How One Nonprofit Scales the Fences of Hundreds of Acres of Publicly Owned Vacant Land

If you’ve ever walked around New York City—whether through Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens or Staten Island—at some point you probably noticed that in between the restaurants, boutiques, and countless Duane Reades there are a surprising number of scattered vacant lots sitting empty, collecting weeds and garbage. You may have also noticed that these spaces are usually concentrated in lower income neighborhoods, the kind of areas where safe, beneficial land is most needed. If you’ve ever wondered why these lots were empty or why someone hasn’t just rolled up their sleeves and started planting some tomatoes, you may want to contact Brooklyn-based non-profit 596 Acres—but be ready to start digging. The organization has helped neighborhood organizers transform eight public sites so far, and with four more pre-approved, they're not slowing down anytime soon.

596 Acres catalogues the city's empty, unused land (check out the interactive map on their website to find a vacant lot near you), and then provides local communities with the resources—including online organizing platforms and advocacy help—to transform the spots into productive spaces. With simple tactics like posting signs on the city’s open lots and connecting locals to each other and the right government agencies, 596 Acres helps communities convince the city to give them the right to claim the spaces and put them to use.

The organization helps neighborhood leaders connect with city officials, build alliances with other local groups with vested interests in the land, find the necessary funding to support the project, sign agreements to keep everything above board, and eventually transform the lots into usable, productive space. Success stories include plans to turn a parcel at Patchen Avenue and Putnam in Brooklyn into a garden and play area and Community Board approval of interim gardens on Attorney and Stanton Streets in Manhattan. Through 596 Acre’s new partnership with the Garden Justice Legal Initiative, it will be helping to “identify, organize and access publicly-owned vacant land” in Philadelphia as well.

Working out of Silent Barn Stewdios, a shared artist’s space, performance center and community meeting place in Bushwick, Brooklyn, co-founder and attorney Paula Segal is passionate about the connections between land use and social justice, seeing the former as playing a fundamental role in achieving the latter. Her and attorney Anthony Mohen recently celebrated the opening of their legal practice, Mohen & Segal, through which they plan to expand the services they can offer local communities all over the city.

Interested in learning more? 596 Acres recently published its first book, the cheekily titled, I’m So Lucky You Found Me: Public Land Use Inside the City. Describing it as a “drawn documentary about public vacant lots in Brooklyn,” Segal notes it was produced through the efforts of many of the “neighbors and vacant lot transformers” that have worked with 596 Acres. The book offers a “visual narrative” by the talented Brazilian artist, Daniel Eizirik. According to Segal, “The book captures the unique experience of people finding people finding land inside the city.”

Want to get involved? Use the interactive map on the 596 Acres website to figure out what vacant lots in your neighborhood are up for grabs, and get started.

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Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

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Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

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The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

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"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

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The Planet
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr and nrkbeta / flickr

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via Twitter / Bye,Bye Harley Davidson

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