City-Based Departments of the Commons

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Examples

Napels

= Naples was the first Italian city to establish a “Department of the Commons” and the first to change the municipal statute by inserting the “commons” as one of the interests to be protected and recognised as the functional exercise of fundamental rights of the person.

Discussion

"The city of Naples recognised seven public properties occupied by citizens and associations as “emerging commons and as civic developing environments” through a Council Resolution. All these buildings were public properties, which had for years been in a terrible state of neglect and decay. Citizens and social movements transformed these spaces to places “that create social capital in terms of collective uses with a commons value”. The seven properties identified by the Resolution are very different in terms of origin and historical evolution, but they have in common the fact that the Neapolitans were worried about possible privatisation of the buildings or speculation. This concern drove them to take the decision of acting first and restoring them to the public interest.

The municipalist government of De Magistris has allowed social organisations to continue developing processes of cultural creation and productive innovation emergence: Government Resolution no. 446/2016 has as its objective “the identification of areas of civic importance ascribed to the category of the commons”. Immediately after its publication (the resolution is dated June 1 2016 but was publicised recently), some members of the City Council criticised the Neapolitan Government, because according to them it would be better for the city to sell or rent these public spaces to increase the city’s income. The Government was also accused of “legalising” an illegal occupation of public buildings. However, Resolution 446/2016 does not provide leases or concessions for the social movements that occupy the spaces; it only acknowledges the “civic use” they do with them. It is still not clearly established though who has the official responsibility for maintaining the space (regular checks, cleaning etc), meaning that it it is not clear if it’s the Government’s responsibility, the occupants’ or both. The resolution specifies that “the person temporarily in custody of the property management of municipal assets identified as a “common good” will have to respond to the principles of good performance, impartiality, cost management, and resource efficiency, respecting the public interest”.

The Neapolitan Administration defines as common goods “the tangible and intangible assets of collective belonging that are managed in a shared, participatory process and that it’s committed to ensure the collective enjoyment of common goods and their preservation for the benefit of future generations”. The administration has also created a “Permanent Citizen Observatory on the Commons” in the city of Naples which studies, analyses, proposes and controls the management and protection of common goods. The Observatory has eleven members, are all experts in the legal, economic, social or environmental fields. Seven of these members are appointed by the Mayor and four are citizens selected through simple online procedures.

Following the spirit of the rebel cities, the Resolution 446/2016 is important because it recognises the social value of the experiences living in the occupied spaces and not only the economic value of the properties. It is also important as it establishes “the recognition of public spaces as part of a process of constant active listening and monitoring of the city and its demands, in relation to the collective use of spaces and protection of the commons”.

To analyse the forms of management and regulation of the occupied buildings, there are already public discussion tables where citizens have co-decision power with the Administration. Each space is different so the required management and the profile of the spaces varies from one to another. They all have in common the protection of the commons and the objective of keeping alive cultural, social and political matters, sometimes even in the form of workshops and training centres for women, children and unemployed citizens." (https://euroalter.com/2016/naples-common-good)


Interview

Mayor Luigi de Magistris interviewed by European Alternatives:

* What is the relationship now between civil society and the institutions?

"This is an absolute novelty in the institutional and political panorama. The relationship between civil society, social movements, and local institutions is one under construction, where each has to preserve its autonomy while building new relations and forms of participation. There are traditional channels such as the participation of representatives of social movements or occupations in the Council. But then there is also a new way of working together. For instance, in discussing together the proposals for new municipal laws, in a process of co-deliberation of the regulations that govern the city. How does this happen? Through direct contact, open meetings, popular assemblies in the neighbourhoods, observatories, and by keeping a direct relation with social centres and spaces of activism and active citizenship. For instance, an important project to demolish and replace “Le Vele”, an infamous social housing project dating back to the 1960s, was co-designed by the City, the University, and the autonomous neighbourhood committee. This is an open area of experimentation and more ideas and practices will come out in the coming months. Including through the use of online technology. But beyond the social network revolution, we also want to be together physically."


* Speaking of the commons, Naples has a number of buildings occupied by citizens and social movements utilised for cultural, social, or solidarity initiatives. You have recently passed an innovative law identifying such spaces as social commons. Or, in other words, legitimising and legalising social occupations of unused public and private properties.

These are not occupied but liberated spaces. There are situations where, for whatever reason, public or private owners leave buildings to decay, shutting them off from the population and creating empty zones in our cities. When groups of citizens take them over, clean them, repair them, open them up with social, sports, or cultural activities, these spaces are returned to the citizenry. They are a new commons and they should be treated as such. Not criminalised and evicted." (http://politicalcritique.org/world/2017/in-naples-we-are-all-illegal-or-no-one-is/)