Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
An Italian website compiles crowd wisdom and ideas to utilize vacant properties.
While property abandonment may be more acute in some places (easy target: Detroit), it's basically a global phenomenon. Vacant buildings and deserted properties can be found in cities all over the planet. And just like in Detroit, these places often aren't sure exactly what to do with them.
A new website is hoping to start answering some of those questions. [Im]possible Living is a crowd-assisted map site that's identifying vacant properties all over the planet, though mostly in Italy so far. It's not just pointing out the black eyes of the urban landscape. The site is trying to play matchmaker between abandoned spaces and people with ideas to revive those spaces, and maybe even some of the money they'll need to get things going.
The site is a group project founded by Daniela Galvani, an architect, and Andrea Sesta, an engineer. Launched in December 2011, they already have about 500 abandoned properties mapped, many posted via a mobile phone app that includes detailed profiles including size, location and state of decay. Some, like this building in Milan, have been abandoned for decades.
"In Italy, we have more than two million abandoned buildings and 2,000 abandoned villages," says Sesta. While reusing all of these places is highly unlikely, Sesta notes that many have good bones and could, with the right project and resources, be converted back into usable spaces. He's hoping the site will help people with those ideas find sites that might fit their plans.
"We thought we could build a global container of these kinds of projects and help link resources with ideas, creating a community of people concerned about this problem and willing to do something about it," says Sesta.
While the map is the center of the website, the community aspect may be the most important part of what Sesta's trying to do. He's hoping that the site will become a clearinghouse for resources and advice on transforming abandoned places. "They are really difficult projects. They require a lot of money, a lot of expertise," he says.
The site is already starting to play matchmaker. On June 30, Sesta will be leading a bicycle tour of abandoned properties in Bologna, where he's hoping to get the input of attendees to help pick a site for a social innovation center a local entrepreneur is planning to open. A similar tour, conducted in Milan in February, visited 19 different sites. Each now has its own profile page on the website. In April, a workshop with a group of architecture students plotted out ways abandoned properties could legally be redeveloped and what kinds of uses could occur.
Making the leap from mapping properties to actually implementing projects is a big one, and Sesta says he doesn't have any delusions about how hard it will be. But he sees potential for both crowdsourcing and corporate social responsibility campaigns to help create some of the funding needed to repurpose these spaces. Though right now it's mostly just a map of places, Sesta is hopeful that the site will become a showcase for projects that have successfully transformed abandoned properties and that the community it creates can start to tap into these underutilized assets in cities all over the world.
Images courtesy [Im]possible Living