Saturday, June 16, 2012

Reclaiming public green space

From New York World:

An abandoned parking lot in Harlem and a former airport in Flushing may not appear to have much in common besides weeds, but for the volunteers of 596 Acres, these are the next frontiers of a civic movement to reclaim public space in the city.

The group’s name was inspired by the total area of vacant, city-owned land in Brooklyn, where the project’s founding members live. Over the past year, they have worked with local residents in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Greenpoint and Gowanus to reclaim four vacant lots owned by the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) as community gardens and gathering spaces. Now the group is expanding its horizons into Queens and Manhattan, starting with a “visioning session” this Saturday afternoon in the East Village.

Co-founder Paula Z. Segal, who works as a law clerk by day, calculates that 75 city-owned lots in Manhattan and more 100 in Queens are ripe to put back into public use. She started out two years ago simply trying to find out what she could do to revive a single vacant lot. Her persistence took her to the city’s department of Citywide Administrative Services, where she found she could get information on the ownership not only about her lot but also hundreds of others around the city.

“I couldn’t keep that information to myself once I had it,” said Segal.

Working with computer programmer Eric Brelsford and other volunteers, she compiled detailed information on the location and government agency ownership of every vacant city-owned in her borough — and then turned it into an interactive map.

That map has been a powerful organizing tool for the group, which also holds neighborhood planning sessions advising residents how to approach city agencies to seek permission for temporary use of the property. To spark the interest of passersby, the group tags empty lots with signs encouraging neighbors to seek to reclaim them.

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