Enabling is a central concern for this project. Fundamentally, this term is borrowed from Ezio Manzini, who has written about enabling solutions (see Enabling solutions for sustainable living: a workshop by Ezio Manzini, Stuart Walker). He observes social innovation require the cultivation of “favourable environments and empowering creative people. Creative people can be empowered by specifically conceived sets of products, services and communication artefacts, i.e by conceiving and developing enabling solutions, and in particular, enabling digital platforms.” He charts tensions between disabling and enabling contexts and conditions. Many of those we have come to rely on are by nature disabling (e.g. welfare) due to our very dependency, while he poses a challenge for designers and social innovators to develop enabling solutions to our everyday issues and concerns. Pointing to the unsustainability of everyday life in cities, he describes enabling solutions as “systems of products, services and organizational tools that enable individuals or communities to achieve a result using at best their skills and abilities”. He also notes the importance of creative communities as self-organising groups that recognise needs and work towards the attainment of social goals (e.g. social housing).
Chiara Camponeschi’s The Enabling City takes these threads and weaves another kind of textile with them, shuttling through the fabric of place. Her ideas about place-based creative problem solving are resonant for the suburban context, which as, evidenced in the USA, can be subject to rapid demographic changes where poverty is increasingly concentrated in the suburbs (while experiencing its own demographic shifts, Aspley is not one of those suburbs where poverty is pooling even though there are pockets of disadvantage). While place-based approaches are gaining currency, Chiara proposes “a participatory tool that leverages the imagination and inventiveness of citizens in collaborative efforts that make cities more vibrant and sustainable”. In discussions about cities and urban change, the suburbs tend to recede from view, disappearing into a realm beyond some imagined wall of the urban centre and blending as sameness. However, many of the examples Chiara cites in her toolkit can be and are being realised in suburban communities: “embedded in the idea of enablement is a participatory process that changes the way we think about the commons”. There are also already transition town initiatives in suburban areas. We see our challenge as one of creating “favourable environments and empowering creative people” in suburban communities and localities, specifically Aspley. We seek to recognise the specific values of this place as a platform and locus for creativity, collaboration and change.
A learning process, particularly social learning, is necessary for these enabling solutions and social innovations to emerge. One aspect of that is to ‘enable practice’ – our practices as designers, thinkers, writers, curators and artists. ‘Enabling suburbs’ requires a doubling – suburbs as a platform for enabling and a suburbs enabled to rethink, redouble and redesign. This process is not about us imposing our professional will, but activating our agency to establish some frameworks for conversation, exchange, participation and negotiation that appreciates the complexity of suburbs. We believe other – enabling and empowering – futures and stories are possible.