The city is a collective experience. It is a complex system “consisting of a vast multitude of individuals, institutions, processes and physical entities, all of which give rise to the buildings, cultures, laws and services that we think of as the urban. Though each one of these may be owned or controlled in a specific way, the holistic entity we call a city (in many cases a towering achievement of human culture) grows in an uncontrollable way from the synthesis of these many parts, with no singular ownership, and is therefore something we have “in common” rather than co-own”.
As the boundaries between the responsibility of the state to provide public space and public goods (such as transportation, education, water, power, etc.) and the degree to which private entities provide such goods blur, the idea of the ‘common’ or the ‘collective’ may offer a third alternative to ‘public’ -which doesn’t always mean accessible to all and ‘private’ -which doesn’t mean closed off to all. The idea of land or services that are commonly owned and managed speaks to a 21st-century sensibility of participative citizenship and peer-to-peer production. In theory, at least, the commons is full of radical potential.
In this studio, we want to investigate the differences between public, private and collective urban spaces and develop design approaches for a new urban commons. Technology has given rise to new forms of economies, of sharing and of providing access to goods and services in the city. Companies like AirBnB, Uber, Lyft or WeWork are challenging traditional means to live, move or work in the city.
What kinds of new urban spaces are created by this rise of membership-based collectives?
Other forms of ‘commoning’ such as the cooperative housing movement have a longstanding history in New York City dating back to the late 19th century, but are struggling to create contemporary versions in a housing market that is dominated by private interests.
What would new cooperative spaces look like? How can they compete in the current real estate market?
How can well-known examples for urban commons such as community gardens be scaled up to address larger infrastructure issues in the city such as transportation, energy or food production, resiliency, water or housing? Can we create greater efficiency, density and affordability through models of shared ownership and responsibility?
Air and water may be two of the most obvious common resources, we all share and rely on. They are also among the most vulnerable to the tragedy of the commons.
What kind of urban infrastructure can protect our common resources?
How do we ensure equitable access to these resources?
 John Bingham-Hall (2015): FUTURE OF CITIES: COMMONING AND COLLECTIVE APPROACHES TO URBAN SPACE, Theatrum Mundi, LSE Cities, London School of Economics and Political Science
 While used earlier, the phrase “tragedy of the commons” is attributed to the 1968 essay by Garrett Hardin in Science Magazine, describing how shared or common ownership poses a threat on environmental resource if not appropriately regulated.
See the combined work of the Summer 2015 5 Borough Studio in this PDF.
Over 400,000 New Yorkers live in public housing provided by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), the largest public housing authority in the country. NYCHA manages more than 178,000 apartments in over 320 developments across all 5 boroughs. If NYCHA was a city, it would be more populous than Cleveland or Miami. Distributed throughout the five boroughs, public housing was largely built between the 1930s and 1970s during an era of massive public investment in housing and infrastructure. Today, the federal government continuously reduces its financial support for housing authorities to sustain this asset leaving the New York City Housing Authority with an estimated $16 billion deficit for needed repairs. Superstorm Sandy, which hit New York City in 2012, revealed yet another weakness. More than 30 public housing developments were damaged by the storm affecting more than 80,000 residents and adding to the financial and physical problems.
Despite numerous declarations of failure of the modernist housing ideal beginning with Jane Jacob’s critique in 1961 in the Death and Life of Great American Cities and the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe Houses in St Louis in 1972, our inheritance of this type of urban fabric is enormous and cannot be ignored. Commonly attributed to the ideas of the International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM), cities around the world subscribed to the ideal of single-function districts with modern housing towers surrounded by green spaces, light and fresh air that replaced and contrasted the dense and inhuman conditions of overcrowded and tuberculosis-ridden tenements. In time, the ideal turned sour, the isolated developments into concentrations of poverty and neglect instigating endless discussions whether architecture and planning are to blame for their demise or failed public policy and mismanagement. While recognizing the challenge of the aging buildings themselves in need of significant repair (80% of the building stock is older than 40 years) this studio turned its attention to the urban dimension of the superblocks and the neighborhoods they are situated in.
Some common themes emerged from this studio:
Several proposals used relatively small-scale interventions to activated spaces within NYCHA’s campuses and at its edges. Driven by the ambition of bottom-up approaches, these are intended to be implemented by ‘external’ actors –community groups or groups of residents– to provide a mix of uses, and activate public spaces as a way of increasing safety in and around the developments.
The promise of the tower in the “park” seems unfulfilled. The existing open spaces can rarely be called parks. Fenced in lawns, often trash-strewn and inaccessible, are a burden on NYCHA’s maintenance staff and of little resource to residents or New Yorkers. Are they private or public? Rather than reintroducing the street grid into the superblocks, students sought to assign higher performative values to the existing open spaces, be it for food production or water management. In the process of redesign, open spaces can also be redefined more clearly along a gradient of public to private offering public connections through the superblocks where it seems appropriate and assigning greater privacy through design to spaces used by residents.
Infill as part of a comprehensive plan for the development/neighborhood
Unlike the current procedure at NYCHA, which is in the process of issuing several RFPs for development of individual sites on its property for housing, students proposed infill as part of a comprehensive concept to improve the overall site. Unafraid to touch existing buildings, integrate new and old, the emphasis for infill developments are uses that benefit the existing neighborhood combined with housing for new residents or for those being displaced by new ground floor uses.
Download a PDF with all projects here.
This one comes from the New Yorker and was actually published 2 years ago. “if the borough of Manhattan were a country, the income gap between the richest twenty per cent and the poorest twenty per cent would be on par with countries like Sierra Leone, Namibia, and Lesotho.” it proclaims and goes on to measure income along all of New York’s subway lines. The richest stop is Park Place(!) on the 2,3 line with a median income of over $200,000. The poorest stop is the Sutter Ave stop on the L train with just over $12,000.
“Express bus service — Select Bus Service, local officials call it — is a no-brainer for underserved routes across the city. The installation of new rapid lines, however, has been anything but rapid.” Michael Kimmelman discusses Express Bus Service in the New York Times
Three-quarters of a million New Yorkers now take more than an hour to travel to work. Two-thirds come from households that earn $35,000 a year or less. A study by the Pratt Center found that black New Yorkers have the longest commute times of all, 25 percent longer than the average commute time for whites. read the full article here and find the Pratt Center’s Transportation Equity Atlas here
The new Google-backed urban innovation company Sidewalk Labs announced its first big project this week: bringing free high-speed Internet to everyone in the nation’s largest city.
Sidewalk Labs will be leading the acquisition of two companies behind New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to turn the city’s pay phones into wireless hubs, LinkNYC. The two companies are Control Group, which provides the interface for the new hubs, and Titan, which is overseeing the advertising that will pay for the project.
The Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College of Criminal Justice profiles the current pattern of the formerly incarcerated returning to New York City with particular focus on New York City’s adoption of a community-based public health model for correctional health care. In a first for New York City, this project geo-mapped reentry databases to determine gaps between where individuals released from New York City Department of Correction live and the availability and accessibility of services.. Take a look at the data and and maps of this report to learn about discrepancies.
another interesting finding is the concentration of drug-using inmates released into several communities. While only 20% of inmates self-report as drug-users, the Department of Correction estimates that 70-80% would be categorized as such.
Stop the Mold is a project by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism’s NYCity News Service and the New York Daily News using in-person and on-line engagement with city public housing tenants to chronicle this mold infestation in the nation’s largest public housing system. Increasingly in studies, unhealthy home environments with toxic substances or mold are linked to worsening effects of asthma.
New York City is much cleaner than Beijing and New Delhi, but the American Lung Association ranks it among the most polluted in the U.S.
The Mailman School of Public Health and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory are launching a study of air quality and its imapct on exercise in the city. See more here
In addition to traffic, air pollution has also been linked to old boilers using especially polluting heating oil. See an article here.
The mayor’s plan to rescue the New York City Housing Authority would benefit from more attention to architecture and design.
Read this opinion by David Burney, the interim executive director of American Institute of Architects New York Chapter and the Center for Architecture. He was director of design at the New York City Housing Authority from 1990 to 2003 and commissioner of the city’s Department of Design and Construction from 2004 to 2014.