part Time Store Manager! Here is the job description for this paid position. Apply ASAP

Design Trust for Public Space is looking for a range of Fellows to help "Open the Edge" at a public housing campus on the Lower East Side. Details are here. Apply by July 28. We are really excited about this project, which is poised to serve as a prototype for getting more New Yorkers engaged with more of our public lands.

GREEN FOR YOUR GREEN
The Macktez Summer Stipend is an an opportunity to get $1000 to finish a summer project:https://www.macktez.com/stipend/. We did in 2014 to create signs for lots in active urban renewal areas and to connect folks on the streets to the Urban Reviewer, the first comprehensive and online database of every urban renewal plan that NYC ever adopted that we created to help guide your organizing. This year's applications are due July 23.

Check out our list of micro grants and resources that can help you make your project a reality AFTER you have access to your lot.


Bed-Stuy organizers testified at the Mayor's Office Real Estate Disposition hearing on June 22 in Manhattan, urging Housing Preservation and Development to use the precious public land at 463 Tompkins Avenue to create a true community resource: a garden or housing affordable to people who live in the neighborhood now to be permanently preserved via a community land trust. The City currently plans to transfer the land to a developer who will use it to build four housing units, to be sold to families making up to $106,000 per year. Zoning allows up to 24 units to be built here. The average family living in the Bed Stuy Community District makes approximately $39,000 per year. Contact Council Member Robert Cornegy to ask him to work with the administration on a better plan: (718) 919-0740.

Yours,
596 Acres

Decentralized Organizing Tips from Java Street, a 596 Acres garden in Greenpoint

28 June 2016

Guest post by Gabriel Park, edited by Shannon Pepper
 

A Typical Java Street Community Garden meeting
 

Five steering committee members, plus three or four other members, show up at a bar near the garden. Some get drinks. If it’s summertime, the group will meet in the garden, but for other times of year, having an indoor space with light is nice. It’s not the bar closest to the garden, it’s just the closest bar that’s big enough for 10 people that doesn’t complain too much about bringing kids. Everyone has the agenda, on paper or on their phones or computers; this list of topics was circulated via a garden newsletter about a week before and posted in the garden.
 

The group discusses things in the order they are listed. Any issues that need to be voted on are discussed, and they try to come up with plans for the next workday. They try to capture in the agenda notes section: who is responsible for what and by when. Every responsibility gets two people assigned to it: one person takes the lead and the other person does the follow up. The meetings usually last about 90 minutes.
 

Java Street Garden member Gabriel Park says, from his perspective, there are 3 major components you need to “decentralize your organization:” good structure for the group, someone to be the secretary at all times, and clear communication.
 

Structure: Fool proof or Proof we’re fools?
 

The first piece of the effective structure at the Java Street Garden is the Steering Committee. The garden has about 30 members. When new members fill out the form to join, it asks them if they want to be on the Steering Committee. Everyone who answers YES gets to be on it.
 

The garden currently has between 10-14 people on the Steering Committee, who are subdivided into 5 main responsibility areas: Membership, Garden Design, Fundraising, Partnerships, and Secretary/Treasurer. Having at least 2 volunteers in each area keeps people honest and helps prevent personal relationships from interfering with garden business. For example, if a Steering Committee Member who volunteers on Membership has a personal conflict with a Member, someone else is their backup so the Membership volunteer can opt out of the conversation if needed.
 

Gabriel says, “the easier you can make it to remember the meetings and the work days, the better.” Skip the calendar. Set things up so that they are easy to remember. The Java Street gardeners set all of their meetings to the first Thursday of the month at 7:30pm and all of our workdays to the third Saturday of the month at 10am. This setup gives them time to meet, plan the workday and get necessary supplies lined up *before* the workday. And all announcements and reminders can say the same thing: “Don’t forget the meeting on the first Thursday of next month at 7:30pm!”
 

The Secretary Rules
 

It’s key to have someone organizing the agenda and holding a group to their time limits and voting rules. The Secretary at Java Street Garden uses an Agenda/ Minutes tool that the gardeners designed. Anyone can add to the agenda online prior to the meeting. The Secretary updates the document with notes at the meeting, which become minutes. As long as the roles in the document are assigned/agreed upon, the Secretary doesn’t have to do all the work. For Java Street, says Gabriel, having the Secretary as the point person has been the key to making this tool useful.
 

They don’t have to be fancy or bound or even written down all that neatly--but you need rules on how decisions can be made. In the Java Street garden, the rule is any member can propose a vote by putting it on the agenda at the monthly meeting, if a quorum is present at the meeting. A quorum is how many people you need to have to make a binding decision. Having a clear quorum requirement prevents a few people from making decisions that impact everyone without input. The Java Street gardeners decided to define their quorum as half of the number currently serving on the Steering Committee. This means that if there are 13 people on the Steering Committee, a quorum would be 7 people, but those 7 people present at the meeting could be any active members. The vote is communicated to the Secretary who can help frame it clearly as Yes/ No and facilitate some time before the vote to present different views. Then the vote is taken by a show of hands and the majority wins at the meeting. The Secretary records the outcome in the minutes.


Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.30.51 AM.png

Java Street has used this process to decide which projects to pursue at the workdays (if they are debatable), as well as when to revoke someone’s membership. It’s not perfect--something they agreed to in May could be proposed again and voted down in June. “However,” says Gabriel, “It’s been great for us in some respects: for example, each November we vote on whether to convert all of our raised beds to community beds or leave 50% of them as ‘private’ beds which are assigned to member volunteers through the lottery process at the February meeting. Even though we may continue to propose and affirm the same practice each year, doing so affirms our majority commitment to the norms we have in place and allows room for change.
 

Communication
 

Everyone loves to talk about communication, but actually communicating is hard in a decentralized organization. It’s not because people aren’t talking; it’s that people don’t know who to listen to. Everyone has a different idea about what would look nice planted by the front gate, and what’s a weed, and what the license says. “Some tears are unavoidable every year: if you don’t put rocks around it and label what you plant, you are going to cry when someone builds a box on top of it. No amount of shared files or bullhorns will prevent that--you just have to work tissues into the budget.” There are, however, some tools you can use to ease the pain.
 

Use Google Drive or some other easy file sharing for keeping track of documents that anyone who needs to can get access to. Anyone who emails JavaStGarden@gmail.com who wants to join, gets a standard reply from the Membership team that says: “Hi! If you want to join, read this 6 page agreement. If you agree, use a Google Form like this to sign up.” Once someone signs up, they receive a Monitoring Hours Sign Up form. When people show up for their shift, they sign next to their name verifying their attendance. The aim is built in accountability through self-reporting!


Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.06.47 AM.png

Having a handwritten project list like this on a clipboard in the garden helps keep a consistent thread of communication going about which garden projects need attention. Keep everyone updated on the happenings with a follow-up like this.
 

A Newsletter can serve as a hub for all the group document links. Each Steering Committee member can focus on doing their work and someone can make it their business to find out what’s going on and put it in a newsletter. The Java Street garden releases its newsletter on the 15th of each month, and includes links to the Minutes/ Agenda, Monitoring Hours Sign Up Form and Project List / Updates.
 

Final Thoughts
 

Accept some pain: Decentralizing will likely mean your garden is not as artistically streamlined as you really want. It will likely mean that it takes weeks of campaigning and infighting to make relatively simple decisions. It could mean some food rots on the vine because no one knew they were supposed to eat it. That sucks. But your disappointments will be shared by your community in a way that centralized gardens usually aren’t. And when hard fought battles are through, you will have better parties. I recently heard Sir David Attenborough on record saying that primates are the best communicators of all living organisms. (Of course we would think so!)

 

I am not sure I agree, but clearly, we throw the best parties.
 

Gabriel Park has been part of the Java Street Community Garden since the group formed in 2012. He lives in Greenpoint with his wife, two daughters and two cats.
 

596 Acres has organizing support material in the form of Community Governance Cards, which provide guidance and activities to facilitate healthy group dynamics. You can purchase them for $10 through the 596 website using Paypal or through Etsy.