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Parking lots to gardens: if you plant it, they will come

by Leah Hunter

Over the past few weeks, [freespace] has heard from people across the US running projects that inspire, beautify, and connect their communities. They are world changers – who all have found a way, in their backyards, to inspire people to come together and create.

wall and gardenYesterday we spoke with one of these people, Jaime Zucker. Jaime runs the PHS Pop Up Gardens, a project that is about “transforming neglected spaces in Center City Philadelphia into lush and inviting places for all to enjoy.”

We got really excited since the [freespace] garden started much the same way: as a pop-up garden planted in our parking lot by Nima Torabi, a local guy with a passion for horticulture who happened to be walking by. (Originally, we’d just planned to roll out sod for a parklet!)  Why Nima got involved? “I live a block away in a shoebox apartment with no space to grow in,” he says. “This is a giant playground and a canvas…to turn a city, not usually the most green thing, into something living.”


Like the [freespace] garden, Jaime’s gardens are also temporary – pop-ups that happen in vacant lots. Amazing patches of green in otherwise concrete neighborhoods.  The PHS Pop Up garden mission is about “promoting the power of greening to transform cities.”

+1 to that!

Learn more at:



Contact: Mandy Silverman

+1 (415) 322-8239



Asks if the gift of a 14,000 square foot space can engage locals to participate in civic hacking.


SAN FRANCISCO, June 11, 2013 — [freespace], a new civic innovation experiment organized by local residents, today announced its one-month pilot to engage locals in civic hacking and the launch of its crowdfunding campaign. The group wants to prove that the gift of a physical space can engage local talent to show up, get involved and transform the city.

Originally inspired by the two-day White House “National Day of Civic Hacking,” San Francisco organizers chose to challenge the very concept of a hackathon by focusing on space, culture and community. This will last an entire month because they were able to secure a one-month lease of a 14,000 square foot warehouse in Central Market for just $1. The building opened on June 1st and within 24 hours a gallery of indoor mural and outdoor street art by local artists including Eon75, Ian Ross and Zio Ziegler had transformed its dilapidated exterior and began to draw in creative changemakers by the hundreds.

Mike Zuckerman, co-founder of [freespace], says his inspiration for the project stems from experiences with traditional 48-hour hackathons. To have a lasting impact, he says, “Ideas need a space and a longer runway. With the National Day of Civic Hacking, this empty warehouse, and my unwavering faith in the creativity, skills and passion of the San Francisco community, I saw an opportunity. I wasn’t sure exactly what would come out of it, but knew it would be positive, and I am blown away by how much has happened so quickly.”

Ivan Vera, manager of the Community Arts Program at Hospitality House, agreed. “I am amazed at what the community has been able to do with the building in just 10 days. The amount of energy, creativity, and generosity that I saw is inspiring. [freespace] is bringing people together from all walks of life in the name of making the city a better place, and from what I’ve seen, they are already succeeding.”

[freespace] is hosting an open house and art opening today, Tuesday June 11, from 6-9 pm. More details can be found on their Facebook invitation here.

As a temporary space for lasting change, [freespace] expects locals who spend time with one another to be inspired with a purpose, self-organize and start hacking. Visitors to the space are introduced to each other through gardening, open mics, creative reuse challenges along with various scheduled and impromptu events.

“[freespace] showed up all of the sudden and allowed me to collaborate and prototype a project I had been thinking about for awhile,” explains Mark Roth, who is already starting to hack homelessness by providing technology skills training. “In true San Francisco entrepreneur spirit, I’m excited to work in this space and even more excited to see the creative ways that other people activate this amazing Mid-Market location.”

The group wants to not only take on the city’s challenges, but go a step further to ensure that civic hacking sticks around the neighborhood. Volunteer teams have formed around long term projects such as community engagement, increasing the number of murals in the city, and a free bike share program. To foster further activity, partners ranging from the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation to corporations like Levi’s to tech firms like have begun to join forces with [freespace].

Other partners include the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, San Francisco Department of Environment, Mesh Labs, Friends of the Urban Forest, The Wigg Party, Burning Man Project, SCRAP, Rebar, ReAllocate, SF Yellow Bike Project, Silent Storm, ArtisMobilUs, The Bold Italic, SF Postcard Project, Urban Innovation Exchange and Collective Agency.

The current arrangement allows the use of the space for the month of June. Inspired by the energy, creativity, and contributions of artists, teachers, techies, and changemakers who have already transformed the building, the group today launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to keep the building for another month. To participate in crowdfunding [freespace], please visit Organizations and companies interested in exploring partnerships are invited to contact

About [freespace]

[freespace] is an experiment in cultivating civic hacks. Its aim is to prove that a gift of temporary, underutilized physical space inspires an untapped local talent pool to come together as a community of creative changemakers addressing the city’s challenges. Coordinated by a small team of Bay Area professionals inspired by the National Day of Civic Hacking, the effort quickly expanded when the team secured a one-month lease of a 14,000 square foot San Francisco Central Market warehouse for just one dollar. All are welcome to join in at 1131 Mission Street and connect at, on Facebook and by email.