Carnegie Mellon University

photo of stephan gruber presenting

Catalyzing Bottom-Up Transformation by Commoning the City

When people think of smart cities, most people immediately think “high-tech.” There is no doubt that future cities will harness the latest and greatest technology, but what types of problems will technology solve and who are cities solving these problems for?

Metro21 hosted Stefan Gruber, Associate Professor for Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture, for a lunch and learn today focused on the topic of “Commoning the City.” The room was filled with eager students, faculty and citizens looking to learn about “what impact can commoning have on the bottom-up transformation of cities?”

One major point Gruber made was that private doesn’t equal public, and public doesn’t equal commons. “We have to stop thinking in terms of public space vs. private space or public ownership vs. private ownership. In the process of building something of common interests, we have to be thinking about who owns the city? Who produces the city? Who benefits from the city?”

Gruber also highlighted three access areas as we move into the world of smart cities:

  • New opportunities for sharing – reclaiming the idea of sharing in a sharing economy
  • Reproduction and production – collective forms of working and housing that disrupt the traditional gender roles and considers reproductive labor as a part of our economies.
  • Universal rights in the context of global capitalism – extend rights beyond nations

“We see that resilience cannot be built around notions of nationalism” said Gruber. “We see this today with the Coronavirus. Universal rights and thinking outside our own nations is necessary for our survival.”

Gruber also discussed the mentality that cities are a collective right, rather than an individual right. He quoted David Harvey to emphasize this point: “But, if the city is the world which man created, it is the world in which he is henceforth condemned to live. ... It is, moreover, a collective rather than an individual right since changing the city inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power over the processes of urbanization.”

Moving forward towards making cities a collective rights, Gruber says we must focus on the idea that “Common space is collected and shaped through collective action. As we look at partnerships, we shouldn’t be only thinking of public-private partnerships and extend that idea to public-common partnerships.”

The final notes were that “in the end, we are all co-producing the cities and need to ensure more than just a few are benefiting from the city that is built.”

To listen to the full talk, click here.