Reconstituting the Urban Commons: Public Space, Social Capital and the Project of Urbanism

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

Reconstituting the Urban Commons: Public Space, Social Capital and the Project of Urbanism

  • David Brain Division of Social Sciences, New College of Florida, Sarasota, USA / Centre for the Future of Places, KTH—Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

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Abstract:  This article outlines a framework for connecting design-oriented research on accommodating and encouraging social interaction in public space with investigation of broader questions regarding civic engagement, social justice and democratic governance. How can we define the “kind of problem a city is” (Jacobs, 1961), simultaneously attending to the social processes at stake in urban places, the spatial ordering of urban form and the construction of the forms of agency that enable us to make better places on purpose? How can empirical research be connected more systematically to theories of democratic governance, with clear implications for urban design, urban and regional planning as professional practice? This framework connects three distinct theoretical moves: (1) understanding the sociological implications of public space as an urban commons, (2) connecting the making of public space to research on social capital and collective efficacy, and (3) understanding recent tendencies in the discipline of urban design in terms of the social construction of a “program of action” (Latour, 1992) at the heart of the professional practices relevant to the built environment.

Keywords:  design-oriented research; urban commons; public space; social capital

Published:   30 June 2019


© David Brain. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.