Co-Cities Report on the Urban Commons Transitions

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* Report: The 1st Co-cities report on the Urban (Commons) Transitions. Towards a CO-City: From the Urban Commons to the City as a Commons. By Christian Iaione, Michel Bauwens, Sheila Foster et al. LabGov & P2P Foundation, 2017. With the research assistance of Vasilis Niaros.

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* Report II. The Second Co-Cities Report: building a “Co-Cities Index” to measure the implementation of the EU and UN Urban Agenda.



Part 1

"The Co-City Project is the result of a 5-year project to investigate and experiment new forms of collaborative city-making that is pushing urban areas towards new frontiers of participatory urban governance, inclusive economic growth and social innovation. The case-studies gathered here are from around the world, in different kinds of cities, and include groundbreaking experiments in Bologna (Italy), as well as other Italian cities (e.g. Milan, Rome, Palermo, Bari, etc.), as well as global cities such as Seoul (South Korea), San Francisco (California, USA), Barcelona (Spain), and Amsterdam (Netherlands).). The project focuses on emerging urban innovations and evolutions which are reshaping urban (and peri-urban) development and land use, urban and local economic patterns, urban welfare systems and democratic and political processes, as well as governmental decision-making and organization. Among the better known recent examples are the FabCity transition plan towards re-localized and distributed manufacturing of Barcelona; the Bologna Regulation on Public-Civic Collaboration for the Urban Commons; San Francisco, Seoul and Milan initiatives to transform themselves into “sharing cities”; and Edinburgh as a “cooperative city”.

The Co-City project is rooted in the conceptual pillars of the urban commons. The concept of the urban commons situates the city as a platform for sharing and collaboration, participatory decision-making, peer-to-peer production supported by open data,, and guided by principles of distributive justice. A co-city is based on urban co-governance which implies shared, collaborative, polycentric governance of the urban commons and in which environmental, cultural, knowledge and digital urban resources are co-managed through contractual or institutionalized public-private-community partnerships. Collaborative, polycentric urban governance involves different forms of resource pooling and cooperation between five possible actors—social innovators (i.e. active citizens, city makers, digital collaboratives, urban regenerators, community gardeners, etc.), public authorities, businesses, civil society organizations, and knowledge institutions (i.e. schools, universities, cultural institutions, museums, academies, etc.). These partnerships give birth to local peer-to-peer 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, promoting inclusive urban regeneration of blighted areas. Public authorities play an important enabling role in creating and sustaining the co-city. The ultimate goal is to create a more just and democratic city.

This open book aims to develop a common framework and understanding for “urban (commons) transitions”: patterns, processes, practices, public policies that are community-driven and that position the community as a key political, economic and institutional actor at the local/urban level in the delivering of services, production, management of urban assets or local resources. It seeks to extract from on the ground examples recurrent design principles and common methodological tools employed across the globe and for different urban resources and phenomena. The book brings together the contributions of several global thought leaders who have been developing and refining the concepts underlying the ideas that form the conceptual pillar of the Co-City. The book uses case studies to map where urban commons innovations are occurring, analyzes the features of each individual case, and presents the testimony of leaders or key participants in the case studies. The ultimate objective of this book is to raise awareness about the commonalities among these case-studies and to serve as guidance for urban (commons) transitioners around the world.

The open book editing process is managed by the the Laboratory for the Governance of the Commons (LabGov), in collaboration with P2P Foundation, as one of the outputs of the CO-Bologna process."

Part 2

"The second part of the open book is the Co-Cities Report, the culmination of a 5-year long research project seeking to investigate and experiment new forms of collaborative city-making which are pushing urban areas towards new frontiers of participatory urban governance, inclusive economic growth and social innovation. The case studies gathered here come from different kinds of cities located all around the world, and include groundbreaking experiments in Bologna (Italy), as well as in other Italian cities (e.g. Milan, Rome, Palermo, Bari, etc.), and global cities such as Seoul (South Korea), San Francisco (California, USA), Barcelona (Spain), and Amsterdam (Netherlands).

The report presents a dataset of 100 cities that we surveyed over 18 months (from December 2015 to June 2017). The dataset provides 170 brief case examples of urban commons projects and public policies from the cities mapped. The dataset consists of examples from cities located in different geopolitical contexts. In addition to presenting the case studies here, all the case studies are also published on the web platform Our intention is that will become an international mapping platform for the urban commons and for cities that want to embrace a transition towards the commons paradigm.

The goal of this research project is to enhance our collective knowledge about the various ways to govern urban commons, and the city itself as a commons, in different geographic, social and economic contexts.

The case studies, both community-led and those that are institutionalized in the local government, are important data points and empirical input into the larger effort to explicate the dynamic process (or transition) from a city where urban commons institutions are present to one where we see the emergence of networked urban commons. Where we are able to identify a network of urban commons, or some degree of polycentricism in the governance of urban resources, then we can confidently began to see the transformation of the city into a commons — a collaborative space—supported and enabled by the state.

What are the conditions that foster the development and networking of these efforts, and allow us to identify the characteristics of a “Co-City Transition”?

What are the constraints that impair the emergence of a Co-City, a city in which the ground is ripe for local actors to share and cooperate to generate and manage common goods? The dataset that we have collected is only a starting point, but it offers important examples from cities worldwide in which there are emerging community or city-level initiatives that are pushing urban areas towards new frontiers of collaborative urban governance, social and economic pooling, and inclusive and more just city-making. The analysis of the dataset aims to highlight common patterns and differences and to test empirically the relevant dimensions of the Co-City design principles.

Ultimately, thanks to the Co-cities report we were able to create the first index able to measure how cities are implementing the right to the city through cogovernance. Thus, the Co-Cities index serves as a fundamental tool for the international community in order to measure the implementation of some of the objectives that have been set by the New Urban Agenda."


From the Conclusions of Part 1

Michel Bauwens:

Part One: Urban Commons Projects in the Global South

Here are some important conclusions about commonalities and divergences that can be found in the nine narratives that we analyze here:

Conclusion 1: The Problematic Role of the State and Local Administrations

One of the first conclusions from the 9 case studies is that cooperation with governmental institutions, especially at the national level, but not exclusively, and thus any practical instantiation of polygovernance that include official entities, is problematic for nearly all projects, with few exceptions.

In the case of the Bergrivier project that is trying to stimulate local economic streams using a complementary credit-commons based currency, there is a clear distrust and rejection of the more central authorities, seen as corrupt and neoliberal in their orientation, though this project is exceptional in that it found active and benevolent support from city officials. Project leader and author of the case study Will Ruddick also stresses that however difficult at the institutional level, there are always ‘interstitial’ individuals, who can make a difference and create some level of cooperation even within indifferent and hostile governmental entities. The Ker Thiosane project leaders in Dakar specifically mention the indifference of the authorities, even as the success of the project to revitalize a poor neighborhood, is obvious. At issue here is the inability of governmental personnel to ‘see’ and understand the logic of commoning, especially when it is ‘extra-institutional’ i.e. happening outside the sphere of both government, business, as well as ‘classic’ NGO’s. The Platohedro contributors of the cultural project in Medellin, Colombia say that see the city and regional governments as opportunistic towards urban commoning, and therefore cannot be counted on.

Other projects themselves reject governmental interference or even support. For example, the Hacklab project in Cochabamba tries to maintain smooth and non-partisan relations with the local government, but keeps them at distance in the context of maintaining the autonomy of the project. The MInha Sampa campaign organization in Sao Paolo, Brazil, similarly actively rejects government funding because their citizen-led campaigns are most often based on demands directed at the government. The Woelab project in Lome, Togo, actively rejects the mentality of seeking help from donors, which is seen as a form of post-colonialism that disempowers personal and collective autonomy. The organizer states that “There is no support neither from government nor from the city and the project is entirely marginal”.

On the other side of the polarity is the Karura Forest project near Nairobi, Kenya, which stresses the necessary role of the government as framer of the local cooperation, i.e. the the Forest Act of 2005 frames multi-stakeholder governance; the City-based Forest Conservation Program, the county’s environmental portfolio and the Kenyan Forest Service all have a stake. Even more positive are the experiences of the Manzigira Institute, which works on the welfare of urban farmers, and claims a good response from the local governments in listening and considering its policy recommendations.

Conclusion 2: The projects are ‘integrative’ in their approach

Most if not all of the projects are ‘integrative’. We mean by this that they are not ‘one issue’ projects that focus on one or few dimensions, but that they have holistic visions of both the problem and the methods needed to overcome them.

For example Cowen/Ziniades (Bergrivier) stress: “one cannot assume bottom-up approaches will work without prior capacity building!” and this is done through an ‘integrative’ approach which aligns inner approaches (self-change), relational capacities (group work), and outer dimensions (creating a confident engagement with friendly and unfriendly outer institutions). The Cochabamba Hacklab stresses that community integration and collective intelligence is balanced and integrated with individual ‘passionate’ contributions. Both Ker Thiossane in Dakar and Woelab in Lome, have a strong orientation towards integrating ‘modernity’, through the mastery of networked technology, with a re-adaption of African traditions of cooperation.

Platohedro in Medellin uses what they call ‘Post-Pedagogy] techniques, i.e. mostly un-learning conventional knowledge, learning by doing, and ‘do it with others’ process, based on active listening, and integrating self-work and rootedness in the body.

Conclusion 3: The Civil Society orientation is combined with efforts towards more ethical and local economies

The connection between a focus on civil society’s empowerment, but combined with the attempt to create generative livelihoods, is a recurrent theme in several projects.

The Bergrivier and Bangla-Pesa projects (South Africa and Kenya respectively), clearly combine a focus towards respectively young people and informal traders, but look to local economic value streams as a key part of the solution for their projects. The tool here is the complementary currency and positive cooperation between SME network members is crucial to the success of the Bangla-Pesa project.

The Woelab in Lome creates an incubator for social entreprises, which are collectively owned and governed by the contributing members of the Lab, using practices inspired by African village governance traditions. The Manzigira Institute in Kena explicitely focuses on the economic welfare of urban farmers and creating the framework conditions for this to happen..

It should be stressed that commons-project are civic-oriented, but they do not consider themselves as traditional NGO’s, though they seek support and sometimes funding from the more traditional NGO’s. Ker Thiossane says that it engages in intensive dialogue with local population and institutions, but it also connects with global cultural networks and NGO’s, such as Afropixels, and has been successful in generating funding from sources abroad. Platohedro in Medellin is particularly strong in its emphasis of cooperation with local museums and cultural institutions. Minha Sampa empowers citizen-led campaigns with their collective toolkit for self-organisation, but gets funding from national foundations.

Conclusion 4: The commons is present as narrative and practice, but not hegemonic in the discourse

All the projects and case studies have pooled resources, and practice various aspects of commoning, but use different types of languages to express it.

The Cowen Zinaides Bergrivier projects explicitly uses commons language, but combines it with a focus on creating a local exchange system; The Woelab and Ker Thiossane have a very strong ‘neo-traditional’ outlook, with their focus on reviving traditional African forms of cooperation and governance in a new context, but even Platohedro is anchored in the ‘buen vivir/buen conocer’ narrative discourse that is used by both communities but also by the progressive governmental coalitions in the Andean and surrounding region. While Buen Vivir is strongly anchored in the cultural traditions of the Andean native people, ‘buen conocer’ is a more recent and commons-specific import of the FLOK project in Ecuador, which was a specific effort to create knowledge commons. Minha Sampa is an outlier, more rooted in the civil and human rights tradition.

Conclusion 5: Important roles for networked technology

The projects of Will Ruddick in Kenya and South Africa are centered around the use of complementary currency systems, but still analog. The Cochabamba, Ker Thiossane, and Woelab experiences have a strong emphasis on digitally networked culture, most strongly linked to a specific technology itself only in Cochabamba (i.e. wireless networks). The two others mentioned here are closer to the philosophies of fabbing and the maker movement. Platohedro is more rooted in artistic and cultural practice, i.e. the p2p-driven ‘Do It With Others’ philosophy. Minha Sampa is focused around a online toolkit that facilitates political campaigning.

The two exceptions seem to be the Karura Forest and Manzingira experiments, that do not exhibit such a clear link to digital culture.

Part Two: Urban Commons Projects in the Global North

The existence of sophisticated urban commons policies through ‘partner city’ approaches

One of the conclusions from comparing commons project in the Global North and those of the Global South, is that a number of cities in western/northern cities have taken sophisticated turns towards participatory, sharing and commons-oriented policies. Apart from the well known Bologna Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of the Urban Commons, not covered amongst the case studies in this report, are the examples of Seoul, centered on the creation of a citizen-led sharing economy, those of Milan, oriented towards embedding startups in the communities through collaborative spaces, Athens, where the mayor and vice-mayor directly support the programs, and Barcelona, with a ‘common-good’ inspired political coalition, which has nominated officials in charge of a ‘commons-based collaborative economy’. Edinburgh has a official ‘cooperative policy’ with already 17 community-led cooperatives created in this framework. Naples, not covered here, as a Commissioner for the Commons. These public policies are complex arrays of regulations and institutions with financial and other forms of support, with multi-year orientations, multi-stakeholder governance, and leading to a flowering of civic and cooperative initiatives. Also of import, and cited explicitly by Dirk Holemans of Oikos for the experiences in Ghent, Belgium, is a change from framework-based competition for funding (still very much practiced by Milan for example), to more long-term co-production of public services and policies, that are open-ended since they depend on the collaboration with, and input from, citizens.

In-depth and long-term integrative strategies of grassroots urban commoners

Just as surprising perhaps, is the sophistication of integrated citizen-coalitions that operate in cities where there is little or no support from city officials. These projects are equally multi-year, multi-stakeholder, and integrative. The key example here is the city of Lille in Northern France, which has created a Assembly of the Commons (linked to 9 other similar initiatives in other French cities). They rely on ‘open source third spaces’ such as collaborative run coworking and makerspaces, to work on collaborative cultures (Mutualab/Coroutine in Lille ; the Footscray makerspace in Melbourne, etc ..), and they pay strong attention to constantly reworked social codes and social charters, which define their inner governance but also their relations with external third parties such as government and business, in order not to be coopted or captured by them. Lille is exemplary in that regard and its Assembly has developed sophisticated social charters to deal with these interactions. In Melbourne, the commoners have politicized even more through the creation of a Australian-wide Commons Transition Coalition. The Mutual Aid Network of Madison, Wisconsin is connected to 16 other cities and has developed sophisticated combinations of exchange and support mechanisms.

Combining social and ecological sustainability

The Footscray makerspace works in particular with migrant and refugee populations in poor neighborhoods in western Melbourne, and links it to waste and upcycling. The waste management project in Malmo, Sweden, similarly is focused on integrating its migrant population. The M.A.N. of Madison, WI’s first project is creating a food cooperative for a food desert area in the city’s poorest neighborhood. Oikos in Ghent is a social-ecological ‘think and to thank’, that similarly looks for projects which simultaneously solve these two aspects of urban reality. The Emergent Structures project in Savannah, Georgia is especially focused on the re-use of construction and demolition waste. The insight on which these projects are based is that ecological issues disproportionally affect the poor but that solving them also creates economic and social opportunities in terms of creating local economies, jobs, skills and income.

The tension between horizontalist expectations and institutional governance

Quite a few projects are struggling to adapt the ‘right’ governance model, somewhere in between horizontalist aspirations and ‘vertical’ needs for institutionalization, especially those that explicitly function without much public support. The most sophisticated attempts are probably by the Assembly of the Commons in Lille which has developed an array of social charters. Jose Ramos in his report on Melbourne initiatives mentions the difficulties in cooperative governance, and Anna Seravalli of Malmo reports explicity that they had to abandon user-based governance because it self-reinforced cultural exclusion mechanisms (geeks attracting other geeks instead of a more diverse population). Most projects are moving to poly-centric governance models as already described by Elinor Ostrom. Whether bottom-up or top-down, all projects include fairly radical participatory processes as a matter of course, which points to a deep cultural shift which includes public officials.

The Commons as a tool for economic development

The Edinburgh city council wants to stimulate a vibrant ‘cooperative economy’; Seoul and Milan are focused on the creation of a ‘sharing’ and/or collaborative economy. Barcelona-based Fab City has the ambitious aim of relocalized 50% of food and industrial production back in the city and its bioregions, within 50 years, centered around the creation of fabrication labs; the Evergreen Cooperative model of Cleveland, Ohio aims to use the purchasing power of ‘anchor institutions’ such as hospitals and universities, to create a thriving local economy based on local coops in the disadvantaged inner city itself and has been successful in already creating a number of them in food and laundry services. The project in Savannah is an ambitious attempt to create an economy around the recycling of construction and demolition waste. 596 Acres in NYC is moving from public spaces to the creation of locally run commercial zones through Real Estates Investment Cooperatives, and the Santaporo wireless commons aim to move towards helping local farmers accessing agricultural information that is vital for their economic function.

The common aspect of these examples is that the commons/sharing/collaboration is not just seen as a ‘nice thing to do’, but seen as vital to the creation of a new and vibrant local economy that works for all inhabitants."

From the Conclusions of the Second Report

The Co-City Index

Beyond the creation an international mapping platform for the urban commons, this research projects represents a significant contribution to the international urban community, as it ultimately proposes one of the first evaluation standards to measure the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals as well as the New Urban Agenda and the European Urban Agenda in cities around the world. As previously mentioned, the empirical testing of the CoCities dimensions or design principles through the observation of public policies and community-led practices around the commons in urban context led to the building of a Co-City Index, a measuring instrument that can classify cities based on a gradient.

The value of this research therefore lies in the design of such an index – the Co-City index – that will serve as a powerful tool for cities and administrations around the world in order to measure the implementation of the principles listed in the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda.

Indeed, while widely shared, the SDGs and the principles included in the New Urban Agenda hardly ever suggest a clear policy design or implementation strategy in order to secure the success of public policies in our cities. Especially in the case of concepts like ‘the right to the city’, it becomes extremely difficult to establish whether a city has been able to implement such a principle, and in turn what kind of examples are to be followed in order to implement it.

The Co-Cities Open Book therefore aims at providing methodological principles, case studies analysis, and quantitative tools that can help implement and measure the effective implementation of Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda especially in Least Developed Countries. The Protocol presented in the Open Book has in fact been already tested in European and North American cities. Its application can further represent a useful opportunity for cities in Least Developed Countries as a tool to design urban justice and democracy and thereby also measure the implementation of some of the New Urban Agenda goals, such as goals 13 and 19, or the Sustainable Development goals 16 and 17, in particular the subgoal 16.7, 17.17 and 17.19.

Through our research and action we demonstrated that this protocol facilitates the achievement of sustainable urban development, through collaboration with local communities, contributing at the same time to the capacity building of local authorities, fostering the active inclusion of local stakeholders and the collaboration among civic, knowledge, public/private actors for the cooperative management of urban resources kit."


Dirk Holemans & Kati Van de Velde:

"We find a similar inspiring approach in the international CoCity Project from LabGov (collaborative cities-design for commons).

LabGov has investigated new forms of collaborative city-making that ‘are leading urban areas towards new forms of participatory urban governance, inclusive economic growth and social innovation. The project takes urban commons as a starting point. As the researchers state, “a ‘CoCity’ is based on urban co-governance which implies shared, collaborative, polycentric governance of the urban commons and in which environmental, cultural, knowledge and digital urban resources are co-managed through contractual or institutionalized public-private-community partnerships.

Urban commons in a Co-City are governed in a shared, collaborative, polycentric way involving different forms of resource pooling and cooperation between 1) social innovators (i.e. active citizens, city makers, digital collaboratives, urban regenerators, community gardeners, etc.), 2) public authorities, 3) businesses, 4) civil society organisations, and 5) knowledge institutions (i.e. schools, universities, cultural institutions, museums, academies, etc.). Public authorities play an important enabling role in creating and sustaining the cocity in order to make it more just and democratic.“5 On the basis of the principles that the Nobel prize Winner

Elinor Ostrom identified as characteristic for commons, combined with their own research findings, the people of Co-Cities defined 5 key design principles for 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.

The end of 2018, LabGov published several very relevant publications, including a “Co-Cities report”. This report measured the existence of Co-City design principles in a database of 400+ case studies in 130+ cities around the world. It convincingly shows how cities are implementing the right to the city through co-governance." (