Pavilion Talks: 
Community Empowerment in Design 

Materials from our Speaker:

Dr. Torange has asked if you use the community charter book and set up a charter to provide any feedback to see what worked and did not, and in what context. 

Please reach out to her on LinkedIn HERE

Talk Highlights and Details

Torange Khonsari - Public Works LTD
Reza Pourvaziry - Urban Economie Forum 
Eduardo Lopez Moreno - World Urban Pavilion

During this Pavilion Talk we were delighted to have Dr Torange Khonsari as our guest speaker. Dr. Khonsari focused on the community as a family-like concept, emphasizing collaboration over competition and advocating for a commons governance model. She outlined obstacles to citizen engagement and proposed a methodology for community involvement in urban planning. The discussion underscored the significance of commons in rejuvenating democracy, emphasizing the need for capacity building at both government and community levels. Overall, the participants stressed the importance of policy implementation at various scales and the development of localized industries with a common, horizontal structure for inclusive decision-making. Mr. Pourvaziri discussed the need to translate their conversation into the language and literature of policy to initiate advocacy efforts with city leaders, mayors, and politicians. He emphasized the importance of revitalizing democratic engagement and the election process to address global, national, and local challenges related to climate change and consumption. Mr. Moreno highlighted the historical foundation of Latin American cities and the concept of "rest commons," suggesting a need for rethinking urban spaces in the face of current challenges.

Dr. Khonsari:

  • It is useful to think about the sphere of community as a concept of family within neighborhoods embedded in everyday experience, not necessarily politics.
  • Functional family is about social relationships such as trust, familiarity, care, etc.
  • Functional family is not about the public as an average many. It can be described as a community of interests. It is the development of culture of collaboration rather than competition. Time is not contained within constraints of political cycles and market efficiency. It has a different form of governance called commons governance. Ethics is much more around care. Justice based ethics is more individualistic. It is also much more about relational power than concentrated power in the hands of singular people.
  • There are also few obstacles to citizen engagement which are as follows: power relations in decisions making/ power relations in community organizations which has resulted in producing power maps. / Power relations between politics and society. / Competition over resources, funds, volunteers, spaces/ Methods and time to build and develop trust relationships takes a lot of time and money. / Lack of awareness that community organizing, and democratic, empowering management requires emotional knowledge and skills. / Not understanding how to develop empowering programs/ projects.
  • There are three different logics: Public/ commons / private
  • The public is through taxes. The private is through profits. The commons, which is the sphere of the community, doesn't have funding and the economic model of the commons is the focus. Since grants and volunteering are not a sustainable way to develop. It is not about getting rid of one or the other and having hegemonic relationships, but it is about how these collaborate with each other to have equal power.
  • The organizations could also operate as commands, and it is not just that we produce the common projects.
  • We need community groups to have space to be visible to be able to collaborate and make changes. The notion of land grab is about how public lands are sustained and secured from being privatized.
  • What is important about community buildings is that they can't manage big buildings due to lack of resources and capacity and knowledge. So, they can scale up by starting with the small spaces. Local people must be trained to run local organizations. Even for urban planning, the community must have a say in the policies related to the neighborhood's planning.
  • She also presented a methodology of being embedded through temporary architect in parts of the city to do community engagement from which then other Urban projects can emerge.
  • The neighborhood plan is very much about land, and it is not about social contracts and how community groups work with the state or the public sector or government. The use of art projects to simplify the project for local, city and political counselors has helped them a lot. So, the gap usually between the policy and what happens on the ground is quite a big implementation gap. For instance, they created an illustrated children coloring book of how to set up a democratic community charter for a neighborhood which really sets out the relationships and terms of engagement between the states and the community. They also worked with a local artist to have a local community choir where they transformed the locals` complaints into songs to be sung at their final event. This way they made sure that they had got the message across.
  • The key components in designing commands were mentioned which are as follows: The commons do have boundaries which are not as enclosed as the private boundaries. Setting the boundaries of the common is the biggest design problem as it is more like a threshold and has regimes of access.  Avoiding being limited to an individual is one of the important things to consider.
  • Additionally, the facilitators of the workshops must be educated and learn to lead to not be enclosures. The key is the openness and collaborative nature of the commons. So, there could be smaller commons like the neighborhood plan and then you can scale it up.
  • Another important point is about the materials and waste streams. What are the materials and the methods of making, the social and ecological of the things being produced, agency, etc. It can be an ecological arena as well. Terms of engagement are also important.
  • Distributive common good is the notion we create together in action. This is much less used in literature now. That is more the conception that the new commons are framing and are more about man-made.
  • There are decentralized technologies also emerging that allow for different forms of governance. Ownership is therefore the notion which must be considered regarding distributive common good systems around. These can be tangible and intangible assets, for instance, it could be knowledge, land, data, etc. But what happens if a community and a neighborhood start to own that asset and become its producers and consumers of the asset and monetize it to develop things within the commons.
  • Policy needs to go hand in hand with its implementation, not as an abstract but as a concrete real how we do it.
  • We need to be aware of all the scales, otherwise the social justice side doesn't work.
  • Advocacy is really the awareness of these different scales with different practices.
  • Democracy hasn't failed, we haven't put the right system in place for that in a multicultural system.
  • Commons are vital to rejuvenate democracy.
  • There needs to be capacity building at both government and community level.
  • It is a real expertise both in terms of the whole common`s development as a sphere becomes this new arena of knowledge and expertise and the facilitation goes with it. Because as a facilitator you must not bring your ideas so much.
  • We need to think about localized industries but not as a hierarchical business but more as a horizontal common which 50% or more of its intent is community development and public good support. If we had it as a common instead of a hierarchical business, that means everybody has a voice to influence. So, everybody needs to have a level of power and influence.


Mr. Pourvaziry: 

  • It is important to interpret this conversation into the language and literature of the policy and start advocacy with the city leaders, mayors, and politicians.
  • We need to have our old-fashioned style of engagement of people that is called somehow a democracy, and we have an election method through which we can involve some representative based on different advertisements. City council could be as one of the main tools for bringing people on the stage as we believe we are in face with important challenges globally, nationally, and locally regarding climate change, consumption and we need to move forward to urban transformation.
  • Engage in policy discussions to address global, national, and local challenges like climate change. Utilize democratic methods and city councils for effective representation and urban transformation advocacy.


Mr. Moreno: 

  • In Latin America, the foundation of cities was done on the concept that was called “rest commons” or the common for everyone.
  • The commons have recently been presented in two forms in UN. The secretary general with sustainable development goals wanted to recreate the notion of the global commons in opposition to local commons.
  • How to change scales to cities?
  • In society it will be difficult to recreate local commons with some forms of not boundaries but still restricted to some governance mechanism of groups.
  • The challenge of the legal and the political system of the commons will not allow the city itself to be governed in a multitude of local commons.
  • The most prosperous cities and countries of the world were those created public goods and the notion of the commons. The recreation of local commons would have to do with the rivers, fields, and urban and social spaces.
  • This urban social space is something that needs to be legalized and needs to be made viable.
  • It is not only community land trust or new governance mechanics locally, but some sort of semi-collective property needs to be studied again.
  • We need a new social life sustainable pact due to three threads which are as follows: the pandemic, the climate, and some sort of inequalities. Therefore, it will recreate the notion of mankind and nature in local spaces along with a new ecological integrity that needs to start locally. 

About our Guest Speakers

Dr. Torange Khonsari

Dr Torange Khonsari is Co-Founder and Director of the urbanism, public art and architecture practice Public Works since 2004, an inter- disciplinary practice working on co-production methods in art, architecture, urbanism, systems thinking and citizenship. Public Works is on the GLA’s ADUP (Architecture, Design, Urbanism Panel) framework. Her strategic design practice focuses on transformational design, design as form of inquiry and design intervention as forms of new urban imaginary. Her projects directly impact public space, democratic governance and community development. She works with local organisations, communities, government bodies and stakeholders. Torange has had 23 years in academic teaching in architecture and design. She is currently teaching on the suit of post graduate and doctoral courses she wrote called Design for Cultural Commons at London Metropolitan University where she is the course leader. She is Unit Master at the Architecture- al Association. She has taught at international universities such as UMA school of architecture in Sweden, unit leader at Royal College of Art - London as well as a visiting professor at Barbican and Guildhall school of Music and Drama. She is currently visiting professor at International University of Barcelona on the MA - emergency architecture. Torange delivered a TEDx talk on Harnessing the power of Civic Commons. She completed being a consultant on the five year framework on the Mayor of London’s Specialist Assistant Team for community engagement in regeneration. She is a chartered designer and an expert adviser for Design Council. She has been invited to be one of the 9 experts on Design Council’s initiative Design for Planet fellowship 2021/22. 

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