Spaces that Create Community

 If you’ve ever felt squished in a crowded airport, or enthralled by the vast openness of an art gallery, you’ve experienced the power of space to connect us with other people, in ways both good and bad.

Recent trends in real estate, demographics, lifestyles and work are giving rise to spaces—both indoors and out—specifically designed to foster connection and collaboration. Urban density puts housing at a premium. The increase in entrepreneurship and the independent workforce means freelancers are longing for the collegiality of an office. And health and environmental concerns are driving the development of outdoor places for recreation. We’ll look at each of these community-centric spaces:

THE UNIQUE SPACE LA | A creative workplace in LA that offers private offices and communal work-space.

Communal workspaces
More and more people are working for themselves or for small, entrepreneurial businesses. Yet these workers miss out on the social and professional interactions that happen in an office environment. Cue the communal workspace. Co-working hubs offer desks, meeting rooms and professional services on an hourly, monthly or yearly basis. Open floor plans mean that freelancers from different disciplines can connect and share ideas and projects. Like many, The Unique Space in Los Angeles’ arts district features public space that hosts art exhibits and events. At CoCo in Minneapolis, a concierge can arrange lunch for your meeting. Gangplank, with offices in Arizona and Ontario, offers a work-for-space model, where members don’t pay rent but instead give their time and talents to projects for nonprofits and community organizations. Gangplank’s manifesto offers a roadmap for co-workspaces, encouraging collaboration over competition and friendship over formality.

FAB LABS | Solar powered house built in 2010 for the European Solar Decathalon

Outfitted with woodworking tools, pottery wheels and kilns, commercial sewing machines, or computer hardware and 3D printers, these shared workshops bring together enthusiasts who don’t have the space or budget to acquire high-end hobby equipment at home. Makerspaces foster artistic community, offering classes and group projects. The Columbus Idea Foundry offers private instruction and public meetups for people interested in metalsmithing and jewelry making, among other disciplines. An international network of Fab Labs, developed by MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, brings together tech-minded makers with electronic tools and pro-grade fabrication machinery.
Micro apartments
These tiny units, typically 200 to 300 square feet, are designed for young, urban singles whose desire for connection trumps their desire for “stuff.” Compact living spaces include lots of built-ins for storage (think of an Ikea showroom), with no separation between seating, cooking and sleeping areas. They facilitate a European way of living, where personal space is less important than public life, where people walk to work, dine out and shop at street markets. Micro apartment buildings like the new LEED Platinum Harriet in San Francisco (being developed by Panoramic under its SmartSpace brand) offer amenities where residents can gather: rooftop or ground-level gardens with grills and seating, workout facilities, theaters, and party rooms. One real estate developer called the micro apartment “the architectural equivalent of the Smart Car: not for everyone, but serving a valuable need for certain households in many cities.”
Chicago urban farm Growing Home's harvest. April 23, 2009. Photo by Andrew Collings.

GROWING HOME CHICAGO | Harvesting vegetables at Growing Home Chicago’s Wood Street Urban Farm

Mini parks
Also called pocket parks or parklets, these are small outdoor spaces, usually the size of a residential lot or less, that are reclaimed and repurposed. They’re not intended to serve a large segment of a city, but rather to give neighborhood residents a place to gather, relax and enjoy the outdoors. Their uses and features vary: some are community flower or vegetable gardens, some are small playgrounds, some simply offer landscaping and seating. In Chicago and Detroit, programs like Keep Growing Detroit and Growing Home Chicago have transformed vacant lots into urban farms that feed their local communities. San Francisco is credited with developing the “parklet” idea—transforming streets into communal areas that everyone can enjoy, with features including public art, bike parking and furniture. Like their indoor counterparts, mini parks foster connections and increase quality of life in an increasingly disengaged world.


This article was written by Bryn Mooth and originally published in Issue 04 of the Mohawk Maker Quarterly. The Quarterly is a vehicle to support a community of like-minded makers. Content focuses on stories of small manufacturers, artisans, printers, designers, and artists who are making their way in the midst of the digital revolution. Learn more about the quarterly here and sign up to receive future printed issues.

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