Public Space, Collective Governance and the Urban Commons

Public Space, Collective Governance and the Urban Commons

The striking amount of underused public spaces in cities worldwide shows the extent to which the value of public space is underestimated. On the other extreme, a variety of public spaces are gradually being privatised and thus public life, to some extent, threatened. Amidst these two opposite trends, underuse and privatisation, public space and public life are now found in a delicate and marginal situation in cities.

Despite a lack of attention to how public spaces are being tackled, it is possible to see their potential to be transformed into a resource for community development in what is recognised as grassroot initiatives. Grassroot initiatives are based on citizens getting together and taking action to address issues affecting their communities that are left unresolved by municipalities. They usually take place in underused public spaces and thus show an alternative destiny to the overlooked public spaces in cities. Examples include R-Urban, in Colombes, France (, a resilient network of projects embracing development of housing, economy, culture and urban agriculture, and other projects such as Cantiere Barca, in Turin, Italy (, where public space, social dynamics and community facilities have been regenerated collectively with objects made on local carpentry workshops. Another example is Build a Better Block, USA (, intended to stimulate communities to get together to regenerate the public spaces of the area where they live, usually by using tactical interventions (

Grassroot initiatives can be compared to the urban commons because they rely on collective management of public space supported by collective action. Through a personal research analysing the structure of different grassroot initiatives, I have concluded that grassroot initiatives and the urban commons are usually composed of four underlying elements: repurposed public spaces, collective governance, hands-on action, and resulting benefits that support community and urban development ( Benefits of the urban commons emerge from the action of collectively repurposing underused public spaces as a resource for community development, and result in social, economic and environmental benefits.

The urban commons indicate an open and spontaneous, but structured, collective appropriation and repurposing of public space. Still, the structuring of collaborative governance and community engagement is a big challenge and a project in itself, requiring time and adaptability. Moreover, there is no formula for community engagement and collaborative action and governance, since every community and its associated development targets widely vary.

The urban commons is not only about sharing “the products of commoning” but also about shaping citizens as “subjects of sharing…who accept their incompleteness, subjects who accept that they can be transformed through sharing and subjects who recognize in sharing the power of opening to potential worlds, the power of encountering ever-new horizons of commoning…Collective subjects are thus being formed and transformed without everybody being reduced to fit perpetuated role taxonomies (…) ”. 1(Stavrides, S. 2016 – p.273)

Thus, as emphasized, the structure of the urban commons is ever fluid and collectively adaptable. Urban commons’ structural responsiveness supports and is supported by individuals contributing
to shaping the commoning group and its collective aims while being shaped back. This responsiveness and openness is a characteristic that cannot be grasped entirely due to the uniqueness of every urban commons.

Moreover, the urban commons can inform collaborative development both at the local (community) and city scale (policy making), since the activities nurtured within it are imbued with an awareness of the city as networked spaces, people and resources that mutually impact each other. Thus, the urban commons can support active community empowerment and tackle issues on different levels – from the community to city scale, from the individual to the collective, and from social to spatial. The ability of the urban commons to address urban issues thoroughly is due to its spatial structural element (public space) and social structural elements (collective governance, hands-on activities, and emerging benefits) and hence commoning processes can tackle space while restoring social cohesion.

Because cities are getting more complex to control through centralized planning models the urban commons gradually gains more strength to develop since it relies on the sharing of power through collective governance and planning frameworks based on shared responsibility between government and citizens. The urban commons development model implies in alternative service provision where citizens have an active responsibility in shaping a wide array of services such as water management, health provision, food production, social economy, etc. Communities thus adapt from being purely consumers to becoming consumers and producers.

Nonetheless, on emerging collaborative planning models, the interface between government and citizens on the sharing of power is still very unclear. Both “appear stuck, asking each other to do more and more to fill the growing gaps between service provision.“2 (Britton,T., 2015p.22) Regarding citizens, “what is expected of him or her in ‘the new model’: a role as a volunteer, or as an employee, or employer in…say, a cooperative? Does the burden of caring for those dependent on care also lie with ‘active’ citizens – with a job – or only with ‘available’ citizens – without a job? Furthermore, there is confusion about the type of service and production that would qualify for the new model.”3 (Moore, T., 2013 – p.25)

That said, awareness of responsibilities, capabilities and limitations regarding each party involved in the collaborative planning process is crucial to advance the discussion and practice of collaborative urban development.

Moreover, the lack of awareness of the value of public space, both as a source and a resource for urban development, prevents its appropriation as urban commons. It also contributes to public spaces’ underuse, lack of management, and privatization. Thus, it is important to consider public space in a positive light linked to collaborative planning models, seen it is a valuable source and resource for urban development.

The urban commons development model adopted on a city scale would imply in government’s support for communities
to co-produce goods and services on public spaces, which would directly impact on the supply chain system and enhance holistic sustainability – social, economic, and environmental. Governmental support for the common use of public space would drive a new public life and provision model, alternative to the “unsustainable model in which all necessities of urban survival are distanced from consumers by markets, corporations and public bodies.”4 (Bingham-Hall, J., Kaasa, A., 2016 – p.3)

Despite its benefits, adoption of the urban commons development model on the community and city scale has its challenges, the most critical being: lack of clarity on the interface between government and citizens on collaborative planning models; lack of clarity on how to structure community engagement; provision of legal frameworks for citizens to appropriate public space through alternative uses; and clarification of the urban commons structure.

LabGov is playing an important role in addressing these challenges.


La grande quantità di spazzi pubblici inutilizzati in diverse città si appresenta come un’opportunità per creare gli urban commons tramite la sua rigenerazione, utilizzando di ‘collective governance’ e ‘hands on action’.

Innumeri progetti riconosciuti come ‘grassroot initiatives’ esemplificano come spazzi pubblici inutilizzati possono essere trasformarti in risorsi per sviluppo comunitario.



  1. Stavrides, S. (2016), Commons space: the city as commons. London. ZED Books
  2. Britton,T. (2015), Designed to Scale. [online] Available at: scale_v.1
  3. Moore, T. (2013) Homo Cooperans. Universiteit Utrecht. Available at: 2013-150
  4. Bingham-Hall, J., Kaasa, A. (2016). Future of Cities. Available at: of-cities-urban-commons-and-public-spaces




First Regional Law Proposal on the Commons in Tuscany

First Regional Law Proposal on the Commons in Tuscany



On the 25th of July, 2017, a law proposal on the commons and active citizenship was presented in the Regional Council of Tuscany, Italy. This is the first regional law on the commons in the Italian context. The law proposal concerns the “Social subsidiarity and civic collaboration for the governance of the urban commons for the application of articles 58 and 59 of the Regional Bylaws”. As highlighted by the President of the Regional Council Eugenio Giani, the director of the legislative office Gemma Pastore, and the secretary general Silvia Fantappiè the aim of the law proposal is to prepare the ground for a renewed relationship between public and private actors, based on the general interest, through the implementation of the concepts of subsidiarity, civic collaboration and the commons. The regional law is also aimed at providing an impulse for the Municipalities in Tuscany for initiating policymaking processes for the regeneration of the urban commons, as a duty of responsibility toward future generations.

This proposal is a step forward in the long-term commitment of the Region of Tuscany to improve and promote participation, cooperation, and civic collaboration principles for the commons and the collaborative economy. Indeed, the Region has promoted the #CollaboraToscana process (2016- 2017). Activated by the Presidency Department of Tuscany (which holds the mandate to innovation and participation) with the aim of drafting a green book outilning a regional policy on sharing and collaborative economy. #CollaboraToscana represents a first experience at regional, national and international level in the co-creation of a public policy on sharing economy through the involvement of local actors. The process is inspired by the principles and methods used in 2011-2014 for the development of the Bologna Regulation and by the drafting process of the Opinion on the local and regional dimension of the Sharing Economy produced by the Committee of the Regions of the European Union. The process, constituted by an intense fieldwork with co-working sessions organized in Florence with the participation of relevant actors of the sharing economy and social innovation ecosystem in Tuscany has had the scientific support of the international research project “Co-Città e Co-Territory”, developed by Labgov, and is curated in his methodological component by Sociolab, with the support of Collaboriamo.

To know more about the process:



Una proposta di legge su Beni comuni e Cittadinanza attiva è stata illustrata il 25 luglio 2017 in Consiglio regionale della Regione Toscana. Il testo rappresenta il primo caso di legge regionale a trattare il tema dei beni comuni, intesi non singolarmente, ma come categoria.

Image Source: Regione Toscana,







Investigating the Participatory Governance of Culture. A project by Kultura Nova Foundation

Investigating the Participatory Governance of Culture. A project by Kultura Nova Foundation




“Approaches to Participatory Governance of Cultural Institutions” is a two year project (from March 2016 to March 2018) implemented by Kultura Nova Foundation (Croatia) with the support of the UNESCO International Fund for Cultural Diversity.

This multi-donor fund was created according to article 5 of the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in order to foster the emergence of a dynamic cultural sector in developing countries. Since 2010, it supported 90 projects in 51 developing countries, for a total financing of US$ 6 million for these three major purposes: capacity development (48.7%), cultural and creative industries development (28.6%), governance and public policy (22.7%). The fund is now supporting the following projects, in addition to the already mentioned ones: Strengthening civil society participation in policy advocacy for Bolivia´s culture sector; Sustainable development of cultural industries with women and youth in Ilobasco (El Salvador); Mapping the Haitian music industry; Towards the revision of the National Cultural Policy in Jamaica; Strengthening local cultural policy in Zimbabwe. 

Thanks to the funding allocated by the UNESCO IFCD (US $ 77.868,00), Kultura Nova intends to “develop strategic approaches to participatory governance of innovative cultural institutions by fostering their active involvement in planning, decision-making, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies”.

Kultura Nova Foundation was founded by the Republic of Croatia in 2011 in order to support the “promotion and development of civil society in the fields of contemporary arts and culture”, by providing both professional and financial support to specific programmes developed by Croatian organizations. Its main goals are to contribute to a capacity-building process in organizations related to contemporary art and culture, to enhance a stronger cooperation in the cultural sector, to raise awareness about its two fields of intervention as well as about their role in social development.

The project is mainly based on the analysis and mapping of the most innovative participatory governance practices and cultural institutions in Croatia and Europe, also through an online survey, and of the policy design as well, in order to identify possible participatory governance models in culture. Another fundamental aim is to strengthen the capacities of 150 relevant stakeholders on participatory governance mechanisms through a series of coaching sessions for policy and decision makers, capacity building workshops for local community and intensive knowledge sharing for civil and creative sectors. A Participatory Governance Guidebook for Innovative Models of Cultural Institutions will be also published.

The project is articulated as follows:

  1. Research of participatory governance models and institutional frameworks (20/03/2016 – 01/06/2017)
  2. Knowledge sharing and capacity building (15/06/2016 – 28/02/2018)
  3. Publication about Participatory Governance in Culture (15/06/2017 – 28/02/2018)
  4. Participatory Governance in Culture – Conference (November 2017)

The International and interdisciplinary conference Participatory Governance in Culture: Exploring Practices, Theories and Policies. DO IT TOGETHER will be held on 22nd – 24th November 2017 in Rijeka, Croatia, in partnership with Rijeka 2020 LLC and in collaboration with European Cultural Foundation.


La governance partecipativa della cultura sotto la lente, grazie ad un progetto della fondazione croata Kultura Nova finanziato dall’UNESCO International Fund for Cultural Diversity. Analisi di approcci, pratiche, policies e modelli di participatory governance nelle e per le istituzioni culturali, il tutto accompagnato da processi di capacity-building. Se ne discuterà a novembre in Croazia.

An Informal Settlement as a Community Land Trust. The case of San Juan, Puerto Rico

An Informal Settlement as a Community Land Trust. The case of San Juan, Puerto Rico

Photograph Line AlgoedLabGov has already talked about CLT (here and here) but this time is different. Fideicomiso de la Tierra, the name of the CLT that we examine today, is the first Informal Settlement Community Land Trust in the world. Created in a participatory way by government, residents and technical professionals, it was born with the purpose to preserve and develop informal communities along the Martín Peña Canal[1], a polluted canal around which a community of nearly 30,000 people lives – San Juan is in fact the most densely populated area in Puerto Rico

The CLT today works to solve land title problems in the Martin Peña Canal District, to avoid involuntary displacement of residents, to acquire and maintain properties for the community’s benefit and to facilitate residents’ involvement. It follows some precise guiding principles, such as the promotion of the residents’ participation in decision-making, the encouragement of equality, safety and access to basic services and the improvement of public spaces and transportation. The main goal remains the housing development and affordability, and for this reason the CLT cannot resell the land and it can only sell or rent housing for the members’ benefit. The CLT is an active actor in the local real estate market: the residents collectively own the land, lease the land in the trust, own the buildings and when they decide to sell the home the CLT can buy it back; in addition, in case of mortgage and problems with the loan payment, the CLT can intervene. It also supports residents with financial education and specific programs to promote citizens’ participation and critical awareness, to address and improve social justice, affordable housing, food security, violence prevention, youth leadership, adult literacy and local entrepreneurship. It should be noted that under the CLT residents are more protected from forced eviction than through individual titles and more safe from market speculation (the land is not owned by individuals, thus the value does not affect the house price). Today the communities along the Martín Peña Canal collectively own 200 acres of land that cannot be sold.

This is the current state of Fideicomiso de la Tierra, but the informal settlement of San Juan has a long history of disinterest and abandonment from the government, which failed during the years in installing proper sewage systems or cleaning systems with the consequence of many floods; the area indeed was originally established on mangrove wetlands without an adequate water drainage system, and every even mild rain storms led to flooding, raising sewage and polluted waters and causing health and environmental problems for the residents; in addition buildings never stopped to discharged row sewage into the canal.

For years the local communities demanded the dredging of the canal while fearing displacement and the rising land values typical of a neighborhood improvement. In 2001 the situation was so awful that the US Army Corps of Engineers intervened to dredge the canal and restore water flow. Finally, the government showed to be committed in revitalizing the canal’s conditions as well as the canal communities. An important process of connection with the communities started, and from 2002 and 2004 the government held 700 participatory meetings. These meetings represented a huge opportunity to connect residents and experts and explore the local concerns, presenting legal tools to preserve affordable housing and formalizing landholdings. Dredging the canal and revitalizing the communities meant to avoid residents’ displacement; and the creation of a collective land title, as the CLT, appeared to be the best idea to maintain alive the community. The meetings helped in collectively drawing up a formal development and land use plan, the Comprehensive Development Plan, then adopted by the Puerto Rico Planning Board. With the help of national and city government support, local residents and organizations set up a collaborative project called ENLANCE to help the implementation of the plan and to reply to some fundamental issues: to restore the environmental integrity of the channel, to protect the health and safety of community residents and to promote an inclusive, democratic city quality public spaces as well as wealth opportunities for the community. The residents created the Group of Eight Communities (G8), in partnership with the government and the private sector, to promote their economic, social, and community development throughout the establishment and maintenance of a CLT[2]. In the same year the Law 489/2004 entered in force and created the Martin Peña Canal Special Planning District[3], a district of 200 acres of public land transferred by the government to the ENLANCE project. The law also established the future incorporation of the CLT. With this law, many informal housing projects were regularized. ENLANCE[4] then became an independent government agency with limited-lifespan; it was and still is a crucial actor, a local intermediate that coordinates the project implementation in terms of housing development, infrastructures, dredging, canalization, and also in terms of urban socio-economic development guarantying the citizen participation and promoting the community empowerment. The ENLANCE’s board of directors (made by representatives from the public and the private sectors and of community residents) is appointed by the Governor of Puerto Rico and by the Mayor of San Juan; the community resident board members should be at least 45% of the board and they are indicated by the G8.


With the law the property rights of any land in the District were transferred firstly to ENLANCE and regularized. Residents gained the right to inherit and maintain ownership of their home, while the title of the land was of ENLANCE, guarantying the stability of the real estate values of the lands. To transfer the land title from ENLANCE to the CLT, from 2006 and 2008, three rounds of community workshops were implemented and the CLT’s General Regulations created, with the support of an Advisory Board for the legally formalization of resident’s needs and requests. Finally, in October 2008 the General Regulations were promulgated and the land transferred to CLT by formal deed on May 2009. The Regulations stressed the important role of the CLT as a “mechanism of collective possession in order to solve the problem of the lack of ownership titles” and to “avoid involuntary displacement” of canal residents.

In the following years CLT, supported by ENLANCE, made significant progress in terms of self-financing and human relocation of residents when required for the canal dredging. The goal is to become independent once relocations are completed and the work of ENLANCE completed. Today CLT makes money from selling homes, renting property, investing in the community and receiving donations. According to the Regulations, it must reinvest profits into the communities following the priorities planned in the Comprehensive Development Plan (such as using a revolving fund for infrastructure projects and buying properties) and when a resident sell the home it receives part of the proceeds. In addition, it can rely on the economic support (subsidies) from both public and private sectors and on a large group of volunteers.

Today the most difficult task is the relocation of residents still living very close to the canal, since their houses should be removed to allow the proper dredge of the canal. The process is quite long and today there are 1090 households to relocate (ENLANCE has already relocated 110), but all steps are made in a participatory way and always keeping in consideration the families’ needs and supporting them throughout the entire process (evaluation of the home, identification of a right offer, assistance on finding a new home for sale, pay moving expenses….).

The San Juan CLT in 2015 won a Building and Social Housing Foundation World Habitat Award, as a recognition for its ability in transforming the informal settlement of San Juan from a polluted and flood prone river channel into a sustainable community, and in providing a new model for improving informal settlement in cities. Fidecomisio de la Tierra represents the primary mechanism through which the local communities surrounding Martín Peña Canal are overcoming poverty; it has completely transformed the area and enabled the local community  to legalize the relationship between more than 2,000 families and the land on which they stay, to access to affordable and safe housing, to resettle in a fair way people living close to the canal in risk areas, to improve environmental conditions by developing basic infrastructures and dredging the canal, to ensure ownership, to learn how to collective manage the area and how to favor the community participation.

Fidecomisio de la Tierra is a unique model of social justice in Puerto Rico; it has already proven to be successful in the US where over 247 CLT promote the revitalization of marginalized communities and the development without displacement, and today it is considered a model of self-improvement and sustainability, as well as a model of local participation and collective action, also for other informal communities around the world struggling with development and gentrification.

[1] The news was reported by RioOnWatch, a program to bring visibility to Informal Settlements’ community voices  born in 2010.

[2] The G8’s board is composed by representatives of 12 communities organizations annually chosen in community assemblies.

[3] The District refers to an area composed by the seven communities that lived along the canal and wanted the creation of the CLT.

[4] The ENLACE Project is driven by the Caño Martín Peña ENLACE Corporation, the G8 Inc., and the Caño Martín Peña Community Land Trust, as well as a large G8 group of partners that includes universities, foundations, and private and public organizations.


A San Juan, Porto Rico, il primo caso di Community Land Trust all’interno di una favela. Creato in modo partecipativo coinvolgendo i residenti e con il supporto pubblico, Fidecomiso de la Terra è nato con lo scopo di preservare e sviluppare le comunità informali (circa 30 mila persone) lungo il canale di Martín Peña. Il CLT di San Juan nel 2015 ha vinto il premio Building and Social Housing Foundation World Habitat come riconoscimento per aver trasformato l’insediamento informale da canale fluviale inquinato e perennemente inondato in una comunità sostenibile. Oggi è considerato un modello di giustizia sociale e partecipazione locale per altre comunità informali che nel mondo lottano per lo sviluppo e contro la gentrificazione.

Tech for All in Detroit: Grand Circus’ Work to Open up the Job Market

Tech for All in Detroit: Grand Circus’ Work to Open up the Job Market

According to the Department of Labor by 2020 there will be 1 million unfilled computer programming jobs in the United States. Striking in this sector is the ratio of racial representation: fewer than 10 percent of the software engineers are African-American.

The city of Detroit represents a critical example as 80 percent of its citizens are African-American. Indeed, different projects driven by the city of Detroit and companies alike are working in order to change that outcome. One of the main projects is Grand Circus.

Grand Circus is a training institute with the mission to elevate the tech community in the city of Detroit. It offers a multitude of part-time and full-time courses: Front-End Web Development, Full-Stack Web Development, etc.

Grand Circus launched in 2013 and now offers classes to public, rents co-working spaces and hosts events. Different Grand Circus boot camps prepare participants for a career in the tech industry, learning the most in-demand programming languages (such as JavaScript, jQuery, HTML, CSS, AngularJS and Node.js). After 10 weeks, participants are prepared for entry-level careers in software engineering and back-end development.

Although tuition fees are a little bit expensive – 8,500 dollars – Detroiters can apply for a limited number of scholarships provided by TechHire, a four-year local talent initiative that aims to provide workforce development training and apprenticeships in IT careers. Financing options are primarily offered to veterans, women (just 26% of computing jobs are filled by women) and those part of an ethnic group underrepresented in tech (e.g. African American, Latino, Native American and Pacific Islander). Upon graduation, students are provided with job assistance training and the skillset required for entry-level business analyst, web developer, quality assurance tester or program manager positions.

According to Jeff Donofrio, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development: “It’s important that we create opportunities for all Detroiters to have access to training connected to jobs, particularly within high-growth industries like IT. The TechHire program does exactly that, and helps Detroiters take that next step toward a good paying job and stable career”[1].

In a city like Detroit where traditional jobs in manufacturing have disappeared, entry level jobs in technology offer a similar financial security for the middle-class: statistics show that between January 2015 and March 2016, 93 percent of participants in Grand Circus boot camps found full-time employment in entry-level developer positions. This is a great achievement if we consider that nowadays 8.4 percent of Detroiters are unemployed.

In order to help disadvantaged groups to get a job in IT, Grand Circus also partners with Code 2040, a nonprofit named for the year when minorities will make up the majority of the U.S. population. Code 2040 creates educational, professional and entrepreneurial pathways for black and Latinx entrepreneurs. Damien Rocchi, Grand Circus CEO said that “The tech sector is rapidly changing, and we need creative solutions for sourcing talent to fill these jobs. Grand Circus will not only train Detroiters in some of the latest technologies, but also introduce them to the city’s top employers”[2].


[1] The HUB Detroit. (2017). Detroit at Work Partners with Grand Circus to Launch ‘TechHire Bootcamp’ – The Hub Detroit. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Jul. 2017]

[2] (2017). Detroit at Work Partners with Grand Circus to Launch ‘TechHire Bootcamp’. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Jul. 2017].


A Detroit, l’attività di Grand Circus sta riscuotendo sempre più successo. Negli ultimi anni la quasi totalità dei partecipanti ai “bootcamp” organizzati per formare nuove professionalità nel mondo IT ha trovato un lavoro stabile. La peculiarità di Grand Circus è l’attenzione verso le categorie sociali che hanno più difficoltà nell’accedere a questo mercato del lavoro.