Brownfields or Vacant Lots In Your Life?

Is the New York City sum­mer weath­er inspir­ing you to start a gar­den or farm? Unsure if your local vacant, emp­ty space or yard is safe for plant­i­ng pro­duce? The truth is, because many of the city’s neigh­bor­hoods have an indus­tri­al past, the soil is prob­a­bly con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed. To be safe, City Atlas rec­om­mends send­ing a sam­ple of soil to Brook­lyn Col­lege to test it for tox­ins such as lead or heavy met­als.

If you want to get a head start on learn­ing more about trans­form­ing a vacant space into a green space for grow­ing pro­duce, check out the­se guides: The Green Thumbs Gardener’s Hand­book and Urban Agri­cul­ture and Brown­fields Guide­li­nes for Safe Gar­den­ing.

Curi­ous about where there are vacant lots in NYC just wait­ing for revi­tal­iza­tion? The edu­ca­tion­al project 596 Acres devel­oped a inter­ac­tive map which includes Brook­lyn vacan­cies, but is cur­rent­ly expand­ing to include Man­hat­tan and Queens. 596 Acres also has a awe­some six step guide to “Turn­ing Your Lot Into A Food Pro­duc­tion Space.”

In addi­tion, The City Atlas lab’s own Kaja Kuhl has been research­ing vacant lot revi­tal­iza­tion and has cre­at­ed a print­ed guide to phy­tore­me­di­a­tion, (a nat­u­ral process to decon­t­a­m­i­nate soil with plants,) in her Field Lab project at Fin­ca del Sur in the Bronx. Learn more about The Field Lab and vis­it a work­shop dur­ing the sum­mer.


596 Acres is a pub­lic edu­ca­tion project aimed at mak­ing com­mu­ni­ties aware of the land resources around them. With the goal of a food sov­er­eign New York City in mind, 596 Acres is help­ing neigh­bors form con­nec­tions to the vacant lots in their lives by map­ping city-owned, vacant land in Brook­lyn. Print maps are attached to the fences that lock the neigh­bor­hood out of the land, and a dig­i­tal map facil­i­tates con­nec­tions between those who are inter­est­ed in trans­form­ing lots near them. As neigh­bors orga­nize, 596 Acres often acts as a liaison between the neigh­bor­hood group and the city agen­cy that con­trols the vacant lot. Since the sum­mer of 2011, four groups that have met through 596 Acres’ print and dig­i­tal maps have received access to their tar­get lots and are in the process of cre­at­ing com­mu­ni­ty-dri­ven spaces in their neigh­bor­hoods. Over twen­ty oth­er groups are in the process of orga­niz­ing to get access to their lots.

Kaja Kühl, (Dipl​.Ing, AICP) received her Diplo­ma in Archi­tec­ture from the Uni­ver­si­ty in Karl­sruhe, Ger­many and a Mas­ter of Sci­ence in Urban Plan­ning from Columbia Uni­ver­si­ty in New York. Pri­or to found­ing youarethecity in 2008, she worked for the New York City Depart­ment of City Plan­ning as an Urban Design­er and team lead­er where she was respon­si­ble for design guid­ance and devel­op­ment of pub­lic pol­i­cy for sev­er­al pri­vate rezon­ing appli­ca­tions and city ini­tia­tives. Select­ed projects include Lin­coln Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts’ 65th Street Project, Sher­man Creek Hous­ing Oppor­tu­ni­ty Plan, Upper West Side Con­tex­tu­al Rezon­ing, Columbia University‘s Expan­sion Plan in Man­hat­tanville, 125th Street rezon­ing study and streetscape analy­sis, Small Side­walk Cafe Ini­tia­tive. Kaja is a cer­ti­fied plan­ner and Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor at Columbia Uni­ver­si­ty, where she coor­di­nates the 5 Bor­ough Stu­dio as part of the Urban Design Pro­gram and teach­es stu­dios and sem­i­nars relat­ed to her research on migra­tion and urban spaces.

youarethecity is a research, design and plan­ning prac­tice inter­est­ed in cre­at­ing dia­logue about the urban envi­ron­ment. Informed by the belief that the city is a com­plex set of eco­nom­ic, social, envi­ron­men­tal, polit­i­cal, his­toric, geo­graph­ic and spa­tial dynam­ics, each of which can be a trans­for­ma­tive agent in the design and plan­ning process, youarethecity col­lab­o­rates with insti­tu­tions, indi­vid­u­als and non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tions to pro­duce maps, dia­grams, writ­ings, designs, web­sites, events and exhi­bi­tions about urban spaces. youarethecity is a WBE cer­ti­fied busi­ness in New York City and is locat­ed in Down­town Brook­lyn at the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Exchange.


Top pho­tograph by Todd Heisler