Public Spaces!

The difficulty with vacant land in New York City: everyone wants a piece – but just to hold on to.

596 Acre Lot

596 Acres is a fantastic organization. It links the community leaders, planners, gardeners, farmers – or anyone with an idea and the motivation – with publicly owned vacant lots that have the potential for development into public space. These lots owned by any number of New York City’s agencies are vacant for a variety of reasons. If you look close enough along your neighborhood streets you’ll find 596 Acres’ signs posted to fences, gates or lamp posts that identify these lots with instructions on how to gain access to them.

596 acre sign

In light of New York City’s zealous desire for density, it’s startling that these 596 acres still exist. Until recently, there were 4 vacant lots along my block. One is now being turned into a three-story townhouse (hello neighbors!). The other two remain empty, but one of these happen to be a 596 Acre lot and has a potential future…

… but there is one caveat. Someone wants to hold on to this land, stall any kind of development just for slim chance that one of these days it will turn into housing. Yet, one of 596 Acres’ tenets is that the land is open to public use until it is ready to be developed by the agency that owns it. No strings attached. So what is this hang up? This potential community garden-park-activity space is trapped within the confines of unclear land-use legislation, relegated to being someone’s dump, collecting trash and refuse, growing weeds and being a bleak reminder that public space is not so public.

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