LEVERAGE OUR VACANT SPACES

Naomi Hersson-Ringskog

Vacant buildings and storefronts are detrimental to the health and vibrancy of our city. Too often landlords do not take advantage of the incredible opportunity that their vacant spaces could provide to artists, entrepreneurs and small organizations. We need to begin harnessing the potential of underutilized space citywide.

“Creative interim use,” or filling empty spaces with arts and cultural programming, is an adaptive and powerful strategy. It’s timely—you can occupy a vacant space for two weeks or six months. It’s scalable—you can inhabit storefront windows or create immersive exhibitions. It’s resourceful—we’re using existing buildings and sometimes making them better for future uses. And it’s flexible—vacant spaces can be transformed with food, technology, and other productive public uses. 

The City should create a comprehensive and publicly accessible database that tracks public and private vacancies. The mayor should appoint a manager to cut through red tape and facilitate access to empty spaces. And finally, the City should create a tax incentive to encourage the transformation of these spaces. This could take the form of a tax abatement for property owners who volunteer their spaces, or a tax penalty to get property owners to the table.

Naomi Hersson-Ringskog is Executive Director of No Longer Empty, a not-for-profit organization that seeks to widen public engagement with contemporary art, to promote the work of experimental and socially-conscious artists, and to build resilience in communities.

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Image: No Longer Empty.