Against the backdrop of increasing enclosures of the public realm through forces of privatization and neoliberalization, acts of urban commoning have emerged in cities around the world. Defined as the making of alternative spatial and social relations primarily outside state institutions and market economy, urban commoning represents a mode of counter-hegemonic spatial practice that goes beyond the popularized DIY urbanism movement, increasingly embraced by institutions and professional actors. In East Asia, a variety of urban commoning actions have mushroomed in recent years in cities including Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. These range from self-organized activities to actions that leverage institutional initiatives to activate urban sites. The emergence of urban commoning in East Asia is particularly significant as these activities are occurring in places where public space has virtually been non-existent historically, or have been highly controlled by the state. These cases and initiatives are contributing to a new understanding of social actions and assemblages with important implications for the making of contemporary cities.
Jeffrey Hou is Professor and Chair of Landscape Architecture and Adjunct Professor of Urban Design and Planning at the University of Washington, Seattle. His work focuses on design activism, community engagement, and public space and democracy. In a career that spans across the Pacific, he has worked with indigenous tribes, farmers, and fishers in Taiwan, neighborhood residents in Japan, villagers in China, and inner-city immigrant youths and elders in North American cities. Hou is the editor of Insurgent Public Space: Guerrilla Urbanism and the Remaking of Contemporary Cities and co-editor of Messy Urbanism: Understanding the ‘Other’ Cities of Asia. His next collection, City Unsilenced: Urban Resistance and Public Space in the Age of Shrinking Democracy is due out this year.
Image via Urbanisms of Locality