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."

(https://www.thenatureofcities.com/2017/08/20/ostrom-city-design-principles-urban-commons/)


Discussion

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." (https://www.thenatureofcities.com/2017/08/20/ostrom-city-design-principles-urban-commons/)


Extended Rationale for the Five Principles

Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione:

"Based on these differences, we began to think anew about design principles for the urban commons, taking into account what Ostrom learned about successful governance of natural resources commons. While many of her principles have clear applicability to constructed urban commons — such as recognition by higher authorities (principle 7), the importance of nestedness for complex resources (principles 8), the existence of collective governance arrangements (principle 3), and resource adaptation to local conditions (principle 2) — others are of limited utility or need to be adapted to the urban context.

For instance, communities should drive, manage, and own the process of governing shared urban resources, but we have seen time and time again that they can rarely avoid dealing with the state and the market. While this can be true of natural commons, and rural communities, we think both the state and the market are even more omnipresent in cities, making it difficult to side step them over the long run. As such, we observe that many types of urban commons tend to benefit from cooperation with other than internal community members and resource users. Rather, they need to collaborate and manage resources with other commons-minded actors, such as those constituting knowledge institutions and civil society organizations. Communities should drive, manage, and own the process of governing shared urban resources, but we have seen time and time again that they can rarely avoid dealing with the state and the market.

We have observed that in contexts where the State is the strongest, and markets are not as strong, local and provincial government actors can lend assistance to, and form a solid alliance with, communities to advance collective governance of urban resources. In this sense, the State generally acts as an enabler of cooperation and pooling of resources with other actors. On the other hand, where the State is weak or weaker, either because of corruption or lack of resources, the market seems to be the only answer to enable the pooling of resources (i.e. human, economic, cognitive, etc.) needed for collective action and collaborative management of urban resources. The market could subsidize the commons if proper legal structures and participatory processes are put in place and there is sufficient social and political capital among resource users to negotiate with market actors. In both cases, the concept of “pooling” seems to capture the true essence of commons-based projects and policies in the urban environment. For these reasons, we have identified in our work two core principles underlying many kinds of urban commons as an enabling state and pooling economies.

We also observed for instance that technology in cities plays a key role in enabling collaboration and sustainability, as well as pooling users of urban assets, shared infrastructure, and open data management. Further, urban commons-based governance solutions are cutting-edge prototypes and therefore often require careful research and implementation. In other words, they are experimental: new approaches and new methodologies are constantly being developed and require prototyping, monitoring and evaluation.

These basic empirical observations are now the cornerstone of a much larger and scientifically driven research project that we established and call the “Co-Cities Project.” 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 (or co-governance) refers to the presence of a multistakeholder governance scheme whereby the community emerges as an actor and partners (through sharing, collaboration, cooperation, and coordination) with four other possible categories of urban actors in a loosely coupled system;

• Principle 2: Enabling State expresses the role of the State (usually local public authorities) in facilitating the creation of urban commons and supporting collective governance arrangements for the management and sustainability of the urban commons;

• Principle 3: Social and Economic Pooling refers to the presence of autonomous institutions (e.g., civic, financial, social, economic, etc.) that are open, participatory, and managed or owned by local communities operating within non-mainstream economic systems (e.g. cooperative, social and solidarity, circular, cultural, or collaborative economies, etc.) that pool resources and stakeholders often resulting in the creation of new opportunities (e.g. jobs, skills, education, etc.) and services (e.g. housing, care, utilities, etc.) in underserved areas of the city or for vulnerable inhabitants;

• Principle 4: Experimentalism is the presence of an adaptive, place-based and iterative approach to design legal and policy innovations that enable the urban commons;

• Principle 5: Tech Justice highlights access, participation, co-management and/or co-ownership of technological and digital urban infrastructure and data as an enabling driver of cooperation and co-creation of urban commons. These design principles articulate the types of conditions and factors that we observe are present and that instantiate the city as a cooperative space in which various forms of urban commons not only emerge but are sustainable. These conditions shape and define what we call a “co-city.”

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 and services, supported by open data and technology, 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-community or public-private community partnerships.

Polycentric urban governance involves resource pooling and cooperation between five possible categories of actors — social innovators or the unorganized public, public authorities, businesses, civil society organizations, and knowledge institutions —the so-called “quintuple helix governance” approach. These co-governance arrangements have 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, we believe, is the creation of a more just and democratic city, consistent with the Lefebvrian approach of the right to the city." (http://networkcultures.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/OUR_COMMONS_lulu.pdf)