Right: Map from the Annual Record of the Assessed Valuation of Real Estate In The Borough of Brooklyn, The City of New York. Ward 26, Volume 2. 1899.
The Photo Urbanism program provides fellowships to photographers to create a body of work about the role of public space in New York City, including the opportunity to lead two youth photography workshops and present one final solo exhibition. In 2022, we awarded the Photo Urbanism Fellowship to Elliott Golden to use photography as a tool for public health and community development alongside our Restorative City theme, centered on health equity. Elliott's final exhibition, on view now at the New Lots Library, is 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. Learn more about the exhibition and explore some of his work below.
Elliott on the work:
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.
The Photo Urbanism Fellowship is supported in part by the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs.