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Atlas of Procedures for an Emergent Commons

One of the common threads through the Lab’s eleven weeks of programs in New York last year was spurse, a research and design collective that conducted evolving public research into rethinking urban comfort through a series of weekly workshops and fieldwork sessions.

The culmination of that research has just been released under the mind-bending but comprehensive title “Atlas of Procedures for an Emergent Commons.”

The Atlas is an interactive PDF document designed to take the reader through the workshop and fieldwork sessions spurse conducted at the Lab, which led to a “diagnosis” and “a set of simple steps of how to go about evolving a commons.”

“We really came out of the Lab with this idea of the commons—parts of the world that are neither public nor private, but are held in common by all those who are part of that region, both humans and non-humans,” spurse member Iain Kerr told me.

“There are the classic forms of the commons, like pasture lands, rivers and streams, and forests, that were classically set aside for shared use. But to us it became a real realization that the divide of public and private isn’t a useful one, and really where the debate needs to take place about urban space is in reclaiming commons. Commons are where all the people affected—and in our interest, all the creatures as well—participate in defining its use and practices,” he said.

The Atlas, which the group describes as part narrative of their time at the Lab, part handbook, and part glossary, is essentially a guidebook on how to start “pirate” (as opposed to “pilot”) projects—a how-to look at discovering where systematic interventions need to take place, and how to follow what emerges from that intervention.

The multilayered five-page interactive document includes animated illustrations, footnotes, glossary definitions, and aural discussions, among other things, and can be explored at any speed, and from any point. Depending on how deep into the layers the reader goes, it can take fifteen minutes to three hours per page to go through.

“We’re not interested in going back to forests and pastures and feudal models of the commons, but it seems that the key struggles today are about inventing new forms of commons, whether they’re information commons like Wiki, or our own streets, our own blocks, or our economic systems,” Kerr said.

“We wanted to make a really useful tool to do that, and we’re hoping people will use it very practically.”

Photo: by Kristopher McKay, © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York