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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 04-12-2023

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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