City Abecedaria: Social Infrastructure as Teacher, Protector, Provider

Quality social infrastructure is essential in supportive capacity building among those facing social, economic, and political barriers. Examples such as libraries, recreation centers, and schools function as civic commons and provide access to the basics of democratic civic life such as knowledge, healthy lifestyles, and connectivity. For refugee families living in Winnipeg neighborhoods such as Spence and Daniel MacIntyre, language, literacy, and location barriers make social infrastructure inaccessible. Recreational opportunities are proximally out of reach and often with attached costs low-income families cannot afford, and institutional school buildings offer little freedom of choice and movement through space. Language and literacy barriers make access to libraries virtually impossible, and parents struggle to find childcare in order to work and attend education.

Pursued is how a piece of social infrastructure might be designed to give agency in addressing these barriers within the context of an inviting and inclusive public space for the wider community; the civic commons. Multi-faceted and deliberate programming beyond singular taxonomies such as ‘library’ or ‘school’ are explored in creating a comprehensive response to the refugee experience, the primary investigations including access to education, childcare, recreation, and arts and cultural expression. Given the spatial constraints of a cellular urban site, the challenge of how to cohesively design a place with a multitude of considerations will produce a project that is programmatically compact, relationally complex, and identifiably tactical. Guiding the research is the pursuit of clear understanding of the inherent politics of space, how it is inextricably linked to realities of inclusion and exclusion, and rigorous examination of what makes place and space irreproachably democratic.