Irem C Yildiz

The Vacant Store Initiative

Design Research, Design Strategy, Retail

The Vacant Store Initiative is a system proposal that activates vacant retail spaces by creating hybrid uses through matching up different businesses and stakeholders.

The project is developed as a part of the MA in Design Studies Thesis at Parsons the New School for Design: “Deciphering the dynamics between the notions of event, space and community in post-metropolitan cities: A search for alternative spatial practices | Case study: Vacant Retail Stores on Bleecker Street.” The project is exhibited and presented on Parsons Festival’18.

Role: Researcher, strategist and designer.

Finalist in 2019 World Changing Ideas Awards of Fast Company.


This thesis is an investigation of a highly complex urban problem, the vacant retail stores, through the lens of Design Studies with an interdisciplinary approach comprising architecture, urban studies and design strategy. Unpacking the dynamics of major forces shaping urban experience and urban life, the research focuses on the vacant retail stores on Bleecker Street between Bank and Carmine Streets. Through historical, cultural, spatial and social analysis of the case study, the purpose is to explore alternative ways of interrupting the traditional processes to create better everyday life experiences and systems. The research unfolds binary relationships between local and global, past and future, preservation and innovation, tactics and strategies with a search for a generative balance. 

  • Demographic Analysis and Field Research Findings

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What are the most important events?


Overarching themes and concept organization

1. Why do I specifically frame the research in the context of a post-metropolis?

2. What are the concepts/forces that contribute to urban experience?

3. Taking Bleecker as a local shopping street, what it means to be a local shopping street in 2018’s NYC? How does shopping stand as an everyday life activity?

4. How do we adapt changes that are caused by drastically increasing technological developments in our everyday life? How does the transition take place from one state to the next one?

5. How is it possible to assure cultural sustainability?

6. And most importantly, what should design’s position be in all of these conversations?

  • Thinking, researching, analyzing, conceptualizing, and framing processes 

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The Vacant Store Initiative

The Initiative sets up a network from vacant retail stores on Bleecker Street between Bank and Carmine Streets, undertakes the management of the network and creates hybrid uses through matching up different businesses to make multiple uses out of one space. Main purposes of the Initiative are to vitalize the street life, to contribute to the urban culture, to support current businesses and to encourage small businesses to grow by assuring the needs of the neighborhood.

One of the main responsibilities of the Initiative is understanding and tackling the needs of the neighborhood. To determine the needs, the Initiative works closely with the members of the local community by applying various research methods. Based on the research, the Initiative builds up a ratio assuring the needs while creating space for ancillary uses. With a bottom-up approach, the Initiative works as the facilitator between the stakeholders; residents, landlords, the city government, as well as current and prospective businesses to create a balance between different stakes.

The Vacant Store Initiative Community Engagement Event, April 14th 2018

Due to the challenges that I experienced during the street interviews, I decided to apply a different strategy to engage with the local community in order to learn their needs and also get insight for the Vacant Store Initiative project. I decided to claim a space on the sidewalk with a table and two chairs to make it inviting and welcoming. On April 14th, 2018 between 1:30pm and 3:30pm, I set up a table, two chairs, and printed materials in front of the vacant retail store on 400 Bleecker Street on the sidewalk to tell the story of The Vacant Store Initiative and ask them what would they like to see in their own neighborhood.

Courtesy of photographer Erica Freudenstein, director Suzanne Yeo and editor Cybele Policastro.

  • Parsons Festival'18, 66 5th Avenue NYC, May 7-20 2018.

See the Interview on the project with Bleecker Street Beat, a documentation media on Bleecker Street: