In New York City there are more than five hundreds acres of publicly owned vacant land that are not being used and remain closed behind fences and chains. This land is concentrated in neighborhoods that are in need for beneficial land uses such as community gardens. 596 Acres is a project that facilitates access to New York city’s publicly owned land through the use of open source tools and hands-on mentorships. In this way, 596 acres help the communities to access unused lots, transform them temporarily, and so, improve the quality of life in the area where they live in.
A key tool of the 596 acres project is an online map that shows the location of the vacant lots and basic information about them. Each lot is connected to mailing-lists that let the persons interested in a particular lot to engage with others, exchange ideas, and keep everybody updated on the actions taken to access the lot. The members of the mailing-list can either watch a lot or participate as an organizer, depending on the role the members will get more or less information about the activity concerning a particular project. The map also has information about the responsible officials of each lot, facilitating in this way the communication with the persons that can grant access to vacant land. Finally, the system also helps to build a citywide network of organizers that can interchange ideas as well as knowledge on how to reclaim vacant land.
The online map and the other tools created by 596 acres facilitate access to vacant lots by: (1) publishing municipal information online as well as on the actual lots, by placing signs that explain the legal status of the lot and the actions needed to transform it; (2) providing information to the citizens about city government procedures and the steps needed to participate in the decision-making processes that shape their neighborhoods; (3) supporting local communities with legal support and campaign-development on issues related to land use; (4) keeping networks that enable both internal interchanges of knowledge and contact with decision-makers; (5) supporting the groups that already got access to publicly owned land to build sustainable community governance and guide them in their role as public land stewards; and (6) promoting participatory decision-making processes among municipal agencies to increase citizen participation.
596 Acres is a project of the Fund for the City of New York.