Urban Commons

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= "a way to secure affordable access to resources, a measure to build community resilience, and a rallying cry against the waves of privatization and financialization that continue apace". [1]



Bru Laín Escandell:

"Urban commons should be seen as:

“those social institutions that, beyond to those property regimes in which they are enrolledin, are managed by local, communitarian and participative social practices in seeking to buildresponses to a given demands or social necessities, and characterized by a non-commercialmanagement of the resources they provide, as well by forms of sharing time, goods andknowledge nor regulated by the state, neither by the markets." (https://www.academia.edu/17509632/New_Common_Institutions_in_Barcelona_A_Response_to_the_Commodification_of_the_City?email_work_card=view-paper)


Bru Laín Escandell:

"As ‘social institutions’, therefore, what unite common’s members is not just they would beneighbours of the same area, but rather a shared believe in favour of their projects’ potentialities.Following this interpretation, we should not think about commons as ‘essential’ communities nor apredetermined group of individuals. Its potential remains in their ability to generate new social-bonds from their members’’ interests, or by the necessity of the group and the relationship withtheir economic, cultural and social environment. Such communities are not exempt from internalconflicts and, needless to say, they are not a homogeneous corpus. These communities are notcompound by a group of equals, totally agreed, and are not exempt from disputes and powerrelations. In fact, a community is always criss-crossing by individuals, sub-groups and theirinterests and views. Such a community is always based on a permanent debate, a deliberative spacedifficult to maintains that requires high degrees of personal and collective commitment, and afavourable social, economic and cultural context.

As ‘property regime’, urban commons are expected to be rule by a non-public and non-market legal status. But, once again, we should take care to use only such a juridical approach. What is important to note here, beyond of their ‘juridical status’, is that they must be understood aspolitical or social movements. That is: urban common understood in its double dimension: as aparticular property regime (some times mixing and blurring public and private status), and as apolitical and social movement." (https://www.academia.edu/17509632/New_Common_Institutions_in_Barcelona_A_Response_to_the_Commodification_of_the_City?email_work_card=view-paper)


Philip Cryan:

"Many commons-based solutions have been advanced in efforts to revitalize and empower urban communities, even if citizens and grassroots organzations don’t necessarily use the language of the commons. A commons-based society is one that values and protects commons assets, managing them for the benefit of the common good. Market-based solutions can be valuable tools as long as they do not undermine the strengths of the commons itself.The transition to a commons-based society would bring more fairness, democracy and environmental protection.

You can already see examples of growing commons consciousness on city streets today as community organizations around the country—mostly in low-income urban communities with many people of color— have begun to push back against the economic and political forces shaping our cities. These groups may not describe their goal as a a commons-based society, but the work they do in advocating bold new policies and organizing citizens to defend the public interest is the first step toward shifting people’s worldview. These groups challenge three underlying assumptions in economic and political policy that are at the root of our market-based society: 1) that everyone exists primarily as an individual, not as a member of a community; 2) that everyting people value can be delivered through the market system; and 3) that democracy means nothing more than casting an occasional vote.

A number of these new urban organizations have joined together to assert “the right for all people to produce the living conditions that meet their needs.” Calling their alliance the Right to the City, these newly empowered citizens are stepping forward to take a leading role in the decision-making that affects their futures. And other community organizations not involved in this alliance have been forging connections across the usual divides—race, class, geography, issues and types of organizations—to pose a potent challenge to business-as-usual in the ways their cities are run. Rev. Joe Jackson, the director of a faith-based organization in Milwaukee, MICAH, coined a memorable phrase that has become a unifying message for this new urban campaign: “The city belongs to all of us!” (http://www.onthecommons.org/content.php?id=2399)



Vinay Gidwani, 14 July 2010

(for an urban commons workshop in India)

"Recent economic upheavals and the ensuing global slowdown have once again underscored the crisis tendencies of capitalism – particularly of its most reified form, finance capital. The destruction of livelihoods and social safety nets, and pressures to cutback state investment on public goods such as drinking water, education, housing, health, and transportation have spurred renewed interest in the fate and social possibilities of ‘commons’ that are enabled by and in turn enable collective practices that deposit the cement of community. These practices, which the historian Peter Linebaugh calls ‘commoning’, are distinctive in at least two ways: a) they underwrite production and reproduction through the ‘commons’ they depend upon and oversee; and b) typically do so through local social arrangements that more or less equalitarian, incorporative, and fair. In short, commons need communities: without sufficiently strong communities of people willing to create, maintain, and protect them, commons are at risk of falling into disarray or becoming privatized.

The destruction of common resources and the communities that depend upon them is a longstanding outcome (some would argue, prerequisite) of capitalist expansion. Such destruction, now accelerating in both rural and urban areas as corporate capital in tow with neo-liberal policies extends its colonization of space, is inevitably accompanied by displacement and drudgery for populations that were sustained by these commons. In urban areas with high population densities and thin survival margins of error, the expropriation of commons can be particularly devastating for the poor.

Commons, it ought to be clear, are made. Urban commons include the obvious public goods: the air we breathe, public parks and spaces, public transportation, public sanitation systems, public schools, public waterways, and so forth. But they also include the unobvious: municipal garbage that provides livelihoods to waste pickers; wetlands, water bodies, and riverbeds that sustain fishing communities, washerwomen, and urban cultivators respectively; streets as arteries of movement but also as places where people work, live, love, dream, and voice dissent; and local bazaars that are sites of commerce and cultural invention. Indeed, the distinctive public culture of a city is perhaps the most generative yet unnoticed of urban commons. These are all at risk as cities in India and elsewhere are striving to reinvent themselves as utopias for investors, entrepreneurs and consumers, often as sites of spectacle (Beijing and the 2008 Olympic Games; Johannesburg and the 2010 World Cup Football Championship; Delhi and the 2010 Commonwealth Games being recent examples of the spectacular makeover of cities). Involved in this reinvention is, at best, an official amnesia and at worst, a willful erasure, of the economic and cultural contributions of ‘commoners’, whose everyday labors make possible the city as we know it.

Two types of urban commons are worth foregrounding in this regard: a) ecological commons (such as air, water bodies, wetlands, landfills, and so on); and b) civic commons (such as streets and sidewalks, public spaces, public schools, public transit, etc). Each of these is rapidly diminishing due to erasure, enclosure, disrepair, rezoning, and court proscriptions, replaced in many instances by new – privatized, monitored – public spaces, such as malls, plazas, and gated venues. The ongoing diminution of urban commons is cause for concern because they are critical to economic production in cities, to cultural vibrancy and democracy, to regenerating the sense of place that forms communities and, ultimately, to the reproduction of urban populations and ecosystems."

Source: Urban Research and Policy Programme. National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, 18-19 August 2010


Igor Calzada, Urban Transformations workshop:

"Although the “urban commons” has increasingly appeared as a topic of scholarly inquiry related to the urban politics and governance of social innovation in austerity, there has yet to be sustained attention to the research questions, methodologies, and disciplinary approaches necessary to more fully conceptualize and develop the idea of the “urban commons” and the new challenges and facets it introduces into the ongoing study of the commons in diverse fields (Ostrom, 1990, 2000, 2010).

Generally speaking, the problem of governing resources used by many individuals in common has been long discussed in economics, migration, data science, smart urbanism, and environmental studies literature in certain European city-regions (Calzada, 2015; Calzada & Cowie, 2017; Keith & Calzada, 2016, 2017; Kitchin, 2015; Labaeye, 2017; McCullough, 2013; Nordling, Sager, & Söderman, 2017; Parker & Schmidt, 2016; Subirats, 2012). Depending on the type of common resource, attributes of the group of users and property regime, collective action can either preserve the commons or deplete it. The condition of common resources in urban areas is currently affected by privatization and deregulation of public services, as well as by dismantlement of the traditional residential community due to rapid urbanization. As cities become denser from large-scale urban development projects, the “urban commons” is either privatized or left in open access. While the latter puts the commons at risk of wasteful usage, the former limits access to shared resources to a group of privileged users at a cost of excluding others.

Based on the assumption that the collectivity is incapable of managing common resources, conventional solutions to the tragedy of the commons (Hardin, 1968) have focused on either centralized government regulation or privatization of common pool resources. Challenging established economic theory, however, Ostrom, showed how collectivities (from locals in Africa to Western Nepal) have developed institutional arrangements for effective management of common resources.

Extrapolating (and somewhat expanding) Ostrom’s analysis to the level of cities (Amanda, 2017; Bieniok, 2015; Bollier, 2015; Bollier, 2016; Bollier & Helfrich, 2016a, 2016b; Borch & Kornberger, 2015; Bruun, 2015; Dellenbaugh, Kip, & Bieniok, 2016; Foster, 2011; Foster & Iaione, 2016; Harvey, 2011; Iaione, 2017), it seems evident that rethinking the notion of the “urban commons” is likely to generate interesting and diverse perspectives in the European city-regional scope: How are the boundaries of the commons in an urban context defined? What processes regulate the use of the “urban commons”? What exclusionary processes are involved in such definitional and regulatory processes, and what organizational and political implications follow in the wake of such endeavours? What are the cognitive, symbolic, technological, and material infrastructures that render the commons and citizens visible and hence constitute them as objects for governance, not just individually but also collectively (Calzada, 2018)? What conceptions of value(s) constitute the “urban commons”, and how do managerial ‘smart’ technologies organize them?

These days, it has become fashionable to talk about the “urban commons”, and it’s clear why. What we traditionally conceive of as “the public” is in retreat: public services are at the mercy of austerity policies, public housing is being sold off and public space is increasingly non-public. In a relentlessly neoliberal climate, the commons seems to offer an alternative to the battle between public and private. The idea of land or services that are commonly owned and managed speaks to a 21st-century sensibility of, to use some jargon, participative citizenship, and peer-to-peer production. In theory, at least, the commons is full of radical potential to implement social innovations in European city-regions." (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/rethinking-the-urban-commons-in-european-city-regions-tickets-41603618543)


Ecological vs. Civic Commons

Vinay Gidwani, Amita Baviskar:

"Two types of urban commons are worth foregrounding in this regard: (1) ecological commons (such as air, waterbodies, ­wetlands, landfills, and so on); and (2) civic commons (such as streets and sidewalks, public spaces, public schools, public ­transit, etc). Each of these is rapidly diminishing due to erasure, enclosure, disrepair, rezoning, and court proscriptions, replaced in many instances by new – privatised, monitored – public spaces, such as malls, plazas, and gated venues." (http://beta.epw.in/newsItem/comment/190743/)

Commons vs. Commodity

Vinay Gidwani, Amita Baviskar:

"To summarise, “commons” stand opposed to “commodity”, as several scholars have noted (Neeson 1993; Linebaugh 2009; De Angelis 2007; Bakker 2007; Reid and Taylor 2010; Walljasper 2010). Less remarked is the fact that each denotes a logic of social relations that entails particular deployment of labour’s use-value. In one instance, labour’s use-value is directed to the production of a community resource and part of its capacity for surplus ­labour is returned to the commons; in the other, labour’s use-value is captured primarily as use-value for capital. We can imagine these two logics as stand-ins for two disparate systems of value, both normative in their thrust." (http://beta.epw.in/newsItem/comment/190743/)


Urban Commons Cookbook

"Urban commons projects are united by four key characteristics:

  • Resources are managed by the users through a prosocial and participatory process called “commoning.”
  • Projects also focus on a resource’s use-value — the practical, everyday value of the resource for its users — instead of treating it as a commodity from which profit can be derived.
  • Residents address their own perceived desires and co-produce solutions to urban issues that are important to them, from housing to wireless internet.
  • They rely on intangible resources such as social capital and also actively build these within their communities."


Bru Laín Escandell

"1. Urban commons are idealized communities located in very particular areas.

We do not find essential nor predetermined communities without internal debate andcontradictions. Rather, communities’ potentialities are found in their ability to generate newsocial bonds and, to some extent, to have some impact beyond their immediate socialenvironment. Their aim is to expand themselves, from the plot to the neighbourhood, and fromthe neighbourhood to the whole city.

2. They represent a set of truly innovative and spontaneous social practices.

Urban commons illustrate common historical roots. They do not represent new social practices,nor are they born from nowhere, but rather they are the outputs of a renewed process thatcomes from various historical trends, from former struggles with accumulated knowledge.Urban commons cannot be understood without taking into account such a contextual andhistorical ‘ecology’.

3. They are a sort of alternative or substitute of public institutions.

Rather, they should be seen as a boost for their claim and defence. The debate is not ‘more orless state’, but rather ‘more or less democracy’. What it is at stake, therefore, is that historicalcorpus that achieved the basic social rights, rather than the aim to carry on with a publicmanagement regime that has shown itself too weak to resist against urban commodification, andtoo stint to include more direct and collective self-managed standards

4. Urban commons are anti-capitalist institutions.

This is a tendentious precept. What is can be demonstrate is that they look for new way toreproduce social life grounded in non-mercantile values and, because of that, they constitute apotential obstacle by the running processes of capital accumulation in the city.

5. Urban commons have just a cultural dimension not a legal one.

Either pushing the local institutions towards the materialisation of former rules, or by creatingnew legal and juridical standards, the legal dimension develops a central role in the new commoninstitutions. The ‘common legal code’ is a necessary condition, strongly attached to thesecommunitarian projects.

6. Disobedience as a rule.

The social imaginary of disobedience practices, have changed nowadays. It enters into play whenthe available legal ways are exhausted. It is not a goal in itself, but rather a strategy todemocratize unattended welfare state responsibilities and functions.

7. Urban commons as a new ‘third way’.

Urban commons are pushing towards urban governance in which those common-public assets were not reduced to a mere paternalistic policy, by trying to solve some of the market and welfare state failures. Rather, they constitute an important dynamic towards a more fair andequal collective welfare.

8. Urban commons scalability and networks.

They have the ability to organize themselves as a federation of communities and experiences. Almost all of case studies belong to a dense network as a part of a broader nodal system.However, their impact to a macro or meso scale is still feeble and their federative expansion islimited to a neighbourhood scale."


City as a Commons Policy Reader]

Jose Ramos et al. :

"The urban commons represents a new political contract. As mentioned, this is clearly seen in the development of the Bologna Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of the Urban Commons12 as well as Foster and Iaione’s call for “urban collaborative governance”. In a number of examples in this reader, urban commoning strategies require civic-state alliances and coordination, in the vein of Bauwens “partner state” ideas.

In particular, new political contracts, such as the one created in Bologna, enfranchise citizens with a right to be social innovators in transforming their cities. Likewise, such political contracts enlist the state as a facilitator charged with empowering citizens in commoning the city. If a city is a commons, then following the wisdom of Elinor Ostrom, it can be governed as one by all the members of a city that depend on its perpetual sustainment. In contrast to the “beyond market and state” notions of the commons, it is clear that for urban commoning, the state’s role cannot be disowned or discarded as a critical factor.

In addition, the urban commons represents a new culture of citizenship. This is a fundamental transformation from citizen as passive beneficiary of technocratic systems, to one who is actively shaping the city around them, taking responsibility for the care and development of their cities. Whereas 20th century technocracy has infantilized citizenry, expected only to be tax payers, service users and once every 3-4 years voters, the urban commons demands that we step up as active citizens to not only create and shape our cities for the better, but indeed to play a role in actively governing our cities with others.

The urban commons also represents new value exchange systems that sit outside the traditional marketplace and outside municipal service relationships.

The sharing economy, local currencies, time-banking, circularization of waste, and other reciprocity based systems are part of a new equation in which value finds new ways of circulating and enriching people’s lives. To be truly commons based, these value exchange systems must circulate the value they create back into the communities that produced them.

It can also be added that the urban commons represents new visibility for what has been invisible in relation to urbanism. From intangibles such as culture and cultural intelligence, to the hidden costs of monopoly rents, to underutilized land, and cities’ use of energy and contributions to our atmospheric commons through carbon emissions. The commons perspective naturally unearths dimensions of city life that are hidden by other perspectives, opening the way for more holistic strategies of responsibility taking and wellbeing making.

Of course, the urban commons represents a new way of seeing the city. It represents an emerging worldview and vision. This will evolve over time and become clearer as we make the path by walking."



From Jonathan Rowe:

"City and civic leaders have begun to grasp that the best way to bring back life to downtown is to create spaces where life wants to be. Portland’s Pioneer Square has become a reference point for the movement, along with older spaces such as New York’s Central Park and Boston’s Common and Copley Square. A more recent shining example comes from an unlikely city, Detroit. Back in the 1970s, in the wake of devastating riots, Detroit tried to revive its downtown through a corporate megalith called Renaissance Center. The Ren Cen became a walled fortress and metaphorically enough, home to General Motors. Then, in the late 1990s, someone in Detroit proposed the opposite approach: a large inviting public space. The result was Campus Martius, in the middle of the old downtown. The Motor City even displaced cars to make room for people. Life is returning to that part of the city. People actually are coming in from the suburbs to experience what the city offers that suburbs can’t. Investment is coming too – over half a billion dollars worth and growing.

Something similar is happening at the neighborhood level. Instead of retreating to their own patches of urban turf, neighbors are tearing down their back fences to create larger shared spaces. This happened at Montgomery Park, an inner city oasis in Boston’s South End. The Baltimore city council recently passed an ordinance to make it easier for neighbors to close off back alleys to make secure commons. The mayor has embraced the idea; and over the past year more than fifty neighborhood groups have begun the process. (There are some 466 miles of alleys in the city so the potential is large.)

Traditional main streets serve much the same function. The growing antipathy to Wal-Mart and other big box stories comes from more than a concern about sub-living wages. “They don’t sell small-town quality of life on any Wal-Mart shelf,” said an opponent, “and once they take it from you, you can’t buy it back from them at any price.” Another put it more simply. “This is our town, not Wal-Mart’s

The social productivity of traditional main streets has a multiplier effect. Studies have shown that localities with large numbers of home grown businesses, along with community institutions and family farms, have higher median incomes and lower unemployment. States in which a large share of the retail business is locally owned, rank higher on a wide range of social, economic and civic measures.

One scholar who has studied this phenomenon, Charles Tolbert of Baylor University, cites a gas station owner in one town who switched from self-service to full service during a recession, and hired ten additional people. He had to charge more, but most of his customers kept coming anyway, because they understood that the extra pennies per gallon were providing jobs for their neighbors." (http://www.onthecommons.org/content.php?id=2396)


1.Daniela Festa:

"The Rodotà Commission’s draft launched the debate on the commons. Since, further examples of ‘commoning’ have emerged, following the extraordinary success of the referendum on the privatisation of water in 2011 (26 million votes cast). The concept of the urban commons (i.e., urban goods and places such as roads, gardens, theatres, cinemas, libraries, etc. that constitute fundamental “resources” for the residents of the city) was integrated into the Italian legal code through a regulation adopted by the City of Bologna and through several decisions taken by the City of Naples. Since then, a more homogenous charter of urban commons has been disseminated in Italy and promoted by Labsus¹. The charter focuses on “citizen-administrated collaboration for the maintenance and regeneration of urban common goods.”

These regulations apply to tangible, intangible, and digital goods that belong to the public sector. The following are promoted: maintenance and participative regeneration of goods “by the citizens and administration, through participatory and deliberative procedures, meeting individual and collective well-being, acting […] to share responsibility with the administration for the maintenance and refurbishment to improve collective use.” The last word refers to the public authorities that have the power to unilaterally exclude certain goods, but even informal collectives can present recommendations, recognising the common value of a good and offering to care for it.

“Collaboration pacts” regulate the activities that “active citizens” develop in concert with the government, which retains its role of selection and coordination. Citizens are asked to intervene directly where local institutions are unable to provide urban services, because of budgetary constraints or risk of default. The philosophy of these relatively new rules of procedure is based more on a top down interpretation of subsidiarity than on a horizontal one. Powers are delegated to local and citizen institutions with a view to strike a strong practical responsibility into citizens, without questioning the traditional mechanisms of power and decision-making distribution.

This rules of procedure model has been progressively adopted by several cities with different adaptations (77 municipalities have already adopted similar arrangements and a significant number are currently discussing them). The Chieri (Turin) rules of procedure stray significantly from the idea of “participation in government and in maintenance of common goods.” In this case the text defends a more egalitarian relationship between institutions and citizens with the goal of facilitating participation in the management, not just in the upkeep. The term “active citizen” is replaced by “autonomous subject” or “civic community”.

The end result of the urban commons will depend on the political will of the local authorities, but also on the ability of urban stakeholders to make conscious, sound, and pragmatic use out of them.

A model for ‘urban commons management’ negotiated between the local authorities and citizens is also being disseminated via a measure in an Italian decree called the Sblocca Italia law. It bestows the management of a good to citizens who are committed to ensuring its use in a manner consistent with the general interest. Tax incentives are offered. A particularly interesting aspect is the inclusion of provisions for citizen plans for the re-use or recuperation of premises, not just upkeep. The prospect of debt forgiveness may give the misleading impression that participation in commons is an exchange, a consequence of tax debt, but this would be far from – even diametrically opposed – to the idea of emancipation that underpins the re-appropriation of the commons.

Applying the rules of procedure that have already been tested in Italian cities in such a way as to focus too heavily on a culture of administration does not mean directly a real decentralisation or a relativization of state powers specifically in the Italian context where, along with the state, the local authorities are the embodiment of centralized traditional institutions. If subsidiarity were to be enacted with few resources being transferred, with no accompanying decision-making power or ability to bring cases before the courts, this would create a situation of great asymmetry in the division of powers. Therefore, it is important to establish the right tools to enhance the role of those involved in the management of the urban commons and to place them at the heart of decision-making. The end result of the urban commons will depend on the political will of the local authorities, but also on the ability of urban stakeholders to make conscious, sound, and pragmatic use out of them." (http://www.greeneuropeanjournal.eu/urban-commons-critique-of-ownership-institutions-an-insurrection-on-the-way/)

2. Ieva Punyte:

"An example of a successful urban commons project is located in Bologna, where the City Council adopted the Regulation on Collaboration Between Citizens and the Administration for the Care and Regulation of Urban Commons. It is a regulation that allows the unorganised public, such as social entrepreneurs and social innovators, to become involved in projects that require ‘municipal assets or cooperation’ and also allows for a ‘collaboration agreement’ for each project that lays out the terms (what kind of support the city will provide citizens or civic groups, which can include supplies, property, or technical expertise). The securing of the city to its people is played out by pacts of collaboration that identify various kinds of opportunities for collaboration of residents, or whomever else, to take over some of the abandoned underutilised properties and enter them into a collaboration for the city in order to regenerate them. One of the core ideas behind the collaboration pacts in Bologna is to facilitate a transparent process, addressing questions who can access city resources and whether there is a mechanism that regulates this process.

With the co-Bologna project, LabGov Bologna has identified new ground for experimentation. Within the project, there are three locations at the edges of the city that share common features, like a high number of low-income families living in public housing complexes, a high number of first or second generation migrants and a high unemployment rate. The co-Bologna project is about the creation of social pools in these modest areas, where people would be enabled to share basic resources and the basic needs that they have in order to reach a common goal. In Piazza dei Colori, one of these neighbourhoods, where the underutilised commercial spaces have been used as sort of laboratories to start a collaborative economy circuit, in which all the actors on the ground would take part. This has proven to be the way to self-develop in support of other actors. These are hence social pools based on the outskirts of the city where local communities are the driving force. A lot of time and energy is needed in order to collectively build the culture of collaboration within the community itself. This is the reason why governance of commons is a continuous process based on experimentation in order to bring back citiness to the cities.

In order to be successful, co-city needs to be fully inclusive. This emphasises the fact that co-city is not just an invitation to the collaboration process, because this means that those who join collaboration are people who already have resources, such as, time, technical know-how, etc. Co-city rather pays special attention to including groups and individuals who are at the margins or the edges of the city in literal terms and stresses the increase of the capacity of people that are normally left out, expelled or dependent on allowance and permission to participate in city making. Only by adopting the commons lens in public policies on land use, area development, property and other, urban inhabitants are enabled to contribute to the new democracy at the city level." (https://citiesintransition.eu/publication/who-owns-the-city-we-own-the-city/)


David Bollier reviews the state of the urban commons in 2016:

"There has been an explosion of urban commons in the past several years, or at least a keen awareness of the need and potential of self-organized citizen projects and systems, going well beyond what either markets or city governments can provide. To be sure, digital commons such as maker spaces and FabLabs are more salient and familiar types of urban commons. And there is growing interest, as mentioned, in platform co-operatives, mutually owned and managed platforms to counter the extractive, sometimes-predatory behaviors of proprietary platforms such as Uber, Airbnb, Taskrabbit and others.

But there are many types of urban commons that already exist and that could expand, if given sufficient support. Urban agriculture and community gardens, for example, are important ways to relocalize food production and lower the carbon footprint. They also provide a way to improve the quality of food and invigorate the local economy. As fuel and transport costs rise with the approach of Peak Oil, these types of urban commons will become more important.

I might add, it is not just about growing food but about the distribution, storage and retailing of food along the whole value-chain. There is no reason that regional food systems could not be re-invented to mutualize costs, limit transport costs and ecological harm, and improve wages, working conditions, food quality (e.g., no pesticides; fresher produce), and affordability of food through commons-based food systems. Jose Luis Vivero Pol has explored the idea of “food commons” to help achieve such results, and cities like Fresno, California, are engaged with re-inventing their local agriculture/food systems as systems.

Other important urban commons are social in character, such as timebanks for bartering one’s time and services when money is scarce; urban gardens and parks managed by residents of the nearby neighborhoods, such as the Nidiaci garden in Florence, Italy; telcommunications infrastructures such as Guifi.net in Barcelona; and alternative currencies such as the BerkShares in western Massachusetts in the US, which help regions retain more of the value they generate, rather than allowing it to be siphoned away via conventional finance and banking systems.

There are also new types of state/commons partnerships such as the Bologna Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of Urban commons. This model of post-bureaucratic governance actively invites citizen groups to take responsibility for urban spaces and gardens, kindergartens and eldercare. The state remains the more powerful partner, but instead of the usual public/private partnerships that can be blatant ripoffs of the public treasury, the Bologna Regulation enlists citizens to take active responsibility for some aspect of the city. It’s not just government on behalf of citizens, but governance with citizens. It’s based on the idea of “horizontal subsidiarity” – that all levels of governments must find ways to share their powers and cooperate with single or associated citizens willing to exercise their constitutional right to carry out activities of general interest.

In France and the US, there are growing “community chartering” movements that give communities the ability to express their own interests and needs, often in the face of hostile pressures by corporations and governments. There are also efforts to develop data commons that will give ordinary people greater control over their data from mobile devices, computers and other equipment, and prevent tech companies from asserting proprietary control over data that has important public health, transport, planning or other uses. Another important form of urban commons is urban land trusts, which enable the de-commodification of urban land so that the buildings (and housing) built upon it can be more affordable to ordinary people. This is a particularly important approach as more “global cities” becomes sites of speculative investment and Airbnb-style rentals; ordinary city dwellers are being priced out of their own cities. Commons-based approaches offer some help in recovering the city for its residents.

Why bring the commons to the management and governance of a city? Urban commons can also reduce costs that a city and its citizens must pay. They do this by mutualizing the costs of infrastructure and sharing the benefits — and by inviting self-organized initiatives to contribute to the city’s needs. Urban commons enliven social life simply by bringing people together for a common purpose, whether social or civic, going beyond shopping and consumerism. And urban commons can empower people and build a sense of fairness. In a time of political alienation, this is a significant achievement.

Urban commons can unleash creative social energies of ordinary citizens, who have a range of talents and the passion to share them. They can produce artworks and music, murals and neighborhood self-improvement, data collections and stewardship of public spaces, among other things. Finally, as international and national governance structures become less effective and less trusted, cities and urban regions are likely to become the most appropriately scaled governance systems, and more receptive to the constructive role that commons can play." (http://trise.org/2017/04/30/the-future-is-a-pluriverse-an-interview-with-david-bollier-on-the-potential-of-the-commons/)


Seeing the Urban as a Commons

By Vinay Gidwani, Amita Baviskar:

"As Karl Polanyi (1944: 72) argued, labour and land are “fictitious commodities”, for “labour is only another name for a human activity which goes with life itself… nor can that activity be detached from the rest of life…; land is only another name for nature, which is not produced by man”. Many current campaigns to resist incorporation into the widening circuits of capitalism are grounded in a shared commitment to keeping alive “the commons” and the collective practices around them that create and sustain community and its ecological bases. From perceiving the commons as a rural artefact – forests, pastures and waterbodies crucial for the sustenance of the poor – attention has shifted to include urban spaces and practices, where the commons seem to be no less significant than in rural settings.

It ought to be clear that while the terms “public” and “commons” sometimes truck interchangeably, there are crucial differences between the two. “Public” is a juridical category, firmly in the ambit of state and law, which limns a contrast to that which is “private”. The commons, historically and etymologically, are that which lie at the frontiers, or within the interstices, of the ­terri­torial grid of law. They exist as a dynamic and collective ­resource – a variegated form of social wealth – governed by ­emergent ­custom and constantly negotiating, rebuffing, and evading the fixity of law (cf Thompson 1993). In a sense, ­commons thrive and survive by dancing in and out of the State’s gaze, by escaping its ­notice, because notice invariably brings with it the desire to transform commons into state property or ­capitalist commodity.

Commons, then, as the historian Peter Linebaugh (2009) ­reminds us, involve “being-in-common”, or using resources in more or less shared, more or less non-subtractable ways through practices he calls “commoning”. Such collective practices are distinct in at least two ways: (1) they underwrite production and ­reproduction through the commons they depend upon and oversee, and (2) they typically do so through variable local arrangements that are more or less equalitarian, incorporative, and fair. In short, commons need communities: without sufficiently robust communities of people willing to create, maintain, and protect them, commons are at risk of falling into disarray or becoming privatised (Siefkes 2009).

The destruction of common resources and the communities that depend upon them is a long-standing outcome (some would argue, prerequisite) of capitalist expansion. Such destruction, now accelerating in both rural and urban areas as corporate capital in tow with neo-liberal policies extends its colonisation of space, is inevitably accompanied by displacement and deprivation for populations that were sustained by these commons. In urban areas with high population densities and thin survival margins of error, the expropriation of commons can be particularly devastating for the poor.

Commons, it ought to be clear, are made. They entail work of various kinds, at various scales, of varying frequency and rhythm. Urban commons include so-called “public goods”: the air we breathe, public parks and spaces, public transportation, public sanitation systems, public schools, public waterways, and so forth. But they also include the less obvious: municipal garbage that provides livelihoods to waste-pickers; wetlands, waterbodies, and riverbeds that sustain fishing communities, washerwomen, and urban cultivators; streets as arteries of movement but also as places where people work, live, love, dream, and voice dissent; and local bazaars that are sites of commerce and cultural invention. Indeed, the distinctive public culture of a city is perhaps the most generative yet unnoticed of urban commons.


Two types of urban commons are worth foregrounding in this regard: (1) ecological commons (such as air, waterbodies, ­wetlands, landfills, and so on); and (2) civic commons (such as streets and sidewalks, public spaces, public schools, public ­transit, etc). Each of these is rapidly diminishing due to erasure, enclosure, disrepair, rezoning, and court proscriptions, replaced in many instances by new – privatised, monitored – public spaces, such as malls, plazas, and gated venues.

To summarise, “commons” stand opposed to “commodity”, as several scholars have noted (Neeson 1993; Linebaugh 2009; De Angelis 2007; Bakker 2007; Reid and Taylor 2010; Walljasper 2010). Less remarked is the fact that each denotes a logic of social relations that entails particular deployment of labour’s use-value. In one instance, labour’s use-value is directed to the production of a community resource and part of its capacity for surplus ­labour is returned to the commons; in the other, labour’s use-value is captured primarily as use-value for capital. We can imagine these two logics as stand-ins for two disparate systems of value, both normative in their thrust.

But we must be careful not to exaggerate the distinctness of these two systems. They may be mutually exclusive, or not. We must be careful also to distinguish between forms of capital that travel in circuits of expanded reproduction and those that strive primarily for simple reproduction or acutely modest accumulation (petty or simple commodity production). And we must ­acknowledge frequent scenarios where commons (and the ­communities that sustain them) are relay points in the social life of commodities, and as such may subsidise and supplement ­capital accumulation.

That said, the ongoing diminution of urban commons is cause for concern because they are critical to economic ­production in cities, to cultural vibrancy and the cement of community, to “learning” how to do democracy through ­practices of creating, governing and defending collective ­resources, to regenerating the sense of place that forms ­communities and, ultimately, to the reproduction of urban populations and ­ecosystems." (http://beta.epw.in/newsItem/comment/190743/)

Seeing the whole city as a commons

On the views of Christian Iaione and Sheila Foster, by Ieva Punyte:

"Having stressed that cities lose their citiness when their inhabitants are deprived of their right to the city, the ’Urban Commons’ phenomenon appears as a progressive way to address inclusive, collective ownership as well as introduce democratic renewal. Urban Commons has been formulated by, among others, Sheila Foster, professor of Real Estate, Land Use and Property Law at Fordham University New York, and Christian Iaione, professor of Public Law and Government Economic Regulation at Guglielmo Marconi University of Rome. The commons in a city could be tangible as well as intangible goods and resources. That means it could be digital goods, knowledge, and culture, but it also refers to environmental and urban commons, such as squares, parks, waters, buildings, street paths, vacant lots, cultural institutions, and other urban infrastructure private or public units. These places are recognised to serve for social access and existential exchange, which makes them of a truly common good nature. In their joint work City as a Commons, Iaione and Foster stress that the quality of urban life depends on the open and collective access to the city’s common resources. This is why, the whole city should run as a collaborative commons, in other words: as a ‘co-city’.

What is particular about commons, is that it could be seen as an intervention into the logic of expulsions. Where expulsions, as addressed by Sassen, are about private wealth, exclusion, enclosure, and a culture of consumption, the commons is about common wealth, inclusion, and access, as well as openness to property and resources. It is not about consuming, but rather generating goods for human development, flourishing, and wellbeing. So, expulsions and commons are two opposing lenses through which local authorities perceive a city and its resources that many different stakeholders depend on. What is important here is that these lenses determine public policies, which are developed by governmental authorities, for example, on land use, area development, property and other.

Commons stakes out the claim to the city. It intervenes into privatisation and commodification of a city space by stating that city’s resources belong to a broader group of urban inhabitants than just the political and economic elites. This means that ownership of city resources should not be limited to a single entity because the underlying claim is that urban resources are not something that should be locked up by one owner, but rather belong to all city inhabitants and be open for city making by any one.

The commons lens focuses on two things. First, the issue of city resources and how we could categorise a resource that should be neither privatised nor solely owned by the state, rather accessible for those who have no formal property rights but – as every human being – have a right to flourish. This is how not just material assets but also immaterial ones – including relational interest of communities to a particular resource in cities – are protected. Second, the issue of governance regarding a democratic process of inclusive co-management of an urban resource. This means that city spaces and a city itself are the right place for a collaborative production of public life, goods and services. The commons means that city resources – formalised in communal ownership – should not only be accessible to but essentially should be governed by a broad and diverse range of stakeholders to make the city and simultaneously restore democracy from the ground-up. It aims to provide communities with resources – not on a temporary or use basis, but in a permanent manner. The democratic quality of commons depends, for a large part, on a cultural shift in terms of how we think about government. The commons challenge us to develop new governance structures.

This is why Foster and Iaione introduce the co-city with a co-creative governance scheme based on moving away from hierarchical, standardised, and uniform government toward collaborative or polycentric governance which aims to include multiple stakeholders in order to co-make the city. Communal ownership over the resource is a prerequisite for a truly co-creative governance, based on inclusivity and a productive use of expertise and the different roles and interests stakeholders have. It creates a form of accountability for those who are involved in the co-creation process as well as it shores the democratic legitimacy for the community at large, transcending the internal governance structure.

Every city has different urban development and governance paths. Every city differs significantly in terms of its political, legal and economic systems or even urban issues. Even within one city, there is this great variety. The idea of commons in the city is thus to come up with context-based policies and strategies to address both resource and governance issues and by doing so transforming cities into sufficiently responsive, flexible and adaptive spaces which engage and involve different ‘publics’ in owning and governing collective economic and social city assets. A co-city is a new democratic arena – the interface between state and society, conduits for negotiation, information, and exchange – to designate urban space, structure or infrastructure, like community gardens, parks, abandoned buildings, vacant lots, cultural institutions, as experimental Urban Commons in which different actors can collaborate to co-create solutions to meet local needs.

Despite that a co-city framework is meant to adapt to local peculiarities of different contexts, it has three underlying principles. The first one is collective governance. It refers to a pluralism of actors (members of the public, public authorities, businesses, civil society organisations, and knowledge institutions), incorporating sub-local communities, cooperating and collaborating together to create, access, use, and co-manage common resources. With collective action, it aims to identify and reinforce social norms and social capital as well as leverage access to civic and other assets. The second principle is an enabling state, which is based on the transformation of the local administrative culture and norms. This principle stresses the increase of local competencies and capabilities to incentivise and coordinate collective governance to change the ‘architecture’ of the city (administrative, cognitive and professional, technological, financial, etc.). The enabling state should take part in designing new legal and policy tools to facilitate collaboration and cooperation. The third principle is social pooling. It is a peer-to-peer production of goods and services (such as, Do It Yourself and open production, and value produced through open source software, information, data, and culture). Social pooling is based on social mutualism and reciprocity to produce social welfare and well-being through street, block or sidewalk level cooperativism (collectively ownership or management, internal collaborative decision-making). It is preceded by building on the value of local or sub-local ingenuity and entrepreneurship, anchoring the social and economic wealth of the community through public-private-community partnerships.

We could say that Foster and Iaione’s City as a Commons challenges Sassen’s City as a Commodity because one of the underlying objectives of a co-city is securing rather than reducing the right of its inhabitants to co-own and co-manage the city. The commons lens reorients city officials from a hierarchical, standardised, expertise-based governance model to a distributed, adaptive, collaborative one, in which local and sub-local actors share responsibility and collaborate with the city to achieve a range of social and economic ends. This commons-based approach is practiced on the ground having received support from Laboratory for the Governance of the Commons (LabGov), which experiments with a methodology or a Co-city protocol to support local city makers projects and strengthen the relationships between city officials and the local community at large, and thereby redesign democracy in practice. This is a profoundly experimental process, which differs in every city.

So far, LabGov is based in Bologna and New York, where it ensures collective and inclusive governance of community goods, develops and implements legal and institutional infrastructures that facilitate collaboration and cooperation, and promotes the cooperative production of goods and services (social pooling). As an ultimate goal, it aims to establish true commons and bring together community groups and neighbourhood anchor institutions, along with universities, social innovators, local businesses, and non-profit public interest organisations working as catalysers to co-design and implement local cooperative platforms or regulatory schemes, or city-wide networks or collaborative partnerships to create new opportunities to support the needs of all urban inhabitants and differentiated communities to flourish. A LabGov Amsterdam is in the making." (https://citiesintransition.eu/publication/who-owns-the-city-we-own-the-city/)


Six Policy Priorities

Philip Cryan:

"What kind of new urban strategies work best in achieving the economic, political and commons-based goals embodied in this bold declaration? That is the question this report seeks to propose some answers to. After evaluating dozens of groups across the nation dedicated to the idea that their cities should by governed of, by and for the people, six promising strategies emerged:

1.) Local Production for Local Needs

The community as a whole determines which of the things they value aren’t being adequately provided through a market-based system. They then search for the means to produce these things in their own community—many of which are commons such as health and cultural opportunites, rather than goods.

2.) A Green Economy that Works for All of Us

The necessary transition to a green economy that produces drastically fewer greenhouse gas emissions and environmental toxins must provide livelihoods for low-income city residents, who generally live in the most polluted neighborhoods and have a much smaller ecological footprint than either suburban or wealthy people.

3.) The Right to Housing

Families must not be forced from their homes as a result of speculation or deception practiced by others. Defense of every resident’s right to decent, affordable housing is a fundamental goal of a commons-based society.

4.) Community Land Trusts

This cooperative form of property ownership draws upon commons principles by taking land out of the real estate market, which increases people’s affordable housing options and grants community members the right to directly govern their own neighborhoods.

5.) Metropolitan Democracy

Because many of the inequities in public services, education, and economic opportunities throughout metropolitan regions arise from stark disparities in municipal tax revenues, we need new metro-wide institutions that can help level the playing field for residents of low-income communities.

6.) A New Kind of Governing

The best way to ensure the city belongs to all of us is to change how cities are governed, and by whom. That will mean the creation of a new political alignment that reaches across lines of race, class, geography, and specific issues. Also needed is a new approach in how we think of elections, elected officials and leadership development." (http://www.onthecommons.org/content.php?id=2399)


Urban Commons

* Book: Urban Commons: Rethinking the City. Ed. by Christian Borch and Martin Kornberger. Routledge, 2015

URL = https://zajednicko.org/mreznabibliografija/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2018/04/Urban-Commons-Rethinking-the-City.pdf

"This book rethinks the city by examining its various forms of collectivity their atmospheres, modes of exclusion and self-organization, as well as how they are governed – on the basis of a critical discussion of the notion of urban commons. The idea of the commons has received surprisingly little attention in urban theory, although the city may well be conceived as a shared resource. Urban Commons: Rethinking the City offers an attempt to reconsider what a city might be by studying how the notion of the commons opens up new understandings of urban collectivities, addressing a range of questions about urban diversity, urban governance, urban belonging, urban sexuality, urban subcultures, and urban poverty; but also by discussing in more methodological terms how one might study the urban commons. In these respects, the rethinking of the city undertaken in this book has a critical dimension, as the notion of the commons delivers new insights about how collective urban life is formed and governed."

Urban Commons Cookbook

"Which ingredients of a cooperative community project most help it succeed? What are urban commons and how do they fit into current activist and civil society debates? And what tools and methods do commoners need to strengthen their work? These are the three questions at the heart of The Urban Commons Cookbook, a handbook for those interested in starting and growing community-led projects."




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