Editors’ note: The project of this year’s biennial, “The Available City,” offers a generative and community-driven approach to transforming vacant space into collective space. Often, when ideas are articulated through urbanist frameworks, our thoughts naturally favor a big-picture approach, glossing over the details of how people experience change on the ground and in their communities.
In commissioning Biyun Feng—a designer and photographer—we hope to offer readers an intimate look at issues of underdevelopment and disinvestment that are often characterized from a structural or systemic perspective.
Through Feng’s photographs, you will see that these sites—although vacant—aren’t empty; they are available. If we look closer, we will see that people are working on these lots, working with what they have in their communities and neighborhoods. People are using their individual power to activate their urban and shared environments. If vacancy ties these lots and communities to a registry of inequity, availability connects them to a network of possibility and transformation.
Biyun Feng: Measuring vacant space is like seeing pieces of distinct fabric swatches being patched onto one giant city quilt—will a share of this community garden offer a better texture here? How do we feel about developers locking down an entire empty area right now, so that later, it’s easier to work with them as smaller lots? What if we keep these corners under city property, plain and simple? Maybe it’s a better idea to thread these gaps together without using another.
No vacancy is casual. What we consider vacant is usually not a void to be filled from the outside, it has a voice generated from within.
I’m drawn to knowledge collected across neighborhoods. These sites portray vacancy through familiar moments, reappearing objects, signs of action, obscure boundaries and stages of ownership—each in their own way, becoming more genuine and visible. Among the many city-led programs, architect- and artist-inspired activations, people are actively constructing their own forms and fictions with care. Enriched soil is covering new grounds, and sunflowers are growing out of vacant lands.