Living Lots NYC Data

Vacant Land Data

Living Lots NYC is based on a multi-phase strategy for creating accurate data about city-owned vacant land. Our team progressed outdated and incomplete data that we got from the city to create this living database.

The first phase involves downloading and manipulating data available on the NYC OpenData portal. In 2011, the 596 Acres team used the Local Law 48 of 2011 and the IPIS databases, both of which are published by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, to create a baseline. We used the fields that describe the use of these lots (in IPIS, we use "RPAD_DESCRIPTION" and "Primary Use Text") to narrow down to the lots that are city-owned, vacant, and unused. A database of community gardens (created during the impressive 2010 GrowNYC community garden survey) was used as a guide to which City-owned lots are in use as community gardens.

The next phase is "virtual groundtruthing." When 596 Acres started this project in 2011, we hired a NYC property expert to spend over 100 hours examining each lot individually using OASIS, satellite imagery, and Google Streetview. When lots were found to be in use, a gutterspace, or inaccessible from the street, they flagged them accordingly in the database. Gutterspaces are slivers of land that can result surveying errors and other processes. They can be a one foot by one foot square of sidewalk or an inches-wide column of land between two lots, but either way they are unlikely to be usable for most purposes, so we move them to another layer on our map. This phase is key – in Brooklyn, for example, it eliminated over half of the original lots.

Next, in areas where a lot of city-owned land has clearly recently been transferred (e.g. the Arverne-by-the-Sea area of Rockaway), a member of the team manually checked the transaction records to bring our information to the present by removing those lots that are no longer city-owned due to recent deed-transfers. 

Finally, the database was published publicly online as a map, and real groundtruthing* began. Neighbors of lots continue to write in when City-owned lots are mislabeled or missing. Sometimes neighbors also fill in the history of a lot--what used to be there, plans there had been for it--by adding notes to it. The 596 Acres Team visits neighborhoods with concentrations of vacant lots to hang signs and start conversations with people who live there, and update the database to reflect what they learn--often by removing lots that have been built on, but sometimes also adding lots that were missed in the first three phases. Living Lots NYC is really a living map. 

Urban Renewal Plan Data

To add the data about which lots are part of active or expired Urban Renewal Plan Areas, we had to go back to the plans themselves. No map or dataset existed of Urban Renewal when we embarked on this portion of the research project in 2012. Since 1949, the City has adopted over 150 plans that gave the city power to create vacant lots and to drive neighborhood development. Many lots that were included in these plans decades ago still sit vacant today, and some of these were actually planned as parks and open space. We got access to the plan records via a Freedom of Information Law request and then created our own database by hand, which is now published at urbanreviewer.org. Where lots that are vacant today are part of active or expired Urban Renewal Plan Areas, the information now appears on the lots' pages on this site. Here is an example.

Staten Island Vacant Lot Data

In December 2014, researchers at the Pratt Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative used a methodology similar to the one outlined above to identify parcels in Staten Island that were in the city's data but that were not mapped at the time. This data was incorporated into the dataset on our map in March 2015. 

Updating Community Garden Data

In March 2015, data about community gardens on both public and private land was added to the map courtesy of GrowNYC. GrowNYC's data is a spreadsheet containing garden data and a shapefile with the footprints of those gardens. GrowNYC updated the data in 2014, and we have pulled in all of the gardens from this dataset that we did not already list.

*Groundtruthing

In addition to people who use the site improving the information we have by writing to us, we have also organized volunteers to test the data at differnet points during the process. Here is what one volunteer request said: 

December 28, 2011

It's time to demystify those dots on the map! This January -- we turn to you to tell us what is happening in your neighborhoods. Some of the "vacant lots" on our map -- which is really the NYC Planning map -- aren't really vacant at all.
Some are community gardens & parks. Some have other uses. And some are absolutely perfect community greenspaces for us to dream about in 2012. We want to know what's what! Before we print our next publication. We invite you to take a walk in the next few weeks, and think about springtime coming, in a structured way. We need your help looking at every dot in Brooklyn in real life. Can you commit to checking out the ones in your neighborhood? And uploading photos or notes to the pages for those lots? That would be great! We have a goal of getting this done by January 15. If you have any questions -- email 596acres@gmail.com.