Reclaiming Community Commons through DIT Toolkit
Chennai, India
image: T R Radhakrishnan | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Location:
Chennai, India
Category:
urban planning
Phase:
design development
Updated:
10 August 2021
How can designers facilitate value creation & negotiation of shared commons? How can communities identify, design & maintain these spaces as a collective?
In response to this, the initiative focuses on process design including games, placemaking tools & capacity building.  If implemented, around 1600 sq m of commons can be reclaimed, impacting around 500 primary users. With only 0.8 sq m per capita open space in the city, every bit counts.
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Introduction
Commons are the traditional lifelines that nurtured socio-cultural mix & economic activities, yet is severely undervalued. During the pandemic, poor quality and disintegrated spatial resources, affected the liveability of vulnerable populations, particularly children during extended school closure. The complex gender, power dynamics, and legalities furthers adds to this scenario.
‘Reclaiming Community Commons’ was initiated to tackle this growing urban injustice, to create spaces for recreation, resilience and livelihood. Moreover the pandemic has helped leapfrog new public design ideas. With 11 million people, Chennai is one of India's largest metros. The project is a right fit for a city starving for open spaces, less than 0.8 sq m per capita open space. (Per capita standard of WHO is 9 sqm & URDPFI is 10-12sqm). It is a state of emergency therefore to save & reimagine every sq foot of defunct commons. 
Climate challenges also call for equipping tools first at the community level, which in most cases go unattended to. During quarantine with poor access to essentials, almost no access to public open spaces within walking distance, mental health in India dropped by 20%. (Source: Indian Psychiatric Society). Responding to such trends, the project embraces the value of reclaiming commons, while Doing it Together.
‘Reclaiming Community Commons’ project sows the values of design as a problem solving mechanism and demonstrate impactful pilots that showcase transformation at scale. 
What are Commons?

image: T R Radhakrishnan | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Impact
While the project is structured on the strong purpose of access to commons, the process we take sets the difference we intend to make: DO IT TOGETHER, from start to end. The project lifecycle is laid out in four phases: Initiate, Mobilize, Implement, Sustain to achieve these goals. Our impacts align with SDG goals on building Sustainable Cities and Communities(SDG 11) & Partnerships(SDG17)
The process involves tool-making, serious gaming, and collective place-making. At the first stage, a diverse set of space activation objects were identified to prepare a bilingual toolbook. Next, a scenario-building ‘Game of Commons’ will be developed to implement a collective place-making programme. By demystifying technical information (toolbook), embedding systems for decision-making (Game of Commons), and training for tool implementation (Collective place-making) the project will contribute to the long-term development capacity of the community. The needs of women and children would be translated and amplified as primary programs with relevant tools for planning, designing, building, and maintaining commons.

Through this pilot initiative, around 1600 sq m of commons at Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai can be reclaimed. The implementation would impact the lives of 450 residents (appx.) from 127 households, in Rajiv Gandhi Housing. The intervention will also enable community members to effectively use 70% of the identified pilot site. 
Most important outcome aims to alter the community’s perception of commons & build a sense of ownership that is currently a point of conflict.
sdgs
Core team
As a long-term resident of this area, I was curious to know more about the open space I always walk past. It was poorly maintained yet hosted several activities.  I was introduced to SHG leader, Kalaivani from Thiruvanmiyur Kuppam who introduced me to the Panchayat Leader. This meeting led to further discussion of ideas related to creating usable spaces which she identified along a 0.5 km stretch. As a leader, she has been active in resource pooling and getting support from multiple stakeholders. 

Jayanthi Premchander- resident of Valmiki Nagar and Solid Waste expert. Article

Kutty Ma, Resident Steward at Rajiv Gandhi Housing Colony. Together they Initiated spatial upgrades for educational and recreational purposes for residents of the Rajiv Gandhi Housing colony during COVID. 

T Radhakrishnan, radOFFICE - Planning & Design Consultant. Global experience across architectural, spatial strategy, participatory planning, and urban systems thinking. Top 10 Social Innovators in India, UNDP - Youth Colab 2020. Currently pursuing MAUD at Harvard GSD.

Landscape & Urbanism Studio (PLUS) initiated the project in Feb 2021 before the second wave of COVID. The team includes:
Ari Daman, ASLA, LEED AP, Founding Director, PLUS Experienced Landscape Designer with large scale resilience, social design and Architecture projects in India, and globally. MS Planning Clemson Univ. Primary funder
Dhanya Rajagopal, Program Director at PLUS, experience in placemaking, participatory mapping and research, public space design & management. MS Urban Placemaking Management, Pratt Institute
Connecting educational and social resources along with design interventions is a key aspect of our impact

image: Dhanya Rajagopal | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Image gallery
Bilingual Toolbooks

image: T R Radhakrishnan | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Gaming Cards for Community Participation

image: T R Radhakrishnan | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Fish market on pilot site during weekdays

image: T R Radhakrishnan | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Fish market and storage on proposed pilot site on weekday

image: T R Radhakrishnan | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Pilot Site Street Facing Edge

image: T R Radhakrishnan | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Children created a small community garden along the edge

image: Dhanya Rajagopal | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Existing Condition of Pilot Site

image: Dhanya Rajagopal | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Existing Edge Condition with parking, debris, waste

image: Dhanya Rajagopal | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Livelihood uses around the edges

image: Dhanya Rajagopal | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Corridor space cleaned up by Jayanti, Kutty ma and residents

image: Dhanya Rajagopal | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Technical drawings
Context and Opportunity sites

image: Dhanya Rajagopal, Google Earth 2021 | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Site 2 Ideas for Reclaiming Abandoned sites identified by Kalaivani

image: Dhanya Rajagopal | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Temporary Design ideas

image: Landscape and Urbanism Studio Pvt Ltd | CC-BY_black.png some rights reserved
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Help bring our project to life!

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Help bring our project to life!
Where are we now
Key Milestones
Tested design elements in Feb 2021 for Active Commons Ayodhya_nagar_event_summary 
Developed DIT toolkit with radOFFICE April 2021
Designed Bilingual pamphlets & game set for Active, Healthy & Productive Commons.
Identified community stewards Kalaivani, Kutty Ma, Jayanthi Premchander and Nithya.

Funding Received
Narayanan Family Foundation: 5000 $ 
Landscape and Urbanism Studio Pvt. Ltd. (PLUS) 1000 $

Staff
radOFFICE: Planning & Design Consultant
PLUS brings 2 full time practitioners for this phase with backgrounds in Urban Design, Placemaking and Management, Participatory design, Landscape design, resilience planning & Architecture.
Identified potential sites for reclaiming in phase 1 
An indication of our team’s capacity:
40% funding already raised
100% expertise already found
30% materials / equipment already found
30% builders already found
Finance: € 5,000
The residents and stakeholders will be able to make decisions on how the money should be spent at large. Additional funds will help create a community Wi-fi hub for outdoor learning. This is in response to the widened digital divide due to closure of schools since the pandemic. 
SCALABILITY: The money will help scale reclamation process in other identified sites in the area and sponsor materials and labour fees
CAPACITY BUILDING:  We hope to facilitate the community’s capacity to design, build and maintain their own space. 
Providing stewardship training fund could be explored as a sustainable model for time and support lent for maintenance and management.
  • Stipend or Community Stewardship
1,500
  • Wi-fi Hub
500
  • Scaling Game and Tools
500
  • Pilot Site implementation
2,000
  • Material Purchase
500
Help bring our project to life!
Location
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