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Pappa, A. (2023, May). Urban commons and the City: Framing the urban commons through institutional policies of public-civic collaboration. In 8th COLÓQUIO Arquitetura dos Territórios Metropolitanos Contemporâneos 2023, Lisbon, Portugal.

Posted on 24-05-2024

Urban commons is an emerging paradigm in Europe that has gained growing attention in recent years reflected both in the rising literature around its multiple facets and in a blossoming of collective practices of co-creation and stewardship in the urban space. Advocating sharing and collaborative management of urban resources, such as housing, energy and public space, urban commons initiatives foster the reclaiming of fundamental rights in the city 9 and are hence seen as a response to challenges posed by the neoliberal management of resources, privatisation, and urbanisation trends, such as gentrification. Traditionally these initiatives are principally self-organised, yet there is an increasing support by municipalities worldwide in forming policies and institutions that promote the collaborative regeneration of urban spaces into urban commons as an attempt to democratise the urban governance and involve citizens in the decision-making processes that affect their neighbourhoods and lives. However, the relationship between state or the City and urban commons is being addressed in an ongoing debate in scholarly discourses, examining whether and in what conditions the emancipatory social processes of commoning should be institutionalised and conformed into regulations. This paper examines the definition of the urban commons spaces in literature and its interpretation by municipal policies that are explicitly implementing regulatory frameworks around their development and sustainability. Based on a theoretical review on the urban commons, the defining parameters upon which the policies are analysed are the resources, people or institutions that manage them and social processes of governing them. The paper analyses two paradigmatic institutional cases of regenerating urban commons developed in Bologna and Barcelona under different contexts, juxtaposing their two approaches in sharing the management and responsibility of the public assets with citizens and local organisations. It concludes by underscoring the contributions of the two policies, inclining or different, in the conceptualisation of the urban commons. An anticipated extension of this first step would be the project-scale examination of the policies to understand if and how the ownership transfer of the public assets contributes to true urban commons Practices.

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Public-civic Partnership

Urban Commons

Area: Community participation

Public-civic partnerships (PCPs) or public-community collaborations, as discussed by Hopman et al., (2021), are forms of cooperation between the state and civil society. They involve transferring the ownership and control of urban resources to the hands of citizens. In this context, they can be viewed as commons-led institutional models, offering a ground of commoning the city. Consequently, they are also referred to as public commons partnerships (Milburn & Russell, 2019). Public-civic partnerships offer alternatives to the traditional binary state and market dynamic seen in the public-private partnership (PPP) model, which gained prominence after 2000 as a new form of cooperation between the state and the private sector. PPPs are characterized by long-term arrangements in which private sector contractors take on design, construction, operational, and sometimes financial responsibilities, becoming providers of traditionally public services (European Commision, 2003). However, PPP models have faced criticism for privatizing public goods, services and spaces, often prioritising private investment over public interests (Horvat, 2019).   On the contrary, PCPs propose an alternative approach. Instead of relying on private investors for the development of crucial urban infrastructure, public bodies collaborate with communities to design, produce and govern this infrastructure as commons. By doing so, PCPs drive systemic change,  offering innovative methods to democratize urban governance. They empower communities to transparently work with the public sector, determining the future of public assets such as food, care, water, energy, housing, and urban development (Heron, Milburn & Russell, 2021; Hopman et al., 2021). In recent years, cities such as Barcelona, Bologna, Naples, Ghent and Amsterdam, among others, have been developing commons-oriented strategies and municipal networks that enable and promote PCPs. These initiatives are often facilitated through contracts or ‘collaboration pacts’ (Foster & Iaione, 2016) among different stakeholders, notably from the civic and social sectors. The regulatory frameworks and operationalisation details, such as the legal form of the partnering entities, the duration of ownership transfers, and approved interventions in public spaces, vary from case to case (Bianchi, 2022). Experiences from the implementation of these policies show that several influential factors affect the development of PCPs. These are ideological, legal, political and economic in nature and include political will, existing laws, development strategies. material and funding sources, access to information, cooperation opportunities between the public and civic sectors, and further education of both realms on cooperation models (Cultural Creative Spaces & Cities, 2018). Among the several types of resources shared through PCPs, many municipal strategies facilitate the sharing of public spaces, which has significant implications from a sustainable local development point of view. These strategies involve the temporary or long-term transfer of ownership of municipal spaces, including empty buildings and building parts, streets and open spaces, and industrial heritage sites, to citizens or various associations formed between them and other sectors. Through these partnerships, sites are regenerated, transformed, and used for the benefit of the neighbourhood, while the public sector retains a supportive role. Throughout this process, several places and services, such as communal gardens, neighbourhood parks, solidary kitchens, caregiving and solidarity services, as well as community, educational and cultural centres, are created locally, by and for the residents.    

Created on 08-11-2023

Author: A.Pappa (ESR13)

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Area: Community participation

Urban commons are shared resources in the city that are managed by their users in a collaborative and non-profit-oriented way. The concept is based on the idea that urban resources and services that represent fundamental rights in the city should be accessible to and governed by the urban dwellers, to support the social capital and the sustainability of the urban communities. Hence, their value lies mostly in the social benefit produced during their use and they are therefore different from commodities that follow traditional market principles of profit maximisation and private ownership (Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2015). The concept of urban commons is an extrapolation in the urban context of the notion of commons which historically refers to natural resources available to all and not owned by any individual, such as air, water and land. The commons discourse became significantly popular thanks to the fundamental contribution of Elinor Ostrom (1990) and particularly after she was awarded the Nobel in Economics in 2009. Ostrom presented cases and design principals for the collective management of common resources by those that use and benefit from them, challenging the predominant negative connotations that had peaked with Garret Hardin’s (1968) Tragedy of the Commons where he analysed the impossible sustainability of common pool resources due to individual benefits. During the last fifteen years, a vast body of academic literature on urban commons has been produced, linking the notion to other urban theories, such as the right to the city (Harvey, 2008; Lefebvre, 1996), biopolitics (Angelis & Stavrides, 2009; Hardt & Negri, 2009; Linebaugh, 2008; Parr, 2015; Stavrides, 2015, 2016), peer-to-peer urbanism and sharing economy (Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2015; Iaione, 2015; Iaione et al., 2019; McLaren & Agyeman, 2015; Shareable, 2018). The notion of the urban commons encompasses resources, people and social practices (Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2015): Commons resources are urban assets of various types, characteristics and scales (Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2015). Examples of commons resources include physical spaces, such as community gardens, street furniture and playgrounds; intangible elements such as culture and public art; services such as safety; digital spaces, such as internet access. Urban commons literature and practices have attempted to determine several typological categorisations of the urban commons resources, the most notable being that of Hess (2008), who classified them as cultural, knowledge, markets, global, traditional, infrastructure, neighbourhood, medical and health commons. The commoners are the group that uses and manages the urban commons resources. It is a self-defined and organically formed group of individuals whose role is to collectively negotiate the boundaries and the rules of the management of the commons resources (Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2015). In a neighbourhood setting, for example, the commoners may be individual residents, or community groups, cooperatives, NGOs and local authorities. De Angelis and Stavrides (2010) points out that commoners might include diverse groups or communities that are not necessarily homogenous. Commoning refers to the collaborative participatory process of accessing, negotiating and governing the commons resources. The term was introduced by Peter Linebaugh (2008) and refers to the “social process that creates and reproduces the commons” (Angelis & Stavrides, 2010). Commoning is a form of public involvement for the public good (Lohmann, 2016). Commoning implies a commitment to solidarity and cooperation, to the creation of added value to the community, to democracy and inclusiveness and is connected to a hacking culture(Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2015). Hence, commoning practices can include various activities such as co-creation, capacity building and placemaking, support through learning, innovation, performing art, protest, urban gardening and commuting. In contemporary societies in crisis, the urban commons theory is often used as a counter-movement to the commodification of urban life and as a response to complex issues, proving essential for the well-being of marginalised communities and for the provision of affordable and sustainable housing. Urban commons management conveys the re-appropriation of urban values (Borch & Kornberger, 2015) breaking silos of expertise and knowledge by adopting a collaborative approach to defining and solving the problems at stake. The practice of urban commons helps to build values of openness, experimentation, creativity, trust, solidarity and commitment within stakeholder groups.

Created on 14-10-2022

Author: A.Pappa (ESR13)

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Exploring the Panorama of Barcelona's Urban Commons and the Dynamic State Relationships

Posted on 22-01-2024

During the first days of 2012 the residents around Encarnació 62-64 in the neighbourhood of Grácia in Barcelona, gathered outside the -up until then- nuns’ convent due to the sound of excavators tearing down the entire 1900’s building in just 3 days. Apart from the building, the site preserved an 800 square meter garden with pergola, century-old palm trees and fruit trees, house of several bird species, such as parrots, blackbirds, doves, robins or sparrows. Word spread that the site had been sold to a real estate company with plans to construct a six-storey parking lot. The residents of the streets Encarnació, Sant Lluis and the Associació Veïnal Vila de Gràcia, formerly strangers to each other, were mobilised in a restless effort to prevent the development plans and preserve the space as a neighbourhood facility. Their various protests were reflected in the Salvem el Jardí (Save the Garden) campaign in which they collected 7,000 signatures requesting that the plot passes to public property, urging the City Council to eventually buy it in 2014. Since then, the Associació Salvem el Jardí, have restored the remnants of the garden and thanks to their voluntary work, they have gradually transformed it into an open-air civic centre managed by the neighbours, a space they named Jardí del Silenci.   (Testimony from Marta Montcada, member of Associació Salvem el Jardí, Interview conducted in November 2023)   Today, the community garden is a hidden oasis in the neighbourhood, allowing visitors to enjoy the sounds, smells and tastes of nature. The garden is cared for by the volunteers-members of the association, and is open to the neighbourhood, hosting along with the tens of agricultural projects that contain multiple plant species, numerous social activities such as cultural and agricultural workshops, events, talks, exhibitions, shows, sport classes and playground equipment.   This is only one of the fascinating stories I learnt during my secondment in Barcelona, where I conducted on-the-ground research on the rich tapestry of community managed neighbourhood spaces. These are spaces of local character that operate as urban commons, meaning that they are run by the local communities, local organisations or any form of social institution established for their management, according to the local needs.   Over the course of three months, I was on my feet to get even a glimpse on the rich diversity that define these spaces in terms of program and typology, historical context, ignition, property status and management model. I conducted site visits engaging in informal discussions and formal interviews with numerous actors – members of the initiatives, with the urge to understand what these spaces are, how do they operate in the neighbourhood, what their relation to the City is, as well as what greatest challenges they face are. I visited community gardens and parks, neighbourhood cultural centres (Ateneus and Casals del Barri), working cooperatives, self-managed educational spaces, housing cooperatives and a self-sustainable agroecological community.   Below I summarise a few observations that derive from this experience, focusing on one of the dominant debates in the urban commons discourse, the relationship between the state and urban commons initiatives[1]. This relationship plays a key role in the character, resources and sustenance of the initiatives over time, especially when they operate on public property. Before exploring the array of relations, it is important to provide some overview of the emergence of these initiatives in Barcelona, as it is formative of the trajectories of these relationships.   Historical Context   The emergence of community-managed spaces in Barcelona is deeply rooted in the historic fabric of the city, encmpassing social movements and cooperativism. Examples of land collectivisations, initially by anarchist unions, were established before the Civil War. They evolved historically into workers’ collectives that self-organised to deliver services of healthcare, culture, education and production among others. During the 70s, the provision of these services and resources by communities themselves was a fundamental substitute to the state and market provision.   On the other hand, after the first democratic government in 1978, and particularly after the 2008 economic crisis, Barcelona has faced the challenges of a global city, such as the privatisation of public services, gentrification and massive tourism, evictions and an increase in precarious labour conditions, among others. Thus, the development of community managed services and spaces today is also a strong reaction to the current commodification of the city (Lain, 2015).   These two aspects of collectivism in Barcelona, both as a historic yield and a today’s countermovement, have shaped instances of different ideological values, priorities and self-reflected positions within the existing system of state and market.   Commons-state relationship   Conflict Numerous examples illustrate a wholly conflicting relationship between the initiative and the City, primarily due to ideological matters. Such examples have often led to forced evictions, as seen in several cases of squats such as the social centre Can Vies in the neighbourhood of Sants, the original building of the social centre Banc Expropriat[2] which later reopened in a new location and the housing squat that pre-existed on the site of the Ca La Trava community gardens[3], both in the neighbourhood of Gràcia within two blocks’ distance.   Tolerance / indifference In other cases, while the state is by any means supportive to the initiative, it demonstrates tolerance, at least until conflicting interests of development emerge and a conflicting relationship occurs such as in the examples discussed earlier. Similar to the previous cases, the “commoners”[4] are equiped with activist values, aware that they might need to defend their existence if such conflicting plans are in place. This is the case of the current initiative of Ca La Trava[5] and Jardi L’Alzina in Gràcia[6]. [7]   Collaboration While the above cases demonstrate opposing relationship that is also strongly related to anarchist and anti-systemic collectives, Barcelona showcases several degrees of cooperation between the City and community managed spaces. Provision of space, funding and technical support by the municipality are among the most common collaborations supported by existing policies, such as the Patrimonio Ciudadano. A fundamental requirement is that the initiative demonstrates a local impact. This support is based on the ground of recognising the significant contribution of community-run initiatives in delivering democratised social services that respond to the specific and dynamic needs of each neighbourhood. The provision of spaces ranges from entire building complexes such as industrial sites, often of heritage value, run as cultural centres by federations of entities, such as the Can Batlló[8], and the Ateneu L’Harmonia[9]; to single buildings, managed as local points of reference for the neighbourhood life such as La Lleialtat Santsenca[10]; or parts of buildings co-hosted with other municipal facilities, such as Calabria 66[11]; and finally to open spaces, such as the case of Jardins d'Emma[12].   Autonomy Beyond the mentioned cases, there is a great number of initiatives in which the property of space and other resources belongs to the managing entity, be it an association, collective or local organisation. These cases, such as working cooperatives have the capacity to operate independently of the state. Due to limited resources or legal constrains, the collective action of these initiatives often prioritises their members over the public impact, yet in most cases expanding to open activities.   Closing Reflections and Acknowledgements My time in Barcelona’s shared neighborhood spaces exceeded any expectations I had before arrival. Beyond their physical importance, these spaces constitute a vital part of community life, woven by collective aspirations and creativity. They are testaments to the power of collaboration, sharing and transformative change.   Reflecting on my research visit, I carry with me not just data but stories, experiences, and a deeper understanding of the intricate dynamics that shape these vibrant spaces. More than a personal experience, it has been a collective journey with the invaluable input of several people, who enriched my research and personal growth.   To this, I would first like to thank my secondment supervisor prof. Nuria Marti for her restless support at every step of the way, from working hand in hand with me, to accompanying me on visits. Furthermore, I am heartfully grateful to the extensive list of members of the initiatives I had the chance to visit, who generously shared their space, time and stories. Finally, my stay in Barcelona wouldn’t have been the same without my fellow ESRs -Annette, Saskia and Zoe- who, whether in person or from afar, shared their knowledge, experience, and many enjoyable moments!   --------- Notes [1] For more information see Huron, A. (2017). Theorising the urban commons: New thoughts, tensions and paths forward. Urban Studies, 54(4), 1062–1069. [2] Banc Expropriat is a shared space in the neighbourhood that operates outside markets and hierarchies. It is a social centre that hosts free activities open to all, such as language classes, sport sessions, craft workshops, film screenings, play areas, computer access, as well as a free shop of donated clothes, among others. As a space  very well received by the local community, its eviction in May 2016 triggered the escalation of protests in the neighbourhood. More information on the history of Banc Expropriat and its current relocation can be found at https://bancexpropiatgracia.wordpress.com/ [3] Members of the social movement that occupied/lived in the squat, re-occupied the site of the demolished building and created community gardens. [4] People that manage the urban commons space. [5] More information at https://www.instagram.com/ca_la_trava/?hl=en [6] More information at https://www.salvemlalzina.org/ [7] This is also the case of Navarinou Park in Athens. [8] More information at https://canbatllo.org/ [9] More information at https://ateneuharmonia.cat/ [10] More information at https://lleialtat.cat/ [11] More information at https://calabria66.net/ [12] More information at http://jardinsdemma.org/   --------- References Lain, B. (2015). New Common Institutions in Barcelona : A Response to the Commodification of the City ? 2014(March), 19–20.

Author: A.Pappa (ESR13)

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