Urban Design Studio I: Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation, Columbia University

SUMMER 2016 explores the CO-CITY: The City as a Collective, Cooperative, Shared Space

Category : BLOG · No Comments · by June 1, 2016

Aztec Dance Group Calpulli Tletl Papalotzin at Corona Plaza during Oye Corona, 2013 (photo by Neshi Galindo)

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”.[1]

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.[2]


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.[3]
What kind of urban infrastructure can protect our common resources?
How do we ensure equitable access to these resources?

[1] 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


[3] 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.