We live in a state of multiple crises: climate, health, class and race has highlighted a wide spectrum of systematic inequalities our cities hold; from lack of affordable housing to obvious gaps in provision of greenspaces and other natural resources. Discussion and debate online and in person can revolve around our differences. But this is not inherently negative; discussing what we don’t have in common is an important part of improving our built environment, ensuring we are working with those with different lived experiences who interact with cities in the ways that we don’t. In some cases, architects, developers and planners may not have much in common with the people who use the spaces they’re creating – what effect does this have on our city?
When it comes to physical and digital space, we have our own spaces, but we also have space in common – can thinking about what we share help us to develop more responsive and inclusive forms of practice, ones built on principles of collaboration, equity, and sustainable design and ongoing management? There are always questions around how accessible, free and safe the spaces around us are. The 2023 theme of ‘in common’ allows us to rethink how we create, reclaim, maintain and govern our city to create a city which is truly open, accessible and safe to all, by looking specifically at what connects us and what doesn’t.
In so many aspects of our lives, we are brought together by ‘commons’ – both physical and digital, involving both the natural and manmade. Oxford dictionary defines commons as ‘land or resource belonging to or affecting the whole of a community’. Yet there can often feel a lack of togetherness or transparency in decision making with in this. Common land or an area of land for use by the public has a long history in London. Tooting Commons, Clapham Common, Blackheath Common and Wimbledon Common were created to provide open, green spaces for the public to access and use, which still play an integral role in our urban environment.
In recent years, we have seen a resurgence of urban commons as an alternative model of commons, developing small pockets of often unwanted land through peer-to-peer governance and production, alongside a rethinking of our evolving highstreets as contemporary commons reclaimed by people who use them. Can these models be scaled up to influence the city as a whole?
Another consideration is the finite amount of natural resources we have left; water, crops for food, a habitable earth, which need to be nurtured and sustained by us all. These shared resources need to be maintained, as do the systems and practices that govern and preserve them. Architecture and urbanism can not only protect our commons but regenerate them in the face of the climate emergency.
By examining what we have in common, and what we don’t, we see potential. Potential for us as citizens, a profession and community to reclaim our city for public good, to rethink how we design and develop it for the existing and future generations, as well as to reimagine spaces in London as places for participation, civic activity, and shared ownership. We have resources in common, which allows us as communities to come together and ensure these resources are accessible to all. Ultimately, we can empower all citizens to have a voice in our city.
For LFA 2023 we would like to invite our community to respond to this year’s theme: ‘In common’. Throughout the Festival, we will explore and interrogate how the experiences we do and don’t have in common are central to the evolution and development of the city. Our community holds knowledge, skills and understanding to find solutions to the real-life challenges we face, and we look forward to bringing these explorations together in June 2023.