“Civic Imagination: The Urban Commons”

“Civic Imagination: The Urban Commons” is a year-long inquiry into the urban commons, housed at The New School’s University Transdisciplinary Graduate Lab, which seeks direct sharing of ideas and skills between students and faculty trained in different disciplines.

This lab includes students and professors from disciplines of Design, Management and Architecture, with professional training in Organizational Change, Urban Planning, and Public Policy. It is also part of an experimental collaboration with Sheila Foster, University Professor at Georgetown University; Christian Iaione, Director of LabGov and Associate Professor of Public Law at LUISS University; Kakee Scott, PhD Candidate, School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University & Visiting Researcher, DESIS Lab; and Dimeji Onafuwa, Design Researcher & PhD Candidate, School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University.

Members of the “Urban Commons” lab over the course of this year included Nidhi Srinivas and Eduardo Staszowski (faculty); Gonzalo Rovegno Rocha, Federico Zuleta Rios, Courtney Loiacono, Lissa Fedrizzi, Younghun Kim, Rachel Murray, Maria Isabel Saffon Sanin, Rosemary Santos, and Cynthia Warner.

The lab hosted a panel and conversation at the Verge 2017 conference at Parsons, on “The Invisibility of the Commons.”

There, the Lab gathered people from fields including design, academia, local government, policy law, and parks conservancies, with a shared interest in the urban commons. Their goals were to:

  • Document current uses, relationships, and interactions in the urban commons, around 14th street in Manhattan;
  • Imagine new uses, relationships, and interactions in this area;
  • Explore strategies for protecting, growing and more deeply understanding the Urban Commons and commoning, and how such commons can evolve in the future.

By the Urban Commons we mean spaces and resources that are shared in urban settings. These include small-scale sharing such as an exchange of skills; they also include co-habiting spaces such as parks and community gardens.

The lab used 14th street in NYC as a test-bed for studying the urban commons. About 2.5 miles long, the street spans Manhattan East to West, crossing distinct and quite different neighborhoods, from the Lower East Side (Loisada) to Chelsea and the Meat Packing district.

3 different lenses emerged from the study of urban commons, which were then used to frame the investigation:

  • Alternative Economies;
  • Inclusive and Dynamic Governance;
  • Reclaiming Space.

The Lab also mapped the experiences they studied on field on their website, www.co-nyc.us, distinguishing the items according to those three lenses.

This initiative is part of the New School’s University Transdisciplinary Lab.