Urban Commons Cookbook
* Book: Mary Dellenbaugh-Losse, N.-E. Zimmermann, N. de Vries. The Urban Commons Cookbook. Strategies and Insights for Creating and Maintaining Urban Commons, 2020.
" A handbook for those interested in starting and growing community-led projects which highlights eight projects from Europe, South America, and the United Kingdom".
1. Mary Dellenbaugh-Losse:
"Urban commons can be a buffer for crises and provide vital community resources like urban gardening, housing, urban development, and bike sharing. What are the ingredients that make a cooperative community project most likely to succeed? And what are some challenges and lessons learned from the eight projects highlighted in The Urban Commons Cookbook?
Urban commons are resources in the city that are managed by the users in a nonprofit-oriented and prosocial way. They go by many names, from grassroots activism to community-led initiatives, but are united by two main characteristics. First, they are managed by the users through a collective, participatory process of accessing, managing, and developing the resource called commoning. Second, commons projects measure value based on how their use for community members, rather than measuring them by their ability to generate profit. The process of commoning creates added social benefit for the commoners, the city, and society as a whole, and increases social resilience.
The eight case studies in The Urban Commons Cookbook provide a wealth of information about the nuts and bolts of day-to-day life in a commons project. Each one tells its own local story but they are also united by eight shared challenges and strategies for succeeding in the world of the urban commons." (https://www.shareable.net/shared-lessons-and-challenges-from-urban-commons-around-the-world/)
- "A PRACTICAL HANDBOOK: The Urban Commons Cookbook combines the theoretical framework set out in the 2015 publication “Urban Commons: Moving beyond State and Market” with real-world insights, usable tips, and tested methods for creating and maintaining commons from real urban commons projects. The result is a practical handbook which can inform actors from the civil society and politics alike.
- LEARNING FROM CASES: The core of The Urban Commons Cookbook is made up of interviews with eight commons projects across a broad spectrum of resource types and locations outlining the growth of their projects, the challenges they faced, and the methods they employed to surmount them.
- THEORY AND METHODS: These real-world experiences are supplemented with a clear and reader-friendly introduction to commons theory and a range of practical methods for starting a project, dealing with internal & external challenges, creating visibility and impact, and building trust and community."
* "What makes urban commons projects, from community gardens to housing collectives, successful or not?"
Strategies for succeeding in the world of the urban commons
- Cooperation with industry, private foundations, and larger or more established groups can help aid transition, scaling up, and risk mediation. Big partners can be especially important when there is a big initial investment. However, it is important to define the conditions of cooperations in a concrete way, for example through a written agreement, to avoid misunderstandings and the risk of enclosure — that is, takeover by the larger partner.
- A written mission statement or manifesto can be a good tool for getting all the participants on the same page but it’s important to be flexible in day-to-day work, especially in small and medium-sized groups. The written statement may become outdated fairly quickly because the commoning process is so agile. Don’t get bogged down trying to update it unless there is a concrete need to do so. Small and medium-sized groups can usually get away with verbal agreements during other processes and at regular meetings. However, written agreements play a more central role in very large groups, where informal control mechanisms are weak because not everyone knows everyone else.
- A clear adversary or problem can be a good motivator for immediate action and continued support but it’s important to consider how to survive beyond the initial “fight.” Concentrate on what your project is for, not just what it is against. Align your theory of change with the values and goals of the wider community in order to get others engaged and create support for your project beyond the member group.
- Join forces with like-minded groups. Create or join umbrella organizations to increase the effect of collective action and take advantage of economies of scale and the internal differentiation of roles. Share resources and skills to empower each other and build synergies. Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to — maybe someone else already has a solution to the problem you’re facing.
- Scaling up, moving, and transformation are the biggest challenges commons projects face. Growing pains can help test how good existing structures are and identify where improvement or adjustment are needed. For example, these challenges provide new opportunities to test how robust your discussion culture and cooperation network are. Resources like The Urban Commons Cookbook can offer assistance.
- Use media to increase awareness and visibility as the first step towards advocacy and political lobbying. Use multiple channels (i.e. local newspapers and Facebook) and adjust your language based on your audience to reach a large variety of potential supporters. Several projects also used local political campaigns as springboards for their projects and causes. Always be on the lookout for opportunities.
- Base the structures of commoning on the real situation and be willing to adapt as it changes. Make the organization about the people instead of forcing people to accept your organization. This includes how the group communicates, decides, how deliberations are moderated, and a range of other aspects. Make sure everyone is involved in making changes and that decisions are transparent and accountable.
- Finally, make the process enjoyable and tap into people’s enthusiasm. Passion will help keep the project afloat even when it is faced with challenges. Even though this seems like a long list, try not to get bogged down by too many rules, and don’t forget to have fun!"
When it was in preparation, Chiara De Angelis, wrote:
Mary Dellenbaugh-Losse from the Urban Research Group is back with a follow-up publication to “Urban Commons: Moving beyond State and Market.” The Urban Commons Cookbook will combine the theoretical framework set out in the 2015 publication with real-world insights, usable tips, and tested methods for creating and maintaining commons from real urban commons projects. The result will be a practical handbook which can inform actors from the civil society and politics alike.
A successful Kickstarter campaign has been online from February 18 to March 9th: 56 backers supported it, so the Cookbook is going to be a reality! (For more information:  )
The core of the cookbook will be made up of interviews with commons projects across a broad spectrum of resource types and locations. The interviews will focus on the projects’ experiences – which ingredients and structures made their commons project possible? What challenges arose and how did they deal with them? What was critical to success and which lessons would they pass on to projects just starting out?
These real-world experiences will be supplemented with a clear and reader-friendly introduction to commons theory and a range of practical methods for starting a project, dealing with internal & external challenges, creating visibility and impact, and building trust and community.
Once completed, a barrier-free PDF of the book will be freely available for download; hard copies will be available for a nominal fee to offset printing costs via print-on-demand. We expect the book to be about 100 A5 pages. It will be written in English with a journalistic writing style which is accessible for people of different backgrounds and a large number of graphic elements (infographics, diagrams, photos) in order to be visually interesting. The intended audience includes activists, policy makers, district managers, and educators. The publication is expected to be released in fall 2018." (http://www.labgov.it/2018/03/28/the-urban-commons-cookbook/)
About the Authors
This project was initiated by Mary Dellenbaugh-Losse, co-author of “Urban Commons: Moving beyond State and Market.” Mary had been toying with the idea of a follow-up publication about urban commons for a wider audience when she met Nils-Eyk Zimmermann, co-author of “The Initiative Cookbook,” who was looking to combine experience with civil society topics and educational concepts with commons. And thus, the idea for The Urban Commons Cookbook was born! Nicole de Vries joined a few months later and contributed to finding and choosing the case studies, conducting the interviews, and keeping the writing process on schedule. Like the common projects we interviewed, ours also involved a long and iterative process filled with discussion, false starts and countless cups of coffee. We are thrilled that we have finally been able to realize our idea for a commons handbook and we hope you enjoy our work!
Mary Dellenbaugh-Losse is an independent urban researcher & policy consultant who has been working on the urban commons since 2013. She is the co-editor “Urban Commons: Moving beyond State & Market,” author of "Städtewandel durch Kultur," and owner of the Blog Urban Policy. "I want to transfer these lessons from research to practice, between sectors, and among projects. That's what the Urban Commons Cookbook is about. I'm excited to see the finished product."
Nils-Eyk Zimmermann is an author, program manager, and expert for topics related to civil society. He is the co-author of "Diversity Dynamics - Activating the Potential of Diversity in Groups," "Initiative Cookbook," "Creativity Handbook," and other books geared at activists and facilitators. Owner of the blog Civil Resilience. "Commons are a new way to promote civil resilience among urban residents and get a variety of groups involved."
Nicole de Vries works in the field of public participation and sustainable (urban) development. "I am impressed and fascinated by the projects we interviewed and I hope that this book will inspire even more people to realize projects that make urban life a little more beautiful."