596 Acres Living Lots

ORGANIZATION NAME: 596 Acres

SUMMARY: Living Lots, an adaptable, open source land-access platform and dynamic community empowerment initiative, works to identify unused urban spaces and catalyzes efforts to reclaim them as focal points for civic engagement. Living Lots allows formerly disenfranchised residents to both collaboratively engage with and directly challenge top-down city planning. In New York, more than thirty publicly owned vacant lots have been transformed into vibrant neighborhood spaces, a dozen of them already made permanent through transfers to the Parks Department or leases with public authorities. Living Lots has been rapidly spreading through partnership with domestic organizers in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New Orleans, as well as internationally in Australia, Canada, and the UK, all leveraging the power of policy cross-pollination, on the ground advocacy, and technology as forces to democratize cities.

PROBLEM SPACE: "Still reeling from the municipal neglect and slum clearance of the 20th century, and more recent clearances created by local natural and economic disasters, cities are pock-marked with vacant lots. In New York City alone, hundreds of city-owned sites languish, located primarily in low-income communities of color underserved by open space, collecting garbage and blighting the very neighborhoods they could enliven. Taken together, these forgotten spaces -- fenced-off, inaccessible and lost to bureaucratic neglect -- are larger than most city parks.
The uneven growth of healthy places is compounded by an uneven access to information about how people can influence the development of such places where they live. A lack of developed and maintained green spaces is just one symptom of municipal neglect; a lack of information about how people can shape the city comes with it. Living Lots addresses the root causes of cities shaped by capital interests by giving residents a route into becoming decision-makers, starting with the fate of a single lot and scaling up to the future of life on the planet. Living Lots is a tool that allows residents to directly challenge and engage with top-down city planning."

SOLUTION: "Living Lots transforms vacant lots and other public assets, often stuck as non-places for decades, into opportunities for future public spaces and focal points for community organizing and civic engagement. At its heart is a dynamic data portal and organizing platform that focuses on abundance of opportunity, an interruption to the narrative of real estate scarcity that drives the fiscalization of our cities.
Each local Living Lots instance starts with research on open data portals, local activists, hard drives and city agency records, and local histories of successful land access campaigns. We decode and place that information strategically online and by hanging up signs at affected sites, gathering everything that we can find that relates to a particular piece of land. Through an advocacy partner and social networking tools, these information bundles are connected with the human resources needed to transform motivation and information into observable change.

In New York, 32 publicly owned vacant lots have so far been transformed into vibrant community spaces, 12 of them already made permanent through transfers to the Parks Department or leases with public authorities. We saved two spaces from foreclosure by transferring them to a land trust and are constantly fighting for others."

CONTACT: [email protected]

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