Even a casual visitor to New York City will see, amid the usual chaos of traffic and people, vacant lots strewn with garbage and debris. They are slices of strange, ugly emptiness sandwiched between buildings in a densely packed urban area. Or sometimes they are as big as fields, just sitting there begging to be cleaned and greened. Indeed, why not transform these empty spaces into parks and food producing plots? That’s the ambitious goal of a nonprofit group called 596 Acres that takes its name from the actual number of unused acres of public land in Brooklyn that stand empty.
Started by some intrepid and activist Brooklyn gardeners, 596 Acres aims to help neighborhood residents and community groups identify and take over the plots (in a non-Occupy Wall Street way) and turn them into public spaces that benefit local people, according to the New York Times. With data mined from the city agencies that own the lots, and an online map and mobile app, 596 Acres uses technology to connect people to the vacant plots and provide resources to get them inspired and organized. So far it’s been slow going, though, with only three gardens planted. But these kinds of grassroots projects to green large urban areas take time to gain momentum. Who would have thought just a few years ago that we’d be farming eggplants and arugula on a rooftop in the Bronx and raising chickens in our tiny Manhattan apartments? The next time you see an empty lot in New York, or anywhere, for that matter, think about how green those acres could be.
The adoption of ubiquitous computing, mobile devices, and rich sources of data are changing how we live, work, and play in urban environments. Increasingly, a digital landscape overlays our physical world and is expanding to offer ever-richer experiences that augment—and in some cases, replace—the physical experience: “The city is the platform, the network, the sensors, and the interface,” as frog creative director Rob McIntosh put it in a recent talk. To celebrate the New Cities Summit where frog hosted a workshop on the Meta-City, design mind presents a special digital issue exclusively on the future of the city and live coverage from the event.