Challenging us to examine how we might reinvent our infrastructure

Professor Hillary Brown, City University of New York

The paradigm of the commons—typically defined as a self-organising arrangement for resource management—offers us a way to redefine and reconfigure a next generation of urban systems. The commons metaphor demands that we safeguard the openness and vitality of living and constructed systems and privilege their interaction. Such a multi-objective, holistic design approach for delivering public services improves upon conventional, mono-sectoral planning and management. Planned integration across the sectors of energy, water, sanitation, waste, transit, and IT allows for reciprocal exchanges across systems, leveraging synergies and yielding multiple economic and social co-benefits. From the developed world, a range of post-industrial project examples reveal how we can collocate and combine systems; carboniseand distribute them; create hybridised green and grey treatment processes; engage local constituencies; and formulate public services to withstand climate instability. Additional examples from developing nations reveal how such a shared approach to providing critical urban services can prevent enclosure of the commons that increasingly dispossesses communities and degrades ecosystems. Through a commons approach to lifeline services, we can begin to move our infrastructure projects – along with the enabling planning, regulatory, and investment policies—toward higher ground.

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