In 2010 the City of Ghent, together with other four cities – Aberdeen, Rotterdam, Montreuil, Ludwigsburg – engaged in the European project Music, aimed at catalyzing and mainstreaming carbon and energy reduction in urban policies, activities and the build environment. The project represented an opportunity for decisive local actions to address sustainability challenges. In particular, the City of Ghent pointed at becoming a climate-neutral city. To implement the project, the City gathered around twenty people of Ghent society, who were involved or interested in topics such as pollution, sustainability, urban livability, though in different ways and with different roles. After the first meeting the civil servants in charge of conducting the brainstorming within the group realized that the topics mentioned above were not cause of concerns, while mobility and the way through which urban streets get used by their inhabitants were fundamental in the conception of a livable city. Addressing these topics, indeed, the group found the inspiration to think about different possibilities to approach urban space, reducing parking slots and car access to streets, implementing socialization spaces and outdoor activities. Therefore, new ideas and proposals were presented at the final event of Music, with the hope to see them realized, but the reaction of the City and its representatives was cold and doubtful for a lack of resources and for the proximity to municipal elections.
Therefore, the group of frontrunners decided to set up the organization Lab Van Troje, in order to try out one of their proposals using their own resources and their own energies. The chosen idea was Living Street – Leefstraat in Dutch – with the aim to turn Ghent into a sustainable, liveable and climate-neutral region. Concretely this was translated into planning a different way to live the street of residence for few months: the street was closed, usually during the summer months, reducing the area dedicated to the traffic and the parking but increasing the green areas and creating spaces for socialization activities.
Living Street in Maurice Verdoncklaan, Ghent. Source: interviewed resident.
One of the fundamental aspects of Living Street is the voluntary engagement in the project. The first group of frontrunners gathered by the City accepted to meet and to spend time on the issue for free; as well the citizens were involved only if they were interested in the experiment. Lab Van Troje, indeed, never opens applications or contacts anyone, it just receives the request of citizens. The latter, after a first informative meeting, are asked to ring the bell of all their neighbours collecting dreams and fears related to the street, on basis of which a plan is projected and then proposed again to every resident. If everyone agrees, hence, it is possible to organize the activities to create the Living Street. As the website reports, Living Street functions as a common project and a learning-by-doing process. Citizens, indeed, have to communicate, collaborate and interact with many different actors living and experiencing urban spaces daily. Both the implementation of the idea and the concrete realization of the Living Street become processes of commoning, as the practice of the creation, preservation, and use of commons is called.
Citizens working for the realization of structures to install in Kozijntjesstraat, Ghent. Source: interviewed resident.
The activity duration of Lab Van Troje has been settled for five years until 2017, hoping in the meantime to spread its insights into Living Street to the current system of residential street design. In total 50 Living Streets have been experimented from 2012 to 2016, with an increasing involvement of the City of Ghent, that acted more as a spectator in the beginning, while it took part into the project as an active partner in the last few editions. Considering the imminent end of Lab Van Troje, in 2017 the latter and the City of Ghent collaborate for the transition of Living Street under the guide of the City. The Meeting and Engaging Department has been appointed to continue building on the experiment by creating a new Living Street 2.0 project. The intention is to try out the experience implemented by Living Street in different environments or situations, by involving partners with diverse roles and functions and focusing also on the social aspects of urban life. One of Lab Van Troje’s volunteers has been hired by the Department, together with another dedicated civil servant, in order to give continuity to the project. Moreover, citizens who already implemented Living Street in their streets are involved in the transition from Lab Van Troje to the City, during a completely accountable process used to explaining them the reasons of the change and to collect by them past experiences of the experiment, suggestions and ideas for the future, and expectations towards the City.
Taking a look at the type of actors involved from the beginning – UE, City of Ghent, Lab Van Troje, research institutes, private companies, citizens – it is notable that the project crossed many different levels, depicting the concept of multi-level governance. In this particular case, I believe it is possible to use the notion of bottom-linked governance, achieved when bottom-up initiatives combine with top-down policies, including alternative mechanisms of negotiation between various groups and networks, potentially empowering local government and embracing alternative creative strategies. I add, though, that the subdivision of society in top-down and bottom-up actors is not sufficient anymore to explain the current complexity and therefore it needs to be substituted by another representation. A complementary and parallel process can be identified in the conception of citizenship: in the last twenty years, debates about the re-scaling of individual rights and duties at transnational or local levels different from the nation-state level, have increasingly arisen; connected with the movement of the right to the city, also the vision of citizens claiming actively rights and responsibilities is more acknowledged. However, I argue that neither an idea of citizenship received as a “package” from the State or an idea of citizenship achieved by citizens as consequence of their activation in the making of the city are fully satisfactory. Citizenship is, nowadays, a set of rights/duties co-shaped by different actors, tracing various dynamics at multiple scales to obtain or to concede benefits and responsibilities in the public arena. Thus, it is necessary to find a model that, always maintaining the idea of peer actors, interacting on horizontal basis, with principles of subsidiarity and accountability, in a reflexive and dynamic process, can better help in representing both this type of governance and this perception of citizenship.
L’articolo riflette su processi di governance urbana e sulle trasformazioni riguardanti il concetto di cittadinanza attraverso il progetto Living Street, implementato dal 2010 ad oggi nella città di Ghent, Belgio. Principale scopo del progetto è trovare soluzioni innovative al fine di rendere la città maggiormente vivibile da un punto di vista socio-ecologico. Dopo aver descritto lo sviluppo del progetto come pratica di commoning, viene sottolineata la necessità di andare oltre sia la ripartizione, ormai inadeguata, tra attori bottom-up e top-down sia l’idea di cittadinanza concessa dallo Stato o ottenuta attivamente dai cittadini. È indispensabile, infatti, trovare un nuovo modello che descriva la complessità attuale delle dinamiche sociali e la diversità degli attori che ne prendono parte.
 Linebaugh P. 2008, The Magna Carta Manifesto. Liberties and Commons for all, London: University of California Press.
 Eizaguirre S, Pradel M., Terrones A., Matinez-Celorrio X., Garcìa M., 2012, Multilevel Governance and Social Cohesion: Bringing Back Conflict in Citizenship Practice, Urban Studies, 49(9), 1999-2016.
 Isin, E., 1997, Who is the new citizen? Toward a genealogy, Citizenship Studies, 1, 115–132; Sassen S., 2000, The global city: strategic site/new frontier, in: E. Isin, Ed. Democracy, Citizenship and the Global City, New York: Routledge;
 Baubock R., 2003, Reinventing urban citizenship, Citizenship Studies, 7, 139–160; Smith M. P., McQuarrie M. Eds. 2012, Remaking Urban Citizenship. Organizations, Institutions and the Right to the City, London: Transaction Publisher.
 Lefebvre H., 1996, Writing on Cities, Cambridge (MA): Blackwell; Harvey D., 2003, The Right to the City, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 27(4), 939-941; Purcell M., 2003, Citizenship and the Right to the Global City: Reimagining the Capitalist World Order, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 27(3), 564-590.
 Dahlgren P., 2006, Doing Citizenship. The Cultural Origin of Civic Agency in the Public Sphere. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 9(3), 267-286.
In my previous post I presented the phenomenon of Social Street and different ways of these neighbourhood communities to interact with their urban local government. After its publication I had the chance to discuss about it with Luigi Nardacchione, administrator and member of the group Residenti in Via Fondazza – Bologna, and founder – together with Federico Bastiani – of the website Social Street Italia. Our conversation was useful for resuming what has been said about Social Street so far and to clarify once more what we are exactly talking about.
Luigi Nardacchione and Federico Bastiani, administrators of the group “Residenti in Via Fondazza – Bologna” and founders of the website Social Street Italia. Credits: Facebook group Residenti in Via Fondazza – Bologna.
At the question what Social Street is, this is the usual and immediate Luigi’s answer: Social Street is sociality. «The aim is to facilitate the relationships and the acquaintance of neighbours, to re-create the sense of sociality». Sociality, therefore, is the most important goal to reach. All the initiatives, that every Social Street organizes – such as parties, walking tours, cooking laboratories, cleaning of the green public spaces, organisation of second hand markets, etc – have the single purpose to stimulate citizens in socialising. They represent a way, an “excuse”, to gather neighbours around common projects and interests. The will of maintaining members’ relations as first and main goal refers to the concept of «pure sociability», considered the most authentic and transparent model of interaction. In this perspective, sociality becomes a value and a good in itself.
A higher attention towards the urban territory arises in Social Streets’ members as a consequence of the increase in sociability and in activities done together in the area of residence. Indeed, the fact that meetings and events are organized in the neighbourhood makes residents more aware of public spaces: «we feel the territory as our own house, we claim it and we take care of it». This dimension has been already underlined by some members of the group Residenti in Via Fondazza whom I interviewed three years ago. After the Social Street creation and after meeting the neighbours living in the street, they recognize the sidewalks, the arcades and the street in general as an extension of their home. This brings members of Social Streets to notice negative behaviours or lack of attention towards the urban territory and to act consequently: «In one year and a half, every Sunday we met to clean all the entrance doors, all the gates and all the walls facing the street. We do it just because we are glad to do it and because we like to meet on Sundays». The presence of residents committed to this activity give the chance to other neighbours, who initially did not participate in Social Street or who were sceptical about it, to appreciate its values and to socialize more. Besides triggering the sociality in the area, this behaviour produces a second mechanism, similar to the one described by the theory of broken windows: many inhabitants of the street start to clean their own facades autonomously. «Instead than saying “it will be dirty again, why are you doing it?”, there is this virtuous mechanism, without getting angry. You do what you can without complaining».
What is fundamental, however, is that citizens’ care does not depend on the collaboration with the urban local government and it has not to be triggered in any case by the public administration’s request. «I claim the city because I live here, not because the municipality asks me to do so […] We can do everything without political and economic compromises. We want to show that this experiment [Social Street] is possible staying outside of the existing structures, because sociality is out of the system». Luigi mentions many examples of Social Streets that decided to establish a formal collaboration with the local government, both in Bologna and Milan, some of them also signing a collaboration pact. In Bologna the most part of parks and green areas are managed and cured by citizens – individuals or associated in formal organizations. This citizens’ attitude is not wrong generally and Luigi is not against either citizens/committees engaged in this kind of activities or the public administration that opens up this possibility. He does not agree with it just when Social Streets give more values and importance to this aspect than to the generation of sociality. Moreover, since the subjects formally involved in the maintenance and cleaning of public spaces are already numerous, Social Street does not need to base its activity from the same starting point. The possibility to take care of the urban territory is positive – reporting Luigi’s words – and it is possible that neighbours who met thanks to Social Street, decide afterwards to engage in the management of a common good collectively. Nonetheless, it has to remain characteristic of an individual agency, not of a collective and informal subject such as the Social Street that aims, firstly, to include everyone in socialisation practices. Inclusion, indeed, is a variable that strongly matters when one Social Street has to decide whether collaborating with the Municipality. Signing a collaboration pact implies getting closer to the political party that is leading the city at that moment. Some members of the group might disagree with political decisions of this party and, thus, disagree with their Social Street’s decision as well: the result would be that these specific members get distant from the group, not feeling included and engaged anymore. In Milan, really few Social Street – 28 out of 76 – decided to enrol in the official register for informal associations founded by the current municipality’s administration. According to Luigi, this happened because engaging in the research of solutions for collective problems or in the regeneration of urban spaces is not the first aim of Social Street. These aspects become important within Social Street framework only as vehicle of sociality.
Together with sociality, another solid idea emerging from Luigi’s words is that social initiatives do not need to be framed in the existing mainstream structure and political system to be innovative. They can bring innovation by being free, unformal and based on little, but always kept central, values: «Small revolutions are made on even smaller things, but these things have to be really clear».
L’articolo riassume il significato di Social Street, basato sul valore fondante della socialità. La cura verso gli spazi pubblici si sviluppa in un secondo momento e secondo Luigi Nardacchione, amministratore della prima Social Street e fondatore del sito Social Street Italia, questo non implica una collaborazione con la pubblica amministrazione. Anzi, l’intento originale è quello di non entrare nel sistema politico ed economico già esistente, ma dimostrare che le innovazioni possono svilupparsi anche da piccole iniziative, libere e indipendenti.
 All quotations refer to the conversation that I had with Luigi Nardacchione on 16/11/2017.
 Simmel G., 1997, La socievolezza, Roma: Armando.
 Kelling G. L., Wilson J. Q., 1982, Broken Windows: The police and neighbourhood safety, Atlantic Monthly, pp. 29-38.
 Regulation on civic collaboration for the urban commons.
 Avviso pubblico Social Street, politiche sociali, Comune di Milano
Credits: pictures from http://www.socialstreet.it
Four years ago, in September 2013, the Facebook group Residenti in Via Fondazza – Bologna was born: after a fast growth of its members and thank to a strong mediatic interest, the group triggered the Social Street phenomenon. The Social Street is a form of neighbourhood communities, whose purpose is to «promote socialization between neighbours in the same street in order to build relationships, to interchange needs, to share expertise and knowledges, to implement common interest projects, with common benefits from a closer social interaction […] It is a no-profit activity with social purpose. Social Street is not pursuing any political, religious, ideological view. It brings people together with the sole criterion of the proximity between area residents».
Indeed, since every group is organized around a specific urban area – street, square, park, part of neighbourhood – the territory takes on strong importance, because it becomes the basis for the construction of a shared identity among Social Street members. These ones share, moreover, three main values:
The sociality, as well as being the primary need from which the experience was born, also becomes the most important goal to reach. All the initiatives organized have the single purpose to stimulate citizens in socialising and participating in common projects. Semantically the gift implies gratitude and allows to activate virtuous circles of reciprocity and trust; in addition, every donated goods and services implies a bonding value. Lastly, the access to Social Street is open to everyone for total participation, regardless any ethnical, political or religious differences.
Currently there are 397 Social Street in Italy and 8 abroad – Portugal, Netherlands, Poland, US, Canada, Brasil and New Zealand. In Italy they spread more in the North and gradually less in the Centre-South of the country: Milan 86, Bologna 67, Rome 45, Palermo 21 (data are updated on 13/10/2017). Among all neighbourhood groups there is a huge diversity due to:
- geographical position;
- collocation within cities;
- birth year;
- type of activities;
- internal/external governance.
Here what I want to focus on is the external governance, meaning the relational network established by every Social Street with other socio-political subjects of the territory, such as the Municipality, the local administrative institutions and any other kind of associations belonging to civil society. From the beginning Social Street groups chose different approach to deal with this issue. The website, opened by the first Social Street’s founders, underlines that reaching the goal of sociality does not require funding, private spaces to be rent or any formal collaborations with municipalities. Therefore some group decide to follow strictly these guidelines and maintain just an informal dialogue with other urban actors. The fear to be exploited by public administration and the will not to be identified as a possible solution to local collective problems affect this choice as well. On the contrary, other groups that engage in urban regeneration or participatory projects feel the necessity to collaborate closely with public administrations, sometimes even applying for common projects with other civil society actors.
The structure arising from these practices recall the concept of multi-level governance, namely new forms of state power organization based on a double process: an increase in the distribution of power between different levels of government and the creation of policy making coalitions that only in part consist of representatives of the state, opening the participation to private and civil actors. These network-based forms of governance, though, do not always have codified rules and regulations that shape or define participation and identify the exact domains or arenas of power. On the one hand, such absence of codification potentially permits socially innovative forms of organisation and of governing; on the other hand, it also opens up a vast terrain of contestation and potential conflict. The innovation occurs when bottom-linked governance is achieved, that is when bottom-up initiatives combine with top-down policies, including alternative mechanisms of negotiation between various groups and networks, potentially empowering local government and embracing who disagrees with mainstream policy formulation and who presents alternative creative strategies. In Italy, already in 2001, the constitutional reform of Title V – Article 118 – defined the principle of horizontal subsidiarity, underlining the support that State, regions and municipalities must give to the free exercise of general interest activities by citizens as individual and as organizations. Moreover, in 2014 the City of Bologna implemented the Regulation on civic collaboration for the urban commons, that allows to establish collaborations between local governments and citizens in order to care, re-generate and manage urban commons, tangible and intangible, functional to the individual and collective wellbeing.
Going back to Social Streets, there are many examples of both choices.
The first Social Street, Residenti in Via Fondazza, strongly claims its independence from every type of stable and formalized relationship with the public administration. This choice, nevertheless, does not prevent its members from organizing many activities and events for the realization of which they regularly ask for permissions about public spaces’ use to the City of Bologna. One of the services that this group has implemented is a system of bike sharing, after the request to the public administration to install more bicycle parking spots. Some residents have offered unused bicycles to the neighbours; now these bicycle are identified by a signboard saying that they belong to the Social Street. When one of the members needs a bicycle, he/she can directly ask for the key to the greengrocer of Via Fondazza, use the bicycle until he/she needs it and bring it back to the square at the end.
Credits: picture from the Facebook group “Residenti in via Fondazza – Bologna”
From three years, Via Fondazza is also the location of Muri Di Versi, an event of poetry, music and culture aiming to animate the surrounding area and to invite everyone to socialise exchanging every existing type of art.
Credits: picture from the Facebook group “Residenti in Via Fondazza – Bologna”
Similarly, one of the Social Streets in Verona, Residenti in Via Venti Settembre, refused the Municipality request to work closely for drawing a call for new Social Street creation. Furthermore, even if the members adopted a garden placed along the street and the small building inside it as location for their weekly meetings, taking care of both regularly, they prefer to ask the City for permission about public space use each time, instead of setting a permanent collaboration.
Credits: picture from Facebook group “Residenti in via Venti Settembre – Verona – Social Street”
Opposite attitude characterizes decisions taken by other groups. Another Social Street of Bologna, Residenti in Via Duse, was the first group of citizens to sign a collaboration pact with the Municipality through the Regulation mentioned above. Thanks to this partnership, citizens have obtained the possibility to use and take care of a public notice board, otherwise left unused, for advertising their activities/events/projects and for exchanging useful information. Moreover, they managed to associate with other civil actors active in the same urban area, such as a neighbourhood committee and a cooperative of architects, in order to develop together participatory projects and to rent an indoor space where to gather in.
Credits: picture from Facebook group “Residenti in Via Duse e dintorni Bologna – Social Street”
Similar is the case of Residenti in Via San Pio X, Social Street in Trento, where the members, animated by strong interest in networking with the local area and in spreading a conception of common management for public spaces, are collaborating with public institutions and many associations and schools. They took care of regenerating a public wall along the street; since one year and a half they garden regularly local flowerbeds; a notice board and a book-crossing library have been installed. Besides, the Social Street implemented a project within schools, spreading among students the idea of active citizenship and of common responsibility towards the local territory.
Credits: picture from Facebook group “Residenti in via San Pio X e dintorni Trento – Social Street”
Preferring to avoid the use of money, other Social Streets simply signed the collaboration pact with their own Municipality: it is the case of Residenti in Via Pitteri, in Ferrara, for example, where members, among many other activities, take care of a little urban area and a park, receiving in exchange from the City the material to keep it clean and the maintenance necessary for structures.
Credits: picture from Facebook group “Residenti in via Pitteri e dintorni – a Ferrara”
In conclusion, Social Streets can take different directions when they network within the city. This does not mean though that the groups, not willing to establish collaborations, are less careful about the local territory or about collective needs, but it only means that the latter are diverse in every context. Different are also the population living in a specific area, services offered by public institutions or third sector, the geographical configuration of the space. Therefore, it is unreasonable to identify the most efficient practice, rather it is important not to forget an analysis of geographical, social, economic and political aspects of local contexts, considering the path-dependence rooted in every Social Street and, generally, in every bottom-up movement.
Il fenomeno Social Street ha appena compiuto quattro anni dalla nascita del primo gruppo di residenti. Dopo una breve introduzione riguardo ai principali valori alla base dell’idea, in questa riflessione si vuole portare l’attenzione sulla differenza che caratterizza i vari gruppi. In particolare, i diversi approcci con cui ogni Social Street si rapporta alla pubblica amministrazione e agli attori di terzo settore, delineando diversi assetti di governance.
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