Several years ago, Brooklynite Paula Z. Segal recognized an opportunity: 596 acres of vacant lots — fenced, unused and in disrepair — that belonged to the public. This land, she figured, was the solution to sating New Yorkers’ growing appetite for new green spaces and organic farming. But first, they needed to know it was theirs to use.
And so, 596 Acres was born. Segal and her colleagues went to work raising awareness of this resource hiding in plain sight, erecting signs at the vacant lots letting neighbors know that the land belonged to the public and pointing them to a website featuring tips for turning the land into oxygen-boosting green spaces, gardens — among their many benefits, these local agriculture hubs cut down on *fossil-fuel-hungry transportation and packaging, as well as exposure to chemical fertilizers and pesticides — and other community projects. In addition to its resources page, the group has developed four different tools for surfacing public land information in New York City:
- Living Lots NYC is an interactive map showing public vacant land in New York City. Community members can search by address or ZIP code to find nearby vacant lots.
- One Dollar Lots maps the land the city of New York has sold to developers for $1. According to that site, “Public land is a priceless resource… [and] a great starting place for actualizing the city as commons!” The map helps New Yorkers ensure their public lands are being used for the public good.
- NYC Commons provides details about who owns New York City’s public lands.
- Urban Reviewer illuminates, via an interactive and in-depth map, more than 50 years’ worth of New York City’s neighborhood master plans. This effort has already enabled neighbors in South Williamsburg and Edgemere to bring to fruition green-space plans that had long been stalled.
Not quite a decade later, 596 Acres has united New Yorkers with their community lands — its work has helped created 36 new community spaces amounting to more than 7 acres of new green space. The group has partnered with organizations state-side in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and New Orleans, and internationally in Toronto and Berlin. And like-minded groups have sprung up in the United States and abroad.
By using smart technology and thoughtful design to connect New Yorkers to information about their public spaces, 596 Acres is empowering neighbors and making the city greener, as they say, “one block at a time.”
*Here at Drift, we’re also working to make New York greener, and you can help. See below for details.