Karl-Filip Coenegrachts on the Lessons from the Commons Transition Plan in the City of Ghent

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Based on an interview of the former Chief Strategy Officer City of Ghent Karl Filip Coenegrachts, who commissioned the Transition Plan from Michel Bauwens.

Interviewer Monique Potts, in the context of the Draft Proposal for a Commons Transition Plan for the City of Sydney

"Karl Phillip was employed by the City of Ghent from 2001 until 2019. While in his most substantial recent role as Chief Strategy Officer for the cit,y he initiated and led the Ghent Commons Transition Plan in partnership with Michel Bauwens from the Peer 2 Peer Foundation (P2P). The City of Ghent is one of 600 municipalities in Belgium, which has seven (plus) levels of governmental all with the same status or authority.

The City of Ghent has approximately 248,00 residents from diverse social and cultural backgrounds. It has developed a strong reputation for it’s progressive participatory and social engagement initiatives, the most recent of which is the Ghent Commons Transition Plan 2018.

Other progressive initiatives which may be of interest and relevance to Sydney include the following:

● The Participatory Policy Unit which saw each of Ghent’s 25 neighbourhoods resourced with an embedded communications and coordination city staff member, to liaise directly between the city and the local residents. Neighbourhood level plans, ideas and strategy were fed into the city wide strategic plan.

● The Living Streets project which enables residents to nominate 3 months of the year where their street can be blocked off to become a common living area.

● The complementary currency Toreke which successfully built community cohesion and generative economy for Turkish and Moroccan migrant communities.

● Ghent Living Labs which was set up as a partnership with education and business under the climate transition umbrella.

● Ghent Crowdfunding Platform to fund for climate adaptation projects.

Key Insights for Sydney Commons

● City attempts to establish an ‘Assembly of Commons’ was challenging as different commons groups had their own competitive engagement with the city eg. Car sharing groups. What was more successful was to invite an open conversation on how commons groups want to work with the city and allow them to self organise.

● Having Michel Bauwens come in as an independent party to draft the Commons transition plan created space for an honest and open dialogue between the city council, city employees and commons that could not have happened if the city had created the report.

● One of the biggest challenges is changing the mindset of civil servants to see that the city is just one stakeholder or actor in society and needs to act as a partner in this network.

● Through dialogue between civil servants/politicians and the commons stakeholders, the focus shifted from the commons seeking project funding from the city to identifying space as being one of the biggest challenges that the city was able to support the commons with. The city has many sites earmarked for potential development in 2o or 30 years which were able to made available on a temporary basis for commons initiatives based on some simple regulations.

● A ‘pioneer fund’ was set up to give citizen and community led initiatives a small grant (2,500 Euro) to get started and a space to work from.

● Initial work of the commons transition plan involved a scan or mapping of commons initiatives which identified 550 groups or initiatives. These were then grouped into 8 key domains (eg. Food, housing, energy) and meetings were held with representatives from each of these domains which included commons groups, academics and civil servants responsible for these domains. A separate strategy was developed for each of these domains as part of the transition plan.

● It’s crucial to have a legal expert on board in the city legal team that has a solutions focused approach to engaging with commons initiatives and organisations.

● In terms of funding for a group to coordinate and support commons based initiatives, consider private or semi-private (philanthropic funding) as this will be more sustainable longer term. Another option is to partner with a more established civil society group that already has income streams and can support and auspice the setup of the group. Livelihood is the biggest challenge for this work.

● Start with pilot that includes a number of domains (eg. housing. mobility, social inclusion) and consider having one more public/higher profile and a few others that can be developed in a more organic way with less pressure.

● Recommend engaging with Sharing Cities network and Urbact championed by Christian Iaione (see separate interview).

● Look at Australian City Deals initiative as potential support for commons in Sydney this involves all 3 levels of government supporting strategic city based initiatives." (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1TxN4-XFORuS6i_xgL0QhLyWODXXWS6zx/view?usp=sharing )


Excerpted from the Commons Transition Plan for the City of Sydney. Co-authored by Jodie Hampson, Inka Santala, Monique Potts, Tirrania Suhood and Bronwen Morgan. Sydney Commons Lab, Version 1, August 2019

URL = https://drive.google.com/file/d/1TxN4-XFORuS6i_xgL0QhLyWODXXWS6zx/view?usp=sharing