Through our research about the Urban Commons emerged three different lenses: Alternative Economies, Inclusive & Dynamic Governance and Reclaiming Spaces. We then used these lenses to further frame our investigation.


Alternative Economies

We explored different economic models that differ from the mainstream capitalist model of today. Our current system promotes ideals of value exchange and the marginal cost of production almost always being greater than zero. In this system, individual interest is driven by material gain and physical and intellectual property are meant to be privatized and protected. Alternative economic systems promote ideas of shared value creation, the marginal cost of production remaining close to zero, collaboration, connectivity, and the sharing of ideas.




Inclusive & Dynamic Governance
As we explored the urban commons, we considered what it means to govern a common good or resource. We studied models of alternative forms of governance that promote inclusion, and enabled disenfranchised groups to gain power through commoning. We also studied dynamic forms of governance, those that cultivate evolving structures for decision-making and maintenance. These models promote ideas such as membership, stewardship, horizontality, and collective ownership.



Reclaiming Space
Our exploration of reclaiming space centered around repurposing spaces for new kinds of access and value. The reclaiming of spaces included the opening or reopening of access to a particular space, from private to public ownership in order to produce greater social value or good for a community. This reclamation can include the activation of a space, but can also new forms of ownership, governance, or stewardship.



See below some examples of challenges and strategies and start listing your own! Use the framework to organize your thoughts.

As a way to expand our understanding about ways of commoning we partnered with Dimeji Onafuwa, Design Researcher & PhD Candidate, School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University, and Kakee Scott , PhD Candidate, School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University & Visiting Researcher, DESIS Lab. Through their research they’ve been exploring different frameworks to illustrate challenges and strategies that can be applied to acts of commoning.



  • How to platform allyship for recommoning?
  • How does language foreclose or enforce particular meanings as conceptual enclosures?
  • How to negotiate boundaries between open and closed systems?
  • When does recommoning call for counter-enclosures?
  • In what ways do human capacities generate or deplete a commons?
  • How to reconcile commons-based and rights-based logics?
  • How can external governing mechanisms foster conditions for commoning?
  • Costs and benefits can never be evenly distributed, so there will always be concerns with equity.


  • Buffering
  • Reclaiming
  • Infrastructuring
  • Replicating
  • Scaling
  • Circulating
  • Languaging
  • Formalizing
  • Deformalizing
  • Diversifying
  • Allying
  • Unclaiming
  • Sequestering
  • Formatting


The University Transdisciplinary Lab on Civic Innovation

The Urban Commons is an innovative pedagogical space for developing new ideas and practices to address contemporary local and global challenges.

Our activities were divided in two, on the first stage, during the Fall 2016 Semester, we studied the urban commons through broad conceptual questions regarding cities and the potential for sharing and polling resources in contemporary urban spaces.

By the end of that period, we were able to reach to a shared vision and definition of the Urban Commons, where we determined its benefits and limitations within three specific areas of study: entitlement, governance, and decommodification.



The following stage, during the Spring 2017 Semester, the course was intensely practical, devoted to strategies for transforming the urban commons in terms of three chosen project areas that were born out of our understanding of the Urban Commons benefits and limitations.

The themes identified were: alternative economies, dynamic governance, and reclaiming spaces.

This revealed an opportunity to understand the interplay between design and management in urban settings, through seeking for creative experiences in urban activism and innovative forms of social analysis.

We used the themes identified as lenses to recognize and enact the urban commons. Applying methods for defining communities and what resources they hold in common; methods for defining modes of engagement and co-creating the urban commons; and methods for prototyping design interventions with users.