"Three Lots" A case study of vacant lots in East New York

In 2022, we awarded the Photo Urbanism Fellowship to Elliot Golden to use photography as a tool for public health and community development alongside the Restorative City project.

The Restorative City: Building Community Wellness through Public Space initiative sought new ideas through an open request for proposals (RFP) to empower community action across NYC’s five boroughs and elevate public health to a central precept urban design. While the selected projects looked at policy changes required to confront health inequity, we brought on a Photo Urbanism Fellow in tandem with the RFP theme to capture the human, personal narratives that exist within community wellness. Elliott’s final exhibition, “Three Lots,” was a combination of mixed-media collages and photographs documenting the distinct but related histories of vacant lots, their current condition, and the people and organizations advocating for more equitable and restorative uses of the land. The exhibition was created in collaboration with the East New York Community Land Trust, the Grow NYC ENY Success Garden and on display at the Brooklyn Public Library New Lots Branch in the Summer 2023, before being donated to ENYCLT.

"Three Lots" Final Exhibition at the New Lots Library.

Elliott Golden

2022-2023: Reimagining Vacant Lots

Elliott Golden is a photographer, educator, and public health professional based in Brooklyn, NY. He is interested in photography as a tool that can help orient us to otherwise invisible social structures and relationships. In his collaborative practice, Elliott has partnered with New York City Community-Based Organizations such as Good Shepherd Services, the Center for Urban Pedagogy, Red Hook Community Justice Center, and L.E.A.R.N. I.T.

He is committed to arts and educational programming that supports community development and wellness. Elliott has a BA in Cultural Studies from Duke University and an MS in Sociomedical Sciences from the Mailman School of Public Health.

Exhibition Gallery

Three Lots

Elliott Golden

2022-2o23 NeOn Photography Network Youth Fellows

For the second year in a row, the Photo Urbanism fellowship was expanded in partnership with the NeOn Photography Network, a resource group created to provide both professional and creative opportunities for communities where large concentrations of people on probation reside. The Photo Urbanism Youth Fellowship provides mentorship and professional development for young people ages 16-24, offering four intensive fellowships and a public youth photography skills workshop led by our PU Fellow at the Museum of the City of New York. This cohort’s workshop focused on developing new technical skills and explored cyanotype printing methods. Fellows left the workshop with “photo-boxes” that contrasted hostile vacant lots or conditions in East Harlem that they photographed with imagined alternatives.See their work below and learn more here.

Taiwo Oladipupo

Taiwo Oladipupo (he/him) is passionate about photography and it stems from his love for science, picturing abstract things and being able to preserve stories for future generations to look at. He first decided to pursue photography seriously through his experience looking through a microscopic lens.

Bradley Mota

Bradley Mota (he/him) is an artist, photographer and documentarian. He was born and raised in Elmhurst, Queens where he discovered his passion for photography while traversing the streets of the city in his early teenage years. As an observer of spaces and the ever-changing skyline, he became interested in capturing the stories of the struggles and realities of those living in NYC. Having lived through the pandemic at its epicenter, his current work is a combination of reality and escapism. As time progressed, not only did his art style evolve, but so did the medium through which he documented history and himself.

Loulou Bradshaw

Loulou Bradshaw (she/her) is an Afro-Caribbean American queer creative based in Brooklyn, New York. Her interest in photography started at a young age, but through time and experience, her passion has grown immensely. Her approach to photography is defined by her dynamic and intimate style of portraiture.

Myron Mitchell

Myron Mitchell (he/him) is a New York City based photographer practicing for over three years. His interest in photography sprouted from his love of exploring and creating things. Currently, Myron captures landscapes, urban areas, and occasionally portraits. His style can be described as moody, and sometimes leans toward cinematic imagery.

Artist Statement

Vacant land is unevenly distributed across a city. In New York, for example, there’s a near complete absence of empty lots in the economically developed sections of Manhattan, but dense and regular clusterings in the divested areas of the outer boroughs. These areas of disinvestment are almost exclusively Black and brown neighborhoods; the vacancies that have been left for decades are the visible consequences of a system of land allocation bolstered by structural racism. The unused land does not only stand fallow, it testifies to the past and present histories of redlining and blockbusting, urban renewal and privatization, home flipping and predatory speculation.

“Three Lots” is a consideration of how the methods used to describe and appraise land have contributed to this racist history and what alternative relationships to public space can and do exist. Focusing on three vacant and underutilized plots in in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood, Brooklyn blocks 4034 – 29, corner of Sutter Ave and Linwood St.), 3801- 01/3802-01 (corner of Livonia Ave and Williams Ave), and 4557-01 (corner of of Stanley Ave and Emerald Street), the project layers and contrasts documents that have described the spaces — deeds, tax maps, historical photographs, satellite images of land — with photographs of the lots as they stand today. It is no coincidence that there are over 200 publicly owned vacant lots in East New York. Rather, the land is vacant because of a system which has abstracted the spaces, and used those abstractions to pursue profit, allocating resources to some groups instead of others.

But this is not the only way to think about these spaces, or space in general, and there are many community leaders in East New York envisioning and realizing just uses for the land. By developing tools to take community ownership of the lots, by stewarding the spaces, and by advocating for legislation that would create and preserve neighborhood control over land use, these leaders have made clear that equitable relationships to space are possible. Alongside the layered boxes and images tracing the unjust history which has produced vacant land, “Three Lots” also includes images of these leaders and their words as a guide to chart the path forward.

This project is funded and supported by the The Design Trust for Public Space’s Photo Urbanism Fellowship. It would not be possible without their generosity and commitment. I also owe a debt of gratitude to a number of collaborators: Barnabas Crosby, Chelsea Davis, Nathalie Marc, Hannah Anousheh, Boris Santos, Debra Ack, Brianna Soleyn and the East New York Community Land Trust; Ora Goodwin and Success Garden; LouLou Bradshaw, Taiwo Oladipupo, Myron Mitchell, and Bradley Mota; Rainer and Brooklyn at San Art Framing; Austin Jarvis, Hunter Stark, Warren Heller, Andy Battle, and Kobe Lewin. Thank you all for your goodwill, insight and help. Lastly, thank you to my parents, Carol and Andy, for your love and encouragement.

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