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PRESS RELEASE: 596 Acres Expanding Tactics to Manhattan and Queens

13 June 2012
tags: 596 acres press


596 Acres is expanding to Queens and Manhattan.  596 Acres creates tools to connect New Yorkers to vacant public land. 


With 596 Acres’ expansion into Queen and Manhattan, nearly four million more New Yorkers will have access to the tools they need to expand community space in their neighborhoods. Hundreds of acres of vacant public land exist in New York City, hidden in plain sight behind chain-link fences in neighborhoods where green space and other public amenities are scarce. We are building the tools for communities to get the keys legally and unlock all these rusty gates—and the opportunities within them.


On June 15, the 596 Acres’ interactive online map at will newly bring information about vacant public land in Manhattan and Queens. We will also begin distribution of print maps and signs for labeling lots for Queens and Manhattan.


596 Acres has connected communities in Brooklyn with vacant public land resources through a combination of tactics:


(1) making municipal information available through an online interactive map,;


(2) placing signs on vacant public land that explain each lot’s status and steps that the community can take in order to be able to use this land,


(3) visioning sessions for education about public land holdings by invitation from community groups,


(4) engaging the community when an interested potential leader reaches out, and


(5) direct advocacy with New York City agencies.


Our fully volunteer-led, 12-month pilot project in Brooklyn has created countless opportunities for neighbors in to come together and take control of their landscape, to learn which government agencies make decisions for their neighborhoods and to talk to residents new and old. Five of these spaces are, at this moment, in varying stages of development toward becoming usable, functional community spaces:


Patchen Community Square, Bedford-Stuyvesant;

462 Halsey Community Gardens, Bedford-Stuyvesant;

Java Street Garden Collaborative, Greenpoint;

A Small Green Patch, Gowanus; and

Myrtle Village Green, Northwest Bedford-Stuyvesant/Wallabout Village.

Each is being transformed—by volunteer neighbors—into open spaces for the community to gather, to grow food, and to play. “I’m really excited to see how our tools are being used by New Yorkers to really transform their own neighborhoods,” says Paula Z. Segal, the project’s founder and lead facilitator. 


With support from the Citizens’ Committee for New York City, the Awesome Foundation and individual donations through, we have created tools that we hope will jumpstart as many projects in Queens and Manhattan in the coming year.


“596 Acres has really excelled at making the intentions of vacant lots transparent to people that live and work in the community,” says Helen Ho, a supporter of the project from the start and founder of Queens Green Drinks and the Tour de Queens. “Their experience and success in catalyzing the start of five community garden spaces in Brooklyn is going to be a great resource for Queens. We need to take ownership of empty spaces in our neighborhood whether that is creating food, a bike path, more jobs, or a safe space for youth.” Helen is currently the Development Director for Recycle-A-Bicycle.


We will have events in Manhattan and Queens do envision how communities can best use this information and share what we have learned in Brooklyn as follows and to distribute free print maps of the host boroughs:


Saturday, June 16, 4-6pm, 155 Avenue C, Manhattan!
Hosted by See Squat and the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space.


Wednesday, June 20, 7-9pm, 39-31 29th Street, Long Island City, Queens!
Hosted by Flux Factory’s Series "The Future of Your Neighborhood: Who Decides?" 


Thursday, August 23, 8:30-10pm, Marina 59, Rockaway, Queens!
Hosted by the Marina 59 Boatel as part of it’s summer lecture series.


We invite press and any other interested individuals to attend these events. We are continuing to schedule workshops and visioning sessions in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan throughout the summer.


In August, we will focus our efforts on the Rockaways in Queens, a neighborhood with a high density of vacant public land. We are already working on our network there.


“I am excited to have 596 Acres expand into Queens and the Rockaways,” says David Selig, owner of Rockaway Taco and one of the forces behind the transformation of the Boardwalk food vending stalls into a venue for local businesses. “Properties that are currently held dormant by NYC will suddenly become properties of the community through publicizing ownership and its contact information. This will spark local interest and discussion which will in effect create a ‘land value’ that the community will choose.”


Press contact: 

Paula Z. Segal, Founder & Lead Facilitator, 596 Acres
c: 917 861 5846



On THIRTEEN: Growing on Vacant Brooklyn Lots, Reclaiming Public Space

16 May 2012


Growing on Vacant Brooklyn Lots, Reclaiming Public Space

John Farley | May 16, 2012 4:00 AM video

Back in April 2010, a group of people used a tool called MapPLUTO, a product of the earthbound Department of City Planning,  to pinpoint the amount of unused, city-0wned land in Brooklyn.  They found both the answer and their project’s name:  596 Acres. Since then, the 596 group has worked to connect individuals and organizations with the proper city agencies in order to transform three empty Brooklyn lots  into community gardens.

More transfers of fenced-off green space into public hands is the goal, but with the often slow pace of city bureaucracy and the complexities of grassroots organizing,  it’s no easy task. MetroFocus asked participants from two reclaimed lots share their stories about what it’s like to fill a hole in their neighborhood.  You can learn more about the third lot, Patchen Square at 868 Patchen Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, at its upcoming work days on May 19 and May 26, 12-5 p.m.

462 Halsey Community Garden : 462 Halsey Street, Bedford-Stuyvesant

462 Halsey Community Garden was co-founded by Kristen Bonardi Rapp and Shatia Jackson and has been developed with help from other community members, local businesses, and 596 Acres.


(Neighborhood newcomer Kristen Bonardi Rapp and Bed-Stuy native Shatia Jackson co-founded the 462 Halsey Community Garden with help from 596 Acres and their community. Video courtesy of Jessica Esptein, Zac Hoffman and Edward Wardrip.)

Kristen Bonardi Rapp: As far as anyone can tell, 462 Halsey Street had probably been vacant since the late 1970s. Long-time residents have said that every so often people would talk about getting a community garden together on the site but nothing ever really came of it. It’s not surprising that in all the years the lot was vacant, nothing happened, because it’s not at all obvious what to do when you and your neighbors want to start something like a garden. If 596 Acres hadn’t posted a sign on our fence and also followed it with advice on which city offices to get in touch with, the lot would probably still be empty right now.

Until recently, the lot at 462 Halsey Street in Bed-Stuy looked like this. Photo by Meg Wachter/

Fortunately for us, despite being vacant for so long, there wasn’t a lot of junk on the site — no rusted out appliances or old tires — just some trash as well as rubble from the building that had been there. So, after about three months of phone calls and filling out forms, when the city finally gave us access to the site, we didn’t have too much cleaning to do before we got to work.

462 Halsey as it exists today. Photo by Kristen Bonardi Rapp

From the start, we’ve tried to make 462 Halsey Community Garden as much about community as it is about gardening. Our aim has always been to draw in everyone in the neighborhood, whenever possible. We have garden beds for our members but we also have several large public plots for anyone who doesn’t have the time or inclination to grow something otherwise. We’re a year-round public drop-off for compostable waste. We’re building a pavilion later this summer which will be a nice shady spot to sit. And our gates are open from morning to dusk every day, because we want people to feel that this garden is theirs, too — that it belongs to everyone.  


A Small Green Patch: 346-350 Bergen Street, Boerum Hill

Feedback FarmsTextile Arts CenterSt. Lydia’s Dinner Church and community members worked with 596 Acres to secure the lots on Dec. 1, 2011, which they’ll use for a variety of purposes under the banner “A Small Green Patch.” Feedback Farms runs one of the lots exclusively at 348 Bergen Street, but all of the groups plan to share resources across the other lots.

Feedback Farms member Gregory Sogorka says the lot at 348 Bergen St. has been vacant since the 1960s. Until recently, it looked like this. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

Clare Sullivan and Gregory Sogorka, members of FeedBack Farms: A Small Green Patch is a new garden that we started in the Boerum Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. The site is being run by a group of community members and three community organizations: Feedback Farms, The Textile Art Center, and St. Lydia’s Dinner Church. It came together through the happy circumstances of several different people and groups who had been thinking about new ways of utilizing vacant land getting together.

Tami Johnson had been trying to organize temporary gardens and green space in vacant lots around Gowanus for some time — she started the group “A Small Green Patch” and built a Facebook group and email list around the idea. Tom Hallaran registered as an organizer of the lots at 346-350 on the 596 acres website. He noticed the lots, a block from his home and started researching ownership using the 596 acres website and the CUNY Oasis websites.

We got a few more people together and Tami called the Department of Housing Preservation and DevelopmentGreenThumb, and the Brooklyn Borough President’s office.  GreenThumb agreed to give the group access if the private lot owner agreed. The private owner was persuaded to grant short-term access if the space was designed to be temporary and “A Small Green Patch” finally had a home.

The lots themselves had been vacant for decades and with their mixed ownership it was always unclear who was responsible for clean-up and maintenance. With just a few weeks of work by the organizations, neighbors and many other volunteers the three lots are already transformed. The garden community space is using participatory planning to develop its layout and the ways in which it will be used.

This photo, taken on May 5, shows the progress the Feedback Farms team has made on 348 Bergen Street. Photo courtesy of Feedback Farms

There has been an incredible turnout of people investing their time and energy in creating a green space that everyone can use. Garbage accumulated over years was removed, contaminated soil was covered, raised beds and benches have been built, and plants are being planted. GreenThumb, GrowNYC, the NYC Parks Department and the Department of Sanitation helped make all the cleanup possible and Ioby [an online micro-funding platform for environmental projects] helped us to fundraise and covered our insurance. Some of the activities that we are envisioning taking place there are community concerts, workshops on composting and beekeeping and other types of education and outreach that have to do with urban agriculture.

Feedback Farms is using the lot at 348 Bergen Street. We, along with Kallie Weinkle and Tom Hallaran, incubated the idea of Feedback Farms into a simple and powerful initiative that transforms vacant lots into urban farming research projects.

In addition to SIP benefits, some of the Feedback Farm planters are outfitted with wireless sensor technology that periodically monitors soil moisture content, temperature, and luminosity. These planters provide extra insight and understanding that allow for precise measurements to further inform the project moving forward, hence the name Feedback Farms. We utilize a raised bed planter technology called Sub Irrigated Planters (SIPs). This method consists of a reservoir of water underneath a layer of soil, which continually supplies plant roots with a direct source of water. The benefits of this approach include consistent watering, higher crop yield, and water conservation.


Contact 596 Acres about taking over a lot in your community. You can learn more about the process here.


A Great Video About 462 Halsey and Us

14 May 2012

Jessica Esptein, Zac Hoffman, & Edward Wardrip, undergrads at NYU, made this great movie.

Our Programmer Eric in the Brownstoner Hot Seat

14 May 2012

The Hot Seat: Eric Brelsford

Welcome to the Hot Seat, where we interview folks involved with Brooklyn real estate, development, architecture and the like. Introducing Eric Brelsford, part of the team at 596 Acres. 596 Acres seeks to inform Brooklyn residents about the vacant lots around them, many of which are publicly owned. In turn they help residents turn those lots into usable community space. 596 acres is how much vacant public land existed in Brooklyn alone as of April 2010.

BS: What neighborhood do you live in, and how’d you end up there?
EB: I live in Prospect Heights. I got here accidentally, but it didn’t take long to appreciate my neighbors and the neighborhood’s proximity to places like Prospect Park.

BS: Can you talk about how 596 Acres came to be?
EB: My colleague Paula founded 596 Acres after getting the original dataset from theCenter for the Study of Brooklyn at Brooklyn College while working with the Brooklyn Food Coalition. The CSB is a great resource–it helps community groups access and analyze data that is otherwise quite inaccessible to those outside of city government or universities.

Paula asked for all public, vacant land, and when she got the spreadsheet from the CSB she added up the area column to get the number that gave the project its name. She was pretty astounded, of course, and thought this was important knowledge to share.

Using money raised on ioby, she printed newspaper-sized posters, and we wheatpasted them to foam and other media and put them on the fences that seal a handful of these lots. We included the contact information for the agencies that controlled the lots and the project’s email address. We weren’t sure what would happen, but the people who live around those lots got in touch with us really quickly, we got those people in touch with each other, and the project started to take form.

I wrote our site, which includes a map where people can search for lots near them and get in touch with each other. Our focus is still on our print posters because we know that they’re the best way to get in touch with people who live near the lots.

After the jump, Eric talks about “gutterspace,” what happens when people come together to transform these lots, current projects in Brooklyn, and a lot in Bushwick with tons of potential…
BS: The website mentions these empty lots are known as “gutterspace.” What does that mean? Typically, how do these lots end up staying empty for so long?
EB: Gutterspace takes a number of forms, but for the purposes of our map we call any piece of land that can’t be accessed from the street or another vacant lot–that’s essentially landlocked–or is tiny, gutterspace. It’s frustrating searching around your block for potential open space only to find that the lot is actually in the middle of a block, or so small that it would be ridiculous to try to do anything with it. We were lucky enough to get a FEAST grant a few months ago and hire someone to (painstakingly, I might add) remove each one. Our goal is not only to make this data accessible to everyone, but to make sure that it’s relevant. The city isn’t doing a particularly good job on either of these fronts, so that’s where we come in.

Back to gutterspace: it’s land that either through surveying errors or the way lots have been chopped up that has slipped through the cracks. The city owns it, and I’m not sure why it doesn’t get consolidated into the adjacent lots. In the 70s, Gordon Matta-Clark bought a bunch of these in Queens and Staten Island and called them his Fake Estates. He once said that the description he found most exciting when at property auctions was “inaccessible.” There is something fascinating about them, so we still have them on the map as a layer.

BS: A part of what 596 Acres does is really straightforward: data aggregation and alerting people of said data. (The signs you put up on empty lots, for example.) How successful has that tactic been? 
EB: The signs have been extremely successful. While our site charts the progress of the projects happening on these lots (from “organizing” to “having access”), a significant chunk of the lots that are active had posters on their fences. There isn’t much distinguishing these city-owned lots from privately-owned lots. Some of them have been vacant for decades, and when someone who has lived in the neighborhood for their whole life passes it and sees our poster on it (as opposed to the weeds and trash that tends to be present), they notice it! The people who notice the sign and have been thinking about doing something with the lot see this as their opportunity and get in touch with us.

BS: How does the act of taking over unused space and turning it into something positive change how people view, and interact in, their neighborhood? Why is reclaiming space especially important in neighborhoods where you see so many of these empty lots? 
EB: The experience affects everyone differently. When you’re working with your neighbors toward a concrete goal that will directly impact the lives of each neighbor, at the very least you’re talking to people you probably weren’t talking to before. You’re sharing time, space, and food with your neighbors before you even get access to the target space. You’re making decisions together, and too often you’re starting from scratch because decision-making has largely been taken away from the community.

It’s not always pleasant. There will be disagreements, there will be very different people coming together. Space is a contentious issue in most of the neighborhoods with green on our map, where gentrification is being felt most acutely. Working on reclaiming a vacant lot, though, provides an avenue for neighbors to get to know each other and work through issues directly. This is an avenue that is mostly absent in this city, and my hope is that stronger neighborhoods are a result of these projects, though it’s far too soon to tell.

BS: What current projects is the organization working on that Brooklynites should know about?
EB: We’re very busy. Here are a few:

1. Bed-Stuy garden network – There are five lots in Bed-Stuy that are at various stages of organization. We’re excited to see so much happening, and in a dense enough area that the projects will complement and reinforce each other. I would encourage anyone in Bed-Stuy to check them out and get involved with the one that interests them most.
2. Myrtle Village Green – This is a huge water tunnel access site that the DEP agreed to turn into a park once they were done with it. For coming up on two years, the neighbors around it have been organizing to turn it into the park that was promised to them. The group’s timeline has more details about the lot’s history.
3. All City Acres – Okay, maybe this isn’t the most relevant one for Brooklynites, but we’re working on the data for the other four boroughs (this answers our most frequently asked question). We’ll be using the same tactics that we have used here in Brooklyn to spread the knowledge to the other boroughs and seed new open spaces there.

BS: Finally, your favorites: your favorite neighborhood in Brooklyn, favorite public space in BK, and the vacant lot you’d most like to see transformed in this borough. 
EB: I still love Prospect Heights and Prospect Park, though I think I use it less as a public space and more to get lost in the woods.

It would be great to see something happen on 143 Stockholm just off Broadway in Bushwick. It’s over a tenth of an acre, sunny, and in a part of town that could seriously use more open space. The NYPD has owned it for 26 years and has yet to do anything with it. There are a bunch of people who live near the lot who have raised money (nearly $1500), petitioned (with over 1200 signatures), and cleaned up the lot significantly. But, when asked for access to the lot the NYPD decided it was time to build the parking lot that it apparently had in mind when it took the land in the 80s. No one is buying this, everyone is frustrated, and I’d like to encourage anyone who lives nearby to get in touch with the group organizing there.

Design Mind: Green Acres

13 May 2012


Green Acres

Turning New York City’s empty lots into environmental oasises.

Even a casual visitor to New York City will see, amid the usual chaos of traffic and people, vacant lots strewn with garbage and debris. They are slices of strange, ugly emptiness sandwiched between buildings in a densely packed urban area. Or sometimes they are as big as fields, just sitting there begging to be cleaned and greened. Indeed, why not transform these empty spaces into parks and food producing plots? That’s the ambitious goal of a nonprofit group called 596 Acres that takes its name from the actual number of unused acres of public land in Brooklyn that stand empty.

Started by some intrepid and activist Brooklyn gardeners, 596 Acres aims to help neighborhood residents and community groups identify and take over the plots (in a non-Occupy Wall Street way) and turn them into public spaces that benefit local people, according to the New York Times. With data mined from the city agencies that own the lots, and an online map and mobile app, 596 Acres uses technology to connect people to the vacant plots and provide resources to get them inspired and organized. So far it’s been slow going, though, with only three gardens planted. But these kinds of grassroots projects to green large urban areas take time to gain momentum. Who would have thought just a few years ago that we’d be farming eggplants and arugula on a rooftop in the Bronx and raising chickens in our tiny Manhattan apartments? The next time you see an empty lot in New York, or anywhere, for that matter, think about how green those acres could be.

Image courtesy of 596 Acres (cc)


Institute For Sustainable Cities: Making Use of Vacant Lots

13 May 2012

Making Use of Vacant Lots in Brooklyn

According to Department of City Planning data, there are 596 acres of unused public land in Brooklyn. There is greater utility in community gardens, composting sites, and compost sites, than empty lots. This is the premise of 596 Acres, a community education project that helps connect Brooklyn residents to vacant public land resources.

596 Acres has created a website and a mobile app, presenting raw city data in a comprehensive and accessible way.  By providing access to data about public vacancies, and resources to guide community groups in the negotiation process with the city, 596 Acres encourages people to organize and re-envision their neighborhoods.

The Java Street Garden Collaborative in Greenpoint is a garden project that has gotten support from 596 Acres. The lot – 59 Have Street –has been vacant for 10 years, and is owned by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. While the group was able to get approval for the garden from Community Board 1, the garden is likely to be temporary.  In the long term, the lot will become a site for an affordable housing development, once funding is secured by the developer, theNorth Brooklyn Development Corporation. The collaborative has decided to address the temporary nature of the garden by creating a “roving garden group”. The group will create a productive space on the empty lot for a short amount of time, and then easily move to a next lot when the time comes. The group is focusing on container gardening for the Java Street lot.

Other garden projects affiliated with 596 Acres include 462 Halsey Community Garden, A Small Green Patch, and Myrtle Village Green. Currently, 596 Acres is fundraising to expand to the other four boroughs. Check out their project on Ioby.

Image Source:

Blogged in Portuguese

03 May 2012

Ocupe terrenos baldios!Thiago Carrapatoso - 05/03/2012 às 18:57

As cidades já sofrem por falta de espaços, por que, então, deixar terrenos vazios sem utilização? Principalmente se esses terrenos forem de propriedade do governo, ou seja, públicos. A iniciativa mapeou as áreas sem utilização no Brooklyn, em Nova York, e organiza comunidades para se apropriarem dos lotes.

O mapa usa o banco de dados do Departamento de Planejamento da Cidade para identificar a localidade de áreas que foram cadastradas como “vagas”. São espaços de diversos tamanhos que o governo local ainda não conseguiu achar um motivo para usá-los. Ao todo, foram 596 acres, mais de 2,4 milhões de metros quadrados, que não estavam sendo pensados nem ao menos em como a comunidade poderia usufruir e dar uma significação a eles.

O projeto, então, identificou as áreas, imprimiu mapas em um material resistente à chuva, escreveu os dados sobre cada lote (quem é o responsável, para onde ligar, qual o tamanho e outras informações) e pendurou tudo em grades que protegem os próprios terrenos. Os moradores da região, interessados em dar uma outra – ou alguma – significação às áreas usaram as informações para entrarem em contato com os órgão responsáveis e começarem projetos que envolvam a comunidade da região.

Foi dessa maneira que duas mulheres conseguiram transformar o terreno próximo às suas casas em uma praça oficializada pelo governo. As duas, viciadas em jardinagem, como elas até se classificam, resolveram usar a área abandonada para plantar verduras e legumes por meio de oficinas com outros moradores da região. A ideia era criar uma plantação que pudesse gerar alimento fresco e capacitar os vizinhos para que eles também se responsabilizassem pelos novos moradores, as plantas. E, daí, deu tão certo que até entrou como parte de um programa oficial de jardinagem da prefeitura de Nova York, o Green Thumb.

O projeto também organiza oficinas para mostrar como usar melhor as ferramentas do próprio site, além de ajudar na identificação e tagueamento das áreas abandonadas. A página na internet possibilita que se cadastre mais áreas e as atividades feitas pelos moradores que já acontecem nos terrenos. Assim, dá para ter uma ideia da quantidade das áreas ainda inutilizadas e dos locais que já possuem articulação da comunidade.

E é legal perceber que o projeto só foi possível graças a disponibilização dos dados do órgão governamental. Aqui no Brasil, graças à lei de acesso à informação, que entrará em vigor em breve, esse tipo de material deverá ser liberado para que os cidadãos possam se informar e criar aplicações, sites e outros processamentos desses dados, como é o

In the Sunday New York Times: Turning Unused Acres Green

28 April 2012


Turning Unused Acres Green

Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

PEACEFUL TAKEOVER In Gowanus, a group from Feedback Farms works on planters to grow vegetables.

Metropolitan | The New York TimesTHE city of New York owns thousands of slivers of unused land, and about a year ago, a group of Brooklyn gardeners had an idea: identify all the vacant lots in the borough, then help neighborhood residents take them over. They built an online map, then a mobile app, with information about the plots, including the names and phone numbers of the agencies that owned them. They called themselves 596 Acres, after the total area of unused public land in Brooklyn, according to city data.

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Paula Z. Segal is a founder of 596 Acres, which is helping residents take over vacant lots.

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

VACANCY A workshop in Williamsburg on taking over empty lots.

On a recent Saturday, Paula Z. Segal, 34, a founder of the group, loaded up a bicycle trailer with handwritten wooden signs and set off for points on her interactive map, starting with 406 Nostrand Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a narrow ribbon that belongs to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Passersby stopped to watch Ms. Segal and a fellow volunteer, Eric Brelsford, hang signs on the chain-link fence.

“This lot is public land,” read one of the signs. “It’s very likely that they would let you and your neighbors do something nice here — maybe a farm or an outdoor movie theater.” When a woman pushing a shopping cart said she might call the agency’s phone number, Ms. Segal gently steered her in another direction.

“Calling the number is an O.K. place to start,” she said. “It’s better to talk to your neighbors and see what they want to do here.”

Ms. Segal has a history of contesting the lines between public and private space. In 2005, she and two friendsdocked an abandoned Navy rescue boat in the Gowanus Canal, converting the 63-foot ship into an open space for art, politics and hanging out. Amid complaints from neighbors, they were eventually evicted — in part, Ms. Segal said, because of an article in The New York Times. Earlier this year, as a law clerk at the firm Rankin & Taylor, she helped lead a successful campaign to reopen Zuccotti Park, which city officials had fenced off after evicting the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Afterward, she told The Village Voice, “I work to take fences down,” adding, “That’s mostly what I do.”

Born Paula Zaslavsky, she adopted the surname Segal in 2008, from her maternal grandfather, the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust and the last to carry the Segal name, she said.

The idea for 596 Acres grew out of a long and still ongoing effort to convert a city-owned site in Clinton Hill into a park. In the course of organizing, Ms. Segal became interested in a city database of publicly owned vacant properties, which she felt could be useful for community groups. The raw data showed close to 2,000 lots in Brooklyn. Working with researchers at the Center for the Study of Brooklyn at Brooklyn College, Ms. Segal and her colleagues first eliminated lots that already had community gardens or plans for use, and parcels that were inaccessible from the street. They came up with a map of 1,044 properties, covering about 250 to 300 acres, mostly in low-income areas with little green space, said Mr. Brelsford, 29, a freelance computer programmer. With a $324 grant from the online fund-raising platform In Our Back Yard, which works like Kickstarter for green projects, they printed 1,000 maps and began handing them out or posting them on vacant lots. They put the map online last August. E-mail messages started to come in, hundreds of them, from people who said they wanted to help or be helped.

Tami Johnson had been trying for two years to create a community garden near her home in Gowanus when she came across 596 Acres.

“My whole neighborhood is totally full of holes,” said Ms. Johnson, 37, who tests video games and plays drums in several bands. “Developers came in, the economy crashed, projects stopped, and they left holes all over the neighborhood. And there are all these other lots that are trash pits.”

Ms. Johnson had tried to convert two lots, but had been unsuccessful. Through the 596 Acres Web site, she found a lot on Bergen Street, and the name of another gardener, Tom Hallaran, who was also interested in converting part of it to grow produce. Mr. Hallaran, in turn, had been attracted to the lot — long a neighborhood eyesore — by a sign posted by Ms. Segal on the fence around it. Last summer, Ms. Johnson began lobbying city agencies for the land, this time with better results. By March, volunteers had cleared off 30 to 40 trash bags of debris.

On a cold Tuesday afternoon earlier this month, Mr. Hallaran and three other volunteers tended to tomato seedlings at what they are now calling Feedback Farms, which shares the Bergen Street lot with a traditional community garden and the Textile Arts Center, which grows plants for botanical textile dyes.

Feedback Farms is an experiment in movable urban gardening. Because the soil was considered contaminated, all the gardening is done in containers. And to get the land, Ms. Johnson stressed that the garden was temporary, and the city or a private owner could reclaim it at any time. So Mr. Hallaran, working with other volunteers, designed a vegetable garden that could be moved on short notice, using forklift pallets. In Our Back Yard provided a grant of $4,484 for the garden.

Mr. Hallaran’s online biography cites his work “in bioinformatics at the Washington University Genome sequencing Center, at a collective bakery, a biofuels production plant, and in online advertising,” as well as his interest in gardening. The gardeners are experimenting with planters that are irrigated from below, and equipped with electronic sensors that monitor their moisture levels and relay the information to a server nearby.

Testing two soils and two types of planters, they expect to grow between 1,200 and 1,900 pounds of produce this season — mainly tomatoes, Shishito peppers, lettuce, kale and bok choy — which they plan to sell to pay for the garden, said Clare Sullivan, 32, an environment coordinator at the Earth Institute at Columbia University (she is also married to Mr. Hallaran). The goal is to replicate the most effective combinations on other lots around the city, she said. “We want a test case where we show we can use the land and leave,” she added.

Letitia James, a Brooklyn city councilwoman who has worked with 596 Acres, said that city agencies were wary of community gardens becoming permanent institutions, difficult to displace, as happened in the East Village. And often, agencies face competing requests from groups that want affordable housing on empty lots.

“They’re afraid of the Occupy Wall Street mentality, that the gardens are going to inherit legal rights, squatters’ rights,” Ms. James said. “596 Acres has made a huge difference, because it organizes people. But getting the city to embrace the concept has been challenging. They move at a glacial speed.”

Beatriz De La Torre, an assistant commissioner of planning for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said that the agency recognized that gardens were a benefit to a community, but that its mandate was to build affordable housing. The agency owns 673 unused lots in Brooklyn, of which some are inaccessible or committed for use, and has made 141 more available to gardeners, either temporarily or permanently.

“We take everything on a case-by-case basis,” she said.

For 596 Acres, the progress has been slow. So far three gardens have been started, covering just 0.233 acres. On a recent volunteer day, no volunteers showed up to help Ms. Segal and her colleagues hang signs.

But earlier this month the group won a $4,000 award as the best green app from the city’sBig Apps contest, and a $1,000 grant from a group called the Awesome Foundation for the Arts and Sciences to expand its map citywide.

In the meantime, would-be farmers are eager to get at some land, however far from bucolic. At a scarred lot in the shadow of the Long Island Rail Road in Bushwick, Ms. Segal hung a sign on the fence, hoping to attract volunteers for a group called Brooklyn Permaculture, which has applied for use of the site. The group has ambitious plans for what it calls a food forest, with trees and chicken coops to feed 50 families, said Frank Addeo, 31, who works at a health food store. He said Ms. Segal had helped him contact other groups to learn about how they have navigated city agencies.

He remained guarded. “I’m hoping H.P.D. will follow through, but I’ve been disappointed in the past,” he said. “At this point, we haven’t received a clear answer.”


We Got A Grant From the Awesome Foundation

27 April 2012

More Coverage of Floresta - From The GreenPoint Gazzette

27 April 2012


Floresta: Green Light District Update

El Puente’s comprehensive Green Light District initiative (GLD) to improve South Williamsburg took a stride forward on Friday, April 20th with Floresta—an afternoon of walking tours and workshops that championed the neighborhood’s environmental awareness and prospects. Floresta, which welcomed local leaders, students, and residents, represented the ambitiousGLD plan’s first foray into environmentalism, which is one of many causes the initiative will take on over the next ten years.

“Green Light District is a big and bold idea,” said Brenda Torres-Barretto, director of the GLD project. “Today, we are making it reality.”

Peter Lang-Stanton

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez has been a stalwart supporter of GLDsince it launched last September, when she kick-started the initiative with a $500,000 donation to El Puente. Using that donation and a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Cultural Innovation Fund, El Puente implemented the GLD to rehabilitate the Southside by 2020. The project aims to address the neighborhood’s education, health, culture, and environment over the next decade.

Floresta was the first checkpoint on the GLD’s environmental front. The central focus of the event was the Southside’s dearth of green space. Floresta was designed to allow attendees to witness this problem firsthand. Instead of discussing the issue in a dank auditorium, participants walked the beat and assessed the situation firsthand.

Peter Lang-Stanton

“We are in the bottom three in terms of park space per resident,” said Antonio Reynoso, Chief of Staff to Council member Diana Reyna.

Tour routes, which were dotted by high school volunteer-manned stations, embarked from the Espiritu Tierra Community Garden on South 2nd Street.“They were thinking about making [the garden] affordable housing,” said Reynoso. “El Puente took a stand.”

The garden was filled with young volunteers prepping for the afternoon of tours. One picnic table was transformed into a workshop on retrofitting homes to economize energy use and lower Con Edison bills.

Peter Lang-Stanton

Destinations on the walking tours alternated between vacant lots and grassy garden playgrounds. The effect was stark before-and-after sensation.

“Vacant lots are part of tours for conducting visioning workshops,” said Torres-Barretto. “[Visioning] is as simple as: what do you see happening here?”

Many vacant lots around the city sit in the frozen grip of the Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD). Many of these spaces fester, accumulating refuse and rodents while the agency decides what to do with them, often delaying for years until the right proposal presents itself. A Brooklyn organization, 596 Acres (named after the total amount of public unused space in the borough) came to Floresta to host a workshop and present a sobering map of the bureaucratic labyrinth that stands between envisioning a new space and implementing it.

The tour stopped at Nuestros Ninos’ year-old playground, which sits alongside the daycare center. Miriam Cruz, executive director of the daycare and park steward, recalled how in one day, 200 volunteers turned a busted blacktop into a garden and playground for the daycare and the rest of the neighborhood. “There were volunteers from the Let’s Play initiative from Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, parents, a youth group—every age did something,” said Cruz. “[It was] real community cooperation.”


We Had A Great Time With El Puente - And Got Some Great Coverage In Spanish!

27 April 2012

Al menos seis lotes vacíos podrían transformarse en huertos y parques

POR: CAROLINA LEDEZMA/ EDLP  |   12:01 am  |  04/27/2012  |  El Diario
Durante una década, la institución El Puente ha organizado a los residentes del sur de Williamsburg para transformar lotes abandonados en parques y huertos comunitarios.
La puertorriqueña Meilyn Soto, con empeño y dedicación, ha hecho del Jardín Comunitario Espíritu Santo en el área de Los Sures en Brooklyn, su pasión, cultivando albahaca, hierbas y otras hortalizas.
Foto: Fotos: Carolina Ledezma / EDLP





Brooklyn – Durante una década, la institución El Puente ha organizado a los residentes del sur de Williamsburg para transformar lotes abandonados en parques y huertos comunitarios.


Ahora seis nuevos terrenos, que pertenecen al Departamento de Preservación y Desarrollo de Vivienda (HPD) de Nueva York, están en la mira de quienes ven con horror cómo edificios y áreas de concreto se expanden en Los Sures.


En esta área, la proporción de espacios abiertos por habitante es más pequeña que una cama individual (10.8 pies cuadrados y el promedio en la ciudad es 150 pies cuadrados por persona). De igual manera, la tasa de gente con asma es el doble de la de toda la metrópolis.


Desde hace dos años, Meilyn Soto, puertorriqueña de 49 años, y su hijo Ellington, de 6, se unieron a este proyecto ambientalista llamado "Green Light District". Ambos tienen una de las parcelas del Jardin Comunitario Espíritu Santo, donde cultivan albahaca, hierbas, tomates, zanahorias y hasta lavanda.


"Cada parcela pertenece a una familia y también los estudiantes de El Puente tienen su espacio", explica Soto.


El huerto ubicado en la calle Sur 2 fue limpiado y diseñado en 1993 por jóvenes del grupo El Puente 'Earth Spirit', con el apoyo del Consejo de Parques de la Ciudad.


En Espíritu Santo, 28 familias de Los Sures trabajan la tierra, interactúan en familia y vecinos y comparten responsabilidades. "Yo debo cerrar el parque cada jueves y los fines de semana", cuenta quien vive en Los Sures hace 17 años.


"Mi hijo y yo investigamos mucho sobre qué plantar. Este año, por ejemplo, trajimos una variedad deblueberries que se da en todo terreno y sembramos caléndulas [un tipo de margaritas], porque protegen los tomates de los gusanos y otros insectos".

Floresta en Williamburg



El Puente ha sido el mediador entre las autoridades y la comunidad para rescatar y mantener estos terrenos. El reciente Día de la Tierra en Los Sures coincidió "Floresta", una jornada para mostrar los avances de Green Light District y presentar sus nuevos blancos.


El Berry St. Garden, un reducto recuperado en 1979 donde hoy crecen hierbas y hortalizas y se produce abono, es un buen ejemplo de esta lucha. También lo es el Bridge Park, cerca del puente Williamsburg, donde la comunidad respaldó la idea de la Ciudad de tener allí un parque a orilla del río.


Asimismo, Southside Community Garden y la placita infantil del prescolar Nuestros Niños, en la calle Sur 4 se suman a estos logros.


Miriam Cruz, boricua de 61 años que dirige Nuestros Niños, contó que con una subvención de la organización Kaboom renovaron la esplanada en 2011. Además de los juegos, en este refugio florecen plantas decorativas y vegetales para disfrute de todos.


En un recorrido por la zona, Brenda Torres-Barreto, directora del proyecto, destacó que la mayoría de los lotes vacíos que identificaron recientemente fueron asignados a proyectos de viviendas asequibles.


Casi ninguno está comprometido a la fecha, como el del 375 de la calle Sur 5, donde los vecinos han pedido tener un huerto comunitario temporalmente.


El Puente ha logrado gran apoyo del HPD y organizaciones como el proyecto de educación pública 596 Acres y Human Impacts Institute, lo que imprime aire puro y fresco al sueño de convertir a Los Sures en un vecindario verde.


  • Jóvenes estudiantes de El Puente solicitan firmas apoyar la lucha para recuperar terrenos baldíos en Los Sures.

Bed Stuy Patch Coverage of 462 Halsey Earth Day Celebration and Grand Opening

23 April 2012

462 Halsey Community Garden Celebrates Grand Opening

Sunday's April showers bring the hope of May flowers... and more fresh food!

In December 2011, Bed-Stuy residents Shatia Jackson and Kristen Bonardi Rapp set out on a mission to grow something from nothing.

Without knowing each other, the two had begun inquiring about a vacant lot at 462 Halsey Street between Marcus Garvey Boulevard and Lewis Avenue. They had both noticed a sign outside the fence posted by an organization called 596 acres encouraging residents to “take back the land.”

So they both called, and soon enough were put in touch with each other.

“Paula, who is the founder of 596 Acres introduced us,” said Jackson. “From there, we decided to be partners and to make a community garden happen.”

“And we have been working together ever since,” said Rapp.

After months of toiling the soil at 462 Halsey and with the help of volunteers, on Sunday, April 22, Jackson and Rapp celebrated the grand opening 462 Halsey Community Garden.

Dozens of local residents trekked in the rain to celebrate the birth of the new Halsey Street green space, including Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who presented the two founders with a notice of recognition.

It was a very wet, very wonderful day, as the excitement was evident in all who attended.

And according to Markowitz, the springtime rain was a blessing: “I’m a Jewish guy, and when it rains on an event like this, it is truly lots of mazel, which means lots of good luck! So hey, I think it’s fabulous.”

National Geographic Reports on Brooklyn!

18 April 2012


New York Projects Aim to Make the City More Sustainable

Posted by Nicole Glass on April 17, 2012

New York City’s eight million residents and skyscrapers, built on one of the world’s largest natural harbors, have made the country’s largest city one of the most polluted. Air pollution is a leading environmental threat to the health of the city’s residents. But a New York nonprofit, ioby, has helped 101 urban projects raise a total of $174,618 to make New York a greener, more sustainable and healthier place to live.

From building community gardens on vacant city lots to monitoring sewage water, these projects have triggered an urban movement towards maximizing the city’s environmental potential.

Don’t Flush Me

New York City’s outdated sewage system does not have the capacity to transport unusually high amounts of water to one of the city’s 14 Wastewater Treatment Plants. During times of severe rainfall, sewage pipes are often overloaded, and more than 27 billion gallons of raw sewage and polluted water flow into the city’s waterways each year.

But Leif Percifield’s project, Don’t Flush Me, aims to install solar-powered sensors around New York’s major sewage overflow points to monitor the water levels. When sewage water reaches overflow levels, residents who register their phone numbers of Twitter accounts with the project will receive a message telling them not to flush their toilets during that time and to reduce their water usage.

“The idea is to create a text message alert system where someone can get the information on their phone or to a device that will suggest to them that now is not the time to use a lot of water,” he said, standing beside a canal in Park Slope. “They should save a flush, take a shorter shower, or avoid washing a giant sink of dishes.”

Leif Percifield stands in front of a canal in Park Slope, where he has installed his first combined sewage overflow sensor. Photo by Nicole Glass.

Community Gardens Replace Vacant Lots

Brooklyn is home to about 596 acres of vacant public land, and a recently launched ioby-funded nonprofit is trying to make use of them. 596 Acres, led by Paula Segal, distributes maps of vacant land and helps residents acquire the city’s permission to use these empty lots as a community-controlled green space.

“When we put up a sign, it means that the agency that owns the land doesn’t have a plan for it,” she said. “And if the community got together, they would let them use it.”

And that’s exactly what happened at Compost for Brooklyn, where more than a dozen Kensington neighborhood residents spent the weekend gardening and planting seeds in the once-abandoned lot.

“I would have never thought that composting could bring a community together, but it really has,” said Emily Osgood, one of the project’s founders.

The 462 Halsey Community Garden will open on Earth Day. Photo by Nicole Glass.

Paula Segal of 596 Acres stands in front of a former vacant lot that is now used for gardening. Photo by Nicole Glass.

Velo City Takes Teens On an Urban Ride

New York’s neighborhood residents rarely have a say in designing their own surroundings – butVelo City is planning to change that. Through a program that takes high school students from the South Bronx on city bike tours, the non-profit is hoping to inspire a new generation of urban planners, while also encouraging a healthier lifestyle.

“Everyone knows what a lawyer is, what a doctor is, but what is an urban planner?” said Samelys Lopez, one of Velo City’s founders. “We’re getting youth to see that these professions are important, because they shape the physical environment that they live in.”

Last summer’s program resulted in students leading a community-wide bike tour of their own, and co-founder Naomi Doerner hopes this year will produce a group of equally engaged students who are interested in urban planning.

“It’s essentially a curriculum, not necessarily a tour,” she said.

Velo City Co-Founders Naomi Doerner and Samelys Lopez Raise Awareness at their container at DeKalb Market. Photo by Nicole Glass.

Of the New York City projects that are attempting to make the city a more pleasant environment to live in, 78 percent were successfully funded through ioby – projects that may bring a larger community together for this year’s Earth Day.

Original story:


On the Epoch Times - Changing Brooklyn One Acre at a Time

27 March 2012


Changing Brooklyn One Acre at a Time

By Kristen Meriwether
Epoch Times Staff

March 27, 2012


NEW YORK—Shatia Jackson’s family has lived in a brownstone on Halsey Street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn since her great-grandmother Nellie “Fran” Norris moved in during the late 1950s. Every generation of her family since then has been born and raised there.

Since the late 1970s, one of Jackson’s not-so-fond memories includes passing the vacant lot sitting at 462 Halsey Street.

“We have all grown up with that lot being vacant and not thinking that anything can be done or transformed,” she said on Monday.

In August 2011 Jackson strolled past the vacant lot, but this time she noticed a sign posted on the fence with a map and a note asking residents to call if they want to see the lot become something for their community.

“I had walked past a few times and saw the map, but one day I decided to take a picture of it and call the number,” she said.

The number got her in touch with Paula Segal, the lead facilitator of 596 Acres, a public education project created last year. The project raises awareness of the land resources surrounding residents of Brooklyn and helps unite neighbors eager to make changes in their community.

Neighborhood volunteers lay out pallets to build community gardens at 462 Halsey on Jan. 7. (Photo Courtesy Kristen Bonardi Rapp)

“We try to get people through the process of ‘Wow, there is a vacant lot here and I can do something. How do I start?’” Segal said.

Segal, who had grown tired of a vacant lot near her home in Wallabout Bay, Brooklyn, decided to take action. She used information from MapPLUTO, a New York City Department of City Planning tool, but refined it to suit the needs of the community, not the developers it was made to serve.

In June 2011, Segal went into the community she wished to impact and hung the maps with contact information for 596 Acres at 25 lots in Brooklyn, using her website and social media to get her message out. The hybrid of grassroots and high-tech allows her to reach “the people who access their world by walking around the block and the people who access their world by checking Facebook,” she said.

Sean Rosado, son of Shatia Jackson, works to clean up the lot at 462 Halsey in Brooklyn. He will be the first generation in his family not to pass by an empty lot in 30 years. (Photo Courtesy Kristen Bonardi Rapp)


Strangers Unite For Change

Last September, Segal facilitated a meeting between Jackson and Kristen Bonardi Rapp, a fellow Bed-Stuy resident who had also inquired about 462 Halsey Street. The pair agreed to partner, aspiring to turn the empty lot into a community garden.

The land was owned by New York City’s Housing Preservation and Development, but Jackson and Rapp went through Green Thumb, a city agency that acts as liaison between government and community garden organizers.

With the help of IOBY, a fundraising organization that connects people and money to site-based projects, Jackson and Rapp raised nearly $1,600. In addition, they received a $1,000 Love Your Block grant from the city.

Last December, the duo began clean up on the lot with other neighborhood volunteers. With help from the unusually warm winter, Jackson was able to work through the winter. The Community Gardens at 462 Halsey will open its gates Sunday, April 1.

Co-founders and co-presidents of 462 Halsey Street Community Gardens Shatia Jackson and Kristen Bonardi Rapp. (Photo Courtesy Kristen Bonardi Rapp)

Jackson said the once vacant lot is now largely made of community garden beds for her fellow neighbors.

“If you live in the neighborhood, you can come by and pick produce for yourself and it’s free of charge,” she said.

“Bed-Stuy has a large population of low income families and the idea is to try and help supplement the produce that they cannot afford from grocery stores in order to promote healthier eating habits,” she added.

Jackson said for paying members, there is space for private gardening beds as well.

Seeds of Change

 The community garden at 462 Halsey Street is not the only success story from 596 Acres community outreach. Three organizations, Feedback Farms, Small Green Patch, and the Textile Arts Center are utilizing three spaces at 348 Bergen Street. Java Street Garden has begun work on a project at 59 Java Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Brooklynites can watch their neighborhoods transform from empty lots to community hot spots by viewing the map at


Jackson’s son Sean Rosado, who helped transform 462 Halsey Street, will be the last generation in almost 30 years to grow up with the unsightly vacant lot on Halsey Street. He will also be the first generation in that time whose memories will include a garden there with fresh vegetables grown just a few blocks from his home.



On Grist - No vacancy: Unleashing the potential of empty urban land

27 March 2012


27 MAR 2012 7:05 AM

Tia Jackson’s family has lived on the same block of Halsey Street in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood for five generations. Kristen Rapp is a newcomer. Jackson is black. Rapp is white. In a part of town where the gentrification process has been grinding along painfully for years, the two might never have met if not for a sign on a fence on a vacant lot, left there by the members of a group called 596 Acres.

Now Jackson and Rapp have keys that let them into that vacant lot at 462 Halsey. They are shoveling dirt and planting seeds. Together with a dedicated group of neighborhood residents, they are turning an abandoned scrap of urban soil into a garden.

The sign that brought them together was part of a project to identify and map all city-owned vacant lots in Brooklyn, which add up to a mind-blowing — you guessed it — 596 acres in total area. To give you some perspective, Prospect Park, the borough’s largest, is 585 acres. In a city where real estate is an obsession (or a cult?) the idea of so much land sitting vacant is kind of astonishing.

Less than a year old, 596 Acres is the work of a small core of volunteers, including Paula Z. Segal, a lawyer and lead facilitator for the group. Segal first got interested in the city-owned vacant lots because of a site known as Myrtle Village Green, near where she lived at the time. Owned by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, the lot was needed for a time to provide access to a major water tunnel project. The community was supposed to get it back, with landscaping and other improvements, once the access was no longer necessary. Years later, people are still waiting.

Researching that site, Segal learned how much data was available on vacant city land that had not yet been locked down by developers — and she got excited about the potential uses for that space. She presented some of her findings at the Festival of Ideas for the New City last year, and that’s where she met Eric Breisford, a programmer who, like her, is involved in a variety of other projects having to do with access to public space, public data, and decent food. The duo quickly got to work on making the data more accessible in both digital and paper formats.

Together they worked to get a map printed that showed the data they had gathered, and an online version as well. They researched a few lots in greater detail, then wheatpasted the printed maps to foam core boards along with explanations of  “what’s going on here,” and posted those at a few lots around Brooklyn. “We did that knowing there was all this mystery around these vacant lots and not knowing what would happen,” Segal says.

One of the lots they flagged was 462 Halsey. And that’s when Rapp and Jackson found each other and, with the help of 596 Acres, started the process that got the lot open after 20 years or more of blight. “I never knew what was going on with that lot,” Jackson says. Now, she’s planting seeds there with her son and her little sister.

Two other lots identified through 596 Acres are also starting new lives as garden space this growing season — the Java Street Garden and A Small Green Patch.

“What drives my involvement in most of the projects I work on is the idea that control over the food you eat is a fundamental right,” says Breisford. He cites research showing that 1.7 acres of urban acreage is capable of producing 90,000 pounds of food worth about a quarter of a million dollars.

Think what 596 acres could produce.

But Segal and Breisford say that the purpose of 596 Acres is not to tell people what they should do with the vacant lots. Food is part of what grows in places like these, but it is by no means the only thing.

“It’s as much community as it is garden,” Rapp says.

“We want to see people being able to regain control over what’s going on in their neighborhoods,” says Segal.

To that end, 596 Acres helps people to navigate bureaucracy, governance structures, and neighborhood dynamics. The group has printed a broadsheet with a flowchart that outlines the complicated processes involved without making it all seems hopelessly intimidating.

They are also continuing to connect people like Jackson and Rapp, in Bed-Stuy, with others who want to unlock the chain-link mysteries of their own neighborhoods, clear the rubble, and get to work making things better.

596 Acres is looking to expand into New York’s other four boroughs. They’re fielding inquiries from places like Detroit, Philadelphia, Vancouver, and even Rio de Janeiro about how to start similar data projects there. They’re looking for funding, and Segal sees a lot of possibilities ahead.

“It’s a way of bringing power to communities that don’t have power,” she says.



19 February 2012

Inhabitat wrote a great piece about us this week. Check it out and share it! Tactics for spring...


596 Acres Helps NYC Communities Reclaim Vacant Lots and Transform Them Into Gardens

by Lori Zimmer, 02/16/12

green design, eco design, sustainable design, 596 Acres, community garden, reclaimed space, vacant lots, Center for the Study of Brooklyn

That vacant lot that you walk by everyday may just be waiting for you to transform it into a community garden! Many neighborhood vacant lots are actually publically owned, and 596 Acres wants you to know where they are and what you can do about it. Working with the Center for the Study of Brooklyn, the group helps residents reclaim these unused lots to transform them into lush community spaces.

The organization derived its name from their findings that over 596 acres of vacant public space existed in Brooklyn as of April 2010. The vacant space range from tiny squares to full fledged lots where apartments used to stand. Each space, regardless of size, has the potential of becoming a green space that could grow fruits and vegetables to benefit the community around it.

Last summer, 596 Acres performed a grass roots community education campaign, printing up placards that notified the public of what lots could be used for public consumption and then placed the cards around Brooklyn, along with the phone numbers to contact the City Agency about appropriating the space. Because of this simple project, not only were more green spaces created, but the projects also brought together members of the community who want to improve their neighborhoods.

596 Acres provides an interactive map of the vacant lots, as well as lots that have already been reclaimed by the community which serve as inspiration for others. The organization has all the resources to teach community members just how to reclaim these publicly owned lots, from which government agencies to call and how to work with soil testing to where to access EPA reports and find potential building materials.


Press: 596 Acres is Shareable!

12 December 2011

Janelle Orsi from the Sustainable Economies Law Center included 596 Acres in her recreation and greenspaces post in the Policies for a Sharable City series on November 10:

"One inspiring project, called 596 Acres, has identified 596 acres of vacant publicly owned land in Brooklyn, New York, and is serving as a liaison between citizen groups and the city to encourage conversion of these lots to food-growing and recreational spaces."