San Anton: empty space = public space

Reference 1: 596 acres


596 acres is a project of the Fund for the City of New York, and it creates different ways for neighbors to find an empty space in their neighborhood and use it for their own needs. Project started in May 2011 in Brooklyn, New York.

It distributes information about publicly owned land, and provides legal support for neighbors who want to use those spaces. In the first year of the project 15 communities started to use empty lots with the help from 596 acres.


The name »596 acres« refers to a number of vacant spaces in New York City. This is almost 2,5 million square meters on 1500 empty lots, and in other words, there is one empty square meter for each resident of Brooklyn.

Problem, which started this project, was a huge amount of vacant public land, which was degraded, locked with steel chains and left to decay. Project is an online tool for neighbors and it provides information about specific empty spaces and acts as a social network connection between neighbors and owners. Interactive online map was made in order to give the information, and educational workshops were established to help people in the beginning of any new project.

The project involved the whole Brooklyn (and also some other parts of New York), so character of empty spaces and neighborhoods they are in, depends on social and cultural state of the neighborhood.

596 acres_list of empty lots

Map of all vacant spaces in Brooklyn



Software development, data analysis

Eric Brelsford, who lives in Brooklyn started with this project. He catalogued the data and made the web page, and he made it because of his interest in use of collective data collection and analysis as a tool for action and organization. He also works on a few other projects, which are related to the same topic (Farming Concrete, Food Census, Garden Maps).

Legal support

Second founding member is Paula Z. Segal, attorney focused on providing assistance for communities. She offers legal support and also educates people about the things which are needed for establishing a new project on a new vacant space.


–          Analyzing the past, present and future urban renewal plans of New York City (M. DelSesto)

–          Researching environmental policy and laws, their links to communities and non-profit organizations (A. Gandhi)

–          Demography research (M. Gates)

–          Attorney (A. Mohen)

–          Urban farming, local food production (M. Prall)

–          Development, organizing people into a low-income communities (A. Tucker)

–          Design management, sustainable practice, strategies (S. Von Muehlen)

–          Interns: law, development, data analysis, web design, communications, urban planning, ecology…


In order to make projects work, the team has established a network of collaborators, which are all helping the people in different stages of their projects. Some of the collaborators are:

–          Farming Concrete ( community, school gardens)

–          Apple visual graphics (graphic design, printing)

–          Ioby (different neighborhood projects)

–          Snap gardens (community gardens)

–          Four & Twenty Blackbirds (bakery)

–          Feast Brooklyn (Funding Emerging Art with Sustainable Tactics)

–          Build it green! NYC (retail outlet for building materials)

–          Brooklyn Cooperative (loans for businesses)

–          FROG (The Foundation for Responsible & Open Government )


Project was made for people who have an empty space in their neighborhood, and they want to make something from it and use it as a public space. So anyone who has a desire is welcomed to participate in any way they can. And 596 acres is helping them to make a successful project.


Data collection

First phase involves narrowing the lots down to city-owned, vacant and unused spaces. This is achieved by checking data from different databases with ownership records, published my Department of Citywide administrative services. After that they also exclude any already existing community gardens. Empty lots are put into 596 acre’s database and available for further use.

Next phase of mapping is checking the satellite images and Google streetview to examine each lot seperately. They also exclude lots that are un use, ones which are inaccessible from the street, or lots which are not owned by city anymore. Also different types of lots are put in different categories and put on a different layer on online map.

Last phase includes publishing the map online, and feedback from neighbors is being noted (any mistakes in data about spaces are corrected and updated with the data of the local people). Neighbors also provide useful data about previous usage of the lots, and they also bring inportant information about the needs of the neighborhood.

596acres_flowchart (instructions for neighbors)

Making a project

596 acres encourages people to make something out of their neighborhood on their own. Their role in the process is mostly administrative or legal support.

They presented the main points of every project, which could happen under their patronage.

  1. Find the lot in your life (publicly owned empty space in the neighborhood)
  2. Contact the owner (check for availability and terms)
  3. Work out the deal (take care of all legal demand, rents…)
  4. Make something (people choose what will they do with their lot)
  5. We can help! (596 acres provides support on several fields, network of collaborators)

PROJECT 462 Halsey & A Small Green Patch

Two of the highly sucessful projects were made on a quite similar locations with similar program. Both of the lots were abandoned for more than 15 years, and they were highly degraded because of that. Quality of living was bad, because of the lack of green and public spaces. For that reason neighbors decided to make an urban garden with a public space. With the help of 596 acres they established a functional community which grew just because of this intervention on an empty lot. Identity of the neighborhood was restored, community became highly connected, weekly events (concerts, barbecues) improve the atmosphere and people got the desire to transform even more vacant spaces in their neighborhood.

596 acres project


If you set aside the scale, similarities between Brooklyn and San Anton are quite obvious. Huge amount of empty spaces were catalogued and put into neighbor’s care. This was a good solution for people to actively participate in urban image of their neighborhood and transform their living environment to a quality urban space. This bottom-up approach is a really good solution, especially when city council “forgets” about certain parts of their town.

Reference 2: Prostorož


ProstoRož was established in 2004 in Ljubljana, capital city of Slovenia because of the necessity and desire to understand and explore urban spaces. It was created by a group of three young architects, who wanted to draw attention to certain areas of the city. With their interventions they are creating a pleasant, relaxed and well planned urban spaces, which are highly functional and provide enjoyment to people who are using them.
It’s a long term project of cultivating urban spaces, developing that with a method of reviving and arranging degraded urban spaces in city centres. Team includes experts from the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, tourism, cultural heritage. In the process of making interventions they always organize public discussions in which experts and other people can equally participate.
Projects of ProstoRož are based on research of public space, and are highly related to the needs of the people who live close to the intervention site. Their work often shows that not a lot of money is needed to make a pleasant urban space for city’s inhabitants or visitors.
With the right approach to space planning and program selection vandalism in urban areas could be reduced. With low budget and small interventions group has created spaces for hanging out, playgrounds, outside work spaces, and they are not just artistic installations, they are also showing the different urbanistic use of empty space, regarding to the city plans.



ProstoRož is based in Ljubljana, Slovenia. One of the main problems of the city are degraded urban spaces and empty lots throughout the city. Goal of this group is to map this problematic spaces and cultivate them with a small budget, but rich program. Most of the spaces, which are used for their interventions, are city owned. At first city council was sceptical about the interventions, but because of economic situation, new political leadership of the city, and relentlessness of the ProstoRož agents, their work slowly became to grow, and with their work participation of the local people grew as well. Map of projects in which ProstoRož has participated. Interventions include parks, playgrounds, streets, atriums, gardens, arcades, urban furniture…


Three founding architects are in charge of the projects, they choose locations and programs, and they make connections with goverment (or city council) and local people. After the first phase of the project they invite other experts to participate in specific interventions. Because projects are not just one-time installations or interventions, group has a specific managers for each of the long-term projects.


ProstoRož started as a non-profit organization, and that changed through the years because of the extensive and long term projects. They recieve Most of the money comes from public foundings, other incomes come from public or private organizations, and some of the projects are founded by city council.


Their biggest project took place in Park Tabor. Situation before intervention was unpleasant. Park was neglected, and people didn’t want to go there because of the people with a bad reputation who were hanging there. Situation was similar to New York’s Bryant Park. And the solution was similar as well. Organization of the Bryant Park was responsible of cutting the number of robberies from 150 per year to almost none. Prices of the nearby real estates went up for 60% after park was renovated in 1979.
And the same thing has happened in Park Tabor. Park is full of life, elderly people are taking care of the plants, children are playing, people read books in free outside library, and several organized events are making this park even better.


ECLECTIS (European Citizens’ Laboratory for Empowerment: CIties Shared) is a European cooperation project, which aims at implementing citizens’ integration in the urban making, valuing European diversity, intercultural dialogue and new technologies as sources to stimulate creativity and new practices. Project involves Amsterdam, Bercelona, Kotor, Ljubljana, Torres Vedras and Paris, laboratories are held in this cities for different experimentations. Artistic and citizens’ collaborations, round tables and conferences will take place from May 2013 to December 2014.



(part of ECLECTIS project)
Tabor is a small quarter near the old city centre of Ljubljana In the past, it was an industrial suburb with a strong identity, which faded after Slovenia’s independence. Survey from 2009 showed that the people living in the area do not identify themselfs as a residents of this specific neighbourhood. Even though the central place of Tabor is a green park, the inhabitants missed green areas and parks, people missed the spirit of community and places to meet. ProstoRož decided to revitalize Tabor district with cooperation of local communities and residents. They started a long term project on three different levels:
– small spatial interventions,
– different events and performances drawing people to the park,
– a long term project aimed at convincing the city authorities to change the quarter’s traffic regime


EU Culture, City council of Ljubljana, Ministry of culture, Touristic institute of Ljubljana, French institute, Youth organization of Ljubljana, Kindergarten Ledina
Throughout the summer, the inhabitants of the quarter as well as its visitors have the opportunity to participate in the open cultural, sports and educational events. Every Saturday Tabor park transforms into a market. Most popular events became garage sales, art and vintage markets. In order to re-build the society, ProstoRož invited individuals
to participate with different workshops for all generations. They also established a platform which organizes work actions in the park, all based on volunteer work. Their long term goal is to motivate the locals as well as other users to take over the park’s maintenance themselves.



Each day, nearly 2000 children from local kindergarten, primary and secondary school cross the Čufarjeva street. Because of that it was necesary to transform this street into a pedestrian an cyclist friendly enviromenemt. Traffic was reduced with a series of small interventions, which enabled walking, playing or resting in the street. Street furniture was constructed together with pupils from primary and secondary school, and younger children also participated with decorating the railings along the street.
Pavement was painted on the Neighborhood Day, and people from all over the city participated in this event.
children safety because of the traffic
architects, teachers, city council
children, neighbours
safe street with public program



In some ways ProstoRož acts like a spark which starts a project, develops the project and then leave it to the people. This approach is always made together with people who will use it after the group of artists will give the project to them. Low budget social urban attractors can easily enrich the neighborhood and the same approach which was used in Park Tabor or Čufarjeva street could be also used in San Anton.






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