596 Acres: NYC Food Based Community Organization Spotlight

by Cameron St. Germain

What they do: 596 Acres advocates for public access to public land in New York City by providing information and resources to New Yorkers so that they can create community spaces from unused lots.

How they do it: They do this by building organizing tools to help grassroots groups compete with private real estate developers when it comes to determining the future of publicly owned assets across the city. One of those tools is their interactive online map and database of all the public assets that provide some type of potential real estate development opportunity. They call it “Living Lots NYC”.

Mission: 596 Acres champions resident stewardship of land to build more just and equitable cities.

Latest project/campaign: 596 Acres’ new map, NYCommons, shows public real estate assets that are potential opportunities for community-controlled development or might be at risk of disappearing to real estate speculation.

Major Funding: Individuals, NY Community Trust, the Clif Bar Family Foundation, discretionary funds from City Council members.

Profit/nonprofit: Nonprofit

Annual Budget: $130,000

Interesting fact about how they are working to positively affect the food system: As of October 2016, 596 Acres had directly facilitated the creation of 36 new community spaces where there were once vacant lots, 30 of which have been made permanent through transfers to the Parks Department or leases with public authorities. This amounts to a total of over 7 acres of new green space.



  • 540 President Street
  • Brooklyn, NY 11215

Core Programs:

They educate about vacant land ownership using various methods, at the core of which is Living Lots NYC, their interactive online map. They give New Yorkers educational resources to legally, easily and safely build up and maintain vacant lots. The program empowers residents by:
• Making municipal information available online and at the lots
• Providing education about city government and ways to participate in decisions that shape neighborhoods
• Assisting communities with legal support and campaign development on land use issues
• Maintaining networks that allow communities to share knowledge and relationships with decision makers
• Working with groups after they get access to land to build sustainable community governance
• Advocating for municipal agencies to increase participatory decision making surrounding public resources
• Educational workshops, “labeling walks,” and more.

Number of staff: 6

Number of volunteers: N/A

Areas served:

  • Bronx
  • Brooklyn
  • Manhattan
  • Staten Island
  • Queens

Year Started: 2011

Founding Director: Paula Z. Segal

Contact Information:


(718) 316-6092

Photo credit: Inspired Storytellers via Brooklyn Community Foundation

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