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Of note

In Our FAQ Now: Privately-Owned Vacant Lots!

02 May 2012

There's this privately owned vacant-lot that people could use. How do I get started?


This is  a great opportunity for your neighborhood and the wider 596 Acres community. Two ways you could start:

1. If you'd like to be involved in the project yourself, put a sign on the fence to the lot telling your neighbors that you have permission to use it and how to reach you to start scheming for how to do so this spring.

2. If you're looking for other people to spearhead the effort (and take care of things like insurance and fundraising), we can add your lot to our interactive map to draw people to your budding project that way. Let us know the address of the lot and if you'd like to do that. We have been talking about adding a layer for private lots that people WANT community uses on and this would be a great way for us to start building that layer. Click the contact button to get in touch with us.


Hey Bed Stuy/Stuyvesant Heights! There's A Lot Going On!

19 April 2012

1. 463 Tompkins Future Urban Orchard! This site is negotiating for city agency approval now; neighbors are making plans for what to do with mound of a downed house -- a terraced orchard, perhaps? Contact Beatriz at (646) 481-1708 or to get involved. 

2. 462 Halsey Community Gardens: This site opened with city agency approval in April 2012. Come by any day & join us for a party this Sunday!

3. Putnam & Patchen Future Community Garden! Two block associations and the neighbors have come together and are negotiating or agency approval, which is imminent. They hope to be growing something by June 2012. Contact Alison at or Alexis at (646) 351-9859 to get involved. 

4. Jefferson & Broadway - A HUGE Lot that the community is just starting to think about! Contact Matt at (216) 316-3753 or mattbrill4@gmail.comto start scheming. 

5. BK Permaculture Community Compost Site. Agency approval is still tentative for a more stable use, but composting has begun. Contact Frank at (917) 757-6013 or to get involved.

A Public Space is One With NO Fence -- Or At Least An Open Gate!

19 April 2012
tags: of note


Here at 596 Acres, our goal is to create spaces where communities can come together in PUBLIC, with everyone in the neighborhood. We work with individuals and groups who want to steward these spaces, but our ultimate goal is a space that is shared by strangers, who by sharing the space become less strange to one another. 

This is a design challenge. Stewarding the conversion of vacant public land to gardens and community spaces can be a lot of work -- it certainly takes time and money. It's natural that our instincts are to protect that effort. But protecting the effort should not be at the expense of spaces that feel truly public, that are not secret gardens locked behind high fences. 

As 462 Halsey Street Community Gardens prepare for their Grand Opening this weekend, we asked Shatia Jackson, one of the lead stewards, to explain how they are addressing this challenge (this is inspiring stuff); she said, 

"We decided to keep the 462 Halsey community garden gates open to the public during daylight hours to encourage the neighborhood to take part. We want to build a sense of ownership and pride, not to exclude or discourage people from wandering in whenever they want. The first week went really well.  With the exception of one person letting their dog poop in the front and a few children who came in unsupervised, but even they were pleasant, curious and ready to learn."

462 Halsey Community Gardens adopted bylaws that include the following :

462HCG will be open to members all year round and to the general public April 1st to October 31st (unless otherwise specified for events). Hours are as follows:

Monday 8am-dusk

 Tuesday 8am-dusk

Wednesday 8am-dusk

Thursday 8am-dusk

Friday 8am-dusk

Saturday 9am-8pm

Sunday 9am-6pm

See at the garden party on Sunday!


What we did with $1200 from F.E.A.S.T. #12 in January 2012

16 April 2012

In Our FAQ Now: I'm about to call a city agency -- what do I say?

02 April 2012

You'll need the identifying information about the lot you are interested in handy - the Block and Lot number is crucial; the address, if the lot has one, is also nice.

This site gives you contact information for the person for each piece of vacant public land who we think has the ability to tell you it's status and give you permission to use it. Sometimes our sluething is off -- or sometimes people change jobs. When you call, start by asking if they are the person you should speak to about a vacant property in North/South Brooklyn. If they're not, ask who is (and remember to tell 596 Acres!).

If they are, tell them you are calling from a neighborhood organization. Describe the lot, how long it's been empty. Give the Block and Lot number and maybe the address. 
Say your group is interested in getting permission to do a temporary project/garden/playground/movie theater/farm/free school/etc. on that site. Emphasize that you realize the agency has plans for the site that will eventually be impletemented -- your group just wants to use it this year/ this season/ until the plans are solidified. 
Ask if such an interim use plan would be compatible with the agency's timeline for the "real" plan. Say you would like to sign a license agreement that would be revokable at any time -- offer to send a sample.

Make sure you get the email of the person who you are talking to. Follow up with a note and copy We can help you negotiate the licence. 

We would also love to get a note from you describing what you learned on the phone -- add your Note to the page for the lot you are calling about so that we can all learn from your experience. 



So Much Progress - So Little Acrage

27 March 2012

0.329 acres have been activated by community groups who found out that vacant land in their neighborhoods was actually public land. That tiny amount is all of the Java Street Garden Collaborative, Feedback Farms/A Small Green Patch and 462 Halsey. We have a long long way to go.

596 Acres Testifies Before City Council Parks Budget Hearing In Support of NYC Funding GreenThumb

22 March 2012

GreenThumb gets no funding from New York City. Here's what we have to say about that:

"My name is Paula Segal. I am here representing a community-based project called 596 Acres. I am here today to testify for city council funding for community driven parks projects and, specifically city funding for the GreenThumb program. 

596 Acres connects communities with land resources around them to enable the formation of community-controlled public spaces where New Yorkers can work together and play together in their own neighborhoods. Our project is a data project -- we use maps and hand-made signs to identify unused public land in Brooklyn. Our pilot project, which started by labeling a dozen unused Housing Preservation and Development sites last summer and supporting community members who saw those signs in navigating the existing processes for getting access. Three of those sites are now GreenThumb gardens -- the Java Street Garden Collaborative in Greenpoint, Feedback Farms in Gowanus and 462 Halsey Community Gardens in Bedford Stuyvesant. 

GreenThumb provides materials and gardening support for gardens on public land. They provided an already-established process for these three community groups to actually open their fences and put public land to use that the people who live right near those lands could control and use for recreation and food production. Without the help and support of GreenThumb, these groups would be going it alone and would likely still be weedy, vacant lots behind fences. 

One of the things that I find myself doing a lot as a community advocate through 596 Acres is telling community members not to give up -- GreenThumb is swamped. Sometimes materials take a long time to arrive. Sometimes emails take a long time to get answered. City funding for this crucial program that is serving the needs of New Yorkers who want to work together to create community controlled spaces would increase the capacity of the program, and have the effect of increasing the capacity of all New Yorkers to affect the use of our common lands in our own communities. 

596 Acres is here today to ask the City Council to use the Parks budget process as an opportunity to add city funding to GreenThumb. Even a small amount of funding added directly from the City budget would immediately increase green space capacity in our neighborhoods, especially those where parks are scarce." 

A really nice sample letter

13 March 2012
tags: of note

This letter was not the first communication between Tami Johnson of A Small Green Patch -- he was anticipating it after a call from Paula Segal of 596 Acres. It's a great example of the kind of questions a new project should be ready to answer and a tone that works.

A Small Green Patch and FeedBack Farms is coming to Bergen Street between 3rd and 4th Avenue this Spring. They just put up their first official sign!


Dear Mr. Hammer,

 Brooklyn, block 1028, lot 7 - Vacant Lot: 487 4 AVENUE - Agency = Housing Preservation and Development

 I hope this letter finds you well. My name is Tami Johnson and I would like to set up a meeting with you to discuss the conversion of the vacant lot on the corner of 4th Avenue and 12th Street, (487 4th Avenue) in Brooklyn NY into a movable community garden/space for the neighborhood and community.

I say movable because I do not want to take over the vacant lot permanently but would like to coordinate a symbiotic relationship between the lot and the community for as long as you will let me. I am in the process of collecting signatures from my neighbors and should have over 10 people to sign on in the next couple of weeks.

I am raising money to pay for insurance, maintenance and other costs.

I have raised over $1135 thus far with a goal of $3780 needed to make the movable community garden happen and I have a few nurseries in the area that would like to donate trees and plants. I am also prepared to get the ground tested to ensure it’s safe for people to enter the lot. If the lot is not deemed safe yet because of pollutants from the Gowanus Coal and Gas companies that were in operation prior - I would like to grow the type of plants that will help filter the pollutants out of the soil to decontaminate the lot.

I have lived in this neighborhood  for 10 years now and also have a music studio that is a couple blocks away from this vacant lot. I’ve walked past the empty lot on the corner a thousand plus times on my way to rehearsal and to and from work. On one of these walks I had the idea of helping tend to the lot while at the same time providing a temporary movable community garden/space for the neighborhood.

I would like to ask for your permission to proceed forward with this project and would like to know what you need from me to begin the process. Would it be possible to create a movable community garden/space at 487 4th Avenue, Brooklyn?

Some ideas that could be done if you approve this project:

  • A movable garden with wooden planters built for trees, shrubs and flowers.
  • Organic Gardening where 1/2 of what is grown is given to a local soup kitchen each week (using milk-crate type food growing techniques)
  • Community classes teaching children how a tree grows or how a plant is planted.
  • Compost classes to educate the community about composting and  help recycle the polluted ground in the lot
  • Free monthly music events.
  • Allow artists that live on your block and in the area to show their work.
  • A  painted "public service announcement" mural on the side of the building next door designed by local and experienced mural painters

This idea would help the Housing Preservation and Development by:

  • Lot maintenance: all trash would be picked up and the sidewalks maintained around the lot weekly.
  • Snow removal - I will personally ensure that all snow is shoveled each year.
  • A sense of satisfaction knowing that the lot is well attended, provides a nice space for the neighborhood and improves the environment.

I have been coordinating with 596acres, ioby and have tried to tend to another lot by contacting Craig Hammerman at Community Board 6. I am also working with some of the local businesses in the area to help make this happen.


596 Acres: Exportable Tactics!

02 March 2012
tags: of note

We ran some Google analytics and noticed that folks all over the world are checking out our site. The green areas are all places that have virtually checked out the Acres.

This is great news. Maps and signs and green spaces where communities can be together are tactics that work well to build stronger bonds between people everywhere. Below is the story of our friends in Rio de Janiero, Brasil, building a garden in the face of gentrification and pacification in the favelas of that city.


 Lea Rekow, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

Fear, intimidation, and the ongoing militarization of space are all attempts to contain the favela as a space characterized by forceful occupation. Military police now control Rio de Janeiro’s Rocinha favela, arguably the largest slum in Brazil, having recently displaced the ruling drug faction.  However they still present a heavily armed presence through which they assert control. Rocinha’s quarter of a million residents occupy less than a square kilometer of steep land in a dense labyrinth that has no drainage, planned runoff, or sewerage system. There are few green spaces. 

Green My Favela is a collaborative food security project situated inside Rocinha.  It is born out of intense socio-political, economic, and cultural repression and represents our capabilities to adapt to the most radical of conditions. Within this context, Green My Favela represents the practice of freedom. Through its very existence, it becomes a mediator for the examination of civil society, and an important catalyst for building social networking that is change in itself.

Green My Favela represents a foodscape of inner city poverty, community needs, urban renewal, and ecological restoration.  This long-term project is a collaboration between myself, Tio Lino’s Mundo da Arte, Alegria das and Crianças crèche, and is supported by Visom Digital (under the direction of Adriana, my amazing working partner in this endeavor).  Our goals are to work with children to produce food to feed children; to cultivate edible green space; to increase food security; and provide a safe space for at-risk children.  Our metaproject is to locate, map, and reclaim vacant lots in Rocinha, and to develop them as community food forests.  The project is fully maintained by the children of Rocinha, under the supervision of Tio Lino.

Our project began with a conversation between myself and Tio Lino, who grew up in Rocinha, and remembers it as a small rural community.  The name Rocinha literally means “little farm”.  It developed as a local agricultural center settled by Portuguese, French and Italian farmers who cultivated small plots on the hillside from around 1930.  It later became a supply center of vegetables for the city of Rio de Janeiro’s Zona Sul (South Zone) at the end of the 1950s after the second world war as more immigrants moved in from other parts of Brazil, such as Minas Gerais and the Northeast.  

Tio was able to gain access to a vacant lot of land that had long been used as a dumping ground by local residents.  Years of trash had built up on the site, an area of around 8 meters square.  Trash had even been dumped in the water supply, which was now disused, and a potential haven for all kinds of infectious diseases.

In January this year, with the help of 14 Australian volunteers, Tio Lino and the kids from his children’s center, Rocinha Media School, and some local workers, we began transforming the space.  We first removed the layers of trash, repurposing some of the materials to use in the garden.  There were piles of bricks which we used to help build a series of terraces, steps, pathways, and garden beds, as the land is quite steep.  We raked out the remaining trash from the soil, tilled it, sealed the old trash-filled water supply, lay pipes to a clean water supply, and have laid mulch and organic fertilizer as a top layer. We are now relying on the children to plant, cultivate, and maintain the garden on a daily basis.

We are ready to plant the edibles, and are on our biggest mission yet, to find organic seeds and seedlings which are not commercially available for purchase in Brazil.  At least we have located an organic farm two hours out of the city with which we have scheduled a visit.  We are also waiting for the soil tests to come back to us.

On the advice of 596, we are also beginning to map other vacant lots and are preparing to identify them by branding them with signage. Soaring real estate prices in Rio due to the upcoming 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics have now made the city more expensive to live in than New York. With the favela now “pacified” by police, real estate prices have tripled overnight.  Our fear is that these vacant lots will be gobbled up by development, so we are strategizing how to secure and conserve them as green spaces. 

As we move forward, our overall aim is to see Rocinha socially and environmentally restored through providing Rocinha’s children with creative purpose, real-world education, affection, and motivation to improve their quality of life, oh yeah, and good, healthy food!

Photos of the garden are available at:

and you can watch a video of the first planting here:


Who Needs Fences?

15 February 2012
tags: of note

At Sunday's general meeting, we had the pleasure of meeting Claudia Joseph of New York Permaculture Exchange. We were talking about fences, and how communities can work to make their public spaces truly accessible to all the publics near them. Claudia shared two working radical models that she is a part of:

The Garden of Union, which is gardened communally, gives keys to its locks to anyone that goes through an orientation with a garden volunteer, and has 150+ members.

The garden at the Old Stone House, which has no fence at all and is gardened with the participation of students at the neighboring middle school.

These are two places we definitely recommend you check out. We would also love to hear about and share more stories about sucessfully inviting and public spaces. We really don't <3 fences.

596 Acres of Reclaimed Parking Lots

26 January 2012
tags: of note

We recently ran into a fun blog post from last fall where the author calculates the number of parking lots ("If a parking spot spends most of its time occupied by an empty motor vehicle does that make it a vacant lot?") it would take to make 596 acres:

"According to my (unscientific) data collection efforts, the average parking space occupies (conservatively) 90 square feet (6 feet wide by 15 feet long). So you’d need to repurpose 484 on-street spots to gain an acre of farmland – or 288,464 spots to get 596 acres."

Where else do we have 596 acres of potential gardens and growing areas? Rooftops? Train stations? Empty condos?

NYC Land Inventory Reporting Law Signed By Mayor Bloomberg

17 August 2011
tags: of note

Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a bill into law yesterday that will require the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) to inventory and make publicly accessible data about city owned and leased property, as well as make a determination about whether that property is "suitable" for urban agriculture.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn characterized the bill as a "green roofs" bill in her email to her constituents earlier this month.

Paula Z. Segal testified at the hearing about this bill for 596 Acres in June. Below is her testimony. The bill passed and was signed into law with no amendments since the time of the hearing.

"We are trying to connect people with land resources. To that end we really support the city land inventory reporting law but would make two significant changes.

"First - it's crucial that contact information for agencies be included in the information that DCAS is mandated to publish. I've been particularly working on a piece of land at the border of Bed-Stuy and Clinton Hill that has been vacant and has was promised to the community and it took us a very long time to figure out who the right person to talk to. And now, we are actually going to be having a community meeting and the commissioner of the agency that owns the land is coming to speak with us, but it took us about a year to figure out who to talk to. After we had that information, it took about three months to get this meeting set up. The contact information was the key.

"Second - the language of 'suitability' for urban agriculture. Urban agriculture looks a lot of different ways in New York City Composting is certainly urban agriculture; it is production of good soil for growing food. Bucket gardens that are growing delicious tomatoes are certainly urban agriculture; a fire escape is suitable for that. I worry about seeing that language as included in the metrics. I worry about who is going to be making that determination.

"There is a lot of urban agriculture or already going on in New York City that goes unreported. One unfortunate kink is that many, many, many of our community gardens - thriving community gardens that had existed for 20, 30 years - are actually classified as vacant by City Planning. So, when we actually go out on the ground and investigate each of the sites we are finding gardens. The disconnect is that New York City's land planning databases don't have a category for urban agriculture."