Funding an Economy of Civic Spaces in the Cooperative City through Community Finance

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* Book: Funding the Cooperative City: Community Finance and the Economy of Civic Spaces. Edited by Daniela Patti & Levente Polyák (Eutropian Research and Action), July 2017


explores experiments in community-led urban development in European cities ; focuses on the post-welfare transition of today’s European societies


"Funding the Cooperative City explores experiments in community-led urban development in European cities. This book is based on a series of workshops (Rotterdam, Berlin and Paris in 2014; Budapest, Madrid, Rome, Rotterdam, Bratislava, Prague and Warsaw in 2016), site visits, interviews and research into the new financial and economic models of community-run spaces.

Funding the Cooperative City focuses on the post-welfare transition of today’s European societies: with austerity measures and the financialisation of real estate stocks and urban services, the gradual withdrawal of the state and municipal administrations from providing certain facilities and maintaining certain spaces have prompted citizen initiatives and professional groups to organise their own services and venues. The self-organisation of new spaces of work, culture and social welfare was made possible by various socio-economic circumstances: unemployment, solidarity networks, changing real estate prices and ownership patters created opportunities for stepping out of the regular dynamisms of real estate development. In some cases, cooperative ownership structures exclude the possibility of real estate speculation, in others, new welfare services are integrated in local economic tissues, relying on unused resources and capacities. The new cooperative development processes also witnessed the emergence of new types of investors, operating along principles of ethics or sustainability, or working on moving properties off the market.

Edited by the founders of the European community planning organisation Eutropian, Funding the Cooperative City aims at introducing and contextualising innovative practices among citizen initiatives, socially engaged private practices, financial institutions as well as municipalities when it comes to inventing new ways to enable, finance and govern community-run spaces. By looking at the economic contexts in which these initiatives unfold and the social challenges to which they give answers, as well as by analysing the ownership, management and economic models and urban impacts of the presented projects, the book highlights new urban development tendencies and emerging actors in contemporary European societies.

This collection brings together protagonists from various cities to help shaping a new European culture of urban development based on community-driven initiatives, civic economic models and cooperative ownership; its goal is to highlight the importance, the values and capacities of citizen-run spaces and services to all actors in the field of urban development and management, to give them tools to facilitate and strengthen these initiatives, and to inspire new commitments and frameworks enabling similar experiments to unfold."


With contributions from Tiago Mota Saraiva (Alteliermob, Lisbon), Hanna Szemző (Metropolitan Research Institute, Budapest), Jan Mazur (Stará Tržnica, Bratislava), Brian Boyer (Brickstarter, Helsinki), Carmen Lozano Bright (Goteo, Madrid), Alexandre Laing (Bulb in Town, Paris), Lizzy Daish (Shuffle Festival), Carlos Muñoz Sanchez (LaFabrika detodalavida, Los Saintos de Maimona), Christian Grauvogel (Mörchenpark e.V., Berlin), Massimo Marinacci (Banca Etica, Rome), Miguel Ángel Martinez Polo (Coop 57, Madrid), Rolf Novy-Huy (Stiftung trias, Hattingen), Ulrich Kriese (Stiftung Edith Maryon, Basel), Daniela Brahm and Les Schliesser (ExRotaprint, Berlin), Laurence Beuchat (Geneva), Michał Augustyn (Wymiennik, Warsaw), Martin Leskovjan (Paralelní polis, Prague), Bea Varnai (UrbaMonde, Paris), Marc Neelen (Stad in de Maak, Rotterdam), Júlia Bársony (Müszi, Budapest), Viktória Rozgonyi-Kulcsár (Jurányi Ház, Budapest), Francesco Montagna and Maura Teofili (Carrozzerie n.o.t., Rome), Martine Zoeteman (De Besturing, The Hague), Annet van Otterloo (Afrikaanderwijk Coöperatie, Rotterdam), Hans Karssenberg and Jeroen Laven (ZoHo, Rotterdam), Tamina Lolev (Nod makerspace, Bucharest), Mauro Baioni (Pordenone), Miguel Correia de Brito (BIP/ZIP programme, Lisbon), Ulrich Möbius (Peißnitzhaus, Halle/Saale), Stefania de Masi (Cascina Roccafranca, Turin), Mauro Gil-Fournier (Vivero de Iniciativas Ciudadanas, Madrid)


Community Capital


"The question if community capital can really cure the voids left behind by the welfare state has generated fierce debates in the past years. This discussion was partly launched by Brickstarter, the beta platform specialised in architectural crowdfunding, when it introduced to the public the idea of crowdfunded urban infrastructures. Those who opposed Brickstarter, did in fact protest against the Conservative agenda of the “Big Society”, the downsizing of welfare society and the “double taxation” of citizens: “Why should we spend on public services when our taxes should pay for them?”

Nevertheless, in the course of the economic crisis, many European cities witnessed the emergence of a parallel welfare infrastructure: the volunteer-run hospitals and social kitchens in Athens, the occupied schools, gyms and theatres of Rome or the community-run public squares of Madrid are only a few examples of this phenomenon. European municipalities responded to this challenge in a variety of ways. Some cities like Athens began to examine how to adjust their regulations to enable the functioning of community organisations, others created new legal frameworks to share public duties with community organisations in contractual ways, like Bologna with the Regulation of the Commons. In several other cities, administrations began experimenting with crowdfunding public infrastructures, like in Ghent or Rotterdam, where municipalities offer match-funding to support successful campaigns, or with participatory budgeting, like in Paris, Lisbon or Tartu. Yet other public administrations in the UK, the Netherlands or Austria invited the private sphere to invest in social services in the form of Social Impact Bonds, where the work of NGOs or social enterprises is pre-financed by private actors who are paid back with a return on their investment in case the evaluation of the delivered service is positive.

Alternatively, some cities chose to support local economy and create more resilient neighbourhoods with self-sustaining social services through grant systems. The City of Lisbon, for instance, after identifying a number of “priority neighbourhoods” that need specific investments to help social inclusion and ameliorate local employment opportunities, launched the BIP/ZIP program that grants selected civic initiatives with up to 40.000 euros. The granted projects, chosen through an open call, have to prove their economic sustainability and have to spend the full amount in one year. The BIP/ZIP project, operating since 2010, gave birth to a number of self-sustaining civic initiatives, including social kitchens that offer affordable food and employment for locals or cooperative hotels that use their income from tourism to support social and cultural projects. In 2015 the experience of the BIP/ZIP matured in a Community-Led Local Development Network, as identified by the European Union’s Cohesion Policy 2014-2020, which will grant the network access to part of the Structural Funds of the City of Lisbon. The CLLD is a unique framework for the democratic distribution of public funds: it foresees the management of the funding to be shared between administration, private and civic partners, with none of them having the majority of shares and votes. While, as the previous cases demonstrate, the public sector plays an important role in strengthening civil society in some European cities, many others witnessed the emergence of new welfare services provided by the civic economy completely outside or without any help by the public sector. In some occasions, community contribution appears in the form of philanthropist donation to support the construction, renovation or acquisition of playgrounds, parks, stores, pubs or community spaces. In others, community members act as creditors or investors in an initiative that needs capital, in exchange for interest, shares or the community ownership of local assets, for instance, shops in economically challenged neighbourhoods. Crowdfunding platforms also help coordinating these processes: the French Bulb in Town platform, specialized in community investment, gathered over 1 million euros for the construction of a small hydroelectric plant in Ariège that brings investors a return of 7% per year.

Besides aggregating resources from individuals to support particular cases, community infrastructure projects are also helped by ethical investors. When two artists mobilised their fellow tenants to save the listed 10.000 m2 Rotaprint in the Berlin district of Wedding, they invited several organisations working on moving properties off the speculation market and eliminating the debts attached to land, to help them buy the buildings. While the complex was bought and is renovated with the help of an affordable loan by the CoOpera pension fund, the land was bought by the Edith Maryon and Trias Foundations and is rented (with a long-term lease, a “heritable building right”) to ExRotaprint, a non-profit company, making it impossible to resell the shared property. With its sustainable cooperative ownership model, ExRotaprint provides affordable working space for manufacturers as well as social and cultural initiatives whose rents cover the loans and the land’s rental fee.

Creating community ownership over local assets and keeping profits benefit local residents and services is a crucial component of resilient neighbourhoods. Challenging the concept of value and money, many local communities began to experiment with complementary currencies like the Brixton or Bristol Pounds. Specific organisational forms like Community Land Trusts or cooperatives have been instrumental in helping residents create inclusive economic ecosystems and sustainable development models." (

Case: La Casa Invisible

This is an excerpt from the upcoming book Funding the Cooperative City: Community finance and the economy of civic spaces, by LEVENTE POLYÁK:

"Two years ago, the cultural centre La Casa Invisible collected over 20.000 euros for the partial renovation of the building including the installation of fire doors and electric equipments to assure the safety of their revitalized 19th century building in the centre of Málaga. A few months later, East London’s Shuffle Festival, operating in a cemetery park at Mile End, collected 60.000 pounds for the renovation and community use of The Lodge, an abandoned building at the corner of the cemetery. In order to implement their campaigns, both initiatives used the online platforms Goteo and Spacehive that specialise in the financing of specific community projects. The fact that many of the hundreds of projects supported by civic crowdfunding platforms are community spaces, underlines two phenomena: the void left behind by a state that gradually withdrew from certain community services, and the urban impact of community capital created through the aggregation of individual resources." (

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