The FSFE is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to create general understanding of and support for Free Software (FS) and opens standards in politics, business, law and society. It supports individuals and organizations in understanding how FS contributes to freedom, transparency and self-determination and, from a legal point of view, it collects and shares knowledge about legal and licensing aspects.
Software is deeply involved in all aspects of our lives and the Foundation stresses the importance to make sure that this technology empowers rather than restricts us. Free Software is a matter of liberty (not price); it gives everybody four rights :
1. use, since the FS can be used for any purpose and is free of restrictions such as licence expiry or geographic limitations;
2. study, since its code can be studied by anyone, without non-disclosure agreements or similar restrictions;
3. share, since it can be shared, redistributed and copied at no virtual cost;
4. improve, since it can be modified by anyone, and these improvements can be shared publicly.
So, these rights help support other fundamental freedoms like freedom of speech, press and privacy.
Looking to public administrations, it should be stressed that they are important users and providers of software. They procure, fund and support the development of products and services that can affect large groups of people. However, when these endeavours do not involve Free Software, critical questions concerning security, efficiency, distribution of power, and transparency arise. Indeed, in order to establish trustworthy systems, public bodies must ensure they have full control over the software and computer systems at the core of their state digital infrastructure. But right now, this is rarely the case due to restrictive software licenses that:
Forbid sharing and exchanging publicly funded codes, preventing cooperation between public administrations and hindering further development.
Support monopolies by hindering competition, with the result that many administrations become dependent on a handful of companies.
Pose a threat to the security of our digital infrastructure by forbidding access to the source code and creating fixing backdoors and security holes.
On the contrary the kind of software that fosters the sharing of good ideas and solutions, that guarantees freedom of choice, access, and competition, that allows IT services improvement, that helps public administrations regain full control of their critical digital infrastructure, and thus supporting them in becoming independent, is more and more necessary. The two experts of the FSFE stressed therefore the importance to rely on Free and Open Source Software in public administrations instead of proprietary software.
In this way, it is possible to see and inspect the code, learn from it and reuse. Thus, costs are minimized, since investment can be concentrated on human resources instead of capabilities; in addition, processes become transparent and shareable (still reducing costs).
The FS also guarantees technological sovereignty: it is possible to choose local entrepreneurs who respect users’ rights and freedoms, change providers if necessary and retain control of data; this means that it is possible to have tailored software that suits people’s needs and not just the vendor’s business model; at the same time the monopoly and the oligarchic dependence to big technological vendors is broken.
In addition, FS allows to work with communities. Indeed, it uses the talent of FS developers, represents and gives voice to users and developers, and, in that respect, local SMEs can become strong partners.
From a legal point of view, it allows to connect legal experts and companies, it represents a safe place to discuss issues and to find solutions to overcome problems.
From a political point of view, it favors the collaboration among cities working on joint projects, building networks.
Regionality, autonomy and efficiency are therefore three crucial key words.
But above all, publishing source code is a way to give taxpayers’ money back to society. For this reason, the FSFE has launched the campaign: Public Money, Public Code. Public bodies are financed through taxes and they must make sure they spend funds in the most efficient way possible. Under the claim “if it is public money, it should be public code as well”, the Foundation pushes for legislation requiring that publicly financed software developed for the public sector be made publicly available, under a Free and Open Source Software license. The campaign revolves around an open letter advocating that publicly funded software should be free. Currently, this call to public agencies is supported by more than 21499 people and 161 organizations that have already signed the letter.
The venue of the event is not by chance: FS has become a core element of the Barcelona’s smart city and digitalization agenda, under the nudging action of Francesca Bria, the Commissioner of Technology and Digital Innovation at the City Council. Barcelona has a bigger City plan that aims to use technology and data to provide better, more affordable services to citizens, making government more transparent, participative and effective. As one can read on the City Council website “Strike a New Deal on Data to expand socially beneficial uses of data, while guaranteeing data sovereignty, ethics & privacy. Provide access to Internet for all. High-speed internet connectivity is not a luxury but a right for all citizens; it’s an absolute necessity for economic development and social mobility in the 21st century economy”. The city is working on several fronts:
Technology for a better government through an ambitious plan for digital transformation that includes strategic projects to counter social problems, detected as government priorities.
Urban technology to guarantee that the city has digital infrastructures it requires for its overall management and to ensure the provision of uniformed public cover for all city residents’ needs in terms of housing, unemployment, social exclusion, health, energy and mobility.
City data commons: data are a prime asset in the knowledge society and should be perceived as a common asset; the city promotes this view in order to achieve the democratic, open, transparent and regulated management of this resource.
Among all the different projects the city is running, DECIDIM has to be mentioned, since it is the biggest FS program of the city. It is a digital platform for the democratic participation that allows citizens to debate, attend meetings and create proposals. The platform’s source code is publicly available, enabling other cities to use it and adapt it (similar to the CONSUL of Madrid). This is not the place to detail the project, but it should be said that government is investing public money in FS so citizens can control the software, and platforms can remain in the public domain, managed and governed by the community. Barcelona has also been the first city to sign the campaign launched by the FSFE Public Money, Public Code. By date, it is running a migration plan with a pilot project on processing workstations into a completely free operating system. But the whole information infrastructure is moving towards open standards, open stocks and interoperability. Basically, Barcelona is migrating its computer system away from the windows platform; the strategy is first to replace all user’s applications with open-source alternatives, until the underlying Windows operating system is the only proprietary software remaining; in a final step, the operating system will be replaced with Linux.
We are moving in the frame of the “digital democracy” and “digital sovereignty”. That means taking back control of data and information generated by digital technologies, and promoting public digital infrastructures based on free and open source software, open standards and open formats. So, in order to regain sovereignty and guarantee citizen digital rights, public-common democratic infrastructures are required.
Today a growing number of public institutions started a transition to free-software solutions. This does not only grant independence but can address the often argued need for public access to publicly-funded developments. In addition, the experts highlighted that this is the only way that public services can ensure that citizen data is handled in a trustworthy manner since non-free software wouldn’t allow total control (or even knowledge) over the employed functions of the needed programs.
The migration process nevertheless is very complex and can also fail. See what happen in Munich for example: the German city indeed was famous for rejecting Microsoft in favor of using Linux on its PCs, but in 2017, after more than a decade of running Linux-based PCs, it has decided to switch about 29,000 PCs to Windows 10. A study of IT at the council by consultants Accenture and ARF said that it took the council too long to update software and fix bugs, resulting in “obsolete, partially unsafe, usually extremely cumbersome IT, leading to lots of wasted time and productivity”, but blamed a lack of coordination between the more than 20 IT departments serving the city, rather than the use of open-source software. The two experts of FSFE suggest to do the migration step by step. What is really important is not the duration of the process but the commitment of the administration.
What is important to highlight is that we are facing not only great technological change, but overall a cultural and a structural organizational change, and a change in the way public services are designed and delivered. For this reason, the digital revolution should be connected to a democratic revolution.
That means rethinking the relation between government and citizens to ensure that citizens take back democratic control and take an active part in the city life. Technology should be rethought and used from the angle of the Commons.
The point is that, in a democratic city, technology should serve to: digitally empower citizens, protect their privacy from abuses by public and private powers, fight against corruption and to advance towards a more equitable and sustainable economy. That means favoring the creation of technological models that are ethical, responsible and civil, and conquering technological digital sovereignty for common goods.
The interest for citizens
co-production of public services is increasing and many digital participatory
platforms (DPPs) have been developed in order to improve participatory
During the Sharing City
Summit in Barcelona last November we discovered the DDDC, i.e. the Digital Democracy and Data Commons, a participatory platform to
deliberate and construct alternative and more democratic forms of data
governance, which will allow citizens to take back control over their personal
data in the digital society and economy.
Barcelona is already known as
a best practice in this field: the city and its metropolitan area constitute an
ecosystem in terms of co-production of public policies and citizen science
initiatives. The City Council has created an Office of
Citizens Science and the Municipal
Data Office, as well as the first Science Biennial that just took place in Barcelona
(from 7th-11th February 2019). At the same time citizen science projects
In this frame Barcelona is famous
to have launched in February 2016 Decidim.Barcelona (we decide), a project of
the City Council to give citizens the opportunity to discuss proposals using an
interface for group-discussions and comments. Decidim is indeed an online participatory-democracy
platform that embodies a completely innovative approach. First of all it is entirely and collaboratively built as free software.
As remembered by Xabier Barandiaran Decidim is
a web environment that using the programming language Ruby on Rails allows
anybody to create and configure a website platform to be used in the form of a
political network for democratic participation. Any organization (local city
council, association, university, NGO, neighbourhood or cooperative) can create
mass processes for strategic planning, participatory budgeting, collaborative
design for regulations, urban spaces and election processes. It also makes
possible the match between traditional in-person democratic meetings
(assemblies, council meetings, etc.) and the digital world (sending meeting
invites, managing registrations, facilitating the publication of minutes, etc.).
Moreover it enables the structuring of government bodies or assemblies
(councils, boards, working groups), the convening of consultations, referendums
or channelling citizen or member initiatives to trigger different decision
making processes. The official definition of Decidim is: a
public-common’s, free and open, digital infrastructure for participatory
Barandiaran remembers also that “Decidim was born in an
institutional environment (that of Barcelona City Council), directly aiming at
improving and enhancing the political and administrative impact of
participatory democracy in the state (municipalities, local governments, etc.).
But it also aims at empowering social processes as a platform for massive
social coordination for collective action independently of public
administrations. Anybody can copy, modify and install Decidim for its own
needs, so Decidim is by no means reduced to public institutions”.
As of march 2018 www.decidim.barcelona
had more than 28,000 registered participants,
1,288,999 page views, 290,520 visitors, 19 participatory processes, 821 public
meetings channeled through the platform and 12,173 proposals, out of which over
8,923 have already become public policies grouped into 5,339 results whose
execution level can be monitored by citizens. […] It comes to fill the gap of
public and common’s platforms, providing an alternative to the way in which
private platforms coordinate social action (mostly with profit-driven, data
extraction and market oriented goals)”.
But Decidim is more than a technological platform, it is a
“technopolitical project” where legal, political, institutional, practical,
social, educational, communicative, economic and epistemic codes merge
together. There are mainly 3 levels: the political (focused
on the democratic model that Decidim promotes and its impact on public policies
and organizations), the technopolitical (focused on how the
platform is designed, the mechanisms it embodies, and the way in which it is
itself democratically designed), and the technical (focused
on the conditions of production, operation and success of the project: the
factory, collaborative mechanisms, licenses, etc.). In this way thousands of
people can organize themselves democratically by making proposals that will be
debated and could translate into binding legislation, attending public
meetings, fostering decision-making discussions, deciding through different
forms of voting and monitoring the implementation of decisions (not only the
procedures but also the outcomes).
pilot project was launched in October 18th 2018 and will end April 1st
2019, for a total of 5 months. It has mainly three goals:
to integrate the DECODE technology with the Decidim
digital platform in order to improve processes of e-petitioning, to
provide more safety, privacy, transparency and data enrichment;
to enable a deliberative space around data law,
governance and economics within the new digital economy and public
policy, in order to provide a vision oriented to promote a greater citizen
control over data and their exploitation in Commons-oriented models;
to experiment with
the construction and use of a data commons generated in the process, in order to
improve the inclusion of the participatory process itself.
The goals will be reached
through several phases that foresee also face-to-face meetings, inside the dddc.decodeproject.eu
platform. The infographic illustrates the phases:
The pilot project is currently
in its second phase. The first 1 was that of
presentation & diagnosis,
dedicated to the elaboration of a brief diagnosis of the state of regulations,
governance models and data economy. The diagnosis emerged from a kick off
pilot presentation workshop, the DECODE Symposium, aimed to imagine possible proposal to move towards a society where
citizens can control what, how and who manages and generates values from the
exploitation of their data; i.e. to imagine how use digital technologies to
facilitate the transition from today’s digital economy of surveillance
capitalism and data extractivism to an alternative political and economic
project. In this phase a sociodemographic
survey was also launched to collect information about the perceptions on the
digital economy and to design communicative actions to improve the
inclusiveness of the process.
The current phase (2) is that
of proposals for a digital
economy based on data commons, lunached considering the current situation of
data extraction and concentration and based on the diagnosis made on the digital
society in the first phase. During the Sharing Cities Summit for example a dedicated meeting took place, divided
into a talk and four group work sessions, one for each axes of the pilot
project (legal, economic, governance and experimental – see below). During this
workshop 64 proposal were collected and in the next phases they will be voted,
discussed and signed. The DDDC staff underlines that the process is
prefigurative since they are trying to create and practice data commons while
deliberating and talking about data commons.
phase the results of the survey on sociodemographic data were also
analyzed with the aim to define, implement and experiment data use strategies
for inclusion in participation (these strategies can potentially be used in future
by platforms such as Decidim). The analysis is made by the Barcelona Now – BCNNOW.
The next phases are:
Phase 3 – Debate:
discussion on the proposals received.
Phase 4 – Elaboration
by the DECODE team and the interested participants
Phase 5 – Signing: collection of support for the
pilot project results using DECODE technology for secure and transparent
signature (based on encryption techniques and distributed ledger
technologies). Crucial phase: this technology, integrated with
DECIDIM, will help in the construction of a more secure, transparent and
distributed networked democracy.
Phase 6 – Evaluation: closing meeting and launch
of a survey to help in the assessment of the satisfaction or participants with
the process and with the DECODE technology
aspects, governance issues and economic topics are the three main axes
followed during the different phases, since they provide a differential
approach to discuss around data. A fourth axis is the experimental one,
dedicated to the use and definition of collective decisions around the database
resulting from the data shared during the pilot project. Il will become a kind
of temporary commons useful to improve the deliberative process itself, a
practice that could be incorporated in future Decidim processes.
At the end of the pilot project a participatory
document, with paper or manifesto around the digital economy will be released.
The importance of this kind of pilot project is
clear if we think to the huge amount of data that everyday every citizens is
able to produce… By now we live in a “datasphere”, an invisible environment of
data, quoting Appadurai, a virtual data landscape rich in
information, cultural and social data. Our data indeed constitute digital
patterns that reveal our behaviors, interests, habits. Some actors, especially
big corporations and States, can act upon this data, can use them to surveil
and influence our lives, through strategies such as ad hoc advertisements or
even intervention in elections (see the case of the Cambridge
or the referendum
on an EU agreement with Ukraine) or generation of citizens rankings (such as
the Chinese case). These
“data misuses” can even influence and affect democracy. Nevertheless, if successful, the
knowledge and insight created by the datasphere may become a powerful managing
and intelligence tool and the debate about the so-called “datacracy” is indeed growing.
In this frame, and considering the little
awareness still surrounding the topic, the DDDC pilot project on the one hand
tries to stir critically consciousness and common construction in this arena,
on the other tries to provide the necessary tools to go in this direction,
improving Decidim and pushing forward the DECODE vision of data sovereignty.
Barcelona hosted the third edition of the Sharing City Summit from November 12 to November 15, organized by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, The Barcelona City Council and the Dimmons research group (IN3-UOC), with the support of City of Amsterdam and City of New York, BarCola, Sharing Cities Alliance and Shareable. After Amsterdam’s first edition in 2016 and New York City in 2017 for the second one, this year’s edition in Barcelona was featured by a massive participation of cities from all around the world, exceeding the previous numbers and showing how crucial this topic has become for cities all over the world. More than 50 cities, Amsterdam, New York, Paris, Milan, Montreal, Toronto, Montevideo, Kobe, Vienna, Barcelona, Singapore, Seoul, Austin, Torino, Portland, Madrid and Valencia, among others, attended the 2018 edition.
The first day of the Sharing City Summit represented an in depth moment of reflection among Mayors and Vice Mayors, together with all the actors of the sharing ecosystem (companies, nonprofits, foundations, networks, cooperatives, research centers and other actors which are reshaping the future of collaborative oriented platform economy) in order to discuss how the continuous growth of the digital economy platforms is impacting the life, sovereignty and economic development of cities. The Summit was opened by Mayo Fuster, from the UOC, as moderator, Gerardo Pisarello, First Deputy Mayor of Barcelona, Pastora Martinez, Vice Rector OUC, Udo Kock, Deputy Mayor for Finance of Amsterdam and Sonam Velani from the NYC Mayor’s Office. The event moved from a very clear premise: there is a radical difference between the so-called horizontal platforms – based on peer-to-peer exchanges and able to generate new forms of collaboration and mutualism among citizens -, and so-called “extractive” platforms, quoting Bauwens, i.e. platforms that often act in a non-transparent way in terms of data usage, services offered to different segments of population and impact generated in the communities.
The day was therefore organized around the aim to reach common principles to tackle the phenomenon of the sharing economy, co-creating a common declaration, the so-called “Declaration of principles and commitments for a Sharing City”. In concrete, the summit focused on boosting concrete commons outcomes and collaboration measures, including: the co-creation of a set of common principles to reach a joint declaration; collaboration between cities on the regulation and negotiation with large platforms that generate disruptive impacts in the city; definition of criteria to distinguish between platforms; promotion and occupation policies on platform models inclusive and beneficial for the general common interest; and, knowledge’s policies and a sharing common data platform between cities.
Why? Because the technological and digital innovation are not bringing just opportunities; they are also opening new spaces of discrimination, generating new inequalities. The digital platforms indeed, are more and more orienting the economic processes, but also influencing our way of living and working, especially in the urban contexts. The city level becomes crucial. As remembered during the inspirational talk of professor Yochai Benkler (Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School, and faculty co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society) technologies allow changes only in the context of a more general socio-relational change: “nowwe need an alliance between governments, and the commons, the civil society to pull back power from the major platforms… an alliance based on transparency and democracy”. The results coming from the dynamic interaction among technology, ideology and institutions can be improved by specific choices: do we want a city as a service provider or as a democratic community? This is the choice. Cities, indeed, can make a difference in people’s day-to-day experience. They can offer a real lived experience of socially-embedded production and meaningful participatory democracy. Cities are the places where to combine technological freedom with participatory public administration. Building community is a practice and cities can be a perfect laboratory, remembering that without a robust city commons, cities would not be cities. Professor Benkler gave also interesting suggestions to structure the debate about the Sharing Cities Declaration (see the picture)
After Benkler’s speech, the city governments’ encounter was then moderated by Alvaro Porro (Barcelona City Council), and saw the participation of Susan Riley (Councilor of Melbourne), Þórdís Lóa Þórhallsdóttir (Deputy Mayor of Reykjavik), Matteo Lepore (Vice Mayor of Bologna), Saskia Bruines (Vice Mayor of The Hague), Im-Guk-hyun (Seoul City Council) and Gianfranco Todesco (Torino City Council). It represented a showcase of cities linked to the principles of the Declaration of the Sharing Cities, then discussed during the day through ad hoc working table and cities’ evidences.
The Declaration resulted from the previous summit in Amsterdam and NYC and represents a co-creation process with the cities prior to the summit (2 full round and 3 versions). It aims at being a framework to support actions of collaboration among cities and to build upon common strategies and a valuable resource to communicate cities’ common views. The principles are thus inspirational: the Declaration indeed is not legally binding, but represents a symbolic massage delivered globally about cities’ general approach towards platforms and the sharing economy. It is meant to ensure that platforms and other institutions take into consideration cities role and perspectives on these issues. The 10 principles propose an action plan and a coordination strategy among cities in order to gain negotiation power in the relationship with digital platforms and to address a joint action on national and supranational decision and regulation levels. Below are the 10 principles (the Declaration can be read here)
Platform models differentiation: distinguish between the different models of digital platforms regarding their functioning and impacts, in order to design public policies according to these differentiations.
Labour: empower people to have opportunities to earn or increase their income through new work, agreements and adapted fiscality without contributing to social precariousness or constituting an administrative burden
Labour: provide fair working conditions and access to benefits and rights for workers
Inclusion: prevent discrimination and bias by supporting fair and equal access to work for people of all incomes, genders and backgrounds
Public protection: ensure and support health, safety and security standards along with effective institutional mechanism in order to protect them.
Environmental sustainability: promote sustainable practices less oriented on the marketization and commodification of goods than on shared, to share within the framework of a circular economy, to foster and promote development of these activities in order to reduce emissions and waste.
Data sovereignty and citizens’ digital rights: protect citizens’ digital rights through the implementation of Technological Sovereignty policies and ethical standards
City sovereignty: guarantee respect for the legal jurisdictions of cities given the potential disruption from the digital platforms, create a coordination mechanism and tools to support cities and encourage changes in regulatory and framework policies.
Economic promotion: promote the development of local collaborative economic ecosystem, and particularly small and medium enterprises (SME, based on positive impact in cities (as described in the first principles), through entrepreneurship support programs, participative tools , funding or other promotion tools.
General interest: preserve the Right to the City and Urban Commons, strengthen communities, protect General Interest, public space, and basic human rights, such as access to affordable and adequate housing.
As we can see, the declaration introduces a series of “conditions” that promote the successful collaboration between city governments and platforms and touches different aspects: respect for workers’ rights, competition (especially with regard to SME), environment, current legislation, provision of services that do not discriminate by gender, age, nationality, collaboration and sharing with local authorities, fair and correct use of collected data, up to the recognition of the sovereignty of the city governments and their right/duty to preserve the common goods, the general interest, the public spaces, services and sustainable accommodation for the communities of reference.
The action plan linked to the declaration consists of an action task force and structure to support the continuation for communications and collaborations between cities after the summit and until the following summit in 2019. It is a plan of concrete actions to favor the preservation of the Principles by cities, kept flexible to be further developed through the cities suggestions, active in terms of common strategies to be proposed to the European Commission to face the platforms challenges, and technological in order to share information among cities through a public platform inspired by the principles of the Open Innovation. This last aspect becomes extremely important since it is related to the power distribution between public and private sectors: the current sovereignty of the elective institutions is indeed linked to the ability/possibility to own and manage the huge amount of data – coming from citizens that use digital supports -, for public goals.
A special focus was devoted to the 8th and 9th principles. For the former, some cities intervened sharing their own experiences: Klemes Himpele of the Vienna City Council, a representative of the Deputy Mayor of Barcelona, Udo Kock for the city of Amsterdam and Tracey Cook from the Toronto City Council. The principle was further analyzed and developed through six working tables:
EU lobby vocation rental
Data sovereignty and citizens’ digital rights
Labour platforms and impact on labour
Criteria to differentiate platforms
Collaborative public services: partnership with platforms
Entrepreneurship programs and internationalization programs
City challenges and innovative promotion policies
Collaborative policy design and city labs
Nehotiation standards and collaborations among cities in the global task force
The activities closed with a follow up from the working groups and with a speech of Pieter van de Glind and Harmen van Sprang of the Sharing City Alliance about the state of the art of the alliance, about the new monthly journal they created and the database Alex (Alliance Lex) that gathers information about social innovation and sharing economy.
The day ended with the “Procomuns meetup”, a public event on collaborative policies for the collaborative economy, open to everyone, with institutional presentations and processes of co-creation of policies and ecosystem networking. In particular it saw the institutional welcomings of Alvaro Porro who presents Innova from Barcelona Activa, Joseph Planell, Rector of the UOC, Udo Kock from Amsterdam and Sonam Velani from NYC. Then Mayo Fuster from Dimmons moderated the last session of interventions: Professor Juliet Schor from the Boston College deepened the topic of the challenges posed by the platform economy questioning if the sharing economy is disrupting of reproducing inequalities presenting the results of her research team (MacArthur); the entrepreneurship program of Communicadora was also presented with some inspirational cases (Moodle, Wikiloc, Som Mobilitat).
The first day was full of inspiration and great moments of networking and led to the opening of the Smart City Expo World Congress (SCEWC 2018) the next day. This edition gathered more than 700 cities and 21.000 participants and ShareBarcelona promoted the continuation of the Sharing City Summit during the three-days manifestation. In particular, November 13 saw the public presentation of the Sharing City Declaration with mayors and vice mayors attending the Summit, an opportunity to institutionalize the declaration and to stress how the declaration is just a first important step in a common path. As said by Mayo Fuster “today is the start of a new journey”. The SCEWC saw for the first time a specific program on Sharing and Inclusive Cities that hosted several interventions and speeches from cities from all over the world, while the sharing city stand (ShareBarcelona) worked as an agora offering a rich program of encounters and talks, with the main actors of the sharing ecosystem (companies, foundations, researchers, entrepreneurs, civic society…). On November 14 was also presented the book: “Sharing Cities. A worldwide cities overview on platform economy policies with a focus on Barcelona”, edited by Mayo Fuster from the Dimmons Research Group; the book provides an overview of current policy reactions and public innovation by cities in the field, a quality balance of platforms to differentiate models and a focus on Barcelona as a reference model for its vibrant ecosystem and its innovative policies.
In the last three years the number of cities reflecting and also acting to manage and integrate the sharing economy in the daily life of their citizens has incredibly grown and today a network is committed to start a common path to face the presence of the phenomenon in the urban contexts. Let’s see what will happen. Meanwhile, congratulations to all the cities that took part in this new international process.
For a video summary have a look here: youtu.be/J-g_l0Fx-58
The Urban Media Lab is back to analyze the sharing economy platforms’ panorama. The scientific and public debate, in particular around the topic of the short-term rental’s impacts on urban contexts, is indeed becoming hot. Home sharing platforms are more and more dominating the tourist market especially in big cities, and Airbnb is the leading marketplace for those seeking and offering short-term housing solutions. Founded in 2018 in San Francisco, it quickly became a global phenomenon contributing significantly to the rise of the sharing economy as a new economic paradigm (Geron, 2013). Today, the platform has a network of over 3 million properties in over 200 countries worldwide, covering more than 65 thousand cities (Econopoly 2018); it reaches a market value of 31 billion dollars (Statista, 2017), thus exceeding the main hotel chains, both in terms of available rooms and in terms of turnover. But, unlike traditional tourist hospitality operators, Airbnb does not own the rooms or properties that appear in the listings, as it operates as a peer-to-peer platform that connects hosts (who offer) and guests (those looking for), allowing private individuals to earn from short-term leases through secure transactions. The platform is the intermediary to build the trust between strangers that is, as emphasized by Botsman and Rogers (2010), the true currency of exchange for this economic model.
Airbnb exemplifies what Germann Molz (2011) calls “network hospitality” referring to the way in which a new generation of travelers relies on online network systems to connect with other members offering accommodation. The centrality given to the interpersonal meeting with the local hosts and the informality of the accommodation represent a reaction to the homogenization resulting from the globalization (Germann Molz, 2011) and to the “concomitant standardization” (Steylaerts and O’Dubhgall, 2011, p. 264) typical of the traditional tourist industry. Airbnb therefore responds to the search for a more personalized and “presumably more authentic” form of travel (Steylaerts and O’Dubhgall, 2011, 261). In theory.
In practice this approach has quite degenerated. A recent research of the University of Pisa (LADEST) (Picascia et al., 2017) reports that today the greater part of the revenues obtained through the platform is gained by the very few multiple advertisers who rent more apartments, or by brokers and specialized real estate agencies (and not by single private tenants). The consequence is that the human dimension, the meeting with the local, the human-to-human interaction (Sans and Quaglieri Domínguez, 2016) fail and Aibrnb becomes a mere channel to promote short-term rentals, especially in urban areas (Guttentag, 2013 ; Gant, 2016). See the very famous case of Bettina: she’s not a private citizen but she represents the Halldis Italia society with 713 apartments (or villas) uploaded on the platform. Some examples from the University of Siena research: in Florence, hosts earn on average € 5,314 per year, but according to data processed by researchers, only one has collected over 700 thousand; in Milan, over four thousand owners of rented apartments earn an average of 1,600 euros a year, but only one gains more than half a million. Therefore, according to the researchers, short-term rents reinforce phenomena of social inequality and do not favor real redistribution of wealth.
The studies presented by Airbnb on its social and economic impact
Airbnb for its part, claims positive impacts for three categories of subjects:
Consumers and the tourism industry,
Neighborhoods and local businesses,
Residents and owners of housing solutions (Airbnb, 2015).
According to the internal reports of the platform, 35% of its guests would have traveled for a shorter period or would not have traveled at all without the platform, considering that a guest stayed 2.1 times longer and spent 1.8 times more than a traditional traveler. Changing the way people travel impacts also on the choice of the neighborhood in which to stay: according to Airbnb, its guests tend to choose the neighborhoods that are less congested by the tourist presence, thus favoring greater distribution of economic impacts for the benefit of neighborhoods normally excluded from the tourist industry. According to the platform, 74% of Airbnb listings in major cities are located outside the traditional districts where hotels are located and 42% of guest-time is spent in the neighborhood where they are staying. In this way the economic flows deriving from the presence of these guests impacts on the local communities and businesses, indirectly benefiting the residents as well. Finally, Airbnb believes it contributes to the well being of its hosts, in 52% of cases with low-to-medium incomes, as the compensation earned through the platform allows additional savings and income with which to meet domestic expenses or start new business entrepreneurship (Airbnb, 2015).
But the reality is quite different and the impacts of the platform’s presence are often more negative compared with those presented in the Airbnb reports. This is testified by the growing citizens protests all over in the world and by the attempts of the public administrations to fill the legislative gap intervening at the regulatory level. Indeed, according to Lee (2016), the home sharing distorts, reducing it, the offer of affordable housing for the normal real estate market, through two mechanism. The first one is a mechanism of “conversion”: each housing unit previously occupied by a dweller, and now included in Airbnb’s listings, is a unit removed from the long-term rental market and added to the local hotel offer, resulting in an increase in the rental price, in particular in the most central districts of the cities. The “hotelization” is the second mechanism: as long as the owner or the tenant has the possibility to rent a room on Airbnb at prices lower than those of a hotel room, earning a considerable premium on the residential market, there is a strong incentive to upload housing units on the platform rather than renting to local residents, creating the so-called “hotel cottage” effect.
What are the consequences?
The offer of long-term rentals is reduced, encouraging the relocation of residents to another district and thus encouraging gentrification and segregation processes (Guttentag, 2013; Ball et al., 2014). Dwellers struggle to find long-term rentals or affordable housing solutions, and in addition they clash with a significant increase of the services cost, due to the growing presence of tourists that push business owners to raise prices (Gant, 2016). Besides these effects of gentrification we can observe also the intensification of the so-called “disneyfication effect”. The massive tourist flows, nowadays favored by short-term rents, risk to transform the historical centers, especially Italian ones, from key places of local cultural and political life, into real consumption citadels. “A city in the city outside the city itself, where the distance between the center and the periphery is more marked than in the past” (Mammone, 2017). This effect is also confirmed by the aforementioned research by the University of Siena, according to which the uncontrolled flows of tourists affects the identity of the city, reinforcing the risk of social desertification of historic centers (Semi, 2015). In this process the “local life” is marketed, sold as an added value to the rental of the accommodation (Sans and Quaglieri Domínguez, 2016, Warren, 2016) and the identity of the district erodes and changes. This situation has the double effect of determining, on the one hand, the expulsion of the weaker classes (the low income renters) from their neighborhoods of historical settlement, as in the case of the center of Naples and Florence for examples, and on the other hand to incentivize the unlimited indebtedness of the middle class.
How to counteract these processes?
These effects are evident especially in hypertouristic cities (Costa and Martinotti, 2003) such as the already mentioned Florence and Naples, but also Rome and Venice, and in Europe, cities like Amsterdam, Barcelona, Paris, London, Berlin… These effects are pushing the local administrations to intervene to limit both the gentrification and the disneyfication mechanisms. To give some examples: Amsterdam has established an “Airbnb law” that limits the short term rental to 30 days and bans renting in the more central neighborhoods, causing the disappointment of the Airbnb community, which consists of 19,000 Amsterdam hosts; in particular the rule set the following conditions:
You have to live in the house/houseboat yourself;
You may only rent the house/houseboat occasionally;
You must pay the tourist tax and the income tax on the income from holiday rentals;
You need permission from the Owners’ Associations (VvE) or landlord;
Your home/houseboat must be fireproofed;
You cannot rent out your house/houseboat to more than four people at the same time;
Your guests may not cause a disturbance to local residents.
“Airbnb threatens the soul and identity of a number of neighbourhoods. We cannot remain inert in this situation. All the big cities of the world are facing this problem. If we do not regulate Airbnb, we will no longer have inhabitants in our city centers. Do we want Paris to be a city which the middle classes can afford, or do we want it to be a playground for Saudi or American billionaires?”.
In London despite the 90-day cap on listings the Airbnb’s market share nearly tripled in 2017, jumping from 2.8 to 7.6 per cent of overnight stays (as demonstrated by a study from property services company Colliers – also based on scraped data, from commercial analysts AirDNA). The UK Government introduced the law to make illegal the short-term residential properties that overcome the 90 nights per year in 2015 and in response Airbnb introduced an “automated hosting limit”, which blocks out a host’s calendar for the year once they have reached 90 days of rentals for a single property. Nevertheless the risk that a host can change the name of its listing or use another platform after reaching the 90-day limit still remains.
Barcelona is one of the European cities where the fight against Airbnb is growing fast. In May 2018 the city told the site to remove 2,577 listings that it found to be operating without a city-approved license, or face a court case potentially leading to a substantial fine. In June, Airbnb and the city launched a new agreement that gives Barcelona officials access to data about what’s being listed around town. So for the first time a city council will be able to track the hosts ID numbers and verify if they have permission for their listings. In addition the municipality addresses the tourists, asking to make sure that the property they rent is properly licensed first.
Also in the native place of the platform, San Francisco, many problems are raising and in 2014 the “Airbnb Law” was approved. The law regulates short-term rentals, limiting the activities of the hosts who, in order to use the platform, must be permanent residents of the city and duly registered in a commercial register; in addition: the accommodation as a whole cannot be rented for more than 90 days per year, and the host is obliged to pay a fee and be insured against any liability.
New York too is struggling to manage the presence of Airbnb and a recent law foresees that you cannot rent your entire apartment for stays of less than 30 days; in addition Airbnb have to provide names and addresses of those who rent a house in the city.
Looking to the other side of the globe, Japan has established a country law that limits hosts to respect some rules: a maximum of 180 days per year, the homogenization to fire and earthquake emergency regulations, registration with the competent authorities. By now the government has requested to delete all the listening of “irregular” hosts. At the local level, Kyoto allows short-term rental only from January to March (low season) and Tokyo has adopted measures at the level of individual neighborhoods to contain the phenomenon.
To conclude, the growth of short-term rentals is closely tied to the broader financialisation of housing that makes housing a commodity, erodes the neighborhood identity, attracts new investors for buying or developing more and more units, which in turn increases the scarcity of housing, prompts landlords to raise rent, threatens community bonds and stretches neighbourhood services. The spread of this type of rent opens the way to an expansion without limit of processes of marginalization and social indebtedness. Is this the “Urban era” announced by Henri Lefebvre? Is the process of urbanization of the population and the consequent transformation of humanity into an “urban species” really bringing to a “total urbanization” of the world? It seems that the urban age resulting from the neoliberal globalization is assuming the aspect of the “total financialisation” of the planet theorized by Lefebvre.
Trying to find tools to contrast these phenomena of touristification, gentrification and disneyfication, is a task of all the public administration that want to fight against the desertification of the city’s social tissue and support the wellbeing of their citizens.
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Costa, e Martinotti, G., 2003, “Sociological theories of tourism and regulation theory”, in L.M. Hoffman, S.S. Feinstein, D.R. Judd (a cura di), Cities and Visitors, Blackwell, Malden, pp. 53-71.
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Guttentag, D., 2013, “Airbnb: disruptive innovation and the rise of an informal tourism accommodation sector”, in «Current Issue on Tourism», 18(12), pp. 1192-1217.
Lee, D., 2016, “How Airbnb Short-Term Rentals Exacerbate Los Angeles’s Affordable Housing Crisis: Analysis and Policy Recommendations”, in « L. & Pol’y Rev», 10, pp. 229-255.
Mammone, L., 2017, “Cultura: la desertificazione dei centri storici italiani e il fenomeno delle sponsorizzazioni dei beni culturali. A chi giova?”, LaRiscossa [http://www.lariscossa.com/2017/02/24/la-desertificazione-dei-centri-storici-italiani-ed-fenomeno-delle-sponsorizzazioni-dei-beni-culturali-cui-prodest/].
Picascia, S., Romano, A., Teobaldi, M., 2017, The airification of cities: making sense of the impact of peer to peer short term letting on urban functions and economy, Proceedings of the Annual Congress of the Association of European Schools of Planning, Lisbon 11-14 Luglio 2017.
Sans, A.A. e Quaglieri Domínguez, A., 2016, “Unravelling Airbnb: Urban Perspectives from Barcelona”, in A.P. Russo, G. Richards (a cura di), Reinventing the Local in Tourism: Producing, Consuming and Negotiating Place, Channel View Publications, Bristol, pp. 209-228.
Semi, G., 2015, Tutte le città come Disneyland?, Il Mulino, Bologna.
Steylaerts, S. e O’Dubhghaill, S., 2011, “CouchSurfing and authenticity: Notes towards an understanding of an emerging phenomenon”, in «Hospitality & Society», 1 (3), pp. 261–278.
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, 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 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:
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;
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;
Neighborhood effect: the housing agencies can be urban, but also social end economic, regeneration agents acting as engine of local development;
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.
 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.
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.