Community-Centred Workspaces and Urban Social Infrastructure

In May 2019 the Mayor of London publicly declared that ‘social infrastructure is key to supporting inclusive and thriving neighbourhoods’. The concept of social infrastructure is defined by several scholars as a way to research and value some spaces with a collective public character, which is the key dimension of a good city (Latham & Layton, 2019). Klinenberg (2018) defined community organisations as social infrastructures when they have an established physical space where people can assemble and mix with others with whom they share their neighbourhoods. In developing the term social infrastructure, Ray Oldenburg’s work on ‘Third Place’ diverts the focus on “inclusively sociable” spaces like cafes, hair salons, community spaces for building trust and new workspaces (Oldenburg, 1989).

Of particular relevance for the purpose of this study, social infrastructure links with the concept of new workspaces, especially with those community-driven spaces that emerged with the purpose to benefit the local area and deeply entangled with the neighbourhood. Many of them pair with charities, local associations, or cooperatives – often economically funded by local authorities, even if privately owned – aiming at supporting the local community.

Contrary to the increasing of entrepreneur-led workspaces, some scholars argue that those community-driven should be considered mutual survival platforms of precarious employment and community development, managing social relationship – or ‘social surplus’ (Amin, 2008)– and playing a wider social role in the local area (Avdikos & Merkel, 2020).

The study aims to define community-driven coworking spaces as places of social infrastructure acting for the ‘community good’ (Avdikos & Merkel, 2020), by assessing the users’ degree of interaction, perception, and integration with the neighbourhood. A pilot study has been carried out for 6 months in 2021 in Work Heights coworking space in Crown Heights North (Brooklyn, NY), applying the use of the perception questionnaire to ethnographic methodology.