Introducing Social Agency Lab… Labcamp 1

This is an entry by guest author Alexandra Miller, an urban planner living in New Orleans. You can follower her on twitter.  

On August 4th-7th, 2011, six collaborators, including all of Plurale Tantum’s editors, met in Austin for Social Agency Lab’s first Labcamp out of a desire to place social agency at the forefront of designing urban space, and to creatively bring together multiple design disciplines including urban design, service design, program design, architecture, anthropology and policymaking in one group that can flexibly engage urban planning in design discourse. We had four major goals for our time there:

First, we met to officially found Social Agency Lab as an organization. This happened the first night around the kitchen table. We all agreed that our organization would focus on urban planning and design that prioritized social theories and goals.

The city of Austin agreed with us.

Second, we met to share our disparate backgrounds and discuss how we, as urban planners, urban designers, service designers, program designers, and policy designers, could develop a common methodology and select projects that played to our strengths.

Sharing backgrounds and ideas at the kitchen table.

Third, we met to discuss the goals and principles that inform Social Agency’s work, as well as the kind of work that we will seek out to prioritize our goals and principles. You can see the principles we developed on the About page. We decided to prioritize The Four P’s: Projects, Products, Publication, and Pedagogy. Combining these four elements enables Social Agency to empower citizens to be active participants in the generation of better urban spaces. We will use our combination of local knowledge and national talent to provide solutions that prioritize people in urban environments.

Outlining what we can provide, and how we'll provide it.

Fourth, we completed a two-day project for the Downtown Austin Alliance that embodied these goals and principles. The DAA is conducting a survey of users of Republic Square Park to inform future park improvements. Rather than design a finished solution for the park, we created a manual for the volunteers who will be conducting the survey. The manual will teach the volunteers basic elements of urban design and how to observe space, so that they can understand users’ patterns of moving through the park and understand some of the potential improvements that could increase park usage. We hope the manual will serve as a recruiting tool for the DAA as they gather volunteers, and that it will enable the volunteers to participate in designing new solutions for Republic Square.

Saturday in Republic Square

Writing notes for the manual

(Finally, we also had a few other sightseeing goals while visiting Austin.)

Interested in participating? Our new website is and you can follow us on facebook and twitter. Our next labcamp will be in St. Louis in January.