Bringing Dead Space Back to Life in Brooklyn

Sarah Goodyear discovers a project to help Brooklynites reclaim land owned by the city, but long since abandoned, and building neighborhood bonds in the process.
March 30, 2012, 10am PDT | Ryan Lue
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When lawyer Paula Z. Segal began investigating a vacant tract of land near her home last year, she set the wheels in motion for a project that would span the entirety of Brooklyn and create the potential for a vast expanse of new public space.

The lot, she discovered, had been taken over by the city's Department of Environmental Protection some years prior to provide access for a public works project, long since completed. But in the course of her research, she discovered that this lot was not alone – there are 596 acres of such government-owned, unoccupied parcels throughout the borough, almost three-quarters the size of Central Park.

And so, she and a handful of volunteers came together to form the aptly-named 596 Acres, a project devoted to identifying these vacant lots and giving the community the tools they need to take them back.

"596 Acres helps people to navigate bureaucracy, governance structures, and neighborhood dynamics," Goodyear writes. "The group has printed a broadsheet with a flowchart that outlines the complicated processes involved without making it all seems hopelessly intimidating."

While the organization strongly advocates the creation of community gardens, their objective is ultimately to undo the blight caused by visibly underutilized open spaces. "We want to see people being able to regain control over what's going on in their neighborhoods," says Segal.

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Published on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 in Grist
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