Reimagining social infrastructure and collective futures

Design tools and spatial approaches can play a vital role in reimagining a twenty-first century social infrastructure—the underlying structures that sustain social life, including spaces of sociability and care. This course explores how well-designed social infrastructure contributes to sustainable, just, and regenerative collective futures.

The past century’s role of government in fostering public and social infrastructure changed from Roosevelt’s New Deal to Reagan’s neoliberal and free-market economy and its aftermath. The former supported big government and its investments in public infrastructure, and the latter diminished and privatized public and social infrastructure, leaving the burden of care and civic participation to philanthropy, churches, and solidarity structures that operate at the family and household level through various local, national, and international grassroots networks.

How can we reimagine social infrastructure today, beyond the neoliberal era of privatization, fossil-fuel-driven growth, and environmental degradation, to better address societal needs and urgencies such as the climate crisis, migration, isolationism, and unprecedented socioeconomic inequality?

Social infrastructure is equally a product of imagination as it is of pragmatism. One must be able to imagine models of just and regenerative collective futures, but also produce spaces and coordinate actual processes for distributing resources and creating equitable access to social and public services across all scales of human community and ecology. 

This project-based seminar will examine diverse examples of social infrastructures, community-driven spaces, and spatial processes that pool and share resources to build social cohesion in times of crisis at various scales and in various places and contexts. We will build on and spatialize visionary and pragmatic models ranging from Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth, Mission Economy by Mariana Mazzucato, Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg, Social Capital: Measurements and Consequences by Robert Putnam, Revolution at Point Zero by Silvia Federici, and a multitude of examples of bottom-up systems of mutual aid, solidarity, and reciprocity.

The primary goal of this course is to explore the built environment from the perspective of social infrastructure by accumulating case studies, sharing methods, developing design tools and interventions to illustrate and enact spaces for just and regenerative social infrastructures and collective futures within Earth’s capacity for reproduction. Showcases and student projects will focus on diverse shared societal resources, commons, public education, the right to assembly, empowerment, leisure, and health-, child-, elderly-, and ecological care.

The sessions will include lectures, guest lectures, discussions, and open workshops.