Space is one of the biggest obstacles to the expansion of urban agriculture, especially in dense, economically vibrant cities like NY. A new bill in the New York City Council, Int. No. 248-A, expected to pass the full Council on Thursday, July 28, 2011, would create a powerful new tool for community groups and individuals to identify potential sites for new gardens and farms.
The new legislation would require the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) to keep and maintain a free, publicly accessible, searchable database of all city-owned and leased real property, including information regarding the location and current use of such property. It will cover the approximately 18,500 parcels that are owned or leased by the city, including schools, police stations, libraries, warehouses, highway maintenance yards, parking lots, piers, Housing Authority buildings, and vacant land. Users will be able to find out the location and dimensions of each site, along with many other details.
This information is currently available in several databases, but not in one place, online, and not for free. For example, the city’s “Gazetteer,” which lists city-owned and leased properties, does not include the characteristics of the properties to determine whether any particular parcel is suitable for other uses. The Department of City Planning maintains a proprietary database that describes all properties in the five boroughs, but it is only available for purchase.
The new online database would enable ordinary citizens to access the detailed property information that is currently collected by the city, making grassroots urban agriculture planning possible. DCAS also would have to indicate whether a particular property is suitable for urban agriculture, requiring the agency to assess site conditions like access to sunlight, and helping to fulfill a commitment in PlaNYC to find new sites for food production.