Reflections on Sharing-Based Economic Alternatives in Thessaloniki as a City in Crisis

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* Masters' thesis: Sharing Thessaloniki: Reflections on Economic Alternatives in a City in Crisis. By Eleni Margariti.

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MSc Urban Strategies & Design, Edinburgh School of Architecture & Landscape Architecture, University of Edinburgh

Abstract

"The dissertation focuses on emerging alternative economic networks within a city in crisis, trying to identify their particular socio-economic and techno-economic characteristics, evaluate their socioeconomic viability and compose a broader strategy in managing their expansion. The dissertation establishes the study area within the broader frame of ‘sharing cities’, referring to urban strategies that support the development of socioeconomic networks supported by the use of ICTs as means of enhancing local resilience, social cohesion and boost economic revitalization. The focus is made around three existing initiatives within the city of Thessaloniki, Greece – two Time-banks and a local community currency network that operate through digital platforms. Following qualitative research methods, the dissertation’s purpose is to outline weaknesses and potentials of various models to promote cooperative action within the city, enhance horizontal wealth distribution and community self-management, while providing a fertile ground for further research around sharing cities and alternative economic models as strategies towards combating poverty, enhancing social capital and creating resilient local networks within the cities.

Note:My dissertation took place during a period of intense political changes in contemporary Greek history-referring to July’s 2015 Greek Referendum (05/07/2015)-during which, longstanding debates around the potentials of economic alternatives to form solutions to current crisis took place. My contribution to these discussions is to add knowledge upon the means of function of some of emerging alternative economic networks within the cities, influenced by contemporary theories related to Post-capitalism and its transfers in urban theory. "


Examples

Cases discussed:

C. Case studies Analysis: Sharing alternatives in Thessaloniki............................................35

C1. Trapeza Chronou Time Bank .................................................................37

C2. 60min’ Time Bank .........................................................................................45

C3. Koino............................................................................................47

Excerpts

Suggested:

  • A2. ICTs and the socioeconomic sphere of the city: P2P techno-cultures........................19

Reflecting the growing diffusion of digital technologies in everyday life, many theorists have expressed that ICTs have the capacity both to limit and facilitate actions of individuals and collectivities. Following a Foucauldian perspective, Vanolo (2014) argues that smart cities are to be interpreted in the context of shifting the focus from data to people, describing how the smart city may be a powerful disciplinary strategy to shape ‘smart citizens’ and form new means of urban citizenship. Following Hollands (2013, 13) ‘The real smart city has to begin to think with its collective social and political brain, rather than through its “technological tools”’ – hence, the social infrastructure such as intellectual and social capital are an indispensable endowment to smart cities. An alternative storytelling about smart cities is necessary not just as a critique on top-bottom models but also as an instrument to suggest progressive avenues for urban development (Sandercock 2003, 26). The alternative smart city envisions new possibilities for building more democratic citizenship, enabled though connected hyper-communities. Reflected in urbanism studies- Open source Urbanism (Sassen, 2007) and P2P urbanism (Bauwens, 2003) frame smart cities in transition through formations of decentralized networked heterierachies based on open knowledge sharing and decentralized decision making, enhancing horizontal structures of wealth distribution.

P2P techno-cultures Following Bauens and kostakis (2012), the reduction of transaction and coordination costs through ICTs and the distribution of productive capital in the form of networked personal computers have strengthened this current and given birth to new forms of production, labeled as ‘Commons-based peer production’ or peer to peer production (see Benkler, 2006, 2011; Bauwens, 2005, 2009). Common-based peer production (P2P) is a socio-technical system of production and distribution of goods emerging within digitally networked environments17- see open source in digital economy- characterized by the free willing collaboration between groups or individuals, forming hybrid communities. Coffin (2006) mentions some characteristics of successful P2P communities: Firstly, the membership is open and widespread: openness, networking, participation and transparency appear as the main characteristics of governance in P2P economy. More closely, these projects do not operate in hierarchies but rather in heterarchies: “They operate in a much looser means which allows for the existence of multiple teams of participants working simultaneously in a variety of possibly opposing directions” (Coffin, 2006). In addition, peer projects are based on the organizing principle of equipotentiality (Bauwens, 2005a; 2005b) i.e., everyone can potentially cooperate in a project while no authority prejudges the ability to cooperate. In peer projects, equipotential participants self–select themselves to the section to which they want to contribute (Bauwens, 2005b). Finally, peer to peer is characterized by holoptism, referring to the ability for any peer to have horizontal knowledge of processes in the network, but also the vertical knowledge concerning the aims of the project (Bauwens, 2005b).

The use of social cues (1) and decentralization of authority (2) in order to motivate and coordinate participant agents (Benkler and Nissenbaum, 2006) give birth to some particular social and moral characteristics related to P2P practices. The ability to create trust relationships in P2P networks is a major characteristic of the function: in the world of peer production, everyone's information is both equally powerful and equally powerless against an emergent consensus (among a network of peers) that someone is or is not to be trusted.

This increases the value of the connections we do decide to make, by choosing resources are valuable and which aren’t, based on voting systems. This can promote healthy competition among resources for increased adherence, leading to more effective economic systems. Moreover, P2P illustrates an effective alternative of not creating a centralized government upon resources: P2P’s key difference with centralized forms of governance is that it alternatively allows each individual to make his/her own decisions regarding when to act and with whom to connect: no majority group can enforce their adoption on any minority that finds some other source of reputational to inform action, or policy defaults, more attractive. The potentiality of the system is that, although dynamic and decentralized, it allows stability in the long term: good connections persist, and those that produce negative effects tend to be severed, naturally creating an optimal degree of mapping between the set of people affected by any given rule and the set of people for whose benefit the rule is made- this is called 'congruence'. P2P allows for substantial congruence to develop, which is necessary to allow a complex system to find an optimal state. In the long term this can be the only stable state.

Finally, P2P allows for distributed action, enhancing self-management within systems, while limiting information loss: the more a system is organized centrally, the more room there is for information loss between the actual state of the world as perceived by those agents closest to the opportunity for action and the state of the world as perceived by agents with authority to decide that an action should be undertaken, and vice versa. Decentralized and distributed systems generally loose less information, in that sense is a more resilient model which allows flexibility, self-regulation and adaptation to external conditions that emerge.

Transfers of p2p in broader spatial, social and economic domains P2P’s expansion in broader domains of economy has potentials of embracing many forms of social exchange as valid forms of sharing. From seed-sharing cooperatives, FLOSS and open source communities to local initiatives that involve community currencies such as Transition Towns movements, there is re-emergence and flowering of new economic forms based on equity, named as the cooperative economy, the social economy and the solidarity economy.

Bauwens and Kostakis (2012) support the view that P2P will lead to a series of structural changes around production, exchange and good distribution, illustrated through a series of four combinatory scenarios: netarchical capitalism (NC), distributed capitalism (DC), resilient communities (RC) and global Commons (GC). The first axis presents the polarity of centralized versus distributed control of productive infrastructure, whereas the second axis relates an orientation toward the accumulation of capital versus an orientation toward the accumulation or circulation of the commons. Netarchical (meaning, the hierarchies within the network which own and control participatory platforms) and distributed capitalism differ in the control of the productive infrastructure but both are oriented towards capital accumulation and, thus, are parts of the wider value mode of cognitive capitalism. On the other, resilient communities and the global Commons reside in the hypothetical model of mature peer production under civic dominance – which reflects the Sharing-City hypothesis.

Strategic dimensions of P2P governance P2P model offer potentials for developing dynamic decentralized and/or distributed systems of governance upon various resources. Moreover, it is already recognized as alternative with dominant market-based areas; something that both validates and verifies its successful coexistence with formal economy and market-state institutions. The question on expansion of P2P doesn’t lie on whether it can exist as a stand-alone economic model which not considered as a viable or covetable alternative- and shouldn’t limit in a process of comparing or competing with existing centralized models. On the contrary, it lies on its establishment as valid alternative within local communities’ activity; in order horizontal and vertical governance structures, as well as decentralized and centralized decision-making to coexist and retrofit each other within the city. Tries towards balancing centralized and decentralized governance models within local level are already widely explored in contemporary policies, as means of empowering citizen engagement and community self-management.

Moreover, P2P reflects on the importance of incorporating tactics as vital parts of processes of governance formation. Following Foucault’s Governmentality (the semantic linking between ("gouverner") and modes of thought ("mentalite") on the study of the "autonomous" individual's capacity for self-control and how this is linked to forms of political rule and economic exploitation, he highlights the strategic character of government.

By reconstructing this “strategical” dimension, it is possible to take into account the conflicts and resistances that are put forward against technologies and rationalities of government within the strategic implementation of governance. Indeed, the difference between the envisioned aims of a program and its actual effects does not refer to the purity of the program and the impurity of reality, but to different realities and heterogeneous strategies. Struggles and bottom-up reactions do not only take place as intervals “between” programs and their “realization”, they are not limited to some kind of “negative energy” or obstructive capacity. Rather than “distorting” the “original” program, they are actually always already part of the programs themselves, actively contributing to “compromises”, “fissures” and “incoherencies” inside them. Thus, the analysis of Governmentality does not only take into account “breaks” or “gaps” between program and technology but also views them not as signs of failure but as the very condition of goverance existence. The perspective of Governmentality makes possible the development of a dynamic form of analysis that does not limit itself to stating the “retreat of politics” or the “domination of the market” but deciphers the so-called “end of politics” itself as a political program (O’Malley/Weir/Shearing 1997).


  • A4. Conclusions and formation of research questions .....................................................31

Economy as a common is received as a fundamental concept in constructing the argument around the sharing economy and the sharing city. The emergence of exchange economy networks within crisis is a factor that can be used as basis to contextualize sharing economy within particular Greek socioeconomic reality. Moreover, it provides a basis for establishing sharing economy within local communities’ action- developing networks of interconnected localities within spatial and digital cityscape. Within this context, the potentials of alternative economy tactics to compose sharing city strategies are worth investigating. P2P can be seen as a way of broadening potentials of alternative economy networks within micro and meso of the cities, developing dynamic decentralized networks through the use of ITC’s infrastructure, enhancing community self-management and establishing common regimes upon resources. Finally, seen as tactics, alternative economic networks have the power to retrofit systemic change and enhance citizen engagement in local politics. Driven by these ideas, the dissertation focuses on specific alternative economic networks in Thessaloniki, Greece, framing them as local oriented urban tactics that have potentials for broadening their socioeconomic impact within crisis. Target is to define criteria for evaluating their broader impact and form conclusions on what mechanisms could enhance their expansion and maintenance, contributing towards formation of inclusive, open and participatory heterarchies within a sharing city perspective. Focusing on existing networks, the dissertation reflects on the means they operate, targeting towards shaping a broader critical analysis around participatory models of managing urban commons.

Main questions deriving from theoretical part compose major research questions and draft evaluation criteria relating with the following parameters: First, the challenges to achieve an adaptive balance between centralized control and distributed decision-making- a balance between verticality and horizontality- reflects the main discussion on evaluating these initiatives (Foucault, 1991). Moreover, trust bonds and virtue within communities is a central parameter in evaluating their function, as well as in what means they sustain and expand sharing cultures. How open to new members and inclusive networks are they? The effective use of ICTs in the networks and their relative role within the system: how open and inclusive tools are they, do they promote sharing and facilitate virtuous exchange? Furthermore, questions related with how hybrid and spatial means of exchange co-develop within networks and in what means collaborative hybrid and spatial practices enhance trust between networked members. Finally, can ICT’s supported alternative economy models consist of sustainable alternatives benefiting local economy: how do particular economic alternatives relate to local economic and social context, how deeply rooted are they to locality- referring to democratic processes and community action- and what is their relationship with other initiatives and dominant economy. These basic research questions will be further developed in the next section.

Short Bio: Eleni Margariti holds a Masters in Urban Strategies and Design, School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, University of Edinburgh (2014-2015). She is qualified architect with a BA & MArch in Architecture, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, School of Architecture (2006-2013). Her research interests relate to architecture, urbanism, digital design and social sciences looking at the use of digital technologies in community participation and sustainable urban development.