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Council Member Antonio Reynoso Asks Mayor to Save Gardens

26 January 2015

Council Member Antonio Reynoso just sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Sanitation, asking to have El Garden and the other seventeen active community gardens on the Housing Preservation and Development Request for Qualifications list inviting developers to propose to build housing on these same sites removed from the list.

You can see the original letter here and a map we made of the impacted sites here. That's some of the BK ROT crew above. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio
City Hall
New York, NY 10007

Commissioner Kathryn Garcia
NYC Department of Sanitation
59 Maiden Lane, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10038

Dear Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Garcia,

I am writing to express my concern over a number of the sites listed in the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s most recent RFQ for the New Infill Home Ownership Opportunities Program (NIHOP) and Neighborhood Construction Program (NCP). A number of these sites are active public gardens, which provide significant benefits to surrounding communities and city-wide organics collection efforts. I am a strong proponent for the construction of affordable housing, as my district has experienced some of the most severe impacts from the City’s housing crisis; however, I am also an advocate for comprehensive planning. Additionally, as Chair of the Sanitation Committee, I am concerned about the impact that development of these sites may have on active composting operations, depleting the City’s already limited capacity to process organic waste.

As we continue to strive toward improved diversion rates, we must protect and support facilities that provide processing capacity for organic waste, particularly at the local level. This is especially important as we near the July, 2015 implementation date for Intro 1162, which would require commercial businesses to begin source separating organics. This law will only go into effect if the Commissioner determines that there is sufficient capacity to process this waste in facilities located within 100 miles of the city. Currently, the capacity for processing organic waste is insufficient for this bill to be meaningfully implemented. However, this does not mean that we should cease our search for creative ways to increase this capacity and process waste at the local level.

The lot at 120 Jefferson Street in Bushwick in my district, listed on HPD’s RFQ list, is currently operating under the name “El Garden” and is home to BK Rot’s composting initiative. BK Rot is a local organization that has been processing local organic waste in Bushwick since the summer of 2013, employing local youth and diverting waste from landfills. Additionally, this garden provides essential open space in a community that has long suffered from a lack of quality green areas. Losing a site such as El Garden would eliminate open space and jobs, while decreasing the local capacity for processing organic waste.

I urge you to direct HPD to remove this site, as well all other active community gardens, from its most recent list of developable sites. HPD has hundreds of potential sites on which it can develop affordable housing. I am asking that sites that are truly lying fallow be prioritized over those with active uses. I believe this action is in the best interest of DSNY and the Mayor’s Office, as it will protect capacity for local composting and ensure stability of open space. I will be happy to speak with you further about how we can work together to preserve these community resources.


Antonio Reynoso
NYC Council Member 34
th District
Chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management 

Gardens on Housing Preservation and Development's (HPD) List of Sites Available for Housing Development

21 January 2015

** updated January 27, 2015 **

Last week, NYC Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) published a list of 181 City-owned properties included in a Request for Qualifications for developers to build rental and ownership housing within the limits set by the program and in exchange get the land for free. The program is described here:

Seventeen of the sites selected are currently active community gardens. Over 750 sites in HPD's inventory were not included. 

These are the impacted gardens: 


  • Harlem Valley

  • Jackie Robinson Community Garden

  • Harlem Grown - Greenhouse

  • Electric Ladybug Community Garden

  • Pleasant Village Community Garden


  • McKinley's Children's Garden


  • Isabahliah Ladies of Elegance

  • La Casita Verde

  • Halsey, Ralph & Howard Community Garden

  • EL Garden

  • Patchen Community Square

  • 462 Halsey Community Garden

  • Tranquility Farm

  • Brownsville Student Farm

  • Imani Garden

  • New Harvest Community Garden

  • Green Valley Communtiy Garden and Farmers Market

The map below shows which properties were included in the list, which properties in HPD's inventory were not included and where the gardens included in the list are located. Click the image for a larger version. 

596 Acres presents the Urban Reviewer on the Queens Museum Panorama

23 December 2014

596 Acres presents

Reviewing Renewal

on the Queens Museum Panorama

January 11 to February 8, 2015

596 Acres will present all 155+ urban renewal plans that the City has ever adopted in an intervention directly on the Panorama of the City of New York, realizing the online Urban Reviewer map on a 1:1200 scale of the 9,335 square foot Panorama.  

New York City began to adopt “urban renewal plans” in 1949 to get federal funding to acquire land, relocate the people living there, demolish the structures and make way for new public and private development. The legacy of these neighborhood master plans remains active across the city, from sites like Lincoln Center to the many vacant lots cleared in East New York and Bushwick for projects that were never completed. Even after federal funding for the program was cut in 1974, New York City continued to adopt renewal plans for neighborhoods - 82 plan areas, where the city has eminent domain power to take private property for the public purpose of eliminating blight and economic “under-performance,” came into being between 1975 and the present.  

Urban renewal transforms the city, and changes the lives of many New Yorkers, for better or worse. Over 60 plan for areas of the city remain active today. Some communities are taking advantage of active plan areas to make community aspirations into official plans.

What can we learn from the continuing story of urban renewal in NYC?


Curator: Paula Z. Segal, Esq., 596 Acres, Inc.  

Exhibition Design: Mary Bereschka, Greg Mihalko, Stephen von Muehlen

Design: Partner & Partners

Event Production: Amy Fitzgerald, Oksana Mironova

Exhibition made possible thanks to the support of Mapzen and the Queens Museum.

All events are free. Some RSVPs required.


Sunday, January 11, 2015


12:30pm - 2pm, meet in the Queens Museum lobby

A Willet’s Point Walk

A walking tour of the Willets Point Urban Renewal Area with Dr. Jack Eichenbaum, Queens Borough Historian, will start from, and return to, the Queens Museum. East of Citifield (the New York Mets baseball stadium) is a sewerless hardscrabble area of auto junkyards and related businesses that has twice beaten back attempts at redevelopment. But as it is located between the new stadium and a booming Chinatown in Flushing, public and private interests are again trying to transform “Willets Point.” We’ll confront ecological issues and learn why “Willets Point”  is a misnomer.

RSVP required; participation is limited.

Dr. Jack Eichenbaum holds the title of Queens Borough Historian, and a Ph.D. in urban geography (University of Michigan, 1972), where his dissertation was titled Magic, Mobility and Minorities in the Urban Drama. On the empirical level, it involved a study of the urban renewal of a multi-ethnic neighborhood in Detroit. He is a lifelong observer of NYC and other large cities around the world. Eichenbaum’s expertise lies particularly in quantitative methods, historical urban geography, migration, ethnicity, and technological change. More information can be found at:

2pm - 3:30pm, 2nd floor theater

Film Presentation: The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, 2011, Chad Freidrichs, 83 min

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth explores the social, economic and legislative issues that led to the decline of conventional public housing in America, and the city centers in which they resided, while tracing the personal and poignant narratives of several of the residents of the notorious Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex in St. Louis. More info here:

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3:30 - 4pm, panorama

"Who Makes A Neighborhood?"

A reading by author DW Gibson and a film: Adam Purple and the Garden of Eden, 2011, Harvey Wang & Amy Brost, 6 min.

DW Gibson is the author of Not Working: People Talk About Losing a Job and Finding Their Way in Today’s Changing Economy. His work has appeared in such publications as The New York Times, The Washington Post,The Daily Beast, The Village Voice, and The Caravan. He has been a contributor to NPR’s All Things Considered and is the director of the documentary, Not Working. His next book, The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of 21st Century Gentrification, will be published in April 2015. For more information:

Adam Purple and the Garden of Eden, 2011, Harvey Wang & Amy Brost, 6 min

In 1975, on the crime-ridden Lower East Side, Adam Purple started a garden behind his tenement home. By 1986, The Garden of Eden was world famous and had grown to 15,000 square feet. For Adam – a social activist, philosopher, artist, and revolutionary – the Garden was the medium of his political and artistic expression. It was razed by the city in 1986 after a protracted court battle. This film documents the creation of this artwork and its ultimate destruction.  Winner of the "Neighborhood Award" at the Lower East Side Film Festival.

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4pm - 6pm, panorama & 2nd floor theater

Opening Reception with public presentations in the panorama by the 596 Acres Urban Reviewer Team & Mapzen.

RSVP required.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


12:15pm - 1:45pm, 2nd floor theater


A discussion of the law of eminent domain with Michael Rikon, Esq. & Paula Z. Segal, Esq. Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits for free to attorneys who attend provided by the CUNY Community Legal Resource Network. All welcome.


RSVP required here for attorneys to recieve credits.

Michael Rikon is a shareholder in Goldstein, Rikon, Rikon & Houghton, P.C., which has concentrated its practice in eminent domain cases since 1925. From 1973 to 1980, Mr. Rikon served as a Law Clerk to the Honorable Albert A. Blinder of the New York State Court of Claims. He began his legal career as an Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of  New York, a position he held from 1969 to 1973, where he was a senior trial attorney in the Condemnation Division. From 1973 to 1975, Mr. Rikon was a consultant to the New York State Commission on Eminent Domain, which drafted the EDPL. He earned his B.S. at the New York Institute of Technology; his J.D. from Brooklyn Law School, and a Masters of Law from New York University School of Law. Michael Rikon is a frequent lecturer on the Law of Eminent Domain. He is rated “A.V.” by Martindale-Hubbell, “Best Lawyer” and “Super Lawyer.” He is listed in Who’s Who in America Law.

Paula Z. Segal, Esq. is the founding director of 596 Acres, New York City's land access advocacy organization. She is a graduate of CUNY School of Law at Queens College, where she was a Haywood Burns Fellow in Human and Civil Rights.  


CLE Credits provided by Community Legal Resource Network at CUNY School of Law  - CLE credit will be offered only to those attorneys completing entire sessions; attorneys attending only part of a session are not eligible for partial credit.  Attorneys arriving late are welcome to attend the program but will not be eligible for credit.  Attorneys wishing to receive CLE credit must sign in the program's attendance register prior to and following the CLE program; once a speaker begins the program, the sign-in sheets will be removed.  Similarly, attorneys leaving the session early are also ineligible for CLE credit.

RSVP on Facebook. (Attorneys use the link above to register for credits; everyone can RSVP here!)


2pm - 4pm, 2nd floor workshop

Reviewing Mitchell Lama: The Past, Present and Future of Affordable Housing in NYC

Planners Network NYC hosts a discussion on the past, present and future of the Mitchell Lama program, one of New York's most important and embattled affordable housing initiatives. With Charles Chawalko on the history of the program and the experience at Southbridge Towers; Jackie Peters, of the Putnam Coalition, on organizing against predatory equity in a Harlem Mitchell Lama rental; and Alexis Smallwood on the experience of tenants at Ocean Village in the Rockaway. Moderated by Katie Goldstein, Executive Director of Tenants & Neighbors.

Planners Network is an association of professionals, activists, academics, and students involved in physical, social, economic, and environmental planning in urban and rural areas, who promote fundamental change in our political and economic systems.

Charles Chawalko performed digital cartography and data corrections on the Urban Reviewer map ( His interest in the project came from his own thesis work and struggle concerning the potential privatization of his Mitchell-Lama cooperative (South Bridge Towers) that was born out of the Brooklyn Bridge Southwest Urban Renewal Plan.

Jackie Peters has long been a tenant organizer and a leader in the Putnam Coalition, a group of residents fighting to keep their homes affordable.

Alexis Smallwood is the Community Outreach Coordinator at Rockaway Wildfire and a resident of Ocean Village/Arverne View, a Mitchell Lama development recently transitioned to a private owner.

Katie Goldstein is the Executive Director of Tenants & Neighbors, a grassroots organization that helps tenants build and effectively wield their power to preserve at-risk affordable housing and strengthen tenants' rights in New York.


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4pm - 6pm, 2nd floor theater

Film Presentation: It Took 50 Years: Frances Goldin and the Struggle for Cooper Square


A preview of It Took 50 Years, followed by a discussion about lessons for organizers about the urban renewal process from members of the Cooper Square Committee.

It Took 50 Years: Frances Goldin and the Struggle for Cooper Square, 2014, Kathryn Barnier, Ryan Joseph & David Powell, 15 min clip

Robert Moses was New York City’s “Master Builder”, a force of nature that transformed the built environment and the lives of millions of New Yorkers. When Moses came to the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1959, he intended to level the area known as “Cooper Square” in the name of urban renewal. Little did Moses know that he would meet his match in the Cooper Square Committee (CSC) and in Frances Goldin, the committee’s tenacious co-founder. More info here:


In addition the filmmakers, Val Orselli of the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association, Harriet Putterman of the Cooper Square Community Land Trust, and a representative from Picture the Homeless will lead the discussion.


Dave Powell was raised and still lives in Brooklyn, NY. He has worked as an organizer for the Metropolitan Council on Housing, the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition and the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance. He is currently the Director of Organizing and Advocacy at the Fifth Avenue Committee in Brooklyn. Dave has been quoted on housing issues by the New York Times, The New York Daily News, Crain’s New York Business, The Village Voice, City Limits and other media. The Village Voice recognized his activism on behalf of New York City tenants in its “Best Of 2003” issue. Dave is a former member of the National Writers Union (UAW local 1981) and has been a collective member of ABC No Rio on the Lower East Side for over 20 years. He holds a BA in film production from and a Masters in Urban Planning, both from Hunter College.

Ryan Joseph was born in Trinidad, West Indies and now resides in Jersey City, NJ.  As a freelance documentary photographer and filmmaker his work focuses on documenting and bringing to light marginalized communities and subcultures. Ryan has displayed at Aljira Center for Contemporary Art in Newark, New Jersey and The John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore, Maryland, among other venues. He has been published in The New York Times, Jet Magazine, En Foco Photography Magazine, Urban Ink Magazine and has worked as a still photographer for Asante film production, The Black Candle. His cinematography credits include The Rink which he co-produced.

Kathryn Barner, editor of It Took 50 Years, has over 20 years of documentary post-production experience. Her credits include My Brooklyn (2012), Banished: How Whites Drove Blacks Out of Town in America (2006) and The Gun Deadlock (2001.

Cooper Square Committee’s mission is to work with area residents to contribute to the preservation and development of affordable, environmentally healthy housing and community/ cultural spaces so that the Cooper Square area remains racially, economically and culturally diverse. The Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association and Cooper Square Community Land Trust were created in furtherance of that mission.


Picture the Homeless is a lead organization in the New York City Community Land Initiative (, which is working to expand the opportunities for putting NYC land in community trust.

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

12pm - 1pm, panorama

The Manhattan Projects Tour

“Around the city” tour of four completed NYC urban renewal projects (United Nations, Stuyvesant Town, Lincoln Square/Center, East Harlem) on the panorama with Samuel Zipp, author of Manhattan Projects: the Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York.

Samuel Zipp is an Associate Professor of American Studies and Urban Studies at Brown University and the author of Manhattan Projects: The Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York. He has written articles and reviews for a number of publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, The Baffler, Metropolis, Cabinet, and In These Times.

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1pm - 2:30pm, 2nd floor theater

Before Lincoln Center

Organized by Oksana Mironova

Screenings of films Rompierdo Puertas (Break and Enter) (1971) & The Case against Lincoln Center (1968), both from Third World Newsreel, framed and followed a discussion with Jennifer Hock and Mariana Mogilevich on the city-facilitated transformation of the Upper West Side.

Rompierdo Puertas (Break and Enter), 1971, Third World Films, 42 min

Rompierdo Puertas details the takeover of buildings by Latino families in New York City slated for urban renewal. The film highlights the community’s struggle against displacement and their determination to obtain equality and decent housing.

The Case against Lincoln Center, 1968, Third World Films, 12 min

The Case against Lincoln Center depicts the building of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, that displaced 20,000 Latino families. Juxtaposing the atmosphere of Lincoln Center with the vibrant street culture of a displaced neighborhood, the film correctly predicts the process by which the West Side was to be turned into a high-rent area for the upper middle class.

Mariana Mogilevich is an urban and architectural historian and native New Yorker. She writes about the design and politics of the built environment in general and on public space and open space in New York in particular, and has taught urban studies and architectural history at Harvard and New York University.

Jennifer Hock is an architectural and urban historian with an interest in the impact of social movements on design and planning practice and the creation of urban space. She received her PhD from Harvard University in 2012. She has lectured and published on Jane Jacobs, mid-century American architecture, and urban renewal, and is working on a book on architecture, planning, and the civil rights movement in Boston. She currently teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Oksana Mironova is a researcher and writer focused on housing policy, urban development, and alternative economies. She was born in the former Soviet Union and grew up in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Urban Omnibus, BKLYNR, Progressive Planning, and Shelterforce.

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2:30pm - 4pm, 2nd floor workshop space

Williamsburg’s South Side with Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Diana Reyna, Shekar Krishnan, Anusha Venkataraman and The Broadway Triangle Community Coalition.

Diana Reyna is the Deputy Brooklyn Borough President and has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to communities across Brooklyn through government service and advocacy since 2001.  As a New York City Council Member representing the 34th District (that includes the neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Bushwick in Brooklyn as well as Ridgewood, Queens) she garnered citywide attention for her efforts in championing affordable housing, economic development, improving equity in education, park space and waste as well as expanding youth and senior services.  As the first woman of Dominican descent elected to office in New York State she focuses on ways she can advocate for the over 2.6 million residents of New York City’s most diverse borough. Reyna supports innovation and high-tech job creation, investing in women or minority owned small businesses, as well as business incubators that facilitate the critical work of entrepreneurs in creating start-up companies.  Reyna was born and raised in Williamsburg’s ‘Southside,’ and now lives in Bushwick with her husband, a sergeant in the New York City Police Department, and two boys. She attended the

Transfiguration School in Williamsburg and Pace University in Pleasantville, New York.

The Broadway Triangle Community Coalition (BTCC) represents the authentic voices of community residents from Williamsburg and northern Bedford-Stuyvesant calling for an inclusive public planning process and integrated affordable housing in response to the city’s efforts to rezone the Broadway Triangle in Brooklyn. This coalition includes over 40 church, civic, educational and community-based organizations that represent the area’s largely Latino, African-American, and Hasidic communities.  The coalition formed six years ago to advocate for fair housing and a transparent, participatory rezoning process for this Urban Renewal Area—the largest plot of vacant land in the borough for affordable housing.  The BTCC advocates for a comprehensive plan for the Broadway Triangle, one that ends longstanding residential segregation in this area of Brooklyn, maximizes the affordable housing that can be built given the great need in this area, and provides sustainable resources for the surrounding low-income communities.

Shekar Krishnan is the Director of the Preserving Affordable Housing Program at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A (“Brooklyn A”).  He leads its fair housing and community-based advocacy on behalf of tenant and neighborhood groups in North Brooklyn.  He is one of the lead lawyers on Brooklyn A’s Broadway Triangle fair housing case against the City of New York, which the organization started five years ago.  Shekar was also an associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP and Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, serving as pro bono counsel to Brooklyn A and as a member of its board.  He clerked for Senior United States District Court Judge Jack B. Weinstein in the Eastern District of New York.  Shekar received his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School, where he was a Clarence Darrow Scholar and contributing editor of the Michigan Law Review, and his undergraduate degree from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.  He is a member of the board of directors of Citizens Union and El Puente.  Shekar’s publications include “Advocacy for Tenant and Community Empowerment” (CUNY Law Review), “Lock Up Crooked Landlords” (N.Y. Daily News Op-ed), and “Without an Attorney, the Scales of Justice Are Weighted Against the Poor” (New York State Bar Association Pro Bono News).

Anusha Venkataraman is a hybrid urban planner, writer, artist, and activist, whose work focuses on empowering communities to lead change rather than respond to it. She is currently Director of the Green Light District initiative at El Puente, a community human rights institution in Brooklyn, NY. The Green Light District is a grassroots ten-year campaign for sustainability, equity, community wellness, and Latino cultural expression in the Southside or "Los Sures" neighborhood. Anusha edited the books Intractable Democracy: Fifty Years of Community-Based Planning (2010) and Beyond Zuccotti Park: Freedom of Assembly and the Occupation of Public Space (2012, with colleagues), and is a contributing editor and writer for Outpost Journal, an annual publication that features art and activism in small and medium-sized U.S. cities. Anusha completed her masters degree in City and Regional Planning at the Pratt Institute, with a focus on arts and community development, and a bachelors degree in International Relations at Brown University.

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4pm - 6pm, walk through the panorama and conversation in 2nd floor workshop space



with Queens Borough Historian Dr. Jack Eichenbaum, Kalin Callaghan of the United Peninsula Working to Achieve Responsible Development (UPWARD) coalition in Rockaway and others to be announced.

Dr. Jack Eichenbaum holds the title of Queens Borough Historian, and a Ph.D. in urban geography (University of Michigan, 1972), where his dissertation was titled Magic, Mobility and Minorities in the Urban Drama. On the empirical level, it involved a study of the urban renewal of a multi-ethnic neighborhood in Detroit. He is a lifelong observer of NYC and other large cities around the world. Eichenbaum’s expertise lies particularly in quantitative methods, historical urban geography, migration, ethnicity, and technological change. More information can be found at: /

Kalin Callaghan, an organizer with Rockaway Wildfire, grew up amongst artists and activists in Rockaway Beach. She studied fine art and children’s  studies at Brooklyn College, and has worked as an artistic instructor for the Rockaway Artists Alliance for 10+ years. Peripherally involved in political activism since her teen years, the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy thrust her into purposeful community  organizing on a larger scale. The destruction of her hometown, and rebuilding and redevelopment efforts to follow, compelled Kalin to  work to ensure that her community would both lead and benefit from the recovery process. She has coordinated a campaign to develop a Community Benefits Agreement for Arverne East. She is raising two boys in the Rockaways.

The United Peninsula Working to Achieve Responsible Development (UPWARD) coalition is based in Rockaway, Queens. The grassroots coalition is focused on equitable development in the 81-acre portion of the Arverne Urban Renewal Plan Area that has been empty for over 40 years.

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Sunday, February 1, 2015

12pm  - 1pm, 2nd floor theater

Film Presentation: The Rink
with filmmaker Q & A 

The Rink, 2014, Sarah Friedland & Ryan Joseph, 55 min

Branch Brook Park Roller Rink, located in Newark, NJ, is one of the few remaining urban rinks of its kind. This concrete structure is nestled in a public park bordered by public housing and a highway. Upon first glance, the exterior resembles a fallout shelter; however, the streamers and lights of the interior are reminiscent of 1970s roller discos. This documentary depicts a space cherished by skaters and a city struggling to move beyond its past and forge a new narrative amidst contemporary social issues. More info here:


Sarah Friedland's documentary films and installations are concerned with personal stories that reveal larger histories and intricacies about place and society. Friedland’s works with Esy Casey have screened widely in the US and abroad and have been supported by grants from the Jerome Foundation, the Paul Newman Foundation, the William H. Prusoff Foundation, The Princess Grace Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Center for Asian American Media. In 2009, after the debut of her feature documentary Thing With No Name, she was named one of the “Top 10 Independent Filmmakers to Watch” by the Independent Magazine. She is a recipient of the 2014 Paul Robeson award from the Newark Museum for her feature documentary The Rink. Her recent documentary Jeepney (directed by Esy Casey produced by Esy Casey and Sarah Friedland) will be broadcast on PBS in 2015. She is a 2014 LABA House of Study fellow and is currently working on two projects: Memorials (with Esy Casey), a feature documentary about the way America memorializes its dead; and 5 x Lydda, a documentary video installation. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Film and Film Studies at Wagner College.


Ryan Joseph was born in Trinidad, West Indies and now resides in Jersey City, NJ.  As a freelance documentary photographer and filmmaker his work focuses on documenting and bringing to light marginalized communities and subcultures. Ryan has displayed at Aljira Center for Contemporary Art in Newark, New Jersey and The John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore, Maryland, among other venues. He has been published in The New York Times, Jet Magazine, En Foco Photography Magazine, Urban Ink Magazine and has worked as a still photographer for Asante film production, The Black Candle.


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1pm - 3pm, 2nd floor workshop space

What happens to a neighborhood “renewed?”

Strategies, tactics and tools of community participation in response to urban renewal. Attorney Amy Laura Cahn and historian Marci Reaven will talk about the disempowering force of “blight” declarations and role of community planning boards and people’s plans, looking at New York City and Eastwick, Philadelphia--the largest urban renewal site in the USA. Activists from the contested Seward Park Urban Renewal Area on Manhattan’s Lower East Side will join the conversation, and Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani and the Layered SPURA / City Studio project from the New School & Buscada will host a pop-up exhibition and lead an interactive workshop in which participants will be invited to take on roles in a community struggle over its future.

Marci Reaven is the Vice President of History Exhibits at the New York Historical Society, and a former director of the Place Matters project (

Amy Laura Cahn, Esq. is a lawyer at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and Director of the Garden Justice Legal Initiative. Amy Laura provides legal and advocacy support to community gardens and farms in historically disinvested communities, and works on environmental justice issues. In 2014, her article “On Retiring Blight as Policy and Making Eastwick Whole” was published in Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.

Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani is a photographer, urbanist and curator, and is the creator of the Layered SPURA project, a six-year public art, activist and teaching project in conjunction with her City Studio class at the New School. Gabrielle is co-founder of Buscada (, an interdisciplinary practice on place and dialogue, and is Assoc. Director of Civic Engagement Initiatives and professor of Urban Studies at the New School. She holds a PhD in Environmental Psychology from the Graduate Center, CUNY and her creative research addresses the experience & politics of everyday place in London, Buenos Aires, Oakland, CA and New York.

The Layered SPURA / City Studio project, created by Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani, explores the complexity of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) on the Lower East Side. Over 40 years ago, the City of New York cleared 14 square blocks on the south side of Delancey Street, yet most of the planned housing on the site was never built. Still primarily used as parking lots, but now the subject of large-scale development, the site has long been contested by a divided neighborhood. The Layered SPURA/City Studio project has built long-term collaborations between community organizations and New School students to create exhibitions, art and research to foster new spaces for conversations about SPURA's  future.

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3pm - 4pm, panorama

Urban Renewal is Scapegoated to Justify Current Conditions of Spatial Domination, an Artist Walk & Talk with Damon Rich

Damon Rich is a designer, planner, and visual artist. He will present work about and around urban renewal, including exhibitions The City Without a Ghetto (2003), Abuse of Power: The SPURA Story (2006), Red Lines Housing Crisis Learning Center (2007–9) and Mix and Match (Nevarca–>New Ark) (2010). At the Queens Museum in 2009, Rich's Cities Destroyed for Cash used 1431 plastic markers to map every block in New York City with three or more foreclosure filings on 1-3 family homes onto the Panorama of New York City. Damon will also discuss applications of planning exhibitions for practice in his work as founder of the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) and Planning Director for the City of Newark, New Jersey.


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4pm – 6pm, 2nd floor workshop space

From Redlining to Gentrification

Program by the University of Orange with Dr. Mindy Fullilove, Molly Rose Kaufman, Rod Wallace, Havanna Fisher, Aubrey Murdock and the film Urban Renewal is People Removal (2005).

Mindy Thompson Fullilove, M.D. is the President of the University of Orange.  She is also a board-certified psychiatrist who is interested in the links between the environment and mental health. Under the rubric of the psychology of place, Dr. Fullilove began to examine the mental health effects of such environmental processes as violence, rebuilding, segregation, urban renewal, and mismanaged toxins. She has published numerous articles and six books including Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America's Sorted-Out Cities, Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About It, and House of Joshua: Meditations on Family and Place.

Rodrick Wallace received an undergraduate degree in mathematics, and a PhD in physics, from Columbia University. He worked in the property insurance industry, and then as technical director of a public interest group, examining the impacts of policy and socioeconomic structure on public health, safety, and order. These efforts involved adaptation of analytic methods from ecosystem theory to the study of administrative data sets. After postdoctoral studies in the epidemiology of mental disorders, he received an Investigator Award in Health Policy Research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. His peer reviewed publications have been largely in the social sciences and public health, with more recent books and papers focused on evolutionary process and cognition, at and across various modes, scales, and levels of organization. He is presently a Research Scientist in the Division of Epidemiology at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, associated with the Columbia University Medical Center.

Havanna Fisher is a budding artist from Harlem, New York. She is a high school of  Fashion Industries graduate and a recent graduate of the New School. She received a Bachelors’ of Fine Arts for fashion design from at Parson’s School of Design as well as a Bachelor’s of Liberal Arts for dance from Eugene Lang. Havanna has long been interested in using the skills and techniques that she has acquired to combine the arts with education to bring about political awareness and thus probable change within the American landscape of ideological identity.

Molly Rose Kaufman is the Provost of University of Orange.

Aubrey Murdock is the Academic Dean of University of Orange.

Urban Renewal is People Removal, 2005, Sara Booth, 23 min

Urban Renewal is People Removal brings uprooted residents together to weave a people's history of Newark starting in the forties and continuing up until today. Urban renewal is not a thing of the past. Many large housing projects, whose construction displaced thousands, are now being torn down under the same banners that brought them into being less than 50 years ago. Written by Mindy Fullilove.

The University of Orange is a free people’s university based in Orange, NJ, that builds collective capacity for people to create equitable cities.  For more information visit

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Sunday, February 8, 2015 

3pm - 4pm, panorama


Curator Walk & Talk: Paula Z. Segal

Paula Z. Segal is the Director of 596 Acres, New York City’s community land access advocacy organization. In addition to supporting 30 successful neighborhood campaigns for official community access to vacant publicly owned lots and transform them into gardens and pocket parks, the organization looks for opportunities for residents to be in the charge of what happens to their neighborhoods. She is the curator for Reviewing Renewal.

RSVP on Facebook.


4pm – 6pm, 2nd floor theater

Reception, Discussion & Film Presentation: The Tragedy of Urban Renewal: The destruction and survival of a New York City neighborhood

The Tragedy of Urban Renewal: The destruction and survival of a New York City neighborhood, 2011, Reason TV, 6 min


The Tragedy of Urban Renewal: The destruction and survival of a New York City neighborhood depicts New York City's Manhattantown (1951) - one of the first projects authorized under urban renewal. The Manhattantown project destroyed six blocks on New York City's Upper West Side, including an African-American community that dated to the turn of the century. The city sold the land for a token sum to build a middle-class housing development. Then came the often repeated bulldoze-and-abandon phenomenon: with little financial skin in the game, the developers let the demolished land sit vacant for years.

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:

Intern With Us: Winter 2015

09 December 2014


596 Acres is seeking an intern who can work with us 10 hours per week for 10 weeks, January 6th - March 12, 2015. 

Your tasks will include putting up signs on vacant lots and generally helping us improve the work that we do with focus on the New York City Community Land Access program. Here's an unsolicited review from a former intern (now our NYC Organizer). 

This is an unpaid internship. You will be working out of our office at Spaceworks (540 President Street) in Gowanus, Brooklyn on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can make your own hours and there will be opportunities for field work or research on the weekends and in the evenings.

Comfort with navigation in parts of NYC you have never visited (even if you've been nearly everywhere) is key. Willingness to talk to strangers and learn how to do tasks on the computer are equally important. 

Please send a resume and a letter of interest. Include a picture of a place your neighborhood where participation by people who live or work close by could help make it better. 

Application due by 5:59p.m. on Friday, December 19, 2014, to with the subject 'Winter 2015 Intern Application.'

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:

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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.