What we Learned at Our Infrastructure for the Cooperating City Salon

The Salon was co-hosted by Designing the WE, The New School, 1 Worker 1 Vote, CUNY CED Clinic and Prime Produce. It was held at the still-under-construction Prime Produce space in Hell's Kitchen.

The Salon was co-hosted by Designing the WE, The New School, 1 Worker 1 Vote, CUNY CED Clinic and Prime Produce. It was held at the still-under-construction Prime Produce space in Hell's Kitchen.

When we planed the Infrastructure for a Cooperating City Salon, we didn't know that it would take place one week after Donald Trump's ascendency to the presidency. Two things became clear. We heard from so many who are both deeply disturbed by the direction of the administration, and galvanized to get involved in making productive and positive change. 

The purpose of the workshop was to strategize infrastructure for how we do more than resist what we don't want to see in our world, but generate new visions for a more equitable economy and society capable of bridging the growing divides that have led us to this moment. For everyone present it felt clear that the time to act is now, and a key outcome of the workshop was to brainstorm concrete ways for everyone to get involved.

To facilitate this mass involvement in positive transformation, we need digital, spatial and cultural infrastructure. Digital infrastructure includes networks and platforms capable of managing and expanding a growing ecosystem of cooperatives and social value projects. We also need spaces to come together, to walk in off the street and find this work happening, and to connect as neighbors. Vitally, we need a culture of shared values and principles that ground our different work and projects in the same vision for a diverse and thriving society. 

These three forms of infrastructure -- digital, spatial and cultural -- set the framework for the workshop.

Each of three groups tackled different shared value projects currently in the WElab ecosystem. We explored Sure We Can, a collective social enterprise of those who collect cans and bottles to redeem for five cents. The canners are vulnerable due to immigration status and economic marginalization, but can continue to transform instead into sustainability leaders through their for-profit composting program, education, and community engagement. They need localized spaces for this to happen, a digital way to tell their story, and an expanding culture of sustainability that confronts the perception that canners are unwanted.

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WE delved into a WElab project currently underway in the Bronx at the Mary Mitchel Community Center. They own an abandoned building that the young people at the center have been designing by addressing core neighborhood legacies like Redlining. The young people want to create spaces for intergenerational exchange that could re-stitch fraying community ties, and a maker space where they could take what is unused in the neighborhood and make it new again. How can we connect this project to others happening around the city, build neighborhood membership and use the building as a platform for spurring other investment that can repair a history of being devalued?

Third, we explored the Toronto-based Manifesto hiphop festival and education platform that will be generating a new iteration in New York as a cooperative owned by its talent, production and members. As an engine for local culture that draws thousands, it is key to use this platform to transform people from just fans and allow them to take part in the larger ecosystem of social change in the city. We discussed how we can lead people into action step by step through tools for education, cooperation and cultural production.

As a whole group, we began to see what we mean when using the term ecosystem to describe how we are changing systems and transforming the people working within them. Each of these projects are very different, but they can connect and feed off of each other in many ways. The shared infrastructure that connects them needs to be built. Of the neighbors, practitioners, project leaders, students and partners who participated in the open workshop, we learned that much of it exists and the people who can support it want to connect. In spaces like WElab the pieces are coming together. It can't happen soon enough.

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