The Fight For Green Space in New York City

Feb. 23, 2018For many of us, having access to public lands is a given, but in New York, lands have been blocked from access for decades.

These lands, though publicly owned, have been fenced off and chained up, neglected and gathering weeds, for as long as many residents can remember. As green spaces continue to dwindle in The Big Apple, one organization is taking up the charge for advocating for communities to have access to these spaces.

New York City’s Lack of Green Space

Over the years, the most populated city in the United States has made major strides in cutting its carbon footprint. Despite the hustle and bustle of endless activity in the city that never sleeps, New York City has managed to significantly and consistently lower its carbon footprint, thanks to several aggressive citywide initiatives.

But could more be done? With so many public spaces locked away from access, 596 Acres is pushing to give these properties back to the people, in part with the hopes that more can be done to green The Big Apple.

With more community gardens and spaces that have been properly maintained, it’s arguable that with the help of 596 Acres, communities can create resources that help offset the massive city’s carbon footprint. In fact, one tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. If communities had greater control over the land in their neighborhoods, could one of the busiest cities on the planet become greener and healthier for everyone?

Locking Out Public Access

The idea for 596 Acres came about when concerned residents realized there were a shocking number of public lands that — as it turned out — the public didn’t actually have access to. In 2011, the group put together a spreadsheet showing all of the public vacant land in Brooklyn, and the number came out to a staggering (you guessed it) 596 acres in unutilized space.

For a wide variety of reasons, these lands have been sealed away. Some stem all the way back to racially fueled campaigns of the late 20th century to clear land for public use, which essentially resulted in a legacy of vacant, fenced off lots dotting the NYC cityscape.

Other reasons are more innocuous — lands being purchased by the government for access to build pipes or other public infrastructure, but not necessarily having a plan or means of maintaining the land and making it useful surrounding that entry-point.

The result? Hundreds of acres, sitting behind ancient rusted fences and padlocks, owned by the people and bought with taxpayer money, but sitting vacant and unused.


The Potential of Vacant Public Lands

The problems stemming from the magnitude of vacant public land in New York are varied, but the greatest issue is one of underutilization for greater productivity. In a city with such limited space, communities struggle to find lots for beneficial projects such as community gardens and parks, and these lands may hold the key.

How 596 Acres is Reshaping NYC

Over the years, the spreadsheet put together by the founders of 596 Acres has evolved into an interactive app. Users can keep up with developments in the release of these lands, spot spaces in their communities, and become advocates themselves, unlocking these spaces for their potential within the community.

596 Acres has been a strong advocate for public land access in the city, and has made great strides in helping communities re-open access to previously barred spaces. One incredible project, BK ROT, stemmed from these efforts, and now employs young adults at living wages to process local compost from the surrounding residences and businesses (all by bike, no less!).

As more spaces continue to open up, communities are transforming vacant parking lots and weed strewn lots into thriving spaces, where neighbors can come together to create something more productive together.

How You Can Help

The 596 Acres project is primarily one of community awareness and advocacy. Residents of Brooklyn are encouraged to report vacant lands and park buildings to the organization, so that advocates can take the proper steps to start opening up these spaces.

Volunteer positions, internships, and even job opportunities are sometimes available with 596 Acres, as word continues to spread about the impressive work of this powerful organization, and the innovators who are helping to transform these spaces in New York City.

If you don’t live in the area though, you can still lend a hand. Donations help to fund the staff members that work closely with local residents on campaigns that help to break the chains on these properties.



As our February Giving Partner, any Avocado Green purchases made this month will help to fund the incredible efforts of the volunteers and advocates by 596 Acres. Sleep green, and green The Big Apple, all at once.


Destiny Hagest

By Destiny Hagest

 —  Destiny is a freelance writer with a background in sustainability and natural health. She lives in the mountains of central Montana with her husband and young son. When she's not writing or chasing her toddler, you can find her wandering the quiet wilderness in search of wild herbs and antler sheds.

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