We live near a narrow, fenced-in, overgrown lot in the heart of downtown Boston. A section of the chain link fence regularly collapses onto the sidewalk, allowing you to walk inside. Under the shrubs, you can see how the lot has absorbed bottles, takeout containers, and illegally dumped restaurant grease for years. (On a recent trip inside, I found a sun-bleached beer can with a removable pull tab.) The vacant lot poses no real threat to the neighborhood, but its lack of purpose (or perhaps subtlety of purpose) seems to invite abuse by visitors and residents alike.

Do we live in a urban place where there are only two alternatives: real estate development or utter neglect? Is there something in-between?

How does one tend a vacant lot?


[2007.03.01 to 2008.09.01] During the past year, I’ve occasionally gone into the lot, picked up litter, and pulled the fence off the sidewalk. I also looked up the owner via Boston’s Assessing Department search form. I sent a letter asking permission to plant flowers and make permanent repairs to the fence. No reply.

[2008.09.01] On a three mile hike in Southern New Hampshire, we gathered seeds from the fields and forest on our way—blackberries, blueberries, acorns, pine cones, and wildflowers. The bag weighed nearly three pounds at the end of the trail. We called a biologist friend who, acknowledging there would be dissenting opinions, said that tossing the seeds into the vacant lot would be interesting and probably less disruptive to the “natural” ecosystem behind the fence than what generally gets tossed in. So, we emptied the bag into the lot this morning. Let’s see what grows.

[2008.09.05] This week, something else is blooming in the lot: an art installation called small things 2. Children in the Red Oak Summer Program at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center made 500 plastic flowers out of recycled plastic bottles. The flowers are suspended over the lot on mesh netting. Visit the department of micro-urbanism and click on “small things project_2″ to learn more. The installation is drawing the attention of residents and visitors at Films at the Gate next door.

[2008.09.08] We removed an orange milk crate that someone had tossed over the fence. It was “floating” in the lot on the mesh netting, weighing down the flowers. Tools: 10′ thin PVC pipe, 20′ rope, S hook, duct tape.

[2008.10.15] The Boston Herald ran an article about small things 2, including some photos and video of the installation.

[2001.06.01] The construction of Mary Soo Hoo Park which is adjacent to the vacant lot is now well underway. The lot has been demolished and cleared as part of that work, and we’re excited to improvements on both sides of the fence, in the park and in the lot. We’re experimenting with Flickr as a way to document ongoing work. Your can see our photostream here:



  • Boston Assessing Department online search
  • Pik Stik – a inexpensive grabbing tool for picking up trash
  • Guerrilla Gardening web site, illicit cultivation tips from London


2 responses to “Tending a vacant lot”

  1. JacquelineChurch Avatar

    What a great idea – urban Guerilla gardening! I have some flower seeds a friend sent from another garden. Should I add them to the mix?

  2. jacqueline Avatar

    Did a little guerrilla gardening meself..scattered donated flower seeds across the hard dirt in the park -like lot and blew some into the grassy vacant lot. Going to check this week. Cycle of rain, sun = maybe, just maybe, something’s sprouting?

    Thanks for the brilliant idea!