The Vacant Building Map


There are more than 11 million vacant homes across the EU. The EU estimates the number of homeless people to be 4.1 million - which means that, in theory at least, every one of them could have more than one roof over their head.” - Gone are the days when buildings were used for housing only - they are increasingly being thought of as a speculative, wait-and-see means to grow capital passively, rather than a place to call home.

Vacant buildings concern everybody - both the homeless and those with homes. Because empty buildings mean no activities, mean spooky parts of town. Empty buildings can give rise to spaces of desolation and a sense of abandonment which often turn into crime hotspots. But this can be avoided by simply raising our collective awareness and coming up with some creative solutions! Not everybody who owns a house that is standing empty would want it occupied by homeless people all of a sudden, but surely a cosy coffee shop sounds appealing, while a couple of people fix up and live on the second floor. And why not, maybe that coffee shop could be a social enterprise with zero waste!

Most owners are quite open to temporary habitation or office rent while they wait for the market to pick up. There are even special companies who place people in these buildings, for almost no rent. But this is not ideal either, because two people living in a whole office building is not going make much difference.

A good place to start is to find out how much of an issue this is in our community, let’s start by simply mapping out which buildings are currently lying empty around you.

Activity Type

Group theoretical/observational


3-4 hours

Learning Outcomes

  • Become aware of the potential of unused property in your town

  • Start a discussion about creative uses of space

  • Become proactive in creating a lively municipality


Required Materials and Tools:

A map of your village/town/neighbourhood, pens and post-its.

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Take a map (not google maps on your smartphone), you should be able to talk about it in a group and add notes to it.

  2. Discuss in the group which areas and places you know that are vacant; look around you when you walk through the town beforehand; look up, many places only have ground floor activity.

  3. Go around with your group and cross out the places you think are empty.

  4. Write short descriptions on the places you find, such as how big you think it is, what state it is in, and what its original purpose was (living, office, store).

  5. Take some pictures.

  6. Visit your local cadastre (the register of deeds titles) to find out who owns the buildings that are empty, add this information to your map.

  7. Optional:

  8. Think of an initiative you want to start. There is a multitude of activities that you could do:

    • Opening your own free shop;

    • Creating a learning empowerment centre for homeless/unemployed people, people with disabilities or other marginalised groups, where people volunteer   to empower these marginalised groups with different skills;

    • Transforming it into a homeless shelter;

    • Initiating a community pay-as-you feel cafe run by local volunteers;

    • Starting a soup kitchen (think sustainably! - the food items could perhaps be  obtained by agreement from the supermarkets if they are past their expiration  date. However, exercise caution and make sure to be familiar with the legislation of the specific country in terms of this. Another option would be turning to restaurants and taking the leftovers - but here as well, caution must be exercised in terms of the legal and health requirements of the given country;

    • Making a community library - a place where people can donate books and come and enjoy a good read!

    • Set up a community theatre/art house cinema

    • Perhaps you could even find inspiration in the magical world of social enterprises!

    • And the options, same as our dreams, are endless!

  9. Find the best vacant space for it.

  10. Contact the owner and ask for a good deal on the use of the space or try to persuade her/him to let you use it. In case the owner is an organisation/municipality, initiate a dialogue with them and find the department or person responsible for the care of real estate. Expect a bit of bureaucracy, usually present in any organisation. Hang in there.

  11. Present your social project idea and try to persuade them to let you use the vacant building for the common good, for free or for a low rent. If the owner is reluctant to make a deal, you could contact the local press to speak about your initiative. This may both raise awareness about the empty spaces in your neighbourhood and put pressure on the owner to make concessions.



  • What is your response to the number of vacant building in your area? Are there many/few? Were you surprised by the findings?

  • Where is the highest density of vacant spaces?

  • Did you find other ways about getting the information about the buildings except the local cadastre?

  • What did the youth think about ownership of the buildings? Do they think it is acceptable to have empty buildings while there are homeless people sleeping rough in the town/village?

  • Did they change their views on the use of non-public spaces?

  • What were their ideas about possible transformation of the vacant space?

Instructions for Submission

Upload a photo of your map with vacant buildings. Submit your ideas in Moodle about what you think a given vacant building can be used for. Instructions on how to upload photos and how to submit things in Moodle can be found here: Instructions on Submission&Uploading

Instructions for Assessment

Provide feedback to at least one participant that has done this activity. Instructions on providing feedback can be found here: Instructions on Feedback

Tried an activity? Give us feedback!

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