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Irene Maznini Ceinar. UCL Bartlett School of Planning. ‘Visiting activities and testing the perception questionnaire method’

From September to the end of December 2021, I had the chance to be a Visiting Assistant in Research (VAR) at the Yale Urban Design School, thanks to the Yale-UCL Exchange Programme.  

Outcomes of the Exchange:  Despite my PhD focuses on a comparative case study between London (UK) and Milan (IT), thanks to the Exchange, I had the opportunity to explore the US situation related to the coworking economy – New Haven city (where Yale University is located) hosts around 10 small-medium size coworking spaces, including Whitneyville Cultural Commons, that thrive local entrepreneurship. Some outcomes have been reached during the Yale-UCL Exchange period:  

  • Learning from the US context: During the exchange, I had the opportunity to visit coworking spaces both in New Haven and New York and run interviews with the owner and manager at the Whitneyville Cultural Commons in Hamden, New Haven. Whitneyville Cultural Commons is a community centre hosting a local coworking space in a reconverted brick historic church building linked with the adjacent Whitneyville United Church of Christ from 1834. 

The local coworking offers studios and hot-desks at affordable prices for the local community of Hamden. Moreover, the coworking space is offered at a low market rate because it is subsidised by other activities, such as wedding receptions or parties, that are charged at a private rate. This provides the opportunity to offer cheaper or free space to community groups that need it, such as the local students and residents with economic difficulties.  

  • Testing the perception questionnaire in a pilot case study: Before the exchange, I made contacts with the manager of Works Heights coworking space, which has been recognised as a social infrastructure for the local community during 2020 ‘[During 2020] the coworking space has been kind of good. We were shut down until late June, and then we reopened as part of the Phase II reopening. It was a little slow, and then October was our best month ever in six-year of business.’ (extract from the interview with the space manager, 2021). Works Heights has several spaces in New York, three of them are in Brooklyn, between Crown Height North and Prospect Height. Therefore, during the visiting period in the US, I visited two branches of the coworking, and I test the perception questionnaire with the members of the spaces. 16 participants filled out the perception questionnaire. The experience opened up my perspective on the topic and helped me to amend and reframe the questionnaire.  
     
  • Making contacts and networking: The experience made it possible to strengthen transdisciplinary synergies, and boost exchange knowledge through networking and peer feedbacking. As a VAR student, I had the chance to work from the PhD floor of the Architecture School (180 York Street) and make good connections with other Yale PhD students. Moreover, at the end of the exchange, I had the opportunity to present my doctoral ongoing study at the Yale Urban Design Workshop (YUDW) and receive feedback and thoughts from Yale academics invited to the discussion.  

Research activities and testing the focus group method: 

From May to the end of December 2021, I had the chance to be involved in the project “Co-designing a Resilient Social Infrastructure: Towards a Community Vision for Granville and Carlton Buildings’ together with Dr Pablo Sendra from UCL. This is knowledge exchange between university and communities, run by a group of researchers from University College London (UCL) in partnership with the local organisation Granville Community Kitchen (http://granvillecommunitykitchen.org.uk/). The project has consisted of a series of community engagement workshops and interviews, with users, stakeholders and supporting organisations, with the aim of assessing the importance of the two buildings as a ‘resilient social infrastructure’ for the local community, through the co-production of evidence on meaningful attachment around the buildings. The engagement workshops and the process of co-producing the Community Vision have been a knowledge exchange with users and stakeholders, where users learn about the future plans for the buildings and gain agency in being able to express the kind of needs they require for their business, while stakeholders learn those needs and increase their capacity to support the local community.  

The Community Vision for Granville and Carlton Buildings is very related to my PhD study, as it is a community-centred space that hosts a local coworking space that acted as resilient social infrastructure during the pandemic. Moreover, the method used – community engagement workshops run via Miro.com – helped me to familiarise myself with focus groups run via online platforms, testing myself on how to facilitate them and engage with a wider audience of participants. 

Granville Community Kitchen – Empowering Community Through FoodGet Involved. Granville Community Kitchen is run by the community for the community. There are loads of ways that you can participate in the work that we do!granvillecommunitykitchen.org.uk

Recent publications:

I have been involved in two recently released publications: 

Manzini Ceinar, I., Sendra, P., Colombo C., Devenyns A. (2021). Co-Producing a Social Impact Assessment with affected communities: evaluating the social sustainability of redevelopment schemes. Sustainability, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.3390/su132313381

Manzini Ceinar I., Pacchi C., Mariotti I. (2021). Emerging work patterns and different territorial contexts: trends for the coworking sector in pandemic recovery. Professionalità Studi 4/III, 134-159. Studium La Scuola (eds). ADAPT University Press. ISSN 0392-2790

Anyone that wants to discuss the above or get in touch with Irene, can do so at i.ceinar.17@ucl.ac.uk

By UBEL Doctoral Training Partnership

The UCL, Bloomsbury and East London Doctoral Training Partnership is an ESRC-funded organisation which brings together five leading Social Science institutions.