House as a commons: from collaborative housing to community housing

House as a commons: from collaborative housing to community housing

Housing is one of the most serious urban issues: the Housing Europe 2015 Report described a dramatic situation marked by the lack of adequate housing, the increasing of social and housing polarization, phenomena of housing deprivation and  the reduction of affordability. In Italy, the last Federcasa-Nomisma report too has let emerge a difficult situation: the housing discomfort in 2014 involved 1.7 million households, touching both the Public Residential Building (ERP), and the non-ERP rentals. The social housing, even if able to offer leases lower than the market, cannot keep up with the growing demand; the Real Estate Funds System did not create enough accommodation to meet the housing demand. In addition, the last ISTAT report (2018) revealed the highest peak of absolute poverty since 2005, foreshadowing a possible increase of the housing emergency.

An important gathering to reflect about the Italian housing situation has been held in Matera (Basilicata) during the General Assembly of Federcasa[1], last June 27th -28th. A two-day conference introduced by a seminar event “House as a common. Public housing as a social infrastructure for urban regeneration and development”, organized by Federcasa in collaboration with LabGov – LUISS Guido Carli University and the ATER of Potenza and Matera. The event, with an international approach, was opened by the Federcasa President, Luca Talluri and moderated by the General Director, Antonio Cavaleri. It saw the presence of institutional actors and academic experts discuss the potentiality and critical issues of the new management and financing models for the public real estate. Among them also Professor Christian Iaione, which coordinated a recent research developed in collaboration with Federcasa to understand how to make the use of the existing housing stock more efficient and to investigate new models able to increase the availability of housing units and guarantee new ways of access.

The research “House as a Common: from collaborative to community housing”, presented during the conference and to be published in the next months, focuses on the analysis of new forms of living, currently under testing both in Italy and abroad, able to promote or facilitate initiatives of urban regeneration through processes of social, cognitive and technological innovation and to generate new forms of urban governance. In particular the national and European contexts, both in terms of legal systems and practices, analyzed in the report, have highlighted the relevance of new housing models in which the cooperation, sharing and collaboration are predominant. The report started from the Elinor Ostrom’s design principles, glimpsing in the cooperative and collaborative management model of living and in self-organized communities of residents an alternative way potentially able to give a new and effective answer to the housing problem. The Ostrom’s approach has been developed by Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione to adapt it to the urban context and the research used the five design principles identified by the two scholars through the field work of the “City as a Commons” approach to analyze the housing sector. Applying the Co-City approach to the housing sector means reading the current problematics through a different lens paving the way for the hypothesis that new housing models based on cooperation and collective forms of management can represent a concrete answer to the current housing shortage.

The research in particular analyzed and codified 73 Italian case studies, using the five design principles (urban co-governance, enabling state, economic and social pooling, experimentalism and tech justice) as empirical dimensions operationalized with qualitative indicators, taking inspiration from the Ostrom’s institutional analysis and from the Co-City database analysis, together with a hypothesis-generating and refining case studies methodology (Yin, 2014; Swanborn, 2010; Stake, 1995). In addition, an in-depth analysis through semi-structures interviews was made on 9 cases considered significant, extracted among those better able to show the main features and the dynamics to monitor under the Co-City protocol, and the main patterns emerged from the case selection.

In particular, in terms of co-governance, translating this Co-City reasoning at the housing level, allowed to retrace a three stages model: the simple building sharing (first degree of the co-governance gradient, sharing), collaboration or co-production of services operated by the actors involved in the housing project (second degree: collaboration) and co-management and co-ownership of the buildings by the actors involved (third degree: plycentrism). From the analysis emerged a tendency towards the polycentrism even if there are not completed forms of it. In Italy, in view of interesting experiences, they still situated at the first and second degree but allow to understand some crucial aspects: first of all how the implementation of complex levels of co-governance in the housing sector required to develop new multi-actors social partnerships forms (i.e. public-civic, public-private-civic, etc.) and an ecosystemic approach to realize the transition towards new forms of affordable housing. The role of the public actors (enabling state) appears as a key element that favors the success of the housing projects and the presence of economic and social pooling processes through collaboration enables positive externalities of public utility for the local community. In addition, the civic element seems to be a better guarantee in the creation of truly collaborative projects and the presence of the private actor can influence the development of the project especially in economic terms.

Nevertheless, there are some critical aspects underlined by the research: 1. A geographical imbalance in the distribution of the innovative experiences (the main innovative projects are located in the North and Central Italy, while the South still strive to find solutions in terms of housing affordability, the involvement of the public actor is still very marginal and the offer proposed by the active actors on the housing sector remains mainly private in nature); 2. Beneficiaries are mainly part of the so-called grey segment of population (people that cannot access to the traditional real estate market and not even to the public housing) and not the weakest; 3. Urban regeneration does not necessarily go through the re-circulation of disused public or private buildings; 4. With the Integrate Fund System often the public actors provide the land or the real estate but at the end the public resource benefits mainly the private actors and the fund becomes in this process a kind of privatization of the ERP system, hence the system should be rethought in order to avoid the risk to reproduce the same market fails of the public-private partnerships.

What emerges from the research is that the public support becomes more effective when combined with the private sector and the civic component in order to favor the shared use of the commons, maintain a high level of experimentalism, encourage the use of technological innovations and the spirit of collaboration. What is still missing is a widespread administrative favorable context, that is the enabler infrastructure required to spread these emerging models (Aernouts and Ryckewaert, 2017). Therefore implementing models that enhance the universalistic role of the public housing agencies considering the activation of multi-stakeholders partnership inside new co-governance models, could help to face the more dramatic situations and cover more segments of population looking for a housing solution (Aernouts and Ryckewaert, 2018).

From the analysis, the research identified the Community Land Trust[2] as the tool better able to reach the level of polycentrism, since it is a model of property cooperativism able to realize stable partnerships among the public institutions and the so-called “public as community” – inhabitants, civil society organizations, cognitive institutions). The CLT is a community-centered model that tends to connect the diverse autonomous centers of a city, foreseeing a property scheme; while the sharing and collaborative experiences observed in Italy are mainly based on the use and management of the housing property without opening to the wide community. The research suggests that in Italy this solution could be introduced experimenting the potentialities of legal forms such as the community cooperatives, the participatory foundations, and other forms of social partnership and administrative tools already existing in the Italian legal background. What is required is a contextual-based method applied through a preliminary experimental process inspired by the principle of the administrative self-organization of the local authorities and by the civic autonomy considering the specific variables of the urban social context and the institutional capacity. In this sense adopt an Advisory Board could be helpful to support the local governments and the agencies of public housings.

Besides the research “House as a commons: from collaborative to community housing” the conference saw the speeches also of other experts: Laura Fregolent from the IUAV University presented a research on Venice estimating the crisis impact on the housing sector and suggesting to rethink the city starting from a wide-ranging knowledge of the local contexts. Alice Pittini, research coordinator of Housing Europe, explained how the principles of self-management, empowerment and co-creation can be integrated in the housing theme. Joaquin the Santos from the CLT Brussels presented the Community Land Trust operating in Brussels.  Nestor Davidson, professor of law at the Fordham University, via skype call, explained how the American public housing works, going throw historical and political steps, stressing the concept of neighborhood effect, highlighting how the crisis is generating new housing models, talking about the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, presenting some best practices such as the Common Property Funds or the New Yorker’s legislation to provide low-income citizens with access to counsel for wrongful evictions. In particular Nestor Davidson emphasized how the uncertainty of federal funding, as well as the political polarization, have led to social innovations and new models demonstrating that public and private can work together simply finding new tools to do it at best. Edoardo Reviglio from Cassa Depositi e Prestiti remembered the success of the old GESCAL founds and the importance to rethink the Piano Casa in order to consider the weakest segment of population.

Professor Iaione proposed some closing food for thought for the future:

  1. Knowledge: it’s important to note that a new social pact is already being re-established between those who manage the housing projects and those who live there and today there are already new solutions in the housing sector, hence we should start from the critical issues to understand how overcome them;
  2. Pluralism: the public actor is not alone, it can count on the communities and on a plurality of emerging solutions, actors and tools, from which the public houses should be reconceived as social infrastructures;
  3. Neighborhood effect: the housing agencies can be urban, but also social end economic, regeneration agents acting as engine of local development;
  4. Institutional capability: testing before and evaluating after, should be the guiding concepts before any concrete action or change in the normative frames.

The conference was closed by the President of Federcasa which also stressed the importance to start from what already exist in the Italian context to experiment new solutions, looking to processes of regeneration that are urban as well as social and economic.

[1] Federcasa is an association bringing together 114 public housing companies and housing bodies at the provincial, communal and regional level. Members of Federcasa provide over 850.000 social dwellings to low and middle income households, partly financed by public funding.

[2] TCP’s articles about CLTs available here.

Il mondo delle case popolari si è incontrato a Matera il 27/28 Giugno 2018 in occasione dell’Assemblea Generale di Federcasa. Un appuntamento arricchito dal convegno “Casa Bene Comune. Le case popolari come infrastrutture sociali per la rigenerazione e lo sviluppo urbano”, organizzato da Federcasa in collaborazione con l’Università LUISS Guido Carli e le ATER di Matera e Potenza. Diversi esperti, tra cui anche il prof. Nestor  Davidson in collegamento skype dalla Fordham University di New York, sono intervenuti per discutere delle potenzialità e delle criticità delle nuove formule di gestione e finanziamento dell’edilizia residenziale pubblica. In particolare è stata presentata la ricerca “Casa Bene Comune: dall’housing collaborativo all’housing di comunità”, coordinata dal prof. Christian Iaione che ha investigato nuovi modelli di abitare capaci di aumentare la disponibilità abitativa e garantire nuove formule di accesso.



The World Economic Forum’s Future of Urban Development and Services Initiative has released its new whitepaper on «Collaboration in Cities: From Sharing to ‘Sharing Economy’».

The concept of Sharing Economy during the last years has become quite mainstream, even if the phenomenon represents one of the major disruptive innovations of the last century. Sharing is not something new of course, as it is an old concept as old as human civilization, to quote Gregory Hodkinson (Chairman, Arup Ltd and Chair of the World Economic Forum System Future of Urban Development and Services Initiative). But in the last years, thanks to the Internet and to the ICTs, new trends and mindsets about sharing have emerged. The proliferation of peer-to-peer social networks, together with global recession, an increased environmental awareness and the desire to rebuild social bonds and communities, have brought to the development and spread of the Sharing Economy. The WEF whitepaper underlines that the popularity of the phrase “sharing economy” has increased sixteenfold since 2013 according to Google Trends. Nevertheless, since there is not a common and unique definition, the term is often confused with overlapping terminologies such as “collaborative economy”, “on-demand economy”, “gig economy”, “freelance economy”, “peer economy”, “access economy”, “crowd economy”, “digital economy” and “platform economy” (see the distinction proposed by April Rinne on the WEF blog).

The spread of the phenomenon is having impacts on our way to consume, produce, distribute, work and travel, ultimately transforming our lives, boosting social cohesion and offering chances to reduce the environmental footprint.

As noted by Cheryl Martin, Head of Industries, World Economic Forum “while sharing may often decrease the cost of access, it also has the potential to address long-term societal challenges such as making cities more inclusive and building social connections between groups that might otherwise never have interacted. In experimenting with sharing practices, however, cities will also have to be agile in addressing externalities and disruption to their planning processes, policy formulation and regulatory structures”.

Gregory Hodkinson takes the same view: “The sharing economy is making cities redefine land-use strategies, minimize their costs, optimize public assets and collaborate with other actors (for-profits, non-profits, social enterprises, communities and other cities) in developing policies and frameworks that encourage continued innovation in this area”.

The WEF with its whitepaper is indeed exploring potential opportunities and challenges of the sharing economy in cities offering examples and solutions from cities around the world. It makes the case that sharing in cities can have a transformative impact – boosting the economy and nurturing a sense of community by bringing people into contact with one another, facilitating neighborliness, and improving the environment by making the most efficient use of resources. Cities have a potential role in facilitating/enabling and harnessing the sharing business models by fostering partnerships that shape a “sharing and collaborative” culture across all industry sectors.

The whitepaper is structured on answering 7 main questions:

1. What does Sharing Economy mean for cities?

The collaborative dynamics of the sharing economy have creative implications for cities. Sharing can create a sense of community among strangers, which helps to facilitate trust and social inclusion. From an environmental perspective, sharing can reduce overall use of resources through practices such as carpooling and co-working facilities. Sharing can also supplement supply in periods of peak demand […] rather than turning to additional construction”. The sharing economy platforms are growing in number and size all over the world and more and more people affirm to use their services. In some cities sharing practices are specifically used to increase inclusiveness (in US good example are Los Angeles and Minneapolis).

2. Who are the actors of the Sharing Economy?

The whitepaper identifies 6 categories: 1. Individual users (those who use P2P or B2P platforms for economic, social or environmental reasons); 2. For-Profit enterprises (profit-seekers who engage in buying, selling, lending, renting or trading with the aid of digital technologies – platforms, to lower transaction costs); 3. Social Enterprises/cooperatives (primarily motivated by social or ecological reasons); 4. Local Communities (Actors at the local or neighborhood level / non-profit and informal models; transactions are mainly non-monetized,  inter-personal connection is emphasized); 5. Non-profit Enterprises (non-business actors with the primary motivation of advancing a mission or purpose); 6. Public Sector/Government  (using public infrastructure to support or forge partnerships with other actors to promote innovative forms of sharing).

3. What are the drivers of sharing?

The economic, social and environmental drivers of participating in the sharing economy vary across sociodemographic groups and between users and providers”, for this reason, as reported in the whitepaper many cities have now offices and strategies for promoting sharing.

4. What is being shared in cities?

Individuals and collectives (social enterprises, cooperatives, for-profit and communities) can share a wide range of things, related to nine major groups: 1. Mobility and transportation; 2. Spaces; 3. Skills and talent; 4. Financing; 5. Health; 6. Utilities; 7. General Goods; 8. Food and 9. Learning.

The whitepaper emphasizes what can be shared by the city government since cities “can leverage the potential of the sharing economy in municipal goods, municipal spaces, civic assets, municipal services and skills and talent of city resident such as:

  • Municipal goods: City-owned equipment, machinery, vehicles and other goods can be shared among departments or with neighboring municipalities;
  • Municipal Spaces and Civic Assets: these include civic amenities or spaces such as gardens, subways, city run schools, hospitals and libraries, and city recreational centers. Idle capacity in municipal spaces can be used for urban farming, pop-up shops, parking and start-up hubs, supporting local business and culture. For example, Seoul operates a website to reserve sports facilities, lecture halls and meeting rooms for educational and cultural events;
  • Municipal Services: municipal governments in many areas have collaborative agreements to facilitate providing services to the citizens they serve, and have been working together in this way since long before the sharing economy”

 5. How can cities share?

Sometimes cities directly facilitate sharing practices, in other cases, this role is covered by non-governmental entities (private sector, local communities, non-profit and social enterprises). The report identifies a two-step process:

  1. Focus on the purpose of a sharing city: economic, socio-cultural development or environmental sustainability;
  2. Focus on government role(s) in a sharing city: government can act as a regulator; facilitator/enabler; integrator/implementer; collaborator.


6. What are the issues and challenges in the sharing economy?

Recalling the work of Agyeman and McLaren, the white paper remembers that sharing economy practices can increase multicultural interactions through 1. Revolution; 2. Subversion; 3. Reinvention. According to the two authors, the best opportunities for a systemic change come from combining reinvention and subversion to “seek interlinked opportunities to enhance well-being, increase justice and equity and spread participative democracy”.

The report identifies 6 main challenges divided into two groups:

  • Challenges in market-driven sharing:
    • Establishing trust and reputation
    • Ensuring safety and security
    • Uncertain effects of social equality
    • More exclusive than inclusive
  • Challenges in purpose-driven sharing (for social and/or environmental reasons):
    • Guiding sharing towards improving public infrastructure and services
    • Accountability and transparency in collective/collaborative governance

For each challenge, the whitepaper reports cities examples.

7. How should sharing be regulated?

Governments first have to understand the intricacies of the specific operating model and its implications – whether economic (taxes, monopolies), legal (redefining labour laws that cater to freelancers) or social (protecting the rights of participants). Cities have to work to involve all necessary levels of government: Seoul illustrates the challenge, as the city government is promoting sharing initiatives within its own scope but higher-level laws and administrative regulations have not caught up”. The whitepaper identifies some key points:

  1. Striking a balance: governments should encourage innovation and competition and protect the interest of citizens at the same time; adopting a bottom-up approach or a top-down one.
  2. Playing fair (legal): cities have to ensure healthy competition among traditional and new business models, identifying where to apply a different regulatory treatment.
  3. Defining applicable taxes and fees (legal) avoiding unclear or unfair taxation structures; cities should define a regulatory framework that incorporates the views and concerns of all stakeholders (the sharing platforms, traditional market players and participants across different sectors).
  4. Self-regulation (legal) that can decrease the pressure on regulatory bodies and allow the government to observe trends before taking corrective steps.
  5. Protecting data (social): sharing platforms collect, store, analyze a lot of valuable data of their participants (including transactional and non-transactional data) that should be protected; they are also useful for city government in the urban city planning

The challenge of regulating sharing-economy platforms is complex. Governments have to avoid deterring innovation while trying to achieve economic, social or environmental goals. It is, therefore, important for them to have flexibility in their regulatory approach”.

As Hazem Galal, PwC Global Cities and Government Leader, said: “Regulatory and tax structures need to be revisited to address these concerns as sharing platforms begin to scale across different sectors of the economy. At the same time, developing a culture of sharing within cities to improve services with accountability and transparency would go a long way in shaping the ‘sharing cities’ of the future.”

Very interesting and useful is the presence in the whitepaper of many different examples coming from cities all over the world.

  • Melbourne has become a global leader in the food-sharing sector (144 technology-mediated food-sharing initiatives). The city has a strong start-up and sharing-economy culture driven by entrepreneurial knowledge workers in co-working environments. Increasingly, this is becoming the cornerstone of the central city economy and its real-estate market. There are many enterprises that contribute to the local economy and social causes with their platforms scaling to different parts of the world (see 300 Acres, a community-sharing initiative that facilitates community access to unused city sites, enabling neighbours to establish communal gardens) and the City of Melbourne Open Data platform is a public-sector platform that releases municipal data to encourage innovation by businesses, researchers, students, programmers and data scientists.
  • Seattle has six “libraries of things” in lower- and mixed-income areas, where citizens can borrow tools. None is run directly by the government, but most have received support through grants or in-kind services to get started. The city, in addition, will invest the taxes it collects from the short-term rental market in community-led projects and paying off bonds for affordable housing.
  • New York, with the organization 596 Acres, supports residents to reclaim and manage public land for communities. New York, together with Seoul, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Toronto joint the Sharing Cities Alliance. The Alliance aims to enable cities and their citizens to shape their own future through city-to-city collaboration and its main goal is to enable city leaders continue to address the sharing economy.
  • Barcelona is driving a time-bank project where people exchange their time for doing everyday tasks (currently there are 28 time banks listed on its website). The city is also discussing the idea of the “urban commons” implementing the “Reglamento do Participacion Ciudadana”
  • London has a crowdfunding platform where citizens can propose project ideas and get City Hall’s support.
  • Seoul has started in 2012 the “Sharing City, Seoul” project, organizing a sharing promotion committee, a Sharing economy Advisory Board, a Sharing Facilitation Committee and  institutionalizing  sharing economy practices through an innovation office (Seoul Innovation Division); now it has 97 distinct sharing schemes, from public bicycles to parking spaces to children’s clothes, and it operates a website ( to shared municipal spaces and civic assets. Seoul is also collaborating with other cities to provide sharing services. In November 2016, the city government and seven other local governments adopted a joint declaration on policy cooperation for the sharing city, including developing and promoting joint programmes for sharing enterprises and groups, exchanging policies, improving the legal system and strengthening cooperation with domestic and overseas cities.
  • Kamaishi City in Japan is partnering with sharing platforms to prepare for hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
  • Kigali motorbike taxi app SafeMotos uses smartphone data to distinguish safe from unsafe drivers.
  • Amsterdam opened the reflection about sharing economy thanks to the private social enterprise  ShareNL that was instrumental in launching the “Amsterdam Sharing City” initiative in early 2015. Today the city is reasoning on the “urban commons” thanks to the FabCity distributed manufacturing initiative. It is also connecting senior citizens and low-income households to sharing platforms via CityPass.
  • São Paulo has implemented road-use fees to encourage transport network companies (TNCs) to complement public transit, limiting excess supply during peak hour congestion and augmenting supply when less served.
  • Bologna has passed a resolution on collaboration between citizens and the city for the care and regeneration of urban commons and developed a “collaborative city” programme (collaboration pacts); it has paved the way for the so-called “Co-City Protocol” that explores forms of shared, collaborative and polycentric urban governance thanks to the extensive work of the co-founders of LabGov, Christian Iaone and Sheila Foster.

The whitepaper, thanks to many contributors (among which also Sheila Foster), aims to improve understanding of the sharing economy’s potential by clarifying terminology; exploring examples of what kinds of goods and services can be shared, who participates in sharing platforms and why; and discussing the challenges created by the sharing economy and how authorities can respond.  It takes stocks on the role of cities in integrating/implementing solutions for sharing of (or collaborating on) public assets and services and/or collaborating with other cities, enterprises (for-profit or not-for-profit) and other stakeholders to make the most of a city’s assets.

It can be considered a first important step in systematizing all the experiences arising in the world about sharing economy and city government, from which go even further.



Il World Economic Forum – su mandato del Future of Urban Development and Services Initiative – ha recentemente pubblicato il suo ultimo Libro Bianco: «Collaboration in Cities: From Sharing to ‘Sharing Economy’». Un documento nel quale sono messe in evidenza le potenziali opportunità ma anche le sfide e le difficoltà che la sharing economy veicola nelle e per le città; nonché una serie di approcci adottati da varie città nel mondo e possibili soluzioni.


Co–making the City. Ideas from the Innovative City Development Meeting

Co–making the City. Ideas from the Innovative City Development Meeting


    photo credit: Shareen Elnaschie‏ @shareenee

As presented in a previous article of LabGov, in March 2017 the City of Madrid, together with the  European Cultural Foundation (ECF) and the  Connected Action for the Commons hold the Innovative City Development Meeting. A gathering of innovative city makers – researchers, activists, experts and city officials – distinguished for a progressive approach to cultural issues, social innovation, urban development and participatory governance processes with city governments.

The meeting started from the assumption that today institutions should co-make the city with local people, and it represented the chance to reflect upon the way to reach this collaborative perspective. A growing commons movement indeed is spreading in Europe and more and more institutions are trying to involve local people in making co-decision when it comes to issues closely affecting their neighborhoods and cities. In the last years Connected Action for the Commons has been co-working to scale up collaborative working practices and services for people in their locality, and from a small group of like-minded organisations today it represents a growing and influential network of cultural change-makers that inspired the meeting.

Many sessions were facilitated by the LabGov’s co-founder, Christian Iaione, who also contributed with advises and suggestions to the final report of the meeting, written and compiled by Nicola Mullenger, with contributions also from Katarina Pavić and Igor Stokfiszewski. The report, presented in July 2017 at the International Association for the Study of the Commons conference, details the main reflections emerged during the meeting and three case studies, as well as some recommendations for city makers.

Here below, the main outcomes of the report are briefly illustrate.

The design of the meeting. Each city maker gave a four-minutes speech highlighting a challenge they are working on and focusing on concrete issues in their own communities. Smaller facilitated groups discussed challenges and possible solutions “for collaborative city change-making with the aim to find practices that can encourage community and institutional participatory city-making processes”. Among the various presentations the report lists the case of A Coruña (Spain), Chişinău (Moldova) and Naples (Italy), showing the “diversity of issues and geographical areas in Europe where citizen participation and commoning practices” face many challenges but are already making a difference.

  • Ideas for bottom–up transnational municipal reform. From the case studies and their challenges the reflection converged on the required conditions to pave the way for urban co-governance or urban commons participatory governance, as well as city making. The groups of discussion try to answer to two main questions:
  1. what are the values that could inspire commons-based assets and service management schemes?

Trust, transparency, equality and diversity within institutions, as well as a right balance between values and coordination should be pursued creating a system carefully balanced with the need for an open process that makes the space for experimentation and in which solutions and information are shared. This system should relies on a definition of common interest, like a charter of the “Value of Commons”, as in Naples. As underlined in the report “the institution needs to sustain engagement with core individuals and communities, and continuously attract diverse opinions, as well as finding evaluation models to communicate and replicate successes and acknowledge failures”.

  1. what are the methodologies, legal and financial tools and linchpins that could make a commons-based solution work?

Holding regular gatherings of different stakeholder to co-decide and plans actions appears to be a relevant aspect, and the report suggests to use shared spaces and reflect on the role of moderation. In addition, it recommend: make clear how decisions are made by using city referendums with clear goal posts to make decisions and make usership; 2. to start with a realistic aim of collaboration (such as the participatory budgeting) and to create information packages (such as a “how to co-budget” guide); 3. to support public servants in acquiring the necessary skills (define tools and operations and share/build skills); 4. to protect public services; 5. to implement a public consultation process across several cities and use an accessible tool to show and compare the results, involving citizens (which see the impacts in first person).

  • First considerations and next steps. The first highlights of the meeting should be developed further (both within the institutional work setting and outside in a peer-to-peer context). But some of them can be already taken forward and applied as a pilot experience or can help in developing or scaling up existing experiences. An idea that would be able to enhance equality in our society could be the development of a series of flexible models applicable in different contexts and people, considering sustainability, legality and financial roles. The creation of a clear chart, with clear information, can help communities to activate informed civic decision-making processes.

According to the report “institutions need to decide what is a public good” and define the public interest and the private thing, clarifying how participation can help them. Shared information and transparency can lead to a deeper trust between all stakeholders and to a better balance in welcoming different voices. “Keeping the door open to experimentation could lead to further impact and also help to create a similar language to explain value”; it can also help in recognizing different values that will have a lasting impact on social cohesion.

  • The group found beneficial the peer examination of the challenges and suggested to meet again in order to deepen and exchange practices, projects and policies on participatory governance or co-governance and city making. “They recommended that the formation of a space for exchange, experimentation, mutual learning and co-working could enable the sharing of tools that city makers need going forward”.

The organizers hope this collaborative methodology of work and these results can serve as a guide for institutions that want to start co-design process, inspiring new commoning processes with local people more involving and democratic.

The full report is available here.


Marzo 2017. Madrid ospita l’Innovative City Development Meeting all’interno dell’Idea Camp 2017. Un’occasione di incontro per innovatori e city makers per discutere di co-creazione collaborativa della città, governance partecipativa dei beni comuni e co-governance urbana. Da quell’incontro è nato un report che riassume alcune delle considerazioni e delle raccomandazioni emerse durante il meeting e che è stato presentato in Luglio alla Conferenza dell’Associazione Internazionale  per lo Studio dei Beni Comuni (IASC2017). Il post ne ripercorre i punti salienti.

Urban commons initiatives in the city of Ghent: a Commons Transition Plan by Bauwens

Urban commons initiatives in the city of Ghent: a Commons Transition Plan by Bauwens

Credits: picture from,_Belgium_J1.jpg



Commons represents an issue which has been subject of many studies and discussions. LabGov used to deal with the topic of the commons and its co-founders themselves (Prof. Sheila Foster and Prof. Christian Iaione) talk of  “The City as a Commons”.

Today, indeed, we witness a rise of commons-oriented civic initiatives as a result of a growing inadequacy of Market and State. A commons can be intended as a shared resource co-governed or co-owned by its user community according to their rules and norms. In both Bollier, Bauwens and Helfrich’ opinion there is no commons without commoning, namely without active co-production and self-governance.

A commons emerges from the dynamic interaction of three related aspects: a resource, a community that gathers around it, and a protocols for its stewardship. As pointed by Bollier, it is simultaneously:

  • a social system for the long-term stewardship of resources that preserves shared values and the community identity;
  • a self-organized system by which community managed resources with no reliance on the Market or State; the wealth that we create and pass on to the next generation (based on gift of nature, civic infrastructure, cultural and creative works, traditions and knowledge);
  • a sector of the economy that create values in ways that are often taken for granted – and often jeopardized by the Market-State.

The commons becomes a challenge for the city, that should become what Bauwens defines a “partners city”, enabling and empowering commons-oriented civic initiatives. For the market, that should sustain the commons and create livelihoods for the core contributors; and for the civil society organizations, that still have bureaucratic forms of organization and management, not in line with the commons initiatives.

Bauwens has recently released a report based on the study of the City of Ghent, conducted together with Yurek Onzia – project coordinator and editor-in-chief, with the support of an artistic makerspace (Timelab), the P2P Lab scholar Vasilis Niaros and Annelore Raman from the city council. The study was commissioned and financed by the City of Ghent, in the northern Flanders, with the support of the mayor, Daniel Termont, of the head of the mayor’s staff, the head of the strategy department, and the political coalition of the city (Flemish Socialist Party SPA, Flemish Greens – Groen, and Flemish Liberal Party – Open VLD).

The main request of the administration was to document the emergence and growth of the commons in the city and identify strategies and public policies to support commons-based initiatives, involving the citizens. The three-month research took inspiration from other cities (such as Barcelona, Seoul, Bologna) already engaged in the recognition and promotion of commons practices. It culminates in a Commons Transition Plan that describes the role, the possibilities and the options for optimal public interventions in terms of reinforcing citizens initiatives.

During the research, the team:

  • Mapped 500 commons-oriented projects per sector of activity (from food to transportation, energy, etc.) using a wiki
  • Interviewed 80 leading commoners and project leaders
  • Administered a written questionnaire to over 70 participants
  • Managed 9 open workshops divided per theme (Food as a commons, transportation as a commons….)
  • Developed a Commons Finance Canvas workshop based on the Hinton methodology (economic opportunities, difficulties, models used by the commons projects)

Bauwens described the city of Ghent (300,000 inhabitants) as a city with a distinct presence of commons-oriented initiatives (more than 500), a lively urban tissue sprinkled by smart young, as well as coworking, fablabs and maker spaces, active civil society organizations that support urban commons projects, and an active and engaged city administration. The city indeed is already involved in actions for carbon and traffic reduction, and it has a staff of social facilitators, connectors, street workers engaged in enabling roles at the local level. In addition, there is an important policy to support the temporary use of vacant land/building by community groups.

Nevertheless, the research highlighted some weakness points of the city:

  • the initiatives are often fragmented;
  • there are some regulatory and administrative obstacles (especially about the mutualized housing);
  • fablabs and coworking spaces lack of real production’s activities;
  • there is no connection between university and the commons project, neither a propensity to open source and design projects;
  • many commons-project are set in post-migration communities and limited to ethnic and religious memberships;
  • civil society organizations often perceive the projects as mainly directed towards vulnerable categories and not as general productive resources; the cooperative sector gives a weak support; the major potential commons are vulnerable to private extraction.

Despite these weakness points, the City showed a great commitment in finding ways to improve and expand the urban commons at local level since it is aware of its potentials for the social and economic life:  1. “the commons are an essential part of the ecological transition”;

  1. they “are a means for the re-industrialization of the city following the cosmo-local model which combines global technical cooperation in knowledge commons with smart re-localization of production”;
  2. they “are based on self-governance of the value producing systems and are therefore one of the few schools of true democracy and participation”

The report is divided in four parts:

  1. The context on the emergence of urban commons (largely increased in the Flanders in the last ten years). This part provides information on the challenges for the public authorities, for the market players and for the traditional civil society organisations and on the opportunities related with the spread of the commons (i.e more active participation of citizens as city co-creators, in solving ecological and environmental issues and in creating new forms of meaningful work at local level).
  2. An overview of urban commons developments globally and especially in European cities.
  3. The analysis of the urban commons in Ghent with its strengths and weaknesses.
  4. A set of 23 integrated proposals for the creation of public-commons processes for citywide co-creation.

The part 3 with the map of the urban commons projects highlights some similarities with the commons-driven digital economy, demonstrating some specificities:

  1. productive communities are based on open contributions;
  2. the urban commons and their platforms may bring to generative market forms;
  3. the communities, platforms and possible market forms require, and receive, facilitative support from the various agencies and functionaries of the city, and the civil society organisations.

About the proposals in the part 4, the report presents:

  • some public-social or public-partnership based processes and protocols to streamline cooperation between the city and the commoners. Taking as example the Bologna Regulation for the Care and the Regeneration of the Urban Commons, the report suggests that commons initiatives present their projects and ideas to a City Lab in order to sign a “Commons Accord” with the city. With this contract the city sets-up specific support alliances combining the commoners and civil society organisations, the city itself, and the private sector;
  • a cross-sector institutional infrastructure for commons policy-making and support divided in transition arenas and based on the model of a pre-existing practice around the food transition.

Among the recommendations and suggestions listed in the report there are:

  • The creation of a juridical assistance service consisting of at least one representative of the city and one of the commoners, in order to systematically unblock the potential for commons expansion, by finding solutions for regulatory hurdles.
  • The creation of an incubator for a commons-based collaborative economy, which specifically deals with the challenges of generative start-ups.
  • The creation of an investment vehicle, the bank of the commons, which could be a city bank based on public-social governance models.
  • Augmenting the capacity of temporary land and buildings, towards more permanent solutions to solve the land and housing crisis affecting commoners and citizens.
  • Support of platform cooperatives as an alternative to the more extractive forms of the sharing economy.
  • Assisting the development of mutualized commons infrastructures (‘protocol cooperativism’), through inter-city cooperation (avoiding the development of 40 Uber alternative in as many cities).
  • Make Ghent ‘the place to be’ for commoners by using ‘Ghent, City of the Commons’ as an open brand, to support the coming of visitors for commons-conferences etc.
  • As pioneered by the NEST project of temporary use of the old library, use more ‘calls for commons’, instead of competitive contests between individual institutions. Calls for the commons would reward the coalition that creates the best complementary solution between multiple partners and open sources its knowledge commons to support the widest possible participation”.

In addition, the team also propose:

  • A specific project to test the capacity of “cosmo-local production” to create meaningful local jobs (organic food for school lunches) and to test the potential role of anchor institutions and social procurement.
  • The organisation of a CommonsFest on the 28th of October, with a first Assembly of the Commons.
  • A pilot project around circular finance in which “saved negative externalities” which lead to savings in the city budget can directly be invested in the commons projects that have achieved such efficiencies (say re-investing the saved cost of water purification to support the acquisition of land commons for organic farmers).
  • The setting up of an experimental production unit based on distributed manufacturing and open design.
  • Projects that integrate knowledge institutions such as the university, with the grassroots commons projects.

The report is the executive part of a short book on the Ghent experience that will be soon available. Many useful indications and more precise recommendations can be found in the “COMMONS TRANSITION AND P2P: A PRIMER”. This Commons Primer co-published with the Transnational Institute, explains the Commons and P2P, in terms of interrelations, movements and trends, and how a Commons transition is poised to reinvigorate work, politics, production, and care, both interpersonal and environmental.

La città di Ghent nell’estate del 2017 ha promosso una ricerca sui beni comuni con lo scopo di mappare le iniziative commons-oriented e identificare le migliori strategie e politiche pubbliche per supportarne lo sviluppo coinvolgendo i cittadini. Il team di ricerca era guidato da Michel Bauwens della P2P Foundation che ha lavorato con Yurek Onzia, Vasilis Kostakis e Annelore Raman del Comune di Ghent, insieme a un makerspace artistico locale. La ricerca ha portato alla realizzazione di un Commons Transition Plan. L’executive summary è disponibile sul sito e l’articolo di LabGov inquadra e presenta i principali risultati del report.

Sharing and cooperative practices for local sustainable development: the urban village communities in Seoul. The case of the Sungmisan Village.

Sharing and cooperative practices for local sustainable development: the urban village communities in Seoul. The case of the Sungmisan Village.

In Seoul the village movement is exploding as a form for a sustainable local development and a model for commons-based services for the neighborhood.

To solve problems like poverty, imbalance between the poor and the rich and between the rural and the urban, as well as social injustice, social exclusion and marginalization, the Seoul Metropolitan Government  bet on the “urban community village”, a community-driven form of development, and created the Village Community Movement (VCM) and the Seoul Community Support Centre (SCSC) to provide important initiatives on alternative ways to promote sustainable development, not only in economic and environmental terms, but overall in social and  relational terms. The village is considered by the government a new framework for rebuilding the entire country and the VCM and the SCSC are the tool used to develop local capacity through citizen participation (Park, 2013). Stressing the autonomous decision making and the strength of local networks they seek to facilitate community participation. They can be considered a form of community building based on participatory, bottom-up and multi-sector approaches that aim to involve local people to solve common problems using a system of interaction and interrelation that fuels the social life (Wolfram, 2017).

The belief that this kind of local model could work comes from the success story of the Sungmisan Village (Sungmisan Maeul),  a small neighborhood in northwest Seoul of about 700 families whose adventure begins in 1994. These families fought to save a nearby forest from development (Mt. Sungmi), forming in this way a community that together decided to create an alternative form of care for their children. Around 20 double-income couples unsatisfied with the educational offer coming both from the public and the private sector and disappointed with the materialistic and individualistic approach of the society, decided to join and start an independent kindergarten for their children (Lee, 2010). They launched the  “Woori Childcare Center”, the first childcare co-ops for neighborhood families, followed soon by the “Nareuneun Childcare Center”  and in 1999 by another after school cooperative. The active involvement of parents created from the beginning a strong team spirit and attracted new residents that shared the community-minded childcare philosophy of “raising our children together”.  In 2001, after the success of these childcare co-ops, and recognizing the importance of sharing common values, the community started a consumer co-op for eco-friendly goods and along the way it formed clubs for almost everything: parenting, studying, gardening, hiking, photography, and more… and it started to host regular concerts, festivals and theatrical events in the neighborhood. Through the consumer co-op the Sungmisan Village expanded its connections with local residents and today it counts more than 5,500 members, representing a reference point for all the community life. In addition, from 2001 and 2003, the sense of belonging inside the community became stronger fighting to stop the waterworks project since the government wanted push urban redevelopment (Park, 2013).

Following the cooperative model during the years many different new cooperatives has born: a restaurant, a village cafè, a sharing kitchen, a cohousing building, cooperatives for elderly, to promote culture, to protect the environment, etc.… these cooperatives circulate funds and products, allow co-production, consumption, and distribution and create new job opportunities for the community residents; at the same time they enable the reorganization of the community around networks of reciprocity and solidarity, showing how the revitalization and the enhancement of the communities can come from the joint work inside the cooperatives  (Lee, 2010).

But the most important and successful project realized by the community, which solidifies the community life itself, was the creation of the Sungmisan Village School in 2004. It is the first K-12 grade alternative school in Korea (from elementary through high school) and it represents a concrete alternative to the traditional public school education, in which peer and collaborative learning, mutual responsibility and mutual support are the core values. Alongside traditional topics, students learn organic farming, pottery, and other skills from community members, many of them elders. In this way, residents feel that the school is their schools since they are actively involved. As reminded by with a focus on sustainability, healthy food and connectedness, village schools are more than educational institutions—they’re hubs for learning, sharing, growing and community-building”. This school represents the most important infrastructure for the village since it provides 20 years of pre-adult education; it is a remarkable approach to education and it is part of the village as well the village is an explicit attempt to return to a pre-modern vision of social relations (Pastreich, 2012).

Inside the Sungmisan Village decisions are taken during official meetings by consensus and not by the majority, meaning that people continue to discuss until everyone reaches a consensus. It can be considered a kind of “let’s get to the bottom of it” discussion; even if it seems an inefficient way of making decisions that take a lot of time and energy, on the contrary, it is an effective way of mediating differences of opinion respecting everyone involved and recognizing differences. Discussions continue for a long time but people in this way gain awareness and empathize each other. Alongside the official meetings there are also other opportunities for discussion: the after party, informal moments in which to review and alternative from other perspectives, to find a creative solution, to discuss minority topics or arguments that didn’t find space during an official meeting (they are always debated at the next official meeting). In addition, also the chatter, the informal communication, is very important. It gives additional information, integrates the official communication, supports the building of consensus and it is very useful especially for the new villagers (Yu, 2012).

The success of the Sungmisan Village has inspired numerous urban villages around Seoul. To date have been created more than 1700 urban villages thanks to the governance model implemented by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and based on the VCM and the SCSC. “Urban villages rekindle a lost sense of community and, through village schools, provide a way for young people to grow up in a hands-on, educational community rather than an overly-competitive and isolating learning environment” (Johnson, 2015). Today it really represents a concrete way to rebuild relations and social ties in a mega city where usually people have lost any sense of community, cannot rely on local solidarity networks, don’t know their neighbors and live in an isolated and individualized way. Neighbors who share the needs of everyday life, in fact, enhance solidarity trying to solve the problems together, they create mutually beneficial networks and this is what a village is all about.


Johnson, C., 2015, How One Neighborhood in Seoul Sparked a Movement of Urban Villages, [].

Lee, K., 2010, “Creating Urban Reciprocal Community Economy Network by Cooperative Solidarity -The Case Study of Sungmisan-Maeul in Mapogu, Seoul”, in South Korea Cooperative Association, vol.28, n.2, pp. 143-171.

Park, T., 2013, “Empirical Study Of Sustainable Community Development In South Korea: A Special Focus On Village Community”, in OIDA International Journal of Sustainable Development vol.6, n.2.

Pastreich, E., 2012, Sungmisan School in Seoul: A remarkable Approach to education, Circles and Squares [].

Wolfram, M., 2017, “Village Communities and Social Innovation Policies in Seoul: exploring the urban dimension of grassroots niches” in N.Frantzeskaki, Castán Broto, V., Coenen, L. e Loorbach, D. (eds), Urban Sustainability Transition, Routledge, New York and London.

Yu, C. B., 2012, Relations, Communication and Cooperative Operation. Case of Sungmisan Village, [].


Per far fronte ad alcune delle principali problematiche che affliggono una grande metropoli come Seoul (isolamento, emarginazione, alienazione, povertà…), il Seoul Metropolitan Government sta scommettendo sul modello dei villaggi urbani comunitari. Le parole chiave sono partecipazione attiva dei membri della comunità (di solito un quartiere), approcci dal basso e multi settoriali, iniziative di stampo cooperativistico, processi decisionali autonomi e community building. Un esempio di successo, che ha inspirato lo stesso governo coreano a supportare questo modello di sviluppo locale, è il Sungmisan Village, una comunità collaborativa coesa, resiliente e sostenibile nata nel 1994.