Harsheen Kaur + Elizabeth Sinyard

This thesis proposes a digital commons that builds resilience at a local scale. Many post-industrial cities hold a significant amount of vacant land that falls victim to predatory land and development practices, which can result in decline and marginalization. We see “commoning” as a way to combat these practices by empowering communities to harness and collectively manage their resources. David Bollier, author of Think Like a Commoner, describes commoning as leveraging cooperation and bottom-up energies to solve problems. Our proposed platform, Detroit Commons, instigates these efforts by providing a database, support system, and creative visioning tool that enables communities to imagine alternative urban futures for themselves.

Detroit Commons is a largely open-source, web-based platform for the neighborhood of Barton-McFarland. The interface hosts a multitude of design opportunities identified and developed by both us and members of the community. The spatial and material propositions demonstrate inventive and viable processes by which communities can take action, starting with small-scale interventions that can grow over time to hopefully generate positive and sustainable change. We recognize that real community change is a phased process that requires commitment and trust between designers and stakeholders unburdened by the limits of a one-semester studio. To address this, we began conversations with multiple non-profit organizations working in and around the neighborhood and used their feedback to design scenarios that highlight current needs and expand existing efforts. The scenarios – presented as interactive, multiscalar animations – include information on the necessary measures for fundraising and implementation. Ultimately, the platform is a participatory tool that fosters collaboration between residents and builds community through a combination of storytelling, networking, and material ingenuity.

Most importantly, this thesis has been an experiment for us to learn how we, as aspiring architects, can use our design skills to uncover latent opportunities and provide a framework for community-driven futures. We see our role as stewards of a neighborhood’s existing resources and catalysts for creative action. The interventions that live on Detroit Commons should be understood as interconnected strategies made for, by, and with a disenfranchised public searching for agency and ways to see their surroundings anew.