Commons-Public Partnerships

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Contextual Citation

Pat Conaty:

"We should link up social-public partnership and Commons-Public Partnerships. The important point to highlight is that social or commons must precede the state. Our elected representatives need to become again public servants and arrogant masters need to be rapidly recalled." (email, February 2014)


David Bollier:

"A favorite scheme for many neoliberal politicians is to create public/private partnerships, or PPPs, that attempt to address pressing social problems through businesses/government collaboration in building infrastructure, providing services and so forth. However, many PPPs amount to little more than disguised giveaways. The state showers generous sums on companies that take on traditional state functions such as running prisons, healthcare systems, and schools. Or they buy the right to privatize revenues generated by public infrastructures such as toll-roads, bridges, and parking garages.

A clever twist on the public/private partnership is the commons/public partnership in which commoners act as working partners with municipal governments in tackling important need. An early example of this is the Bologna Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of Urban Commons. This initiative of the Bologna, Italy, municipal government established a system whereby the city bureaucracy provides legal, financial, and technical support to projects initiated by commoners. These projects have included the management of eldercare centers, kindergartens, and public spaces as well as rehabilitating abandoned buildings. As Chris Iaione and Elena De Nictolis describe in Chapter xy, the Bologna Regulation – developed by the Italian think tank LabGov – has evolved into the Co-City Protocols, a methodology for guiding co-governance initiatives. The protocols are based on five design principles: “collective governance, enabling state, pooling economies, experimentalism, and technological justice.”

The point of the Co-City Protocols as a legal innovation is to leap beyond the known limitations of bureaucratic administration and leverage the social and creative energies of commoning. Numerous cities in Italy have adopted the Protocols as a way to rethink and enlarge the relationship between city bureaucracies and residents. It is an insight that the City of Ghent, Belgium, has taken to heart as well. In 2017, it commissioned an intensive study of scores of commons-based projects within its borders. It wanted to learn how it might augment the work of a neighborhood-managed church building, a renewable energy coop, and a temporary urban commons lab that provides space to many community projects. Any commons/public partnerships that result are likely to require legal hacks to define the shifting contours of state collaboration with commons." (