Last week we welcomed again our guest professor Torange Khonsari from London Metropolitan University, where she leads the MA for Cultural Commons, to host our workshop on Participatory Planning and Community Design.

Torange Khonsari is one of the founders of public works, a not-for-profit critical design practice set up in 2004 that work across the areas of architecture, art, performance and activism. “public works’ projects are interested in what constitutes civic in the city and how to re-design structures that restrict it. The work gives space to and facilitates civic practices which promote direct involvement and collective action in order to transform and re-appropriate contemporary public life.” Their projects cover discursive events, research, campaigns, urban strategies, participatory art and architecture across a variety of scales.

The Participatory Planning and Community Design workshop encourages students to develop a practice model or an initiative within the discourse of the Commons. “In a contemporary context of much inequality, the Commons discourse introduces models of sharing. The Commons are about the assets that belong to everyone, forming resources that should benefit all, rather than being enclosed to just a few”, Khonsari explains.

Topics and learning outcomes covered by the workshop include best practice models for initiatives or social practices, issues of ethics, methods for sustainability of practice and projects, innovation in practice as infrastructure for implementing commons projects, peer to peer financial models and impact analysis.

The students developed ideas for their own initiatives and organisations ranging from integration of migrants and refugees in Italy, providing education in rural areas in Ecuador, urban farming, coaching and sports for community empowerment and social change, short and long-term recovery from trauma after natural disaster, or circular waste management systems in Kolkata. “It is important to remember that all these issues we are trying to address are happening in Western countries too,” as Khonsari points out. “We see emergencies in our own countries and communities, which often lack resilience and adequate support systems.”

Bottom photo: Student presenting during a workshop on Participatory Planning and Design. Photo by Judy Mahfouz.

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