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.

In Poland the 4th International Conference on Urban and Regional Economics

In Poland the 4th International Conference on Urban and Regional Economics


The conference “Contemporary Urban Policy – European Perspective” will take place at the University of Economics in Katowice, 12-13 October 2017, thanks to the organization of the Department of Spatial and Environmental Economics.

The focus will be on urban policy, urban governance and collaborative planning. The meeting will bring together academics, policymakers and practitioners to better understand the ideas of participatory approach to urban development and discuss new concepts such as urban commons, cooperative cities and sharing cities. The meeting will be also an opportunity to integrate academics and discuss future research projects in the field of urban and regional studies. There are 7 conference themes to which researchers interested in exchanging ideas and results on urban studies are invited to participate:

  1. Urban policy – theory and practice
  2. Collaborative planning in cities
  3. Urban and metropolitan governance
  4. Urban Commons and city as a commons
  5. Sharing economy, circular economy, and urban development
  6. Urban regeneration strategies, tools, and projects
  7. Urban laboratories and experimental economics in urban studies

The call for paper has been until August 30 to collect abstract on these themes. All reviewed and accepted papers will be published on “STUDIA REGIONALIA”, “JOURNAL OF ECONOMICS AND MANAGEMENT” and other peer-reviewed publications.

Professor Christian Iaione, LabGov Faculty Director, will take part in the conference as a keynote speaker.

For more information and the program see the official website:


Un’altra importante occasione per discutere di #urbancommons e #sharingcities: il 12 e 13 ottobre 2017 a Katowice (Polonia), presso la University of Economics, il Dipartimento di Economia Spaziale e Ambientale organizza la 4th International Conference on Urban and Regional Economics. La conferenza, dal titolo “Contemporary Urban Policy – European Perspective”, si concentrerà sui temi delle #urbanpolitics, #urbangovernance e #collaborativeplanning. Fino al 30 agosto è possibile inviare il proprio abstract su uno dei 7 temi proposti. Maggiori informazioni al sito

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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