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MCI Summer Research Fellowship


Introduction

The Mexican Cities Initiative Summer Research Fellowship has been established to fund innovative research on Mexico’s cities, open to all current GSD student and their collaborators. We solicit projects that offer new ways of envisioning Mexican Cities and their principal challenges, particularly as related to the themes of urban culture, urban innovation, as well as risk and resilience in everyday urbanism.

Vision: Understanding Risk and Resilience through Everyday Urbanism

Risk

In the midst of Mexico’s rapidly transforming urban landscape, there is a need for more materials that interrogate informality, property rights, land tenure, underground economies, resource scarcities, crime, insecurity, and other urban vulnerabilities. Work undertaken in collaboration with the MCI will eventually form the basis for the production of a Spatial Atlas of Vulnerabilities in the Mexico City Metropolitan Area. In addition to the vulnerabilities listed above, the MCI is already making progress on the documentation of ecological challenges in urban areas, particularly those revolving around water rights, urban infrastructure, and resource distribution. These and other materials can help form that basis for further research and hypothesis testing with respect to proposed interventions for more sustainable urbanism.

Resilience

Utopian ideals and a sociological imagination have long been a part of constructive urban practice. The MCI seeks to identify and foster practices suited to a city’s current built form, but which also hold the potential to generate alternative urban futures. In addition to taking seriously the role of a wide array of urban policy institutions and political actors in achieving such aims, the Mexican Cities Initiative hopes to inspire new forms of engagement with citizens to acknowledge or enhance their role in constructing alternative urban futures.

Everyday Urbanism

Everyday Urbanism is a conceptual and programmatic starting point for humanist and imaginative socio-spatial projects. Rooted in the lived experience of the city, research through the lens of everyday urbanism offers opportunities to address sweeping concerns of risk and resilience, leverage multiple disciplines, and explore a range of territorial sites and scales while drawing on the domain expertise of designers. Everyday urbanism seeks to link the investigation of city forms, processes, and experiences to innovative methods of documentation that reveal where, how, and why macroscopic urban dynamics hit the ground at the human scale, in the material fabric of the city, and in the ideas and socio-spatial practices of its citizens.

Goals for Research Fellowship Program

For Mexico City

To identify pressing urban issues and connect any interrogation of their nature, origins, and mitigation to the everyday lived experience of people

For Mexico City and the GSD

To grow the conversation between the GSD and Mexico City through relationships and a body of work that builds upon and interrogates itself.

For Urbanism

To enrich conversations around Everyday Urbanism, Risk and Resilience, and Design Research at the GSD and in the broader community

For Design Pedagogy

To advance student’s capacity to produce research and design products that are engaging, meaningful, and accessible in a broader range of contexts

For Students

To foster intellectual experimentation while also contributing to career expansion and development

Methodological Framework

Capacity for rigor, critique, creativity and experimentation in research methodology is a key criterion for evaluation of fellowship proposals. Though important for all students, those considering the fellowship without benchmark experiences or understandings of Mexico are particularly invited to consider methodology as a point of entry for their work. Operating between practice and the academy, design-based research holds the potential to reveal the world by transforming it, taking on the life cycle of a more standard research endeavor. The By collecting, representing, and circulating ideas new forms of knowledge emerge. While academic research is traditionally represented as text and circulated via the peer-review journal system or conferences, designers are in a unique position to innovate in their modes of representation, their manner of collecting data, and their means of disseminating findings. Research and communication are inextricable processes that can be designed to articulate, illuminate, and leverage urban processes under investigation.

Students are encouraged to consider their methodological aims in terms of the following interconnected epistemologies; or if offering new ones, to clearly articulate the alternative conceptual and pragmatic contours of the proposition:

Material Culture

Everything in the city belongs to someone. Material culture draws on design and ethnography to read urbanism through the specific materiality of the physical fabric of a city. By tracing the distribution and transformation of material artifacts we can read the city and how people live in it, possibly even layering and weaving these products back into the systems of the city. Through material-driven research and design, we can learn to engage and speak with the city in its own language, reading, for example, property rights through and back into Mexico City’s vigilante-hung “Building Not for Sale” signs, or counterfeit document networks through and back into the on-demand letterpress kiosks of Plaza Santo Domingo. Material Culture asks research to be visually and materially engaging, site-specific, and responsive to the vernacular while leveraging the plasticity of the city as canvas for innovative design and communication.

Social Agency

Activist modes of research can engage with citizens and the power structures that shape their places in the city, registering both the forces acting down on people and their agency to respond creatively. Recognizing that both structural forces and social actors are responsible for producing and reproducing the city, the study of risk and resilience through everyday urbanism can investigate the interplay of top-down and bottom-up dynamics, whether as conflict, resistance, cooperation, or circumvention.

Urban Pedagogy

Through place-based methodologies, conversations, and relationships, research can work to simultaneously thicken and tease apart multiple layers of perception, interpretation, and understanding of the city. Discursive methods for engaging the city set themselves apart from more functionalist approaches while offering the possibility that alternative stories, readings, and narratives can increase individual and collective knowledge of the city and the means for its transformation.

To be truly visionary we have to root our imagination in our concrete reality while
simultaneously imagining possibilities beyond that reality
bell hooks
Cities also believe they are the work of the mind or of chance, but neither suffices to hold up their walls. You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.
Italo Calvino