In 2015, 596 Acres continued its crucial outreach project to city community boards, teaching critical skills and raising awareness about their role in expanding public access to vacant properties. Thanks to a grant from the New York Community Trust, 596 Acres was able to meet multiple times with seven community boards, paying particular attention to those with the most vacant, public land. We shared our district-specific vacant property maps and our New York City Advocate’s Guide to Land Access, introduced community board members to the neighbors spearheading projects in their districts, and worked with board members and residents to improve communication around local public space initiatives.
Bronx Community Board 12; photo by Paula Z. Segal for 596 Acres.
We brought vital information about the threat that a new Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) infill program launched in 2015 posed to existing gardens and the key ecosystem services they provide. We also informed community boards that, as of February 2015, HPD has ceased issuing interim use licenses for lots in its jurisdiction, reserving all land for prospective housing development, no matter the local conditions or the appropriateness of particular parcels being used for housing.
HPD had not, we learned from our conversations with Board members, informed these community boards about how their new programs would impact their neighborhoods. 596 Acres providing current information about the city’s plans for public land in the districts was a key to having district planning boards know about the plans. Having information about upstream changes in City land disposition strategies meant that community boards could engage effectively. In Brooklyn Community District 5, for example, where HPD has suddenly stalled the licensing 743 Blake Street through the Parks Department GreenThumb program after a two-year neighborhood organizing campaign, we recommended that the district’s Parks Committee take the cause to HPD directly – part of our larger strategy to engage community boards in more public space advocacy to elected officials and City agencies.
We also found that community boards were hampered by general misconceptions about city land-use. Some boards did not understand that HPD deeds properties to developers but does not actually construct housing; thus when HPD would tell them that plans were in place [to seek out a developer to construct housing] for a property, board members interpreted it to mean that development was imminent and thus their vision for a community project was unattainable. When in reality, HPD had neither a developer nor a construction timeline, and a variety of futures were still possible. The pivotal role that 596 Acres played in educating community boards is clear.
596 Acres’ core organizing platform remained the powerful center of many of the community board meetings. In all seven community districts whose boards we revisited since 2014 – five repeats and two additions in 2015 – residents began working with us to improve their neighborhoods.
At a Bronx Community Board 4 Parks Committee meeting, one neighbor approached 596 Acres for help addressing a lot next to his business at East 150th Street and Grand Concourse, an eyesore that attracts rodents, trash, and drug dealers; meanwhile, a board committee member raised ideas about a long-vacant property just west of the Macombs Dam Bridge, near Yankee Stadium. We immediately started working with both these residents on their land access puzzles, and connected them to more neighbors who would strengthen their causes.
At subsequent 596 Acres General Meetings, residents like these shared numerous stories of the energetic efforts that our community board meetings had galvanized across the city.
Bronx Community District 1 (print map here)
In the South Bronx, there are 12 acres of vacant public land (click for an interactive map)! Here is one parcel that is very close to being community controlled: http://livinglotsnyc.org/lot/6000020001/
Brooklyn Community District 5 (print map here)
There are 36 acres of vacant public land in East New York and Cypress Hills (click for an interactive map); 596 Acres has already facilitated five new community projects in Community District 5 with local community-based organizations at their helms.
Brooklyn Community District 16 (print map here)
There are 24 acres of vacant public land in Brownsville and Ocean Hill (click for an interactive map); 596 Acres has facilitated two fantastic project here.
Queens Community District 14 (print map here)
There are 153 acres of vacant public land in Rockaway (click for an interactive map); Beach 45th Street Farm is thriving and catalyzing neighbors to organize.
Brooklyn Community Board 5; photo by Mary Elizabeth Prall for 596 Aces.