Activating the Urban Commons Through Sharing Cities

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* Book: Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons. by Shareable. Shareable, 2017



By Neal Gorenflo:

"“Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons,” is a collection of 133 case studies and policies in 11 categories that demonstrate that a city run by the people is not only possible, but that much of it is already here. From participatory budgeting in Brazil to resident-managed public spaces in Italy to taxi cooperatives in the U.S., there’s almost no service that can’t be run democratically by citizens for each other.

In the backdrop of increasing privatization, income inequality, and fiscal challenges, the growth of self-organized, democratic, and inclusive means for city dwellers to meet their needs couldn’t be more relevant. These cases and policies taken together offer a new vision for cities that puts people – not the market, technology, or government – at the center, where they belong. More than that, the book represents a claim on the city run by people – a claim increasingly being made by city-residents the world over. This book was written for a broad audience, but may find special resonance with those who share this people-first vision of cities and want to act on it. Written by a team of 15 fellows with contributions from 18 organizations around the world, “Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons” not only witnesses a movement, but is a practical reference guide for community-based solutions to a range of challenges cities face such as affordable housing, sustainable mobility, and more."

What’s actually in the Book? Civic Imagination Inside

Neal Gorenflo:

"There are 67 case studies and 66 model policies in this book. Though the book only scratches the surface of what’s out there, the geographic and sectoral diversity of our selections will expand your view of what’s possible. Together, they are provocative in the best possible way. In terms of the case studies, I challenge you to flip through the book and not be amazed at what ordinary people can do when they commit to projects where personal interests and the common good are aligned. The case studies undermine the myth that “there is no alternative” to capitalism – TINA for short – and show that “there are many alternatives” – known as TAMA in the commons world.

Take, for instance, RideAustin, a nonprofit Uber alternative described on Chapter 2 that has raised $8 million in donations, facilitated over 1 million rides, raised $100,000 for local charities through its app, and is on track to be self-sustaining through an innovative funding model, all without charging drivers anything. Along similar lines is COwOP Taxi in Seoul (Chapter 2). Seoul supported the development of this new taxi service that combines convenient ride-hailing technology with driver ownership and control of the business. These are just two of many examples that prioritize community and/or worker control over a global, investor controlled option that extracts as much revenue as possible out of the hundreds of cities it serves. Why should a city risk dependence on a startup that extracts money from the local economy when it can cultivate options that keep money circulating in it?

Also consider Club Cultural Matienzo (CCM, Chapter 4), formed in 2008 in the wake of a tragic nightclub fire that killed 194 people and triggered a wave of club closings that throttled Buenos Aires’ grassroots arts scene for years. CCM innovated a safe, legal, profitable, and worker-controlled business model for cultural spaces. Its support helped the number of local venues grow by 800 percent (from 100 to 800) in nine years. Today, these clubs buy supplies together to reduce costs, host multilocation festivals, and lobby the city for arts-friendly policies. The result is a vibrant arts scene that supports artistic talent at a mass scale while creating decent jobs for young workers. This is far cry from the commercial club scene that all too often exploits artists, workers, and fans with little regard for overall vibrancy of a community’s arts scene. In Buenos Aires, grassroots culture is supported as a commons.

The model policies are exciting in their own way. As legal tools, they open space for the kinds of projects highlighted by our case studies. Most, like the ghost tax regulation in London (to reduce vacant housing), peer-to-peer parking regulation in Montreal (to increase supply of parking in crowded areas), and open land data policy in Rotterdam (to manage land better), are solutions aimed at addressing specific challenges. However, there are a few policies that are multifaceted and represent a new commons-based paradigm. This includes Cuba’s agricultural model (Chapter 3), Barcelona’s policies for the “commons collaborative economy,” which is made of 120 crowdsourced policy ideas to create a more fair, local sharing economy (Chapter 4), and the regulatory foundation of Seoul Sharing City (Chapter 4). Another paradigm-shifting standout is Bologna’s Regulation on Collaboration Between Citizens and the City for the Care and Regeneration of the Urban Commons (see Chapter 11), which allows citizens to no longer be passive recipients of city services, but active agents in shaping public life for the better. It provides a legal framework and administrative process by which citizens can directly care for urban commons such as parks, streets, cultural assets, schools, and much more. It fills a gap in administrative laws that don’t allow citizens to maintain or create public assets and services in cities.

The book also covers some expected territory – how cities should regulate Airbnb (Chapter 1) and Uber (Chapter 2). However, it might surprise you that our book fellows’ interest in this aspect of sharing cities was surprisingly low. It was more of a box to check. The book team felt that while it’s important to reorient aggressive commercial actors toward the commons, the more game-changing innovations are commons-based from the beginning.

There were many challenges in selecting the case studies and model policies even though our crowdsourced book proposal set out clear standards – that they be commons-oriented, city-based, and easily-replicable. For instance, there are few cases and policies that are purely commons-oriented. The majority of the pieces have a commons element, and the rest arguably set the stage for commons development. For instance, Barcelona’s Solar Thermal Ordinance (Chapter 5) helps to localize renewal energy production, setting the stage for a commons approach to energy, but doesn’t imagine a commons in its effort to promote sustainability.

The scale requirement was also a challenge, because sectors like energy, water, and waste have critical regional and national dimensions. This sometimes made it difficult to find solutions that were discretely city-based. In addition, many cases did not fit snugly into the categories the team chose. This was particularly true of the broad, paradigm-shifting policies – like Seoul Sharing City – which seek impact in a variety of areas. This was a lesson in the intertwined nature of different socio-geographic scales, the inadequacy of siloed approaches resource management, and the need for whole-systems thinking in urban design.

This should give you a taste for what’s in the book. These are days when city residents need options, especially as established institutions all too often fail to exercise what urban commons scholar Christian Iaione, a Bologna regulation co-author, calls “civic imagination.”


Introduction 8

Chapter 1: Housing

Cooperative Housing, Short-Term Rental Policy, Accessory Dwelling Units, Tiny Houses For The Homeless, Open-Source Design, Community Renewal.

Examples in this wiki:

Chapter 2: Mobility

Ride Hailing, Cooperative Taxi, Walking School Bus, Car Sharing, Shared Mobility Strategy, Bike Sharing, Mobile Transit Platform.

Examples in this wiki:

Chapter 3: Food

Kitchen Library, Surplus Food Redistribution, Community Gardens, Peer-To-Peer Food Sharing, Urban Orchards, Farmers Markets, Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone.

Chapter 4: Work

FabLabs, Cooperative Ownership, Community Wealth, Platform Cooperatives, Makerspaces, Arts Cooperatives, Social Entrepreneur Networks.

Chapter 5: Energy

Community Choice Aggregation, Wind Energy Cooperative, Purchasing Alliance, Shared Ownership of Renewable Energy Infrastructure, Feed-In-Tariffs.

Chapter 6: Land

Community Land Trusts, Placemaking, Reclaiming Public Land, Open Land Data, Public Art and Culture, Peer-To-Peer Space Rental, Foreclosure Fine Ordinance.

Chapter 7: Waste

Citizen Compost Initiative, Repair Café, Worker-owned Recycling Cooperative, Zero-Waste, Municipal Reuse Center, OpenSource Benchmarking, Zero Waste Party Pack.

Chapter 8: Water

Remunicipalisation, Community Bill of Rights, Community Science, Community-led Management, Depaving Public Space, Resident-managed Sanitation.

Chapter 9: Information And Communication Technologies

Internet for All, Crowdsourced Data, Managing Response to Disasters, Open-source Software, City Making, Open-data Policy, Addressing the Digital Divide.

Chapter 10: Finance

Credit Unions, State Banks, Local Currencies, Community Benefits Agreements, Civic Crowdfunding, Civic and Elder-care Time Banking, Citizen Investment in Local Food Systems.

Chapter 11: Governance

Urban Commons, Participatory Budgeting, Civic Project Software Platform, Participatory Planning, Polycentric Planning for Climate Change, Neighborhood Partnership Network.


History of the Book

Neal Gorenflo:

"When we decided to produce this book, we wanted to maintain the ethos of sharing by producing it collaboratively. We assembled a team of 15 fellows from nine countries (see the Contributors page for their biographies) to crowdsource the book proposal and write the book. We officially launched the project Jan. 20, 2016. Simone Cicero, our collaboration fellow from Rome, Italy, ran what became an extended visioning process to create a shared understanding of the purpose, structure, and content of the book. This was done through a series of video conferences. It resulted, after much deliberation, in a book proposal that everyone unanimously supported. The extra time spent on the visioning process was well worth it considering the book proposal’s clarity.

The team decided to create a collection of short, accessible, and mostly time-tested case studies (of enterprises, mostly) and model policies (laws, regulations, or city plans) that support sharing in cities. We decided to organize the cases and policies by 11 functional areas of a city such as housing, food, and transportation, and curate about six of each per chapter. Each chapter is the product of two fellows who together selected and wrote the cases and policies. In addition, 18 organizations contributed articles including ICLEI, Story of Stuff, and Club Cultural Matienzo (see the Contributors page for the list of participating organizations).

The collection not only illustrates the vision of a sharing city through examples, but also communicates the book team’s core belief. We believe that it’s possible to run much of a city on a commons basis, that a city could be in nearly every way of, by, and for the people, and that the urban commons is, as Silke Helfrich pointed out in her IASC Urban Commons Conference keynote in 2015, a “concrete utopia.” In other words, a credible utopia that’s well within reach because its parts already exist, though they’ve not yet been assembled in one place to make a complete sharing city. The team wanted the book to represent this concrete utopia and serve as an assembly manual for it, or at least a start at one.

While the selections were curated by the book fellows, they aren’t offered in a dogmatic spirit. We don’t presume to be the final authority on what constitutes a sharing city. We see ourselves as contributing to a dialogue, and imperfectly so. This is a reference book, so you can use whatever is relevant. Most of the material in it can stand independently. The book is designed to be modular so that it can be excerpted, remixed, and otherwise remade as you like. In fact, all the material is Creative Commons and available as a text file, so you can literally curate your own book from this book.

It’s also an unfinished work. We’ve imagined it as the kernel of an open-source project that requires a community to fully flesh it out. Or as version 1.0 of limitless versions, because we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s in a dynamic, growing field. There’s so much more to be recognized publicly. Uncovering it needs to be an ongoing community effort. One of the lessons I learned while working on this book is that there’s a blindness to the power to meet our own needs without complete dependence on the market or state, which is made more poignant because we need this power now more than ever. Hopefully, this book opens many eyes to what’s abundant as leaves of grass in a vast plain. Perhaps it’s human nature to overlook what’s always around us. And to live in a city is to be completely enveloped by what is shared, from sidewalks and streets to parks and squares to space and time itself. So I strongly encourage you to expand this catalogue of hope.: