Farming: A Greater Use for Parking Spaces


Question: If a parking spot spends most of its time occupied by an empty motor vehicle, does that make it a vacant lot?

Brooklyn-based 596 Acres has created a gorgeous large-format map showing precisely that amount of land lying vacant in the Better Borough: Their purpose is to encourage aspiring hayseeds to turn this land to agricultural use.

A 596 Acres poster graces the fence of a vacant lot in Gowanus.

A 596 Acres poster graces the fence of a vacant lot in Gowanus.

The City Council just passed a law requiring that “the Department of City-wide Administrative Services (DCAS)…create and maintain a searchable database of all city-owned and leased real property” in order to “empower the public” to use “underused or unused property” for, among other things, urban agriculture, community gardening, and open space.

The people of New York City are hungry for land in which to grow and play – hungry enough that both grassroots groups and city government are stepping forward to help.

Meanwhile, in the transportation world, PARK(ing) Day is coming up (this year it’s Friday, September 16th). PARK(ing) Day (in its own words) “is an annual, worldwide event that invites citizens everywhere to transform metered parking spots into temporary parks for the public good.”

PARK(ing) Day, NYC, 2009 (photo by Kate Nicholson, from

PARK(ing) Day, NYC, 2009 (photo by Kate Nicholson, from

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Are you seeing the potential confluence here?

Making PARK(ing) Day permanent – and implementing it in a systematic way – could increase the amount of land available for gardening, food-growing, and all-around good times by a heck of a lot more than 596 acres.

According to my (unscientific) data collection efforts, the average parking space occupies (conservatively) 90 square feet (6 feet wide by 15 feet long). So you’d need to repurpose 484 on-street spots to gain an acre of farmland – or 288,464 spots to get 596 acres.

Sounds like a lot of spaces, right? Not really, when you consider that the total number of on-street parking spaces in New York City falls somewhere between 3.4 and 4.4 million. If we set up shop squarely in the middle of that range, and posit that NYC has 3.9 million on-street parking spaces, then we can estimate that NYC has 8,058 acres of potential farmland, evenly distributed throughout all streets in all neighborhoods in all boroughs. Yes, every house, apartment building, office tower and small business could indeed have a green space right outside its front door.

Where would all the cars go? Well, they might not have to go anywhere, if their owners followed the scintillating example set by Richard Register and his Vegetable Car, back in 1979:

Richard Register's Vegetable Car (from Ecocity Builders web site)

The Vegetable Car (from Ecocity Builders web site)

Now that’s a great use for a car!