Five Basic Design Principles for the Urban Commons

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The Five Design Principles

Christian Iaione and Sheila Foster:

The idea of the “Co-City” is based on five basic design principles, or dimensions, extracted from our practice in the field and the cases that we identified as sharing similar approaches, values and methodologies. While some of these design principles resonate with Ostrom’s principles, they are each adapted to the context of the urban commons and the realities of constructing common resources in the city.

We have distilled five key design principles for the urban commons:

  • Principle 1: Collective governance refers to the presence of a multi-stakeholder governance scheme whereby the community emerges as an actor and partners up with at least three different urban actors
  • Principle 2: Enabling State expresses the role of the State in facilitating the creation of urban commons and supporting collective action arrangements for the management and sustainability of the urban commons.
  • Principle 3: Social and Economic Pooling refers to the presence of different forms of resource pooling and cooperation between five possible actors in the urban environment
  • Principle 4: Experimentalism is the presence of an adaptive and iterative approach to designing the legal processes and institutions that govern urban commons.
  • Principle 5: Tech Justice highlights access to technology, the presence of digital infrastructure, and open data protocols as an enabling driver of collaboration and the creation of urban commons."



Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione:

"These design principles articulate the types of conditions and factors necessary to instantiate the city as a collaborative space in which various forms of urban commons not only emerge but are sustainable. The concept of the co-city imagines the city as an infrastructure on which participants can share resources, engage in collective decision-making and co-production of shared urban resources, supported by open data and guided by principles of distributive justice. A co-city is based on polycentric governance of a variety of urban resources such as environmental, cultural, knowledge and digital goods that are co-managed through contractual or institutionalized public-private-community partnerships. Polycentric urban governance involves resource pooling and cooperation between five possible actors—social innovators, public authorities, businesses, civil society organizations, and knowledge institutions. These collaborative arrangements give birth to local peer-to-peer production of experimental, physical, digital and institutional platforms with three main aims: fostering social innovation in urban welfare provision, spurring collaborative economies as a driver of local economic development, and promoting inclusive urban regeneration of blighted areas. Public authorities play an important enabling role in creating and sustaining the co-city. The ultimate goal of a co-city is the creation of a more just and democratic city, also in light of the Lefebvrian approach of the right to the city." (