November 2017
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Building a Sustainable Civic Commons

Montreal market

Last year MAS, with the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, conducted a series of workshops in various cities to Re-Imagine the Civic Commons. We found that a variety of factors have led to disinvestment in the commons. Many existing assets—post offices for example—have lost their usefulness as societal needs have shifted. These trends, combined with stretched city budgets, have resulted in decreased funds to libraries, reduced community center hours, reductions to park maintenance and programming, and sometimes the disposition of public land.

Like elsewhere in the United States, New York City’s other pressing issues, such as the need to update aging infrastructure and its housing crisis, pushes the maintenance and programming of its rich legacy of assets further to the bottom of its fiscal priorities. Yet the critical civic importance of these gathering places was made all too clear in the wake of Hurricane Sandy when libraries in Queens and Starbucks in Midtown were used by effected communities as disaster resource hubs. While these places have proven important in an emergency, they are also necessary to day-to-day life, presenting opportunities for the social interactions and chance encounters that foster neighborhood cohesion and ingenuity.

On June 11 and 12 , with support from TD Bank and others, MAS will convene delegations from New York, Montreal, Toronto, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia, to share common challenges and tested approaches for revitalizing underutilized neighborhood assets. Participants will walk away with effective funding, programming, and management strategies, and together we hope to leverage our collective knowledge and expertise to build a more sustainable civic commons in each of these cities.

Read the Re-Imagining the Civic Commons white paper (PDF) and poster (PDF).

Read the white paper (PDF) and download the poster (PDF).

The public event on the evening of Thursday, June 11, will mark the release of MAS’s Re-Imagining the Civic Commons white paper (PDF) and poster (PDF) and will include remarks by MAS Executive Director Margaret Newman and TD Bank New York Regional President Chris Giamo, as well as a panel discussion on the state of the civic commons featuring: Claudette Brady, Co-Founder, Bedford-Stuyvesant Society for Historic Preservation; Geoff Cape, CEO, Evergreen; Cameron Charlebois, President, GPMC Montreal Inc.; Benet Haller, Director, Urban Design and Planning, City of Chicago; Kathryn Ott Lovell, Executive Director, Fairmount Park Conservancy; and Gretchen Schneider, Executive Director, Community Design Resource Center of Boston and Director of Civic Design, Boston Society of Architects.

On Friday, June 12, delegations will hear from Stephen Huddart, President and CEO of the McConnell Foundation, on the topic of impact investing and from Stantec’s Urban Places Group Leader, David Dixon, on the importance of public/private partnerships. Delegates will also discuss Policy Opportunities in Civic Asset Disposition, The Role of Technology to Enable a Higher Functioning Civic Commons, Designing the Civic Commons, Community Engagement Strategies in Local Neighborhoods, Making the Case for the Civic Commons, and Financing Tools and Options; and will identify policy recommendations around each of these topics as well as next steps in each city and opportunities for future collaboration.