The parent app for Living Lots ®, a suite of apps by 596 Acres ® for mapping and connecting people to the vacant land in their neighborhoods.
Vacant, unused lots exist in every city. We see those lots as an opportunity for the people who live around them to start community-based projects such as play areas, gardens, and general spaces for the neighborhood. 596 Acres started in Brooklyn, NY, USA, in 2011 to map these spaces and help neighbors get in touch with each other and the owners to start projects.
This Django app, along with the numerous other Living Lots apps in our repo form the basis of a website that maps vacant lots in a city and gives neighbors ways to post extra information about each lot and start projects on them. These apps are informed by our experience with making this kind of platform in New York City, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Los Angeles.
Sounds great! I want to do this for my city! How?
Glad you asked: you've come to the right place.
The first thing you should know is that Living Lots is not a box that you turn on and then runs itself. Installing and running Living Lots is more complicated than installing other websites (like Wordpress), but once you get going you'll have a great deal more power over how your site works than with other sites. Assume that it's going to take around six months to get your site running the way you want it to.
We'll be diving into the specifics, but here's an outline of what you need to get together before you can have a functional Living Lots site:
- An understanding of how to gain access to land in your city
- Paid services
Living Lots is fundamentally data-driven. While you could theoretically start with an empty map and fill it in, you're going to have a difficult time getting people to your site without at least some vacant land to show on the map and impress everyone with.
Certain kinds of data are required. Ideally you will have:
- the parcels that you want to put on your map,
- some way of telling which are vacant, and
- data on who owns each of those parcels.
Try to get the parcels along with their shapes (also known as polygons) as this will give viewers a better idea of which land you're mapping. When looking for parcels and their shapes, you do not want a spreadsheet or CSV of them, but you do want something called a shapefile. You'll need a piece of software called a GIS to read these, luckily there's a free one called QGIS that is excellent.
Some data is nice to have but isn't necessarily a dealbreaker. One dataset you should try to get is locations of current community-driven projects such as community gardens. This is helpful for two reasons: it will help you avoid marking those project locations as vacant and it gives you more points to put on the map.
We find that it's useful to be able to filter the map by boundary layers. These are large shapes that cover your city such as zip codes and city council districts. These are usually easy enough to find, but now is a good time to think about other layers you would want to filter with on your map. As with parcels, you'll be looking for shapefiles for these boundaries.
An understanding of how to gain access to land in your city
Simultaneous to your other tasks, start listing the ways people can legitimately get access to land your city. Be detailed and work on making these readable for a general audience. Note which types of parcels the method will work on. Some tactics are only suitable for public land, some are only suitable for public land under the jurisdiction of a particular agency.
In Living Lots, we call these tactics pathways. Vacant parcels have a list of these on their page. This is why you want your text to be accessible.
In addition to pathways becoming content for your new site, thinking through them is going to affect the way you think about the data regarding land in your city. You'll find yourself thinking, for example, "oh, it's sometimes easier to get access to lots that repeatedly receive fines for litter, can we find that information somewhere?"
You're going to need some help to get your Living Lots site up and running.
In no particular order, you'll need:
- A programmer. Someone who knows Python (the language Living Lots is written in) and Django (a Python module Living Lots depends on) would be ideal. It would also be great to find someone who has worked with data, mapping data, and knows something about the open data situation in your city. They're going to help install Living Lots and customize it to meet your needs.
- A graphic / web designer. This person will help you determine what your site is going to look like and how people will interact with the site. Having a designer is not optional. Plan on working with the designer intensively at the beginning of the project and less intensively over a few iterations as the site is getting closer to being ready to go online.
- Organizer(s) / support network. Once the site is online, how are you going to handle incoming emails and requests for assistance? Who is going to provide outreach and ensure that the site gets used? Who will keep an eye on the data in the system to keep it up to date? This document focuses on the technical side of the project you're embarking on, but please don't forget this part!
At the minimum, you're going to be paying for two services: a domain name and room on a server.
The domain name(s) is the URL people will use to get to your site (eg, livinglotsnyc.org). It will cost between $10 and $20 per year. Once you pick a name look for a registrar (there are tons of them), and if your organization is already using one just use that.
There a number of options for servers, and we list the requirements below (Technical Requirements). You'll want the programmer you're working with to help pick a server. Depending on the type of web hosting you have now you might be able to use that one, but in our experience you're better off getting a new hosting account specifically for your Living Lots site.
Actually building the site
You'll need someone with programming experience to do the rest. Once you find a programmer as specified above, send them here (to the next section). It doesn't hurt to get going on most of these tasks simultaneously, so don't feel like you need to get all of the above done before you send a programmer here.
Oh hi, welcome, technical and / or programmer person! This section should have enough technical information to get you started with Living Lots.
You're going to need the following software to run Living Lots:
- Django (1.7+)
- GeoDjango (included with Django as django.contrib.gis)
- A spatial database. Living Lots is tested and known to work with:
You will need to serve the Django project however you like. We use:
We have used and been very happy with WebFaction's shared accounts with 512 MB of RAM. The most difficult part of finding a shared host is going to be finding support for PostGIS. Any host with a spatial database that supports Django should work.
Developing your Django project based on Living Lots
Okay, now that you have the software requirements and hosting figured out, you can finally get started with making Living Lots for your city.
From here you will want to set up a CMS for the content outside of Living Lots. We use and recommend FeinCMS (as is included in the project template), but it is not required. In theory any CMS app for Django should work.
Next, create concrete models. The abstract models are defined in Living Lots apps such as django-livinglots-lots. See livinglots-nyc for some examples of how this works. As you add concrete models, don't forget to define them in your settings so Living Lots apps can find them. Most of these are stubbed out for you in the template project, so you shouldn't have to write much from scratch.
This incarnation of 596 Acres' software is under active development as we work on Living Lots NYC. Follow along at `596acres/livinglots-nyc <https://github.com/596acres/livinglots-nyc`_. All of our Living Lots apps are relatively new but are considered stable enough for production use.
This is the parent app, which ties together the other Living Lots apps. The intention with the other apps is to make them small and focused. These vary between apps that provide models (such as usercontent or lots) and apps that provide general utility functions or mixins (eg, genericviews and notify).
If an app provides models, unless those models are very generic and unlikely to
be modified, we prefer to make those models abstract and prepend their name with
Base. Similarly with views. As you can see in the Living Lots template,
it's then a relatively simple matter to create concrete models and add custom
fields to them in your project.
All apps are versioned using semver. A few of the apps
are currently in pypi, but the current
preferred way of using them is via their github repositories, for now. All apps'
names start with
Here's a current list of apps:
- `django-livinglots-mailings <https://github.com/596acres/django-livinglots-mailings`_
You can find the code for the original 596 Acres site, still in use, at ebrelsford/596acres.
In late 2014, Grounded in Philly was updated to take advantage of many of the improvements made to Living Lots, and the framework was further refined.
Also in late 2014, the framework came full circle: the site in NYC was rewritten, became Living Lots NYC (`repo <https://github.com/596acres/livinglots-nyc`_), and is now based on Living Lots.
django-livinglots is released under the BSD license.