Towards a Participatory Urban Commons in Latin(@) America

Latin America is the most urbanized continent in the world, and in some of the United States’ largest cities, Latin@s comprise more than half of the population. Nonetheless, contemporary neoliberal processes have fashioned socio-spatially polarized and asymmetrical urban landscapes throughout Latin(@) America, leading to experiments in participatory urban planning and design that respond with cooperative and anti-capitalist institutions, architectures and futures: an emergence of the urban commons.

Throughout cities in the Americas, planners, communities and citizens are organizing in response to privatization, displacement, environmental degradation, militarization and neoliberalism through the collective transformation of their built and urban realities. This student-led conference aims to explore the potentialities and tensions innate to these participatory responses, with a particular focus on how practitioners, scholars and activists mobilize anti-capitalist urban designs, activate democratic public spaces and construct collective urban institutions in Latin America and Latin@ communities in the United States.

Some of the questions this conference attempts to address are:

In what ways are participatory urban design and planning in Latin@ America challenging racial, socioeconomic, gendered, generational and geographic fissures in the neoliberal city?

How do the labels of “architect-planner,” “scholar,” “activist,” and “citizen” break down in attempts to construct the urban commons?

At what scale do contemporary examples of the “participatory urban commons” exist, and to what extent would this concept start to mirror modern-day leftist or socialist governments in Latin America, such as Cuba’s and Venezuela’s, if scaled up?

How do city governments, planning firms, non-profit organizations and social movements co-opt discourses and praxes of participatory urban design and planning in Latin(@) America? Does this help to spread urban grassroots and anti-capitalist strategies or neutralize their radical potentialities?

To what extent can the “participatory urban commons” serve as a new paradigm in Latin(@) American urbanism and development? How viable are its proposed and practiced alternatives to global phenomena such as immigration, financialization and global warming?

By exploring these potentialities and tensions innate to participatory urban design and planning, we hope to engage the Middlebury community in rigorous academic dialogue, as well as provide participants with critical insights from seasoned practitioners and scholars in the field. In this two-day event, participants will gain a better understanding of how communities are constructing urban commons across the Americas, as well as assembling viable responses to urban phenomena that occur worldwide, such as informalization, gentrification, neoliberalization and environmental vulnerability.

Given Middlebury College’s ethos of developing critical thinkers and training community leaders, this conference will be an opportunity to reflect on how Middlebury students can study, design and construct participatory urban commons after graduation. Furthermore, we hope that it will kickstart ongoing discussions and debates for students, faculty, staff and community members about urban futures, political participation and the built environment throughout the Americas.

All events are free and open to the public.

APenman_Urban Commons -page-001Generously sponsored by: MCAB Speakers Committee, Architectural Studies, Environmental Studies, Sociology/Anthropology, Juntos Student-Worker Solidarity Network, Alianza, Spanish/Portuguese, the Jones Enrichment Fund in Economics, Geography, English and American Literatures, Ross and Cook Commons.