Handshake.City: From Empty Lot To Urban Activator

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What do you do with vacant, remediated land in the middle of your city that isn’t currently being used?

You activate it.

That’s exactly what Utica’s quirky new Handshake.City will do.  The creation of a container “park” in the middle of a former brownfield gives a beautifully temporary and possibly permanent alternative to empty, underutilized space, creating activity and light commerce where there was none before.

“Our first step is to put three containers here and activate the programming,” said Justin Parkinson of Made In Utica and Handshake.City.  “Everything is on a year lease so we will go August-ish through July. We will program outside as much as we can, and when the weather changes we will move indoors for the winter and make a smaller market inside.  That’s a 3300 square feet in that building, so we have quite a bit of space altogether.” Parkinson pointed to the building to the north, which will serve as a cold weather option for Handshake.City.

“We only have a lease with the city for one year,” Parkinson continued.  “We hope to be here longer, but ultimately the city has the final say.  They still hope to sell this land, but in the [meantime] we hope to be the economic driver on it.  We are trying to prove in year one that this can be a green space and an economic space that doesn’t need to be turned into some factory.  We don’t need some random business here, want want something that activates the space and the area.  There was this lot of land that nobody wanted that had been remediated, so we just wanted a slow activator that could lead to a much larger piece of the Baggs Square project.”

Photo By SMITH Imagery

Handshake.City is far from the first container park in the country.  Cities across the nation are using retired shipping containers and other inexpensive pieces of infrastructure to create a unique, rustic and interesting “home” for projects like this one.  This particular endeavor will be programmed on weekends with festivals and events which will include art and retail vendors, as well as space for food trucks and other activities.

Photo By SMITH Imagery

The appeal of projects like this is that they are incremental and potentially temporary.  Instead of investing millions in a permanent park, Handshake.City will create space that is flexible and fluid at a tiny fraction of the cost.  If the city does find a suitable buyer for the land, they can end their lease with Handshake.City and the land can transition without any substantial loss.  In the meantime, the land can be a thriving, active and positive engine for the community, bringing people downtown and providing inexpensive space for light vendors to rent and sell their merchandise.  It allows Utica to inexpensively and incrementally explore the importance of public space and the need for small retail.

The possibility still exists that Handshake.City will become a permanent attraction in Downtown Utica’s Bagg’s Square neighborhood.  Whether it’s a temporary activator or the first step toward a key attribute for the future of the city, this container park provides an inexpensive, scaleable model for remediated lots that cover the expanses of our urban cores.  Bravo Handshake.City, we can’t wait to see what you do!