Nowadays, more and more urban experts are questioning the utopian future of smart, intelligent and data-driven cities. As reported by The New York Times editorial board, issues like the role of technology in everyday life, the influence of tech companies and the correct direction of public policy on this matter are certainly still open.
There are many approaches to consider when debating on how democratic a smart city can be. According to Bianca Wylier, senior fellow of the Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), there are five approaches that can address smart city challenges starting from the Sidewalk Toronto experience:
- Open Procurement and Contracting
- Intensive Public Education and Consultation
- Civic Data Governance as a Government Responsibility
- Smart Cities as a Political issue, not a Technology Issue
- Agile Policy-making Process
First of all, the first approach says that it is necessary to speak to residents early and often about what they want and need. Secondly, public authorities may not proceed without public buy-in or may make a secretive deal with corporations involved in the project.
The first approach teaches us that many of these projects will be built and operated by the private sector for governments. As Mark Wilson, former chair of the board of Waterfront Toronto and current Waterfront Toronto digital strategy advisory panel member says, the democratic control of the processes can only be achieved with an educated public.
The second approach suggests that governments need to spend resources for awareness building around data and technology. It is necessary that people understand data and how it can be used. In Toronto, for example, urban innovators have decided to focus on urban issues such as mobility and housing. In Brazil, public authorities conducted an intensive public process to create the Brazilian Internet Bill of Rights, and Taiwan created expansive ways to consult on technology issues both online and in person.
The third one is about data management. In that sector, it is vital to understand that different type of data and context require different type of conservations around how the data might be used by government, how it might be commercialized, and how it might be made open, shared, or kept closed. There are a lot differences between personally identifiable information, aggregate and anonymized human behavioral data or environmental and geospatial data or infrastructural data. In this field, the European GDPR has been built to give individuals more power to define how their data is used.
Moving on to the fourth approach, it is clear that the smart city model has not been always a successful paradigm. Just think of the Songdo International Business District in South Korea, the Epcot Center in Florida and Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. New approaches to technology management are needed to deal with the problem that smart cities are not only a technology issue but a political issue. For example, it is more and more important to use participatory models that engage residents in decision-making and data stewardship. Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, has instituted a set of policies to guarantee not only open technology systems as a procurement requirement, but also resident control of data and technology-driven civic participation. Francesca Bria, the chief technology officer for the city of Barcelona explains that the core issue is reaching a New Deal on data, based on a rights-based, people-centric framework.
Finally, the fifth approach, based on an agile policy-making process, explains that existing legislation is unsuitable in that situation because legal frameworks that govern data and technology were created prior to internet broadcasting, so it is crucial to update laws to protect privacy and security. But it is also important that changes happen incrementally to avoid bad legislation. So, agile policy creation is something all governments will need to start getting comfortable with.
For example, digital master plans to direct technology policy can support a city’s general strategic planning efforts. Software code (very different from traditional physical infrastructure) can be replicated and shared around the world and developing a model of ownership and licensing (something like Creative Commons licenses) would enable the sharing of technology under flexible terms. Last but not least, it is important to mention creating data standards to support shared digital infrastructure and interoperability and co-city protocols.
Coming back to the NYT article mentioned before, it is time for a new paradigm in internet and data management if we want to help technologists and policymakers to strive for secure elections, to reimagine our business models, to defend citizens and to protect us from extremists around the world.
Civic eState – Pooling the urban commons as civic patrimony
20th – 21st September 2018
Ex Asilo Filangieri, Naples, Italy
The Civic eState network is one of 25 “Tranfer Networks” approved by URBACT in April 2018. Civic eState is the Urbact transfer network whose purpose is to transfer through adaptation a Good Practice realized by the City of Naples.
The Civic eState network is centered on the policy challenge of co-designing and co-producing with City inhabitants legal and sustainability tools for urban commons governance. The urban commons are tangible and intangible assets, services, infrastructures that are considered by the City of Naples as of collective belonging that are taken away to the “exclusive use” proprietary logic and characterized by a shared and participatory administration, as well as collective ownership. The revitalization of the urban historical heritage represents a cultural, economic and social challenge, but also a spur for the city to re-elaborate its identity creating a new bond with the citizenship and private/entrepreneurial sector.
Civic eState partners
City of Naples, Lead Partner (Italy)
City of Barcelona (Spain)
City of Gdansk (Poland)
City of Ghent (Belgium)
City of Amsterdam (Netherlands)
City of Prešov (Slovakia)
• 20th September 2018: Internal meeting
12:00 Reception: Arrival of participants, registration
12:30 Light lunch at the venue
Luigi de Magistris, Mayor of Naples
Carmine Piscopo, Councillor of Urban Planning, City of Naples
Presenting the URBACT programme
Kristijan Radojčić, URBACT Secretariat networking officer
Introduction to the Civic eState network: pooling the urban commons as civic patrimony
Nicola Masella, City of Naples project coordinator
Christian Iaione, Lead expert
Setting up a common understanding of our network’s objectives for Phase 2
Showcasing Civic eState partners’ challenges and strategies for the transfer process
Partner share the main features of the policy challenge addressed by Civic eState in their city
16:15 Coffee break
Emerging urban commons legal statement
17:00 Site Visit
• 21st September 2018
8:30 Reception: Arrival of participants, registration
URBACT III Transfer Networks
Kristijan Radojčić, URBACT Secretariat networking officer
Phase 2 Transfer Journey
Submitting Phase 2 project proposal: what’s required from our side?
Christian Iaione, Lead expert
Nicola Masella, City of Naples project coordinator
Defining Phase 2 Activities, kick-off meeting proposal, Q&A
11:00 Coffee Break
Transfer potential assessment: wrap-up
Christian Iaione, Lead expert
Exploring assets and barriers related to transfer
Learning from communities: social and cultural activities
Naples’ communities experts
Transfer and site Visit @exOPG Je so’ pazzo
19.30 Farewell dinner
# urbancommons #URBACT #URBACTIT
by Alix de Parades
Living in a city means sharing a limited amount of space with a great variety of people. With more and more individuals choosing this way of life, urbanization and density have caused a change in the way that we perceive space – as a resource, a shared good that should be both enjoyed and preserved. And this resource is, in cities, a limited and nonrenewable asset. Facing rampant urbanization and increased occupation of vacant areas, metropolises are struggling to maintain this resource accessible, both in quality and in quantity. The demand for space is indeed quantitative, for practical reasons: one needs a certain amount of space to live, to circulate, to work or for leisure. But the demand is also of qualitative nature: city dwellers request and deserve by right quality urban spaces, that are safe, lively, sustainable and healthy (Jacobs, 1961, Gehl, 2010). To provide for these two aspects with the limited amount of space left in cities, urban dwellers have found a solution in the commoning: sharing the resource for optimizing their needs (Foster & Iaione, 2016).
The need for quality public spaces is being increasingly recognized by scholars and local governments, as well as by global cooperation agencies. The New Urban Agenda, defined by the conference Habitat III held in Quito in 2016, stresses the importance of public space as a vital element of urban life (UN-Habitat, 2017). The World Bank also acknowledges: “Cities must recognize the role that quality public spaces can play in meeting the challenges of our rapidly urbanizing world.” (World Bank, 2015). However, in developing countries like Brazil, South Africa or Mexico, little is still done by municipal governments to provide for this need, and public spaces are too often spaces of conflicts.
Brazil, in which I conducted my research, is amongst the most urbanized countries of the world: with over 85% of its population living in cities, the country faces huge issues of sprawl and density (World Bank, 2017). Density affects the quality of the commons, as conflicts emerge over the use of space: the real estate market interests, the quantitative demand for public spaces, or large scale public-private partnerships for redevelopment projects, advocate for antagonistic forms of development (Goodall, 1972). Different groups of users pry into the public space to use it for a wide variety of competing purposes, from parking to drug trafficking for instance. Rivalries emerge, that are detrimental to the quality and accessibility of the space. In São Paulo, 12 million inhabitants are sharing little over five thousand public spaces, that is, in average, one public space is shared between 2,400 persons (IBGE, 2017). Skewed concentration of the capital in the central areas leads to underinvestment in peripheral spaces, that are then either left abandoned and used as landfills, or appropriated by residents of local communities for their own use. In the central areas as well, decades of car-oriented and transit-oriented development, added to the contemporary lack of investments and absence of political will to counter detrimental appropriators, contributed to the deterioration and low quality of many urban spaces. Instruments are being developed by the municipality to provide for quality public spaces accessible for all, that basically consists in privatization of the space: delegating the management to a private entity. Among these privatization mechanisms, the programs Adopt a Square (Adote uma Praça) and Parklets offer to private investors the management and care of a public space in the city, under the condition that it would remain accessible for all. Privatization mechanisms are nonetheless risky, in the sense that private entities should have incentives to effectively contribute to the quality of the space, and should be monitored in order to be sure that they do not exclude some users from using the space.
Studying the public nature of spaces implies addressing the ‘commons’ from a legal point of view: as a property dilemma subjected to regulations and conflicts. The commons are indeed spaces or resources challenged by claims over legitimate uses of space, commonly known as the land use issues (Blomley, 2008). The property claim is at the center of the concept of commons since from property comes rights of use, and the right to exclude or limit access to certain groups of wanna-be users (Ostrom, 2003). Public ownership, ownership by the local community or private ownership are three forms among others to claim the right to use a space for specific purposes, and to consequently be able exclude whoever is not wanted in a space.
This idea presents a challenge to the negotiation for the commons: in cities in which practices of privatization of the space are a raising concern, how can the negotiation for the commons manage to preserve the public nature of such spaces?
Fig. 1: Diversity of uses and public in the Vila Itororó Canteiro Aberto: a homeless man (in yellow) plays tennis table with neighborhood children. In the back, a theater company rehearses and someone plays the piano.
Two successful examples in São Paulo: quality public space through participatory governance and self-organization.
São Paulo is a testing ground for a third way of governing space, that recenters the negotiation on the qualitative aspect of public space.
Bottom-up city-making practices, either formal (systematized), such as the initiative The Batata Square Needs You (A Batata Precisa de Você); or informal, such as occupations, temporary interventions or “tactical urbanism”, are increasingly being used as a way for citizens to reclaim their right to the city and to contribute actively in the making of space. In addition to these small-scale local responses, new models of participation for private entities also gain strength and reach in São Paulo. PPPs start to include civil society through PCPs (public-civic partnerships) or PPPPs (public-private-people partnerships), and civil society organizations increasingly turn to private capital and social entrepreneurs to partner or finance their projects.
This approach is systematized by the framework of the commons, as stated in 2014 by the Bologna Regulation on civic collaboration for the urban commons, the first regulation defining the commons as collective goods whose responsibility for care and improvement is shared between citizens and the public administration. Urban commons are then defined as quality public spaces, shared between a variety of actors, in which practices of city-making contribute to transform and improve the space and the way it is perceived (Bologna Regulation, 2014). This framework allows to experiment governance models that go beyond the public-private dichotomy, and to analyze a third way of doing politics, that includes the civil society. How to preserve the quality of urban public spaces when negotiating the commons between a diversity of entities with distinct interests? The initiatives I analyzed in São Paulo have proven to be rather successful, as they manage to improve the quality of the space while maintaining it accessible to everyone.
The research I conducted provides an analysis of the practices of negotiation for uses and transformation of quality urban spaces in two cases in São Paulo: the Vila Itororó Canteiro Aberto, located in the central area of the city, and the Espaço Cultural Jardim Damasceno, in the periphery (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2: Localization of the two cases in São Paulo’s municipality. Blue: Vila Itororó Canteiro Aberto; Red: Espaço Cultural Jardim Damasceno
The Vila Itororó Canteiro Aberto is a project that started with the beginning of the restoration of the Vila Itororó, a 1920s mansion and the surrounding buildings forming an enclosure of 38 housing units, a vila (it could be considered as a precursor for modern gated communities). Initially inhabited by wealthy families, the Vila progressively deteriorated and from the 1970s, the housing units were occupied illegally by modest families, turning the complex into a slum (cortiço). In 2006, the municipality declared the area of public interest and started expropriating the families (Feldman & Castro, 2017). After a lot of resistance and negotiations with the authorities, accompanied by civil society organizations’ and media’s attention, the families were evicted and relocated to social housing centers. Some of the former residents organized themselves into the Riacho Collective (Coletivo Riacho), that actively participates to schedule the programmes of the Vila nowadays.
Fig. 3: the mansion Vila Itororó
In 2013, the space was handed over to the Secretary of Culture, that launched a partnership with the Institute Pedra, an non-profit organization, to turn the Vila into a cultural center (Vila Itororó, 2017). Together with the housing complex space, an adjacent warehouse was jointed to the project: the Canteiro Aberto (Site Open), serving as a vitrine for the future of the Vila. This warehouse is being used as a temporary cultural center that promotes participatory processes for defining the future meaning of the space. The programmation is decided in partnership with the Riacho Collective and neighborhood associations, and includes a wide variety of activities such as debates, circus, woodwork or culinary workshops, self-defense classes, dance and capoeira, free psychoanalysis sessions, visits of the mansion.. However, the contract linking the Institute Pedra to the warehouse was not renovated in 2018 and the management mandate was transferred back to the Secretary of Culture. The place was maintained as such, but the activities were not officially maintained. It is only thanks to the participants’ initiative that some activities still took place after the end of Institute Pedra’s mandate. The current management is willing to give continuity to the activities and is now negotiating with all of the involved stakeholders to resume the uses. The series of discontinuities in the management of the area are detrimental for the space itself and highlight the downsizes of depending on political will when it comes to the qualification of public spaces.
Fig. 4 & 5: Mixity of use in the Vila Itororo Canteiro Aberto: on the right, self-defense group, circus rehearsal, psychoanalysis clinic (in the back) and a man asked to leave for the self-defense workshop, and on the left, a woodwork workshop.
The Espaço Cultural Jardim Damasceno, located in the Northern part of São Paulo , is an informal occupation of a public space belonging to the Parque Linear do Canivete (Canivete Linear Park). It is managed exclusively by the community, and offers community and cultural activities for residents of the neighborhood, such as dance, street art, capoeira, environmental education or cinema (Site Associaçao Jd Damasceno, 2014). The shelter in the space was built at the beginning of the 1980s, thanks to the mobilization of self-organized residents who demanded from the municipal and state government basic improvements for the region, like sanitation, lighting, and asphalt. This shelter ended being used by the residents’ association, to centralize a variety of activities that were proposed in the streets or in some houses of the neighborhood. The hangar is built on a municipal land and was built without authorization from the municipality, creating a controversial status and a debate over legitimacy. The space suffers from its status quo situation: not a part of the Linear Park, legally not an autonomous space as well, it faces huge difficulties to conduct reforms and is constantly threatened by the successive management authorities. However, the residents who manage the space are trying to prove the legitimacy and the utility of the project to the municipal government, by insisting on the public interest of the space for the community.
The participatory processes that are taking place in these two cases are just two examples of how space can be negotiated between public and private entities. They adopted a different model: while the Vila Itororó embraced shared management as a principle, the Espaço Cultural Jardim Damasceno works under the model of occupation and self-organization. In spite of the threats that weight over both spaces, the two processes of negotiation manage to produce a quality public space and positive individual and community outcomes, as both spaces attend the necessities of the surrounding community and engage effectively with their public.
Fig. 6 & 7: Community activities at the Espaço Cultural Jardim Damasceno.
Shared management practices as successful tools for improving the quality of urban space
The two cases succeed in answering a real demand from the neighborhood: both are the only functional public spaces in a densely urbanized area, with a lot of young people and families. They have to attend this population as well as people living in more precarious conditions (ex-residents of the Vila Itororó, homeless people…). The variety of users in the territory is a challenge for both spaces, that is overcome through participation, civil society constant involvement and effective partnerships. In both cases, partnerships with different groups and collectives offer numerous activities, that manage to bring people of all groups to participate. Participation is used as a tool to bring people into the place, to involve a variety of users and to engage people in relation to space.
However, in both cases, the continuity of activities is threatened by political will. The governance scheme presents persistent fragility and precariousness and complex relationships with the municipal organs add up to conflicts over land use and competition between users for space. The spaces have to face management issues at the municipal scale and at the local scale, as well as within their interaction.
Resources are a way of overcoming these threats. The legal framework is used as a tool to solve the political discontinuity: the recent Law of Participatory Management of Squares (2015) or the Social Function of Property are legal instruments that could help guarantee the continuity of both spaces. Persistent financial fragility is an issue, but resources could be found by diversifying sources of revenue and involving social entrepreneurs. Eventually, media or international attention could bring support to the spaces, by putting the issue of space on the agenda and pressuring policy-makers into creating more effective regulations.
Conclusion – practicing citizenship, practicing democracy
In São Paulo, shared management practices are hence a successful way of preserving and improving the quality of urban spaces. The model of urban commons, a singularity for public space management, challenges the traditional public-private dichotomy by showing how shared management of public goods can lead to the production of quality public spaces.
Enhancing public use and ownership feeling, such practices contribute to recenter the focus of the negotiation over space management on its quality. Quality as an outcome is what gives legitimacy to the management scheme, and a strong argument for the continuity of the projects. These new models of negotiation are indeed exposed to governance challenges, but if long-term public authorities’ commitment is an important modality, it is not as essential as community engagement and civil society participation. The existence of functioning and sustainable public spaces outside the “private vs. public” realm should be preserved, upscaled and institutionalized in effective regulations such as the Law of Participatory Management of Squares (2015), in order for them not to remain isolated initiatives. Connecting the commons could eventually allow them to reach a wider impact, intending to guarantee the right to the city for every urban dweller.
Such practices also have a strong political potential, as they set the ground for community mobilization and engagement. By valorizing community engagement and local culture, and by promoting democratic practices of participation, the commons of São Paulo contribute to tackling not only the lack of public spaces in the city by also the demand for more democracy. In an election year, while Brazil faces a tensed political context, it is more than ever vital for citizens to have spaces of debate and of expression in which they can discuss ideas or experiment solutions freely. Society becomes more democratic when urban spaces are more lively and diverse (Rogers, 2017): preserving the vibrant activity of such spaces, in spite of management discontinuities and resources fragility is hence particularly relevant in São Paulo. In Latin America as a whole, the negotiation for public space and urban planning practices have a determinant role to play during “extraordinary” moments, such as presidential elections or political manifestations. Understanding the means of appropriation, and “what space means and to whom” is a canal to understand how planners and municipalities could contribute to improving democracy at a wider scale (Irazábal, 2008).
All pictures by the author, 2018.
This article is an adapted and summarized version of my Master’s Professional Dissertation: De Parades, A., (2018). Negotiating the urban commons in São Paulo: Between private practices and public use, finding the balance for preserving quality urban spaces, Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris – École Urbaine , 2018. English, pp. 73.
Blomley, N., (2008). Enclosure, Common Right and the Property of the Poor, 17 Sociology & Legal Studies. 311, 315-26.
Feldman, S. and Castro, A., (2017). Vila Itororó: uma história em três atos = Vila Itororó: a three-act story. São Paulo, Instituto Pedra.
Foster, S. R., Iaione, C., (2016), The City as a Commons, 34 Yale Law & Policy Review 281
Gehl, J., (2010), Cities For People, Burnaby, B.C.: University of Simon Fraser Library.
Goodall, B., (1972). The Economics of Urban Areas. Oxford: Pergamon Books
Irazábal, C., (2008). Ordinary places, extraordinary events : citizenship, democracy, and public space in Latin America. 1st ed. London: Routledge.
Jacobs, J., (1961), The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Vintage Books.
Ostrom, E., (2003). ‘How types of goods and property rights jointly affect collective action’, Journal Of Theoretical Politics, 15, 3, p. 239-270.
Rogers, B., (2017). “In Defense of the Street: 10 Principles for Public Spaces,” Making good – shaping places for people, Center for London.
UN-Habitat, (2017). New Urban Agenda English, Habitat III. ISBN: 978-92-1-132731-1. Accessible at: http://habitat3.org/wp-content/uploads/NUA-English.pdf. Accessed on 1.02.2018.
World Bank, (2015). Public spaces – not a “nice to have” but a basic need for cities. Kim, S., Online publication. Accessible at: https://blogs.worldbank.org/endpovertyinsouthasia/public-spaces-not-nice-have-basic-need-cities. Accessed 10.04.2018
Legislations and Regulations:
City of Bologna, (2014). Bologna Regulation for the care and regeneration of Urban Commons (REGOLAMENTO SULLA COLLABORAZIONE TRA CITTADINI E AMMINISTRAZIONE PER LA CURA E LA RIGENERAZIONE DEI BENI COMUNI URBANI), Bologna.
Câmara Municipal de São Paulo, (2015). Lei Municipal Nº 16.212, de 10.06.2015, Dispõe sobre a Gestão Participativa das praças do município de São Paulo, São Paulo.
Data Sources & Websites
Associaçao de Moradores Jardim Damasceno (Neighborhood Association Jd Damasceno), (2018). Quem somos. Accessible at: http://associacaojardimdamasceno.com.br/ Accessed on 12.02.2018
IBGE, (2017), São Paulo: População estimada. Accessible at: https://cidades.ibge.gov.br/brasil/sp/sao-paulo/panorama Accessed 12.02.2018
Vila Itororó Canteiro Aberto (2018). About Us. Accessible at: http://vilaitororo.org.br/ Accessed on 12.02.2018
World Bank, (2017). Urban Population: Brazil. Accessible at: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.URB.TOTL.IN.ZS?locations=BR. Accessed on 12.02.2018