Sylvester Baxter Lecture: Sheila Foster, “Co-Cities: Reimagining the City as a Commons”

Headshot of Sheila Foster, a black woman who has short brown hair and wears black. The background is gray.

(c) Martin Bentsen at City Headshots

The GSD is pleased to present a series of talks and webinars broadcast to our audiences via Zoom.

*This lecture will be ONLINE ONLY. For security reasons, virtual attendees must register. Scroll down to find complete instructions for how to register.

Event Description

In the U.S., and around the world, vacant and abandoned urban land and structures are more ubiquitous than most people realize. In this lecture, Professor Foster will argue why we should think about this urban infrastructure as a “commons” capable of meeting the social and economic needs of the most vulnerable urban populations.  Thinking of the city as a commons recognizes as legitimate, even innovative, the collective action of urban actors who utilize land and other infrastructure to construct informal settlements, community gardens and urban farms, mesh wireless networks,  and new limited equity housing and commercial spaces that are then collaboratively stewarded by an identified community or group of people.  Thinking of the city as a commons requires us to move beyond the public/private and market/state binaries when thinking about urban development and revitalization. It is in the space between public and private, market and state, where we can find a set of rich conceptual and practical solutions to enduring racial and economic inequities that continue to plague many communities around the world, particularly those on the margins—social, economic, and geographic—of so many cities

Screenshot of Sheila Foster giving a presentation on Zoom. Foster is visible on the right side of the image. The presentation shows a graphic that outlines the principles informing Foster's notion of "Co-Cities."

Screenshot of Sheila Foster giving a presentation on Zoom. Foster is visible on the right side of the image. The presentation shows a graphic explaining what a Community Land Trust is.


Sheila R. Foster, COL ’83, is the Scott K. Ginsburg Professor of Urban Law and Policy at Georgetown University. She holds a joint appointment with the Law School and the McCourt School of Public Policy. She is also the faculty advisor of the Georgetown Project on State and Local Government Policy and Law (SALPAL) and lead researcher for the Georgetown Global Cities Initiative’s City Diplomacy Project.

Professor Foster’s work focuses on the intersection of law, policy, and governance with a specific focus on urban communities and cities. She is one of the leading scholars on environmental justice and is the co-author of one of the field’s seminal books, From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement (NYU Press). Her work in that field was recently recognized by the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law’s 2018 Senior Scholarship Award. Her other work is published in top law journals including Yale, Berkeley, Harvard, and Notre Dame, among others.

Her most recent work explores local development and urban governance through the lens of the “commons” as set forth in her article The City as a Commons, Yale Law and Policy Review (2016) and her forthcoming MIT Press Book, Co-Cities (both with C. Iaione). She is also completing a forthcoming Cambridge University Press edited volume (with C. Swiney), Cambridge Handbook on Innovations in Commons Scholarship.

Foster has applied her framework of the city as a commons through LabGov, an international applied research project that she co-directs with Christian Iaione. LabGov works directly with local governments and local communities on experimental projects and policies that enable city residents to steward land, digital, and other resources within their communities. Past and present LabGov projects include working in Bologna, Rome, Amsterdam, Harlem/NYC, San Jose Costa Rica, Sao Paolo, and Baton Rouge.

Foster has been at the forefront of other urban policy and governance innovations, serving as the chair of the Global Parliament of Mayors advisory committee, a member of the New York City’s Mayors Panel on Climate Change, and an advisory board member of the Marron Institute for Urban Management at NYU.

Follow Sheila Foster on Twitter.

How to Join

Register to attend the lecture here. Once you have registered, you will be provided with a link to join the lecture via Zoom. This link will also be emailed to you.

The event will also be live streamed to the GSD’s YouTube page. Only viewers who are attending the lecture via Zoom will be able to submit questions for the Q+A. If you would like to submit questions for the speaker in advance of the event, please click here.

Live captioning will be provided during this event. A transcript will be available roughly two weeks after the event, upon request.

Anyone requiring accessibility accommodations should contact the Public Programs Office at (617) 496-2414 or [email protected].