City as a Commons

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"Sheila Foster outlined four major tenets of the city as commons in conference’s closing session:

The city is an open resource where all people can share public space and interact.

The city exists for widespread collaboration and cooperation.

The city is generative, producing for human nourishment and human need.

The city is a partner in creating conditions where commons can flourish." (


  • City as a Commons: Reconceiving Urban Space, Common Good and City Governance, IASC conference held last November, 2015 in Bologna, Italy

See the review by Jay Walljasper:


Essay 1

* Article: The City as a Commons. By Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione. Yale Law & Policy Review, Vol. 34, No. 2, 2016


"As rapid urbanization intensifies around the world, so do contestations over how city space is utilized and for whose benefit urban revitalization is undertaken. The most prominent sites of this contestation are efforts by city residents to claim important urban goods — open squares, parks, abandoned or underutilized buildings, vacant lots, cultural institutions, streets and other urban infrastructure — as collective, or shared, resources of urban communities. The assertion of a common stake or interest in resources shared with others is a way of resisting the privatization and/or commodification of these resources. We situate these claims within an emerging “urban commons” framework embraced by progressive reformers and scholars across multiple disciplines. The urban commons framework has the potential to provide a discourse, and set of tools, for the development of revitalized and inclusive cities. Yet, scholars have failed to fully develop the concept of the “urban commons,” limiting its utility to policymakers.

In this article, we offer a pluralistic account of the urban commons, including the idea of the city itself as a commons. We find that, as a descriptive matter, the characteristics of some shared urban resources mimic open-access, depletable resources that require a governance or management regime to protect them in a congested and rivalrous urban environment. For other kinds of resources in dispute, the language and framework of the commons operates as a normative claim to open up access of an otherwise closed or limited access good. This latter claim resonates with the social obligation norm in property law identified by progressive property scholars and reflected in some doctrines which recognize that private ownership rights must sometimes yield to the common good or community interest.

Ultimately, however, the urban commons framework is more than a legal tool to make proprietary claims on particular urban goods and resources. Rather, we argue that the utility of the commons framework is to raise the question of how best to manage, or govern, shared or common resources. The literature on the commons suggests alternatives beyond privatization of common resources or monopolistic public regulatory control over them. We propose that the collaborative and polycentric governance strategies already being employed to manage some natural and urban common resources can be scaled up to the city level to guide decisions about how city space and common goods are used, who has access to them, and how they are shared among a diverse population. We offer two evolving models of urban commons governance in cities around the world as examples of these strategies when scaled up to the city level: the sharing city and the co-city." (

Essay 2

* Article: City as a Commons. Christian Iaione.


Paper presented at the Second Thematic Conference of the IASC on “Design and Dynamics of Institutions for Collective Action: A Tribute to Prof. Elinor Ostrom”, 29 November - 1 December 2012, available at the Digital Library of the Commons

"Where does a person go if she lives in a city, she is not lucky enough to have got a garden and she needs going into a natural environment and taking advantage of all services that a green space can provide as running, reading a book on the lawn and outdoors, breathing on average cleanest air? How can that person enhance her own thirst for social relations and meet new and different people rich in cultures and experiences she has not got? Where can she cultivate her own sense of belonging to a community, increase her identity with her own abilities and passions and take part in her traditions? What are the infrastructure and services that increase the quality of urban life and make people lives' worth to be lived and free to move around? What are the facilities and services that let people share or cultivate lifestyles more consistent with their own individual sensibility and with whoever lives in the same space? From a real estate point of view, what determines the economic or simply aesthetic value of a community? All these questions have a single identical answer: it is the urban commons, and that is urban spaces and services of common interest."


* Book: Common Space. THE CITY AS COMMONS. STAVROS STAVRIDES. Zed Books, 2016


"How often do we consider the availability of shared, public space in our daily lives? Governmental efforts in place—such anti-homeless spikes, slanted bus benches, and timed sprinklers—are all designed to discourage use of already severely limited public areas. How we interact with space in a modern context, particularly in urban settings, can feel increasingly governed and blocked off from common everyday encounters.

With Common Space, activist and architect Stavros Stavrides calls for a reconceiving of public and private space in the modern age. Stavrides appeals for a new understanding of common space not only as something that can be governed and open to all, but as an essential aspect of our world that expresses, encourages, and exemplifies new forms of social relations and shared experiences. He shows how these spaces are created, through a fascinating global examination of social housing, self-built urban settlements, street peddlers, and public art and graffiti. The first book to explicitly tackle the notion of the city as commons, Common Space, offers an insightful study into the links between space and social relations, revealing the hidden emancipatory potential within our urban worlds." (