According to the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, Dutch traders established farming communities and villages east of Manhattan around 1652. One such village, Vlackebos, literally translated into the "wooded plain." This wooded plane area at the time consisted of virgin thick forests coupled with flat terrain so it eventually was called Flatbush. The area stayed in this overgrown natural state for nearly three centuries. "But, in the 1920s, the new Interborough Rapid Transit linked Flatbush to the rest of the city, sparking new developments that began welcoming successive generations of immigrants. As with the Dutch traders, these newcomers built homes and roads, only more quickly and densely. Riding through East Flatbush today, there are still trees that line its quiet residential sidewalks. But the area's open space is virtually gone." (NYC Department of Parks & Recreation)
Today, NYC is over eight million people strong and space is still as precious as it once was in Flatbush. The problem today is not open spaces of forest but retail spaces, depots, vacant spaces and lots. Although the city can claim the largest urban park system in the United States, the need and use of space continues to be a growing concern for real estate developers, non-profits and of course, the citizens of the metropolis. "Over the last five years, the City has added more than 300 acres of new parkland, much of it by reclaiming stretches of the waterfront that were abandoned by industry decades ago. In other words, because space in the communities of NYC and the efficient uses of those spaces is so vital to the city's quality of life, it is essential that we all understand just how well or how poorly these spaces are being utilized." (NYC Department of Parks & Recreation)
This report aims to discuss those temporarily available empty and vacant spaces throughout NYC and what to do with these spaces? Who owns them; why are they empty and what is the demand for these spaces? There are many organizations already utilizing retail spaces, depots, vacant spaces, rooftops and more open available areas so this report tries to address using them as opposed to leaving them empty.
New York City
Use of Temporary Space
In this highly economically motivated and highly technical globalized world, saving is rarely a priority. Our world is a world where resources get wasted every few seconds even though we all understand that this way of life is not sustainable. The obvious answer to the unasked question is that we must work together to capitalize our natural resources as soon and as efficiently as possible. But most people would only think of oil, electricity or water when discussing and thinking about natural resources. That is because historically throughout the United States, there has been a virtual laissez-faire attitude towards other great natural resources such as land and space. Yes, of course our nation's farmers and other agricultural users pay attention to land as a natural resource. But the vast majority of us are blind to the fact because of the seemingly infinite and abundance of land in our nation. With that in mind, the purpose of land therefore is to simply exploit it for economic gain.
But New Yorkers, specifically those urbanites of the Big Apple and the surrounding boroughs for decades have understood that land is not a limitless commodity. NYC has an ever increasing population coupled with industrial expansion that has been the foundation of urban sprawl. The city has experienced more than any other American city how thousands of vacated retail spaces, depots, vacant spaces and rooftops go unused. This work addresses what is happening in NYC in regard to vacated and available space. This paper attempts to understand existing projects and how they currently make use of temporary space around the city and an underlying goal is to brainstorm for some new potential uses and to understand how the current economic downturn has hurt this particular aspect of the real estate market.
This work aims to understand and justify the problem of the current vacant retail space in NYC Manhattan. In many cases, they are depots or spaces that are waiting for reconstruction and are therefore only temporarily empty as they await resale or rental. The concern is that property owners keep these places empty and the research shows that in some situations some companies donate their spaces to non-profit organizations that use these spaces temporarily.
There are ways to make use of these spaces and turn them into efficient and lively areas. But first, we must understand the demand for available temporary use projects. Consider how nonprofit organizations have been facing challenges of finding facilities and working space at affordable and appropriate sites in NYC.
1. A pedestrian walks by Smartspaces' recent show "Regeneration" in an vacant building in the Financial District, at 88 Greenwich Street (The Art Newspaper)
For example, consider the art community of NYC. Artists and curators are always in need of viable locations for shows and producing their work. Non-profit arts organizations and curators have regularly followed commercial endeavors and equivalents throughout NYC in an attempt to find space in these recessionary times. Store fronts and the wave of "pop-up" galleries are one sound example of how to utilize the plethora of available vacated retail spaces, depots, vacant spaces and rooftops, especially during these recessionary real-estate market woes.
The city art industry is just one example of how nonprofits have gone out of their way to strike up strong partnerships with realtors and lease mangers. "Recent non-profits using empty spaces include: No Longer Empty, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the Drop: Urban Infill Project, X Initiative, the Downtown Brooklyn Alliance, and veteran non-profits Creative Time, the Art Production Fund and Chashama, which have long worked with underused sites. One new outfit, Smartspaces, has carved out a special niche -- showing art exclusively in the windows of developing properties, thereby promoting both artists and real estate with minimum liability." (The Art Newspaper)
According to the Art Newspaper, even established museums such as the PS1 Contemporary Art Center in Queens are getting in on the act. "Under the rubric "Free Space," it is offering unused galleries as studios for artists -- Marina Abramovic and Kalup Linzy among them -- and large-scale events such as the NY Art Book Fair and the show "100 Years," organized by Performa and Electronic Arts Intermix." (The Art Newspaper) In January, the center is said to be working with Creative Time in an effort to present 'a one-weekend open call where artists can receive feedback from PS1, MoMA, and Creative Time curators.' With strong backing like this, there are many new potential nonprofit artists and curators who will be looking for viable locations to set up shop.
According to Andrew Tangel of the Hackensack Times, back in April of this year, "Real estate executives and prominent investors gathered at the Hotel Pierre in New York Thursday to discuss the tectonic shifts underway in the commercial real estate market. When will the market hit bottom? Which real estate investment trusts will survive? When will commercial mortgage-backed securities again pump capital into the market? And how and when should REITs obtain equity financing in the wake of an industry wide de-leveraging?" (Tangel) The economy has affected New York and the retail, office and living space industries. Consider what an empty building does in the city.
The NYC Department of Parks and Recreation point out that empty retail spaces, vacant lots and other depots means no local foot traffic for existing businesses. That is because New Yorkers utilize sidewalks as a means to an end. "We really do walk faster than other people; travel to another city and the fact -- in the form of a meandering pedestrian just in front of you -- will be inescapable. But there are also many among us who have bought a slice of pizza and wished to eat it outdoors when the weather was warm; or bought a book and had nowhere to read outside until getting home; or just wanted to sit down for a moment and watch the street life of our city. Moreover, whether it's walking to the car, or out of the subway or bus, or down the street on the way to school or shopping, each of our trips begins and ends as a pedestrian." (NYC Department of Parks & Recreation) There are no perfect formulas for creating perfect New York City blocks but neighborhoods with too many vacated buildings are less pleasant and they do not encourage walking, gawking and shopping.
MANHATTAN RETAIL VACANT SPACE (In Millions of Rentable Square Feet)