The City, the Commons, the Flower

The City, the Commons, the Flower

di Miguel Martinez


Today June 7th, a small event, highly symbolic however for all of Europe’s historic centres being turned into Disneylands for tourism, will take place in Florence, when the children of the Oltrarno district will plant forty rhizomes of iris about one hundred metres from the Brancacci Chapel, where Masaccio unwittingly unleashed the Renaissance (and also painted an extraordinary allegory of the Commons).

Whatever is bureaucratic and artificial, is easy to understand. Whatever is real is unique and complex, so it will take some explaining, but the fun lies precisely in putting the strands together.

The first strand lies just behind the Carmine church, in Florence’s Oltrarno district: a garden hidden behind a high wall called the “Nidiaci”, a gift by the American Red Cross, in 1920 to the children of what was then the poorest district of the city, riddled with TBC and crime, yet the scene of extraordinary human passions and solidarity.

Today the inhabitants of the centre of Florence are being driven out by an Airbnb economy based on evictions, empty houses, craftsmen overwhelmed by taxes losing their workplaces to pubs.

Flats are filled by people who have no contact with the area they sleep in for a night or two, while bartenders and cooks – largely from remote parts of the world – commute every night for miles, to reach their zoned homes, leaving a trail of burnt fossil fuel behind them.

Metaphorically, we could say that a certain number of Florentines make money by gluing their ancestors’ bones to clothes hangers and putting them up in their shop windows. As an exceptionally kind hearted landowner put it to a single mother and her child before evicting them, “I’m so sorry, but if you leave, I can earn 90 euros a night from this flat!”

To make way for tourists yearning to see the “Oltrarno, district of craftsmen”, the last shoemaker was evicted too: he held out bravely for several months in his tiny shop, with no running water, before finally leaving the city.

The hidden Nidiaci garden has become a rallying point for old and new residents – Florentine carpenters and bakers alongside Macedonian hotel cleaners, Egyptian pizza cooks and Irish artists – who keep it open as a Commons: arts, music, crafts, a vegetable garden, a football school, set up by the legendary Lebowski team (the only soccer club owned by fans in Italy) and guided tours for local children, to remind them that they are the guardians of the rich history of Florence, wherever their parents may have been born.

Children’s concert at the Nidiaci


The second strand concerns the name of Florence, supposedly derived from the Latin flos, “flower”: a city founded, according to legend, during the Roman festival of Floralia, an image which immediately brings to mind Flora in Botticelli’s Primavera, so beautifully thinned out in Evelyn De Morgan’s painting Flora, sold to a Scottish patron.

Evelyn De Morgan, Flora


On the bottom right of the painting, the small tag, written in rhymed medieval Italian, says,

“I come down from Florence and am Flora,

This city takes its name from flower

Among the flowers I was born and now by a change of home

I have my dwelling among the mountains of Scotia

Welcome me, and let my treasure amid northern mists be dear to you.”


The heraldic symbol of the city-state of Florence, since before Dante, has always been the fleur-de-lys, as it appears on the town banners. Here you can see it in one of those ambiguous events where true Florentines wear, with enormous commitment, authentically fake Renaissance costumes, partly to attract tourists, but mainly because they have a tremendous desire to express a deeply felt identity.


People all over Italy do similar things, like the Chivalry Joust of Sulmona, which has no spectators because nearly everybody in town is an actor and nobody knows where Sulmona is.

The fleur-de-lys of Florence is actually an iris, the humble giaggiolo which until not so many years ago used to grow everywhere along the banks of the Arno, but has now nearly disappeared.


Next to Piazzale Michelangelo, where tourists enjoy a splendid view over the city, there is another little known garden, kept open only a few weeks a year by a group of enthusiasts and dedicated exclusively to the iris.

The third strand is the University of Florence, where Professor Stefano Mancuso has opened a new field of research, that of plant sensitivity, establishing the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology.

Mancuso is also the inventor of the fascinating and somewhat frightening Jellyfish Barge, a kind of Noah’s Ark to help us survive the Anthropocene we have created.

Right now, probably the most prominent cultural event in town is an unlikely experiment set up by Mancuso and a German artist, in the courtyard of the Renaissance Palazzo Strozzi, on the relations between plant and human psychology.


The Florence Experiment is a research project where visitors slide down a structure from a height of 20 metres; their emotional reactions will be recorded and compared with those of plants to examine the empathetic possibilities between humans and plant organisms.



The issue of relations between plants and us, is of course enormous, quite simply because without plants, we would cease to exist; and our future therefore depends on how we relate to them.

This takes us to the fourth strand. Professor Mancuso has launched an interdisciplinary master’s degree, called “Plant Future” – Futuro Vegetale, – bringing together scholars from very different fields (biology, sociology, architecture, political science) who are seeking a way out of the suicidal course we are currently engaged in.

Then there is the fifth strand, Florence’s Calcio fiorentino, a no-holds-barred form of football developed in Florence in Renaissance times, played between the four historic districts of the old part of Florence,

Though it is a rediscovered tradition (dating back to the 1930s), it is firmly rooted in local culture, and is the strongest source of identity of the Oltrarno district, which is of the “White” colour, and where a hardy group of unpaid bar keepers, electricians and carpenters risk their lives every year for this match dedicated to Saint John, the city patron.


The official matches are a municipal institution, so fans and players have set up an independent organisation, recreating the fourteenth-century fraternity of the “Whites”, the Compagnia dei Bianchi, one of the countless lively community organisations of medieval Italy, to develop local solidarity and help the countless people whose very survival is in doubt in these hard times.

The scholars of Plant Future decided that the most symbolic place in all Florence to launch a new idea of how to found a city was the Nidiaci garden, its plants, trees and human community.

The first irises would be there, then they would be gradually planted wherever people took care of community gardens.

So they went to the Iris Garden, where the organisers immediately understood, and gave forty of their best rhizomes, kept for international competitions, to plant in the Nidiaci, recreating the original Florentia or flowering.

The minute beginning of a renewal of a whole city, based on commoning.

The Plant Future scholars came over to visit the garden.

An Albanian mother, who sells shirts in the market at San Lorenzo and teaches the children how to grow tomatoes and melons in the Nidiaci garden, decided where the rhizomes should be planted.

Then the organisers got in touch with the Compagnia dei Bianchi, because it was fundamental for them to be present in such a special moment.

All of this is very small, and very concentrated.

And smallness, and concentration, is exactly what we all need.

As Rising Appalachia put it,

Stand up, look around and then scale that down too!”



The Right to the Co-City

Christian Iaione, LabGov Faculty Director, published a new study “The Right To the Co-city” on the Italian Journal of Public Law, Volume 9, Issue 1, 2017, p. 80.

This study is an effort to contribute to the current urban studies debate on the way to conceptualize the city by advancing a rights-based approach and to suggest that to build such vision one needs to reconceive the city as a commons, which is to say that the city serves as an infrastructure enabling the “pooling” of city inhabitants actions, energies, resources and the cooperation between city inhabitants and other four urban actors thereby embedding a “quintuple helix” or “pentahelix” approach in the governance design of the city. Part I articulates the most prominent visions or paradigms of the city of the 21st century and the “metaphors” that are currently used to conceptualize the city. From an interdisciplinary perspective, this part then discusses some complications and emerging key points that deserve further reflection. In Part II, the article argues that a rights-based paradigm or vision in the conceptualization of the city is emerging. It does so through the analysis of urban laws and policies adopted in exemplary case studies such as Naples and Barcelona, on one side, and Bologna and Turin, on the other side. Two main rights-based approaches seem to emerge: the rebel city model and the co-city model. In Part III, to better define this fourth urban paradigm and in particular the second approach, a focus on the key concept of commons and a review of the main bodies of literature is provided which are key to carve out the concept of “pooling” as a form of cooperation that encompasses both sharing of congestible resources to avoid scarcity and collaboration around non congestible, constructed resources to generate abundance. Building on the existing literature of a particular subset of studies on infrastructure commons, the concept of pooling is extracted from the observation of how pooling as a demand-side strategy can both expand or leverage the idle “capacity” of an infrastructure to avoid congestion and at the same time generate abundance. Pooling is particular effective in explaining the main features of a peculiar vision of the rights-based city, the co-city approach, ultimately envisioning the city as an enabling infrastructure for social and economic pooling. Part IV offers concluding remarks and proposes the idea of the “right to the co-city” to build a body of urban law and policies advancing “urban rights to pooling” as a key legal tool to structure a commons-oriented interpretation of the fourth vision of the city, the rights-based approach.


The full-text article is available at 

Ferrara Sharing Festival – May 20 – 22: “ Condividere pienamente – to share perfectly”

Ferrara Sharing Festival – May 20 – 22: “ Condividere pienamente – to share perfectly”

ferraraFerrara will discuss the new sharing economy with lots of interesting meetings, events and experiences

From May 20 to May 22 2016, Ferrara will host the first Italian Festival about the sharing economyopen to everyone and for free. It is born from the idea of change and new social economy that recently came into our lives. The idea of the festival is to transform the economic and social system that has been in crisis on the one hand, and to create new models of organizations, work, relations/relationships and communication involving institutions, citizens, private persons, individuals and the community on the other. During these three days the whole historic city centre will give space to interesting meetings, special events and shared experiences.

But first of all: What is the sharing economy?

The sharing economy is a new social and collaborative phenomenon. It is an approach of form of life by valuating high the principals of cooperation and using them as an instrument to influence organizations and to transform enterprises.

In Italy, now there are more than 186 platforms divided in 13 sectors (according to a research by and the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan)

And next question: Why Ferrara?

Ferrara will be the place to be in these days because of a couple of important reasons:

  • Ferrara has an identity of the territory: It always has been giving space to the idea of associations and cooperation.
  • Its objective is to build up a laboratory of ideas regarding the transformations and changes. Everyone is affected by the different levels of our political and social, economic and organizational lives. The Festival gives everyone the possibility to be part of the change and to create a new value of the territory, of the country.

Cooperating with the “Associazioni di Categoria”, the “Associazioni Culutrali”, the university and a lot more organizations to work together so that the city of Ferrara can continue to work on being an open building site on the cooperative culture.

  • Moreover, Ferrara is a place of reflexion on the themes of actuality and gives the possibility to create a platform of discussion.
  • And finally, it is a place of contemporary culture, it is open and active.

The festival gives the opportunity to talk about these realities, even about the small ones with a typical national character that are increasing and growing very fast. The aim is to create a dialogue between the traditional organizations and associations, but also enterprises that for many years are operating on the (international) markets, and to show them new, advanced models to improve and to cooperate.

The agenda of the three days of the festival will be:

  • More than 100 experiences of experts of the sector
  • May 20: “Le piattaforme della sharing economy. I servizi e i prodotti della sharing”
  • May 21: “Le nuove professioni: lavoro precario o opportunità di crescita? and “Le nuove economie: le policies dell’economia collaborativi”
  • May 22: “Il change making. Dal movimento al cambiamento” and “Le nuove professioni tra profit e no profit”

Further information here.

Ten Points on The City as Commons

Ten Points on The City as Commons


The City as a Commons” conference has produced a body of knowledge that can guide future research and policymaking on which we can build. Specifically, after some reflection, we came away from the conference with at least 10 lessons for the developing field of the urban commons:

1. There are many kinds of urban commons, some existing for many decades (e.g. housing cooperatives) and others just emerging. Social innovation is important for designing some types of urban commons and the conditions for commoning;

2. We must embrace the diversity of commons and commoning yet still be careful about what we call the commons; so more work is needed on analyzing what is an urban commons and what is not;

3. In addition to many resources being held or managed in common, in a collaborative fashion, the city itself must be considered a commons–both as an urban space and as a governing entity. The governance of the urban commons can be a framework to update political and bureaucratic decision-making processes at the city level;

4. The commons is an emerging framework for inclusiveness and equity in cities as the world is urbanizing and cities are the place where different cultures, classes and people come to live together, work together and grow together;

5. The role of technology is important for the commons, but technology is a means and not an end. It must enable and support the urban commons, and the ability of people to come together and collaborate in the interest of the community or communities;

6. Collective action for the urban commons should be enabling existing communities, stakeholders, and city inhabitants as much as creating new urban communities, formal and informal groups, movements, traditional stakeholders and social or collective organizations;

7. Urban commons need an “industrial plan” and new economic and/or social institutions to help transition some cities, and some areas within them, away from an old economic model to one that leverages the power of commoning and collaboration to support sustainable, flourishing as well as more inclusive, just and democratic communities;

8. The urban commons governance principle is not self-government, nor decentralization. It is rather distribution of powers among public, social, economic, knowledge and civic actors and therefore it implies a significant investment in the design of new forms of collaboration and partnerships among these actors;

9. Design principles for the urban commons should be written to reflect the design principles created by Elinor Ostrom, but adapting them to the challenges and characteristics of the more political, confrontational, and overregulated space which cities represent. The study of the commons in the city should be the focus of future research beyond the study of the urban commons. More attention should be put on experimentation, institutional diversity, spreading of social norms within urban contexts;

10. There should be safeguards against opportunistic, exploitative, and short-sighted behaviors, as well as escapist flights and utopian or ideological visions, in developing and sustaining the urban commons. A bottom-up, as well as a circular, approach is crucial for the urban commons and confirms Focault’s argument that power is “not something that is acquired, seized, or shared, something that one holds on to or allows to slip away; power is exercised from innumerable points, in the interplay of non egalitarian and mobile relations”.

This is just a tiny part of the huge body of knowledge generated by “The City as Commons” conference thanks to your support and cooperation. We look forward to building new advancements in the study of the urban commons hope that we can continue to partner with you towards this end.


La conferenza “The City as a Commons” ha prodotto un patrimonio di conoscenza che negli anni a venire fungerà sicuramente da fonte di ispirazione per la ricerca e la formazione e dal quale si potrà partire per costruire nuove politiche pubbliche e immaginare nuovi strumenti di coesione sociale e sviluppo economico locale. I materiali per i quali gli autori presteranno il proprio consenso verranno resi gradualmente disponibili alla pagina: Nello specifico, dopo alcune riflessioni svolte a valle della conferenza, abbiamo pensato di distillare “dieci lezioni sui beni comuni urbani”, consapevoli che si tratta solo di una possibile “mappa nautica” in un campo di studi con ancora enormi margini di esplorazione:

1.     per commons (o beni comuni) devono intendersi anche e soprattutto le istituzioni abilitanti l’azione collettiva. Ci sono tipologie diverse di queste istituzioni, alcune esistono da molto tempo (ad es. le associazioni di volontariato, le cooperative), altre stanno emergendo solo adesso. L’innovazione sociale è un fattore importante per il design di alcune tipologie di istituzioni per i beni comuni urbani e per le condizioni che favoriscono il commoning (o collaborazione civica) a livello urbano;

2.     dobbiamo abbracciare la diversità dei beni comuni, delle loro istituzioni e delle pratiche di commoning (o collaborazione civica) e porre molta attenzione quando definiamo i beni comuni: c’è bisogno, quindi di un approfondito lavoro di analisi per comprendere cosa è e cosa non è un bene comune urbano;

3.      oltre alle sue risorse, da gestire con un approccio collaborativo, la città stessa deve essere considerata come un bene comune sia come spazio urbano, che come entità di governo. La governance dei beni comuni può essere un framework adeguato per aggiornare il processo decisionale politico e amministrativo a livello locale;

4.     quello dei commons è un framework emergente che si sta affermando per migliorare l’inclusione e l’uguaglianza nelle città, tenuto conto del fatto che il mondo si sta urbanizzando e le città sono oggi quei luoghi dove culture, classi sociali, persone differenti si insediano per vivere, lavorare e crescere insieme;

5.     il ruolo della tecnologia è importante per i beni comuni, ma la tecnologia è un mezzo e non un fine, il cui compito è abilitare e supportare i beni comuni urbani e la capacità delle persone di collaborare nell’interesse della comunità o, ancora meglio, delle comunità;

6.     l’azione collettiva per i beni comuni urbani dovrebbe essere abilitante tanto per comunità, attori sociali, gruppi formali e informali, abitanti delle città preesistenti, quanto per nuove comunità urbane, nuovi gruppi formali e informali, nuove formazioni sociali e nuovi movimenti e attori e organizzazioni sociali o collettive;

7.     i beni comuni urbani necessitano di un “piano industriale“ e di una nuova istituzione  economica e sociale che aiuti la transizione di alcune città e di alcune aree urbane all’interno di esse da un vecchio modello economico ad un nuovo modello che faccia leva sul potere del commoning e della collaborazione civica per supportare comunità sostenibili, prospere nonché inclusive, eque e democratiche;

8.     il principio generale di design della governance dei beni comuni urbani non è l’auto-governo, nè il decentramento. Il principio generale è piuttosto la distribuzione del potere tra attori pubblici, sociali, economici civici e cognitivi e pertanto implica un investimento significativo nel design di nuove forme di collaborazione e partenariato tra questi attori;

9.     i principi di design per la governance dei beni comuni urbani o dei beni comuni nella città dovrebbero ispirarsi ai principi elaborati da Elinor Ostrom per il governo dei beni collettivi. Essi tuttavia vanno modulati e adattati alle sfide e alle caratteristiche di quello spazio politico, conflittuale e sovra-regolato che le città rappresentano. Lo studio dei beni comuni nella città, più che lo studio dei beni comuni urbani, dovrebbe essere uno dei focus verso i quali indirizzare le ricerche future.  Si dovrebbe porre un’attenzione maggiore alla sperimentazione, alla diversità (o differenziazione) istituzionale, alla diffusione di norme sociali all’interno dei contesti urbani;

10.  nello sviluppo e nel sostegno ai beni comuni urbani dovrebbero essere inserite delle clausole di salvaguardia contro comportamenti opportunistici, strumentali e di breve termine, così come si dovrebbero evitare fughe in avanti e costruzioni utopiche o ideologiche. Un approccio dal basso e circolare è cruciale per i beni comuni urbani e conferma la visione di Michel Foucalt, secondo il quale “il potere non è qualcosa che si acquista, si strappa o si condivide, qualcosa che si conserva o che si lascia sfuggire; il potere si esercita a partire da innumerevoli punti, e nel gioco di relazioni disuguali e mobili.

Italian collaborative cities launch from Rome the Matera Sharing School

Italian collaborative cities launch from Rome the Matera Sharing School





The sharing economy is growing faster than ever and becoming a hot policy issue these days. Casa Netural, CollaboriamoRENA and LabGov have for this reason decided to launch the “sharing school”. Thanks to the collaboration between these entities and partners like Ouishare, Avanzi and Societing, the school will be able to host highly qualified professionals and experienced innovators. The main star will be Neal Gorenflo from Shareable.


The school will be held in the city of Matera, 2019 European Capital of Culturefrom January 23rd, 2015 through January 26th, 2015. The four day full immersion program is based on a “learning by doing” approach, which aims at forming participants on sharing economy. The possibility to experiment collaboration among participants is the pivotal practice of the school. Through active participation, cooperation, inclusion and strong theoretical background, the program aims at analyzing recent trends and best practices of the sharing economy and to provide the necessary instruments to designing and manage community services and assets through sharing and collaborative schemes. The school is thus recommended for all those civic innovators, nonprofit leaders, economic development professionals, city builders and entrepreneurs, public officials which seek to deepen their knowledge of practices related to the commons, as well as to the sharing practices in a city. The school will provide them with the skills, expertise, and insights they need to create, implement and measure to build upon the creativity, innovation, and human capability of their local communities.

In Rome, Neal Gorenflo will launch the school at an event on collaborative cities as a model for urban transformation and local economic development. The audience will be made up of Roman and Italian sharing world actors. The conference will be held at Porta Futuro on January 22nd at 10:00 AM. Representatives from four collaborative cities (Milan, Florence, Bologna and Rome) and other important experts and practitioners will be there too. The aim is to open 2015 with a thorough discussion on how cities could be turned into collaborative cities or co-cities, that is to say places where people share urban commons, city governments collaborate with citizens and collaborative businesses flourish, all thanks to a commons-oriented economic approach.

Event program is available here.

You can enroll here

To get more info on the Sharing School:




Le città collaborative lanciano da Roma la Sharing School di Matera

La sharing economy sta crescendo più velocemente che mai e sta diventando un tema di politica pubblica molto caldo negli ultimi mesi, anche grazie a eventi come Sharitaly. Per questa ragione, Casa Netural, CollaboriamoRENA e LabGov hanno deciso di lanciare la Sharing School. Grazie alla collaborazione tra queste soggetti e partner come  OuiShareAvanzi e Societing,  la scuola potrà ospitare professionisti altamente qualificati e innovatori di grande esperienza. Neal Gorenflo, co-founder di Shareable, sarà ospite della scuola per tutta la durata dell’iniziativa.

La scuola si terrà a Matera, Capitale Europea della Cultura 2019 , dal 23 al 26 gennaio 2015. Quattro giorni di full immersion basati sull’approccio “learning by doing”, che mirano a formare i partecipanti sui temi e le pratiche della sharing economy. La possibilità di sperimentare la collaborazione tra i partecipanti è la caratteristica principale della scuola. Attraverso la partecipazione attiva, la cooperazione, l’inclusione e un forte background teorico, il programma mira ad analizzare i trend più recenti e le best practices della sharing economy per fornire gli strumenti necessari per progettare e gestire servizi e beni di comunità attraverso schemi di condivisione e collaborazione. La scuola è pensata per tutti gli innovatori civici, leaders nel settore del non-profit, professionisti dello sviluppo economico, city builders, imprenditori, e funzionari pubblici che intendono approfondire la conoscenza delle pratiche relative ai commons, così come delle pratiche collaborative in una città. La scuola fornirà loro le skills, l’esperienza, e indagherà i loro bisogni di creare, implementare e misurare per costruire sulla creatività, l’innovazione e il capitale umano delle loro comunità locali.

A Roma, Neal Gorenflo lancerà la scuola in un evento sulle città collaborative come modello di trasformazione urbana e sviluppo economico locale. L’evento richiamerà molti attori del mondo dello sharing a livello italiano e globale. La conferenza avrà luogo presso Porta Futuro il 22 gennaio alle ore 10:00. Saranno presenti i  rappresentanti di quattro città collaborative (Milano, Firenze, Bologna e Roma) e altri importanti esperti e professionisti. L’obiettivo dell’evento è aprire il 2015 con una riflessione su come le città possono essere trasformate in città collaborative o  co-città, ovvero luoghi dove le persone condividono i beni comuni urbani, l’amministrazione collabora con i cittadini e imprese collaborative fioriscono, tutto grazie a un approccio economico orientato ai beni comuni.

Il programma è disponibile qui.

Puoi iscriverti qui.

Per maggiori informazioni sulla Sharing School: