Restarting Neighborhoods By Reactivating Abandoned Buildings

Impossible Living lets you tell the world about abandoned buildings in your neighborhood and crowdsource possible solutions or capital to get things humming again.

From Detroit to recession-hit Spain, the world is full of abandoned buildings: factories left by companies that went somewhere else, suburban subdivisions from the boom years, crumbling farms and churches in remote places. Italy has an estimated 2 million such properties; Spain, another 3.5 million; America, many more.


Andrea Sesta, who lives in Milan, has been trying to find alternative uses for some of them. His web site, Impossible Living, allows anyone to map unused real estate, and act as champions for their renewal (even if they don’t own them). If there’s a building standing empty near you, you can add an address, put up some photos and videos, and then call on the web to help develop new ideas. “It’s a communication tool between the activator and the community,” he says.

Sesta is driven by two problems, as he sees them. One, that abandoned buildings contribute to neighborhood decline, feeding cycles of neglect, vandalism, and crime. And two, that developers often fail to meet civic needs. “In Italy, there is a big gap between what people would like to have and what investors realize,” he says. “In particular, for the younger population, there are not a lot of innovative services in place.”

Sesta, and his partner Daniela Galvani, see Impossible Living acting as a bridge between investors on the one hand and the community on the other, allowing capital to go where it’s most needed. “We want to put the question on the web, so the investors can arrive at an idea that they couldn’t come up with on their own. That might be mixing different functions that are not so common at the moment.”

There are currently 15 “reactivations” on the site, including several buildings from the small town of Favara, in southern Sicily. Two-thirds of the place has been abandoned, including castles, and former cement, and candle factories. But artists and technologists are now beginning to move in, attracted by open space, and cheap prices. “For us, this place is very important because it’s a way to rethink the abandoned world, reconstructing a territory that’s basically dead,” Sesta says. “The big value is that the property is worth nothing almost, so you can have a lot of space for free.”

Impossible Living is shortlisted for the LLGA urban innovation contest, which announces winners next month.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.