ver en Español


596 Acres in 2014!

16 December 2014

Read about our most recent wonderful year by opening our annual report: 

Please support communities taking control of their city by giving a tax-exempt donation:

Ten New Community Controlled Spaces Take the Places of Vacant Lots in 2014 Alone

29 September 2014

Through our staff’s facilitation and the efforts of neighbors across the City, since January 1, 2014, ten new official community spaces have been created:

1278 Myrtle Avenue (Bushwick, Brooklyn, licensed & transferred to the Parks Department);
Glenmore Grows
(East NY, Brooklyn, with the Cypress Hills Development Corporation); 
Ashford Variety Garden (East NY, Brooklyn, with the Cypress Hills Development Corporation);
Ashford Teaching Garden (East NY, Brooklyn, with the Cypress Hills Development Corporation);
Chestnut Street Community Garden (East NY, Brooklyn, with the Cypress Hills Development Corporation);
Harlem Valley Garden (in East Harlem);
Electric Ladybug Harlem Serenity Garden
(in East Harlem);
Mandela Park (in East Harlem);
Green Space on 4th (Gowanus, Brooklyn); and
Smiling Hogshead Ranch (lease signed with MTA, Long Island City, Queens).



In addition, we have secured the MTA’s approval of our architect’s plans for a pocket park in East New York on the roof of the A train tunnel; the park will be run by the Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Service. A lease is imminent. Dozens of other spaces have made progress on their campaigns with our guidance and will be official in the coming months.  In December, we helped save a neighborhood space in Queens and facilitate its transfer to the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust. The Merrick Marsden Neighbors Association (MMNA). MMNA had maintained the space since 1967; 596 Acres connected them with attorneys Mohen & Segal LLP to represent them for free in court so that they did not lose the land last year to a tax foreclosure and in the transfer to the Trust.

We have also analyzed and made vacant municipal land data available online for Staten Island, mapped the history of Urban Renewal Planning in NYC (1949-present,, a Planetizen Top Ten Website of 2014) and published a new print New York City Advocate's Guide to Community Land AccessWe have been recognized as land access experts in the press, including in How You Can Turn New York City's Vacant Lots into Community Gardens ( and Housing Plan Targets Vacant Lots; Some Neighbors Leery (CityLimits). 

Help us keep making this immense impact in all of NYC's neighborhoods by coming to our party this week: Thursday, October 2 at 7pm at Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO, Brooklyn. More details here

A Reflection from Our East NY Farms! Extern

27 August 2014

We've been lucky to have Faith Titilawo with us this summer, an extern from East NY Farms! Below are her thoughts and reflections from ten weeks with us. Thank you for everything, Faith!

Photo by Murray Cox. 

As the summer comes to an end, so does my time interning for 596 Acres. I think it is only appropriate that I write a reflection on my time at 596 Acres and how it affected and influenced me.

When I first started interning for 596 I had certain expectations, but like most things in life, my expectations were nothing close to reality. In fact reality was way better. I admit at first I was overwhelmed by the amount of information that was being thrown at me about land access and services that 596 Acres provided for communities. On my second day here I went to a meeting out in the Rockaways with people from the neighborhood who wanted to turn an empty lot in their community to a garden. It was inspiring to sit amongst people from 596 acres, Rockaway Wildfire, and community members as they discussed what they would like to see in their neighborhood. I could feel the excitement and determination humming through the group as they strategized on the next steps. I believe this is when it hit me, when I was finally able to understand the work that 596 Acres is doing and how important it is. Because of this I was able to absorb information better and understand the intricate details of accessing land in New York City.

Most of the programs and internships that I have been privileged to participate in were mostly structured. However, while interning at 596 I was given more freedom and therefore more responsibility with the work I was expected to complete. Paula gave me a general idea on how she wanted me to complete the project but gave me free reign with the project. I believe the best part of my internship was the diversity of projects I was responsible for. I was allowed to take initiatives on the projects I was assigned to.

Throughout the internship I felt very included.  I loved that I was privy to the inner workings of a non-profit organization. From budget meetings, to gala planning and lot labeling I experienced all that 596 acres had to offer. I learned many critical skills that I believe will take me far in life. I learned a lot about city agencies and the big players that control land in NYC.

Although my internship was fun, I did face some challenges. During my second week I was giving the task to write a How-to guide on starting a farmer’s market. It was the first time I have ever attempted to do something like this. While writing the article I became very frustrated with research and dealing with city agencies to get the information I needed to write the article. Fortunately, I had people like Paula and Mary that gave me feedback on my article and were very positive and encouraging. They took an active interest in my learning and I felt comfortable coming to them when I had a question.      

Going to Governors Island every Friday and Saturday to introduce the new Urban Reviewer website was one of my favorite memories during this internship. The island was beautiful and I got to meet so many people from here in New York City and from around the world. I remember meeting and connecting with folks from New York City, France, Brazil, Australia, etc. Through this experience I began to feel more comfortable talking to people and learning to read my audience in order to tweak my speeches to cater to their interest.

All in all, I really enjoyed my time at 596 Acres. I learned more than I expected to learn and met some incredible people. This journey taught me to be more independent, responsible, open-minded, patient, and organized. My time at 596 Acres sparked in me,  an interest in policy making and its effect in people’s lives. As I move on to my next step in life, college, I hope to major in Public Policy and build on the things I learned from this internship.  I highly recommend this internship to anyone who wants to learn about their city, connect with people, and gain some experience and knowledge on public policy. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at 596 Acres, it is an internship I will always remember.  

The Urban Reveiwer Reader Available for Purchase!

21 August 2014

The Urban Reviewer Reader draws from the essays and contextual material of the Urban Reviewer, the first ever comprehensive public map of all New York City's Urban Renewal Plans adopted this century. 

It is a gorgeously designed little book that tells the story of Urban Renewal past present and hopeful future in New York City, including a list of all Urban Renewal Plans active as of the date of publication (these are places where the story of neighborhood change is still being written). 

It's a great short text about New York City. A deep dive into policy and feelings, into specificity and trepidation. We're sure you'll like it. We're excited to find out what you learn!

The book is $10, which includes shipping within the United States of America. If you need it elsewhere, please drop us a line: 


Community Boards!

21 August 2014


When an organizing group is applying to GreenThumb (a program of the Parks Department that licenses gardens on most city-owned land) earning a letter of support from the local Community Board (CB) is a key requirement and often, a daunting task. This summer, thanks to a grant from the New York Community Trust, in addition to our usual work of lot labeling and helping neighbors organize, we visited the seven community boards with the most amount of vacant, public land in the five boroughs: Bronx CB1 (7 acres in the South Bronx), Bronx CB3 (6 acres in the South-Central Bronx), Brooklyn CB3 (5 acres in Bedford-Stuyvesant), Brooklyn CB5 (85 acres in East New York and Cypress Hills), Brooklyn CB8 (⅗ of an acre in Crown Heights and Weeksville), Brooklyn CB16 (19 acres in Brownsville and Ocean Hill), and Queens CB14 (128 acres in Rockaway).

We approached each board with three broad goals: (1) to educate them about how accessing the city’s land works and the role of Community Board support in the GreenThumb application process, (2) to expose them to the reality of the amount of vacant, city-owned land in their district, and (3) to introduce them to neighborhood groups that might come seeking a letter from them in the near future. We visited each board at least two times, first distributing our New York City Advocate’s Guide to Land Access and later sharing district-specific maps that highlighted all the vacant, city-owned lots, the agencies which have jurisdiction over them, and the contact information for the neighbors that are spearheading projects on those lots.

Initially, the most interesting thing was the varying routes we took just to speak to these boards - the same routes that organizing groups need to navigate. Since community boards are volunteer bodies, each runs according to its own procedures. Whereas CB1 in the South Bronx asks presentors to fill out a short application to be put on the agenda of their Land Use and Housing Committee to make a ten-minute presentation, Brooklyn CB5 in East New York invites residents to just show up and introduce their projects in a 3-minute speaking slot which occurs at the start of every meeting. Some boards are a shot in the dark: Brooklyn CB16 in Brownsville doesn’t have a distinct pathway, but you can make an announcement at the very end of a two hour meeting and see what next move is suggested for you to make. The Queens CB14 Land Use Committee started the process of creating a pathway after our presentation; they were not aware that Community Board support was an integral part of the GreenThumb application.

Some of Community Boards have resistance to new projects for varying reasons and the result is confusing or unattainable requirements for support. On the other hand, we also encountered boards that were surprised to hear they would be asked for anything, not knowing their support was an essential step for these neighborhood groups or a requirement for applying to GreenThumb. One of the most interesting meetings we encountered was with Queens CB14 in the Rockaways, who has yet to experience a group seeking a letter of support despite their excessive amount of vacant, City-owned land. Our presentation prompted a discussion immediately following the meeting to lay out guidelines for what they want to see from neighbors asking for their support.

We were surprised that nearly all the Community Board members we interacted with were unaware of the details and specifics of how accessing public land works and had a range of misconceptions about the roles of city agencies and programs. Brooklyn CB8’s close-knit Parks and Recreation Committee in Weeksville was extremely interested in 596 Acres’ work; they repeatedly thanked us and even invited us to table at an upcoming neighborhood street fair. The Housing Committee of Bronx CB3 in the South-Central Bronx invited our return to give future presentations at any time.

Residents were present at these meetings, too, so along the way we collected new organizers and friends, folks adding themselves to our site and starting to work on projects after learning about the possibilities available to them. A few community board members even became organizers themselves, having just learned that opening up the fences around our shared public lands in their districts and on their own blocks is a real option! Our hope is that moving forward neighborhood groups organizing to start gardens, parks, or open space will have an easier time working with their community boards to create new and exciting community hubs.

Update from a new community-managed Parks space in Bushwick!

21 August 2014

We got this great letter from the organizers of the space at 1278 Myrtle Ave. at the corner of Central Ave. in Bushwick. It's been a long journey already and now they are ready to truly begin: 

It was a wonderful first turn out last Saturday at 1278 Myrtle in Bushwick. All eleven people who showed up were really committed to fulfilling what is possible there and expressed diverse knowledge, creativity and connection to the Community Compost Site & Wildlife Garden BK ROT proposed with Sure We Can, our partners in composting.

Everyone was full of openness and possibility and ready to move forward so much so that we moved from our seated meeting to walking the land, observing what is already present there- volunteering future actions, gathering resources, planning meetings for envisioning. It seems we are all moving at the same speed- wanting to make this happen but aware of the time it takes to cultivate the land and a place in community. 

After the meeting a couple of us made a run to pick up more oak stumps since we were one short so we now have 17 ‘seats’ in the lot! We placed them in a large circle creating nice visual awaiting our return & inviting others. 
In our absence the lot is in good hands - SWOON’s wheatpaste lives in the space beautifully! We will return for an informal clean up this Saturday, August 23.

Thank you for your energy, enthusiasm and know how in pushing this forward at strategic moments… it looks like the neighborhood will take it from here!  
Growing Soil & Community Together,

Renée // Sandy 


Join Us for a Ribbon Cutting At Smiling Hogshead Ranch!

19 August 2014

Lease Signed with MTA: A New Era for Smiling Hogshead Ranch

Join The Ranch Organizers for a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Smiling Hogshead Ranch is celebrating the execution of an agreement with the property owner, the MTA/LIRR. This is the official transition from an informal garden to a fully endorsed public space. Please join us and the ranchers for an inauguration ribbon cutting ceremony!

This event is free and open to the public. Donations appreciated for light food and drinks graciously provided by our garden members and the following sponsors; The Queens Kickshaw, Beyond Brewing Company, Singlecut Beersmiths, V-Spot Vegan Restaurant and The Regal Vegan.

Where: Smiling Hogshead Ranch, 25-30 Skillman Avenue, Long Island City, NY 11101

When: Saturday, September 6, 2014 (Rain date September 13, 2014), 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.


Jimmy Van Bramer - District 26 Councilperson & City Council Majority Leader
Penny Lee - NYC Dept. of City Planning (Invited)
Gil Lopez - Smiling Hogshead Ranch 
Paula Segal - 596 Acres 
Saleen Shah - Citizens Committee for New York City

Media Inquiries:

Gil Lopez - 347.509.4464 / 407.432.8156

Mia Vlah - 216.338.3300


For additional questions about the MTA’s role, contact the MTA Press Office - 212.878.7440

About Smiling Hogshead Ranch

Smiling Hogshead Ranch ( is a volunteer led urban farm in Long Island City, Queens, NYC. The Ranch is committed to demonstrating and promoting systems that encourage food and environmental justice. At The Ranch, community members grow a variety of herbs and vegetables as well as fruiting and nut trees, shrubs and vines. They also demonstrate a form of bioremediation using mushroom mycelium and build the Ranch’s infrastructure with mostly found and refurbished materials. The Ranch's guerrilla garden beginnings are rooted in an alternative cooperation form of direct action, as such we support the reclaiming of the commons and full transition to a more equitable society, starting exactly where we are.

Aeolian Ride Birthday Party to Support 596 Acres on August 17th

16 July 2014

Sunday, August 17, 2014

You are invited to an inflatable birthday bike ride - everyone is invited to Governor's Island 3-6pm for infated loops around the island, cupcakes and a party!

Inflatable birthday what?
AEOLIAN RIDE's 10th Birthday! 10 years ago, 52 people showed up on bikes, I put inflatable costumes on them and we rode bicycles from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Since then Aeolian Riders have taken an amazing ride through 20 cities around the globe. See it happen here:

What's an Aeolian?
You. On a bike. Inflated. :) "Aeolian" is a Greek word- to be caused or carried by the wind. The costumes inflate as you ride - but don't worry you won't get carried away - at least not by the wind. 

Why is this happening?
Aeolian Ride has a magical effect of creating a loop of joy between the spectator and the performer. It also transforms the everyday street to a place for public art where the public is the art.

What does the Aeolian Ride want for its birthday?
No presents! - Ok, yes presents! The Aeolian Ride would like to give to those who give to the community. Ticket sales proceeds will be donated - a wonderful non-profit helping communities get access to public spaces, including our party space, Spontaneous Interventions.

Can I inflate and ride?
Have a bike and a helmet? Great! Now you just need a ticket. Hurry, there are a limited number of suits! A portion of proceeds go to

My kids want to inflate too!
Are they over 5 with a helmet and wheels? Sweet! Sign the kids up! 

Can I just party?
Promise to show us your favorite dance moves? Your ticket awaits.

Who's crazy idea is this?
Aeolian Ride was created by artist, Jessica Findley, and has been supported by people who love to play. See her work at



12:45pm - Adult Ride Sign in & Suit up! 
Meet near Grand Army Plaza on Prospect Park West

1:15pm - Aeolian Ride! (Big kids only :) 
Inflatable bike to through Brooklyn, over Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan

2:45pm - Ferry!
Take Ferry from Manhattan to Governor's Island 

3:00pm - 6:00pm - Birthday Party! 
Music perfomances by Deva Mahal, Jacob Bills of O Paradiso
Fundraising Cupcake Dance Party on Governor's Island at Spontaneous Interventions building 403, Colonel's Row

!!! Due to the overwhelming response we are opening up the kids ride to all ages- that means adults too! on Governer's Island !!! 

Guided Aeolian Kid's Ride loops around governor's island.

3:15 - 3:45pm - Aeolian Kid's of all ages Ride 1!
4:00pm - 4:30pm -- Aeolian Kid's of all ages Ride 2!
4:45 - 5:15pm - Aeolian Kid's of all ages Ride 3!

5:30pm - Piñata time! Ending the party with an explosion of sweets!
6:00pm - Clean Up Time!
6:30pm - Return Ferry
7:00pm - Last Ferry


Press Images:


16 June 2014


URBAN REVIEWER: A New Tool Examining the Legacy of Urban Renewal in NYC

Reviewing Past Urban Plans > Discovering Present Impact > Supporting Future Actions

Brooklyn, New York – June 17, 2014 – Urban Reviewer is New York City’s first detailed, annotated digital map of master plans from the Urban Renewal era. The tool, created by 596 Acres, in collaboration with Smart Sign and Partner and Partners, details over 150 plans for top-down neighborhood redevelopment, which have affected more than 15,000 lots throughout the five boroughs since 1949. 

The tool + How to use it | For almost two years, a dedicated team of researchers, urban planners, designers and other experts have been working with 596 Acres to gather all the paper plans from NYC Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and a few secondary sources produced by NYC Government offices. From neighborhoods demolished under eminent domain to open spaces that were never developed, the searchable map allows users to learn more about their neighborhoods in a changing city over the past 65 years. Users can filter results by mayoral terms or search the map by address, zip code, or master plan name. Urban Reviewer is part of a series of online tools developed by 596 Acres to help connect community activists with resources to learn about their neighborhood and drive action.

Using Urban Reviewer to Identify Vacant Lots | One example of how Urban Reviewer has already led to action is with the identification and transformation of vacant lots. As Paula Z. Segal, Executive & Legal Director at 596 Acres, explains: “making plans accessible helped us find places that were cleared with the intention of creating open public spaces. In our work through 596 Acres, we have already found two of these and helped neighbors transform them into something better.” The map connects all of the currently vacant publicly owned lots that were created through the adoption of a master plan with their corresponding page on and all the necessary information to organize for their transformation. But the platform could also raise public awareness, provoke insights and lead to actions on a variety of other issues. People are encouraged to share their findings and the actions that resulted from using Urban Reviewer to the following email address:

Historical context | Between 1949 and 1974, federal funding spurred the demolition of neighborhoods that were deemed "blighted" to make way for new development. Inspectors working for the Slum Clearance Commission during the early period of Urban Renewal and employees of The Department of Housing Preservation and Development during the later period determined the "blight" designation. These departments created plans for the blighted neighborhoods to get demolition approval. The demolition used an expanded version of eminent domain acquire land, relocate people and businesses, and demolish buildings. The lots received designations like “housing,” “industrial,” or “open space.” Urban Reviewer analyzed these paper-only plans from The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and transformed them into digital maps accessible to the public. On the maps, users will be able to see every lot that was designated for "renewal" and what form that renewal was supposed to take. For more historical perspectives see Urban Reviewer essays What Was, And What Is, Urban Renewal in New York City? by Mariana Mogilevich and Who Makes A Neighborhood? by DW Gibson,

Increasing Government Transparency | The laborious process behind this project speaks to the difficulty of accessing city documents. For instance, 596 Acres could not afford to purchase copies at 25 cents per page from HPD; the statutory rate under the New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). 596 Acres had to take advantage of a portion of the law that requires government agencies to make their documents available for inspection to arrange for a team of dedicated volunteers to visit the HPD Records Access office regularly for about a year to extract the information you see on the NYC Urban Reviewer. The volunteers were not even allow to photograph nor make copies of the plans. There is a bill in the NYC Council called the OpenFOIL bill that would make a big difference in everyone’s ability to see and share government documents: it requires city agencies to post all requested documents to a public web portal after even a single request. If this law was in effect today, HPD would be obliged to post all the +150 plans used to create Urban Reviewer.  

Future Development | 596 Acres is presently looking for funding to make the information available onsite, augment the online tool with oral histories, and develop it with other cities. 

Urban Reviewer: Reviewing Past Urban Plans > Discovering Present Impact > Supporting Future Actions:

Media Requests

Paula Z. Segal, Esq.

Executive Director and Legal Director, 596 Acres

718-316-6092 x 2 -

About 596 Acres

596 Acres is New York City’s community land access program. We help neighbors organize around and gain access to the city’s warehoused and empty public land. Our work enriches the quality of life for all New Yorkers by facilitating community-based civic action and helping to transform unused vacant land into new open spaces. We are currently adapting our model in Philadelphia (, in Los Angeles (, in New Orleans (livinglotsnola.og) and are in discussion to extend this land access movement to 15 other cities worldwide that have expressed an affirmative interest in 596 Acres’ approach. We are a small and young organization that has been working on a shoestring budget since 2011 and are now looking for financial partners to help us revolutionize land access processes worldwide. Spread the word!


Report Back from the Vacant Acres Symposium: Advocates From All Over the World!

12 June 2014

On April 22nd and 23rd, 596 Acres and the Tishman Environment and Design Center at the New School co-hosted the first ever Vacant Acres Symposium, bringing together knowledgeable and passionate (and badass!) urban vacant land advocates from around the world. The program featured two days of presentations and discussion on land access, strategies for land tenure protection, racial and economic justice issues in access to vacant urban land, and the wide variety of urban contexts experienced by our participants from cities around the world.

Day 1 brought together urban gardeners, activists, community members and even an elected official to discuss the particular experience of New York City with regard to vacant land and land access, in front of a standing room only crowd. Memorable moments included included a gardeners’ history of community gardens in NYC, presented by Haja and Cindy Worley with a slideshow from their extensive archive of photographs and documents from the movement; Meera Bhat’s thoughtful words about the experience of farming on privately owned land in Brooklyn -- and the important role that urban gardens and farms have to play even when some of them may be impermanent; Ellen Horan’s first-hand account of LaGuardia Corner Gardens’ court battle with New York University; Joel Kupferman’s account of a new court battle that is just beginning between the city and the Boardwalk Community Garden in Coney Island; and Picture the Homeless’ Arvernetta Henry’s rousing call for more community owned property in NYC.

Having thoroughly worked up an appetite with the afternoon’s panels, a number of the participants enjoyed a convivial dinner together, continuing the day’s conversation and getting excited for the next day’s, over delicious food at the Sunview Luncheonette in Greenpoint.

We reconvened bright and early the next morning for Day 2 of the gathering, which widened the discussion nationwide -- and worldwide.  U.S. participants hailed from Baltimore; Boston; Chicago; Cleveland; Detroit; East Palo Alto; New Orleans; New York City; Philadelphia, and international attendees came from Berlin (Germany); Manchester (UK); Melbourne (Australia); Montreal (Canada) and Sao Paolo (Brazil). The general trajectory of the day followed a line of inquiry that had been established on Day 1 in the New York context. The themes of the panels were: (1) “Identifying Opportunities and Facilitating Transformations” (2) “Protecting Community Access to Land” (3) “Developing Models for Predictable Land Tenure” and (4) “Establishing Long Term Land Management.”

The day’s highlights are too many to count, and many of them were individual moments of connection and insight that took place in the energetic workshop discussions that took place after each of the day’s panel sessions. One of the most striking things about the day was the diversity of approaches, contexts and organizations represented. The participants represented academia, the non-profit sector, grassroots activists, private companies and more. They came from cities struggling with gentrification and displacement and cities struggling with disinvestment and abandonment (some of these are the same cities). The feedback we have been receiving indicates that the most powerful thing about this event was simply gathering all of these participants in the same room together to share ideas, strategies, stories, struggles, and all the wealth of their experiences.

Some of the participants were kind enough to share their reflections on the conference:

“ was very illuminating to hear about other successful experiences… I look forward to continuing the connection we started thanks to your symposium, to strengthen our work.”

- Sara Longo, Oakland CA

“Being a part of the Vacant Acres Symposium was an incredible opportunity for our organization to learn from the innovative work [of] new friends across the world… We are especially thankful that the Symposium provided a dedicated space to discuss cross-cutting issues that impact many organizations trying to do similar work.  We met many organizations that we feel we can continue to learn from in the coming months and years. These organizations include Neighborspace Chicago, the New York Community Garden Coalition, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Baltimore Community Law Center, African American United Fund and our cohort 596 Acres, New Orleans Food and Farm Network and the Garden Justice Legal Initiative.”
- Mark Glassock, Community Health Councils, Inc., Los Angeles, CA

 “For me, the Vacant Acres Symposium was a whirlwind full of amazing people and inspirational stories about how to increase access to land and stabilize land tenure for urban agriculture programs… Thanks again for the opportunity!”

- Nicole Wires, Collective Roots, East Palo Alto, CA

“The Vacant Acres Symposium was an amazing opportunity to connect with individuals and organizations working on making our cities into strong, healthy and vibrant living places to live… The experiences shared...provided us with many creative solutions to the challenges we face.”
- Israel Cruz, Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, CA

“The symposium showed how access to land is a crucial question when it comes to chang[ing] the way cities work and people can contribute to this change from the bottom up. It was very valuable in strengthening contacts we already established, and also creating new ones that will probably lead to new collaborations in the future. In general, it makes a huge difference to not just theoretically know that this kind of engagement and discussion goes on in a lot of places at the same time, but to personally meet and exchange knowledge and experience, especially between practitioners. So I am very grateful that you made it possible for me to come to New York and share this great experience.”

- Marco Clausen, co-founder Prinzesinnengarten, Berlin, Germany

“Vacant Acres helped ground me in the realities of making land work to build community, and how laws need to be adjusted to make that happen more easily. As a Detroiter, whose city has massive quantities of vacant land I was delighted to learn about ideas that have worked in other communities… It was very valuable to share ideas with the folks of New Orleans, whose situation seems similar to Detroit in that we both have lots of vacant land. I made numerous contacts that I can share with the people who are using our vacant land to revitalize the city.”
- Jacqueline Hand, professor of law, University of Detroit Mercy School of Law

“The most important thing about the Vacant Acres Symposium was the bringing together of practitioners who were implementing real on-the-ground projects. It was much more than papers presented at a conference. NOFFN and New Orleans will benefit from our attendance in a very direct way -- being exposed to the diverse methods of engagement with communities, policymakers and governments will greatly inform our approach. Some highlights include learning about the vacant land disposition programs in Philadelphia and Baltimore; learning about movable garden bed technique used in Melbourne, Australia; Pop up public space deployed in Los Angeles; the similarities between Detroit and New Orleans...and more.”

- Sanjay Kharod, New Orleans Food and Farm Network, New Orleans LA

“I connected with people from around the world in both urban and rural settings that had very resourceful and creative ways of imagining more equitable and democrating ways of creating land access and tenure. I am hoping to stay connected with everyone…”
- Shane Bernardo, EarthWorks Urban Farm, Detroit, MI, USA

“The symposium was truly a transformative experience...This work that we are all engaged in can be extraordinarily difficult. I am one of a handful of such advocates in the South. And in a smaller pool of advocates working in a post-disaster region faced with enormous development pressure. I have felt very isolated and alone in my efforts. I have often felt the challenges too great. After the conference I now know I have peers in far-flung corners of the world... to turn to for advice, guidance, wisdom and support.”
- Bridget Kelly, Land Trust for Louisiana, New Orleans, LA, USA

Many of the participants expressed anticipation for the next gathering of this group, and we share that hope. We are actively seeking volunteers to host and help plan the next one!


This report back was written by Vacant Acres volunteer and 596 Acres Advisory Committee member Rachel Dobkin, who worked on getting travel grants for our participants (Hurray Rachel!). You can see more photos from the event here, taken by Marco Clausen. In the coming weeks, 596 Acres and the Tishman Center will be posting the slides and audio from the two days of presentations. Stay tuned.

596 Acres Testimony In Support of NYC OpenFOIL Law

09 June 2014

There's a great bill making its way through NYC City Council that would require the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to create a streamlined and centralized system through which people can request to see government documents: an OpenFOIL bill. Our favorite part of this bill is that it would require agencies to post all their responses in a centralized place where people can actually see the documents that other people have requested without having to request them again. An OpenFOIL portal would really build a more open governement.

This would be a great way to get all the City's Urban Renewal Plans to be posted publicly - we've been thinking a lot about this while working on the Urban Reviewer - which you can see in preview here, full site coming soon. 

On June 9, Paula testified in front of the NYC Council Committees on Technology and Governmental Operations, with a story from the vacant lot trenches:

Missing flash plugin. Please download the latest Adobe Flash Player:
Get Adobe Flash Player

I am the director of 596 Acres, New York City's community land access advocates. Thank you for allowing me a few moments to speak today about how government data, information and the Freedom of Information Law currently impact our work. 

Before I do that, I'd like to add a note about the FOIL campaign that led to the release of MapPLUTO from it's 10-year-old paywall which put a $3,000 per year price tag on having accurate financial and ownership information by parcel for properties in the city. In partnership with the CUNY Center for Mapping, and BetaNYC and our friends in the media, we mobilized dozens of successful FOIL requests for this data set, each one promptly provided by the Department of City Planning for the cost of duplication - five DVDs, each in its own jewel case, each with a price tag of $1. Through FOIL, advocates were able to get for $5 what community groups had paid thousands of dollars for in the decade prior. It was a welcome relief to see that the Department of City Planning chose to make the information available through a download link without the need for a formal FOIL request and eliminate the paywall entirely after several months of this campaign. It is my hope that the MapPLUTO fees paid by advocates and community-based organizations over the last ten years will someday be refunded. Our campaign serves as a great model for the implementation of the OpenFOIL bill; I would urge that one request should be enough to make it mandatory that an agency post a requested document online. A campaign should be redundant and unnecessary. 

To support our core work and create the most accurate available map of vacant publicly owned lots that present opportunities for community land access, we have used two of the data sets currently in the open data portal. This new data set is pretty good but not perfect and we regularly rely on FOIL requests to fill in gaps we revealed in agency plan information and procedure. I'm here today in support of a centralized FOIL portal will make it easier for us to do our work. It will also make irregularities in FOIL responses that regularly mark our correspondence much less likely.

As then-Public Advocate de Blasio's report noted, agencies tend to expedite or delay requests based on the identity of the requester. In our experience, this prejudicial treatment goes even deeper. I am going to bring one example to the attention of the committee - an example that is somewhat sweet and illustrates that, even where agency records access officers have the best intentions, the current process does not reliably produce documents as they are requested. 

There is a swath of properties in the Melrose section of the Bronx that are slated to become a park under the Melrose Commons Urban Renewal Plan. I spoke with the Bronx Borough Parks office manager, who assured me that, even though the properties remain in the jurisdiction of Housing Preservation and Development, this is a project that Parks is working on and promised that documentation would be emailed to me as soon as it is available in their office. When no follow-up information appeared within a month of this conversation, I made a FOIL request for these documents through the Parks Department Records Access Office, referring to the Melrose Commons Park, the "Urban Renewal Site" number that the Parks Department is using and the block and lots numbers of all properties included in the footprint of this planned park. The request was acknowledged and I received a response within twenty days, as the acknowledgement promised. 

What the response revealed was that staff at Parks know who I am and what 596 Acres does, but did not disclose any documents related to the site I requested documents about. Instead, we received several copies of GreenThumb community garden licenses for gardens in the neighborhood of Melrose Commons - with different names and clearly different block and lot numbers. Our core work is making such spaces possible but this was clearly not what I requested. 

This sweet error exposes the quixotic nature of current agency responses to FOIL requests. We are looking forward to a more transparent and streamlined process that will make such errors less likely. 

Introducing: A New York City Advocate's Guide to Community Land Access

06 May 2014

Thanks to our friends at Occuprint and MANY Design, we have a new publication for you: A New York City Advocate's Guide to Community Land Access, in English & Spanish, click to download the whole thing! 

Having a bilingual print version of the New York City Advocate's Guide to Community Land Access amplifies our ability to share what we've learned in our two-and-a-half years of advocacy with a much broader audience than an online publication or even a print version in a single language. This continues our practice of collecting valuable information about how to generate community property and then giving it away. 

We are using the guide as a jumping-off point for an education series aimed at the members of the seven community boards with the most vacant public land in the city in their districts; we're sharing how motivated community members can officially co-create their neighborhoods one lot at a time and putting the guide in their hands so that they can pass on the knowledge. 

If you'd like a stack for your community, drop us a line at or give us a call: (718) 316-6092. 














Photo Credit: Michael Anderson, MANY Design. 

Design & illustrations by MANY Design

Inside image by Daniel Eizirick, from I'M SO LUCKY YOU FOUND ME:public land inside the city (a lovely handmade book you can also have here). 

A Free MapPLUTO Makes Us All Information Rich

17 April 2014

MapPLUTO is a mashup of geographic information and real estate data about New York City, the most powerful and comprehensive data set about the real New York that any government agency maintains. For ten years, until July 2013, the Department of City Planning charged $3000 per year for any organization or person to have access to an up-to-date version of the data for the whole city. This fee gave real estate developers, urban planners, architects, and engineers a huge information-access advantage over schools, community-based organizations, and residents seeking information about land in the city. We're so glad to have been part of changing that. 

As of last week, thanks to newly-freed MapPLUTO, OASIS, the map of everything about New York City that matters inside and outside government, has up-to-date ownership information for the first time since 2010. This is particularly useful for people who are looking to access to vacant private land and need a simple way to figure out who to talk to about potentially collaborating to improve the neighborhood. No more having to dig through the City property Register or the Department of Finance website! Got other ideas of how you want to play with the reality of the city? You can download MapPLUTO for free here right now. 

Last year, we partnered with students, scholars and advocacy organizations to create an environment in which a free MapPLUTO became inevitable. According to the Committee on Open Government, this kind of data is defined as “government records” under the FOIL, and government records are meant to be accessible to anyone who asks to see them. Because Planning is a City Agency, it is subject to Freedom of Information Law. We encouraged many people to submit FOIL requests for MapPLUTO. The request were all honored; each person who made one had to pay a $5 duplication fee and was rewarded with 5 jewel cases holding DVDs of city data, one per borough. Other advocates brought the issue up in the government offices where data policy was being written and we went to the press with it. And then, quietly, City Planning put up a link and made it possible to get the data directly, no letters and no DVDs needed! 

Now if everyone could only get their 10-years of fees back… 

The Living Lots Tool for Your City

05 April 2014

New Book: Gracias Por Guiarme: Papel y tierra comunal/With Gratitude for the Guidance: Paper and communal land.

04 April 2014

Drawings by Daniel Eizirik. Text by Paula Z. Segal. 
A joint publication of 596 Acres and contorno, in English & Spanish. 

This book-documentary introduces the reader to different personal perspectives on communal land ownership in modern Mexico. Gracias por Guiarme: Paper y tierra communal is set in the state of Oaxaca and includes dialogues, drawings and historical research to introduce the reader to the crazy quilt that is the legal structure of land there two decades after the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Meet resistance and resignation, hope and power and inspiration.  

Cover with silkscreen on hand-made Mexican paper in Oaxaca City by Maya Almaraz for first edition; on coffe-stained archival paper by Kevin Caplicki ( at the Bushwick Print Lab for second edition.

Both editions high definition printed by Radix Media, a worker-owed printing cooperative in Brooklyn.

Limited first edition (108 copies; sold out)
Second edition (216 copies; available)

80 pages, 2 in color. 

Some notes on creation:


Where are we sending it?