Urban Commons Transitions
Dirk Holemans & Kati Van de Velde:
"In recent years, we have seen some cities move one step further as they develop specific structures and processes that, in a thoughtful manner, aim at building synergies between the public and the commons domain. They transform themselves into a so-called enabling or Partner State. In this new perspective, politicians do not see their political constituency as a territory to manage from above, but as a community of citizens with a lot of experience and creativity. So instead of top-down politics, they develop forms of co-creation and co-production. In Ghent for instance, citizens developed the concept of ‘living streets’: they wanted to reclaim their streets, strengthen the sense of ‘neighbourliness’ and dismiss cars for one or two months a year. The city government took all the measures needed to make it happen in a legal and safe way. If local government had conducted this experiment unilaterally it would have provoked enormous protest. Through these public-civil partnerships however, an underestimated area of societal possibilities can be explored in a positive way.
This is part of a new political vision, where the government considers itself as a partner of its citizens and associations and takes the concerns of every citizen serious: A democratic state of the 21st century that steers a mixed economy, regulates markets properly and gives incentives to alternative economic institutions, like the commons and cooperatives.2 Merging these developments could lead to a prototype of transformative cities as a driving force towards a socio-ecological society. The City of Bologna (amongst other Italian cities) is a strong example of how new institutional processes for public-civil partnerships can be developed. In 2014, the city published the ‘Bologna Regulation on Public Collaboration for Urban Commons’, whereby Urban Commons are described as ‘the goods – tangible, intangible and digital – that citizens and the Administration – also through participative and deliberative procedures – recognise to be functional to the individual and collective well-being, so they can share the responsibility of their care or regeneration in order to improve the collective enjoyment.
The collaboration among citizens and the Administration is based on 1) mutual trust, 2) publicity and transparency, 3) responsibility, 4) inclusiveness and openness, 5) sustainability, 6) proportionality, 7) adequacy and differentiation, 8) informality and 9) civic autonomy.
Building on these experiences, commons expert Michel Bauwens wrote a Strategic Commons Transition Plan for the City of Ghent.
In this report, the author develops coherent proposals for new forms of cooperation between local authorities and citizens’ initiatives. The proposals can be summarised in three parts:
1. The first is a clear structure that installs a supportive relationship between the city government and people running and participating in citizens’ or commons initiatives. Bauwens proposes the creation of a City Lab that helps people develop their proposals and prepares Commons Agreements between the city and the new initiatives, modelled after the existing Bologna Regulation on Commons. Equally important is the establishment of support-coalitions for every commons: which are the actors in the city that can support an initiative? (Those can be public, private and civil organisations.)
2. Second, citizens’ initiatives or commons should play a key role in the transition towards a resilient city. This, however, requires people participating in the commons to have a greater voice in the city. Bauwens proposes the establishment of two new institutions: the Assembly of the Commons, for all citizens active in commons’ initiatives, and the Chamber of the Commons, for all social entrepreneurs creating livelihoods around these commons. These new institutions are necessary because people active in commons initiatives work using a contributive logic. This means people are not looking to extract value (having private profit as central goal) but want to generate social value in the first place.
3. Last but not least, people who want to engage in the commons should be provided with the same support as a mainstream profit-driven start-up. This entails at least three things: the creation of an incubator for a commons-based economy, the establishment of new urban finance mechanisms (e.g. a public city bank), and Creating Socio-Ecological Societies through Urban Commons Transitions 3 the development of mutualized commons infrastructures through inter-city cooperation (e.g. Fairbnb as alternative for Airbnb)." (https://gef.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/GEF_Article_Urban-Commons_Dirk.pdf)
- Dutch-language report: Commons Transitie Plan voor de stad Gent. Van Michel Bauwens en Yurek Onzia. Juni 2017. In opdracht van de stad Gent.