There are three major pathways to accessing NYC Department of Transfortation lots: (1) a Garden License agreement with NYC DOT and a local organization, (2) the DOT Plaza program or a (3) transfer to another agency.
A good first step is to call your DOT borough commissioner's office (at the number on the lot's page). Be ready to take notes on your call and get the name of the person you speak to.
First, ask if DOT has plans for the lot. If they don't have immediate plans, DOT can create an agreement with neighbors to use the space, add it to the DOT Plaza Progam or transfer the land to another agency. If they do have plans for the lot, ask what they are! Perhaps you and your neighbors can use the space for the interim, or you might be interested in what the plans are. If the lot continues to be vacant, check back in with the DOT as plans can change.
After you finish with your call, record your notes on the lot page so that others who are interested in this lot can benefit from what you learned. We're all organizers together.
ORGANIZING FOR A GARDEN LICENSE, A PLAZA OR A TRANSFER OF THE LAND
You can begin organizing your neighbors to create a campaign that will demonstrate that your community group will be successful stewards. Here are some things you might consider gathering as you organize your neighbors, which will help you build a successful campaign:
- A mission or vision statement that lists benefits to the community;
- A letter from the local Community Board in support of the project and group;
- A name for the proposed garden/group being formed;
- List of community members interested in the project (names, addresses, phone numbers, emails);
- Sketch or rendering of project;
- List of partners/sponsors/endorsers (including churches, school, local business, city agencies, etc.).
Some letters of support from elected officials is also helpful. You can use the "Political Boundaries" section on the lot's page to see the elected officials and community board for the lot. You might also be able to get a letter of support from GreenThumb.
1. LICENSES FOR DOT GARDENS
If you wish to enter a license agreement with the DOT, they will likely require a legal entity with which to sign the agreement and liabilty insurance. The entity could be a non-profit organization, a block or building association, or some other neighborhood organization. Think about who would make the most sense for your situation. Once you know who will be signing the agreement, you'll need to decide whether there is an existing insuracne policy that the lot can be added to or if you will need a new policy. There is relatively cheap garden insurance available through the American Community Garden Association.
The DOT Plaza program works with Department of Design and Construction, professional design teams, and not-for-profit partners to transform some DOT lots. The Department of Transportation designs the plazas with community input through a collaborative design process and public visioning workshops.
To turn an underused open space in your community into a public plaza you must complete an application through the Department of Transportation. It is necessary that you are or partner with certified 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization that is located near, or has a mission that serves or relates to your proposed plaza area. In conjunction with the application you must provide 10 letters of support from key community stakeholders, and prove that the neighborhood for the proposed plaza has an insufficient amount of open space. The DOT Plaza program is exploring creating plazas at street ends next to water and referring to these as BlueStreets. The Neighborhood Plaza Partnership can help you start and maintain a DOT Plaza in your neighborhood.
3. TRANSFERRING THE LAND
If DOT does not have any plans for a property, it might be willing to transfer it upon another agency's request. The NYC Parks Department or the Department of Cultural Affairs are two agencies that might take jurisdiction over land and faciliate your community project. You'll need to find a champion at the agency that you are hoping will receive the property in order to start the process.
GreenStreets & the Green Infrastructure Program
The DOT also has plazas and bits of street infrastructure in its jurisdiction that aren't exactly lots.
GreenStreets was a partnership between New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Transportation that converted areas of paved roadway and unused roadbeds into small parks and green oases. The program was started in 1996, and built 2,500 Greenstreet sites citywide. In 2010, the program partnered with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection to become the Green Infrastructure Unit, and now focuses on building cost-effective storm water capture on land that is not City-owned. Check out Green Infrastructure Grant FAQ page.