596 Acres

Short Summary

596 Acres is a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that uses public records to identify vacant or abandoned city-owned land, and then wages activist campaigns to create new green spaces for public use (urban gardens, parks, playgrounds, community spaces) throughout NYC.

Their stated mission is "championing resident stewardship of land to build just and equitable cities."

Note that as of February 2021, their website states:

"As of June 2018, [we are] not providing advocacy support in New York City. Our tools remain online but no staff is able to assist with crafting campaigns."

Website: 596acres.org (Note: as of Feb. 2021, many pages on their website are non-functional, but 3/4 of their online advocacy tools are still operational.)

Location: Brooklyn, New York, USA

596 Acres sign on publicly owned land in NYC. source


596 Acres was founded in 2011 by Paula Z. Segal, an attorney at NYC's Urban Justice Center. Its founding mission was to identify vacant/abandoned land owned by the city, in light of the fact that there were ~660 acres of vacant public land on 1,800 sites in NYC. Putting this land to better, public uses required commoners to organize and pressure elected officials and city bureaucrats to transfer ownership and allow the creation of new green spaces.


Although their lack of staff means they no longer provide advocacy support, they have created a number of online tools that are still available to help NYC residents reclaim access and use of public properties:
  • Living Lots NYC is a clearinghouse of information that helps New Yorkers identify vacant lots and public resources. It has a searchable database and a map showing 856 "acres of opportunity" on 1,125 sites, and 1,121 acres of community projects on 589 sites as of Feb. 2021. The map also includes colored dots showing where people have access and where people are organizing to liberate land.
  • Urban Reviewer catalogs over 150 urban renewal plans for which NYC received federal funding, often demolishing buildings and relocating people.
  • NYCommons helps New Yorkers affect government decisions about public land and public buildings in their neighborhoods.

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Peer Governance

A primary mission of 596 Acres is to relationalize property by making it visible as public property that urban residents have a moral if not legal entitlement to use. This also requires participants to share knowledge often and widely because the online maps are a key mobilizing tool.

596 Acres functions as a nonprofit organization with active outreach to citizens and activists. In this sense it seeks to develop shared purpose and values, and work with the consent of commoners. But in its governance, 596 Acres looks to its staff and board; it is not formally directed by citizens/commoners.

Friends & Partners

  • Common Cause New York, a state chapter of a watchdog organization that seeks to reform the government and hold it accountable to democratic values
  • Equitable Neighborhoods unit at TakeRoot Justice, which "[partners] with residents in historically under-resourced areas to fight for stable, affordable housing, community spaces, jobs to make a good living and other opportunities that allow people to thrive"
  • Grounded in Philly, a local organization that helps Philadelphians to access their neighborhoods' unused land and transform it to the benefit of the community by establishing gardens and urban farms


596 Acres has been supported by a variety of foundations (e.g. through a Sunlight Foundation OpenGov Grant), citizen organizations, NYC council members, a real estate development firm (e.g. The Durst Organization), and companies (e.g. Patagonia).

See Also

  • Living Lots in New Orleans, a project that connects New Orleans residents with land in their city that is available for agricultural cultivation