Vacant Lots as the New Frontier of Open Space

by Ryan Watson on

The city of New York has hundreds of acres of vacant space. Both private and public, these vacant areas represent a potential new expansion of publicly accessible green space. As the the benefits of publicly accessible green space grows is being recognized, now is the time to seize the opportunity to convert vacant land and expand public green space throughout the city.

596 Acres
The organization 596 Acres has significantly contributed to the advancement of utilizing vacant space by creating a variety of tools that community members “can use to clear hurdles to community land access.” By providing these resources 596 Acres has supported the creation of green space throughout the city.

61 Franklin St. Garden
One such project that exhibits the potential use of publicly-owned vacant space is the 61 Franklin Street Garden. Residing in a vacant lot that had been nearly forgotten by its owner, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the site now contains a children’s garden area, a 40-foot raised bed for communal vegetable gardening, a compost system and additional open green space for community use. This garden is just one example of the multitude of projects popping up all over the city.

2013 Ryan Watson. Before and after photos of North Brooklyn Farms in Havemeyer Park.

Havemeyer Park: North Brooklyn Farms and Brooklyn Bike Park
Within North Brooklyn, a project which exhibits the potential community benefit of privately-owned vacant land in North Brooklyn lies within Havemeyer Park. The 55,000 square foot former parking lot of the Domino Sugar Factory, which remained vacant for nearly a decade after the factory shut its doors, is now home to New York City’s first bike park, teaching kids and adults alike about safe riding, lessons on environmental sustainability and providing the best cardio workout around.
The urban farm run by North Brooklyn Farms demonstrates the potential of growing produce in vacant urban spaces, hosting farmstands, supper clubs and farm lessons. Havemeyer Park adds over an acre of green space to a community with one of the lowest per capita open space ratios in all of New York City. Although only temporary in nature, visits from school groups, local youth and families alike reflect the potential that exists throughout the city.

Vacant Lot & Open Space Bill
In support of the aim of reclaiming vacant space for community benefit, local elected officials have proposed a bill which would provide tax incentives to property owners who allow their land to be used for public benefit. As quoted in the Brooklyn Paper, Council Member Stephen Levin stated:

“Vacant lots in New York City are blights to our communities. With this legislation, the property owner benefits by not having to pay property taxes on land they aren’t using and the community gets publicly accessible, environmentally friendly, healthy open space. It is a win-win for the public and property owners.”

With support from local community groups and elected officials alike, we can continue the work of providing additional green space to our community, while also alleviating the social ills that are associated with vacant lots. Contact your local elected official (in this case, Sen. Daniel Squadron, CM Levin and/or Assemblyman Joe Lentol) and tell them you support this bill and the conversion of vacant land into something positive for public use.

Ryan Watson

Ryan Watson

Originally from Los Angeles, Ryan is a relatively new but very proud resident of Greenpoint. He was drawn to Greenpoint by the strong sense of community and history of local activism. Ryan can be found at North Brooklyn Farms, the urban farm at the Domino Sugar Factory, which he co-founded or working in the 61 Franklin Street Community Garden.