LabGov Summer Reads

LabGov Summer Reads

Happy summer everybody!

Whether you are relaxing on a beach or you are lacking ideas for books to read this fall, have a look at LabGov’s random and inexhaustive summer reads suggestions.

Feel free to share this article and comment with your favorite city reads on our social media pages using the #LabGovReads hashtag!

The Co-Cities Open Book  by LabGov

The result of years of research and experimentations on the field to investigate new forms of collaborative city-making that are pushing urban areas towards new frontiers of participatory urban governance, inclusive economic growth and social innovation.

  • The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing
The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing

  • The Fate of Rome. Climate, Disease and the End of an Empire by Kyle Harper

  • Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West by William Cronon

  • Calcutta: Two years in the City by Amit Chaudhuri

  • Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

  • The Municipalists by Seth Fried

  • Tokyo on Foot: Travels in the City’s Most Colorful Neighborhoods by Florent Chavouet

  • Delirious New York by Rem Koolhas

Radical Cities. Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture by Justin McGuirk

For some more committed readers and a more serious beach vibe:

  • All That is Solid Melts into Air by Marshall Berman

  • Alger, Capitale de la Révolution (French) – Algiers, Third World Capital (English – Verso) by Elaine Mokhtefi

  • A Moving Border. Alpine Cartographies of Climate Change by Marco Ferrari, Elisa Pasqual, and Andrea Bagnato

  • Extreme Cities. The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change by Ashley Dawson

  • Race, Class and Politics in the Cappuccino City by Derek S. Hyra

  • Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg

  • Patients of the State. The Politics of Waiting in Argentina by Javier Auyero

  • Invisible in Austin, edited by Javier Auyero

Other great sources for books:

Source of images:, , ,,,,,,,

Will urban farming save our cities? Perspectives from Detroit and Brussels

Will urban farming save our cities? Perspectives from Detroit and Brussels

by Remi Guillem & Carlo Epifanio

Recent whistleblowers of global warming have found their scapegoat. Urban areas have been pointed out as accounting for 60% of greenhouse gas emissions while representing slightly 2% of the Earth’s surface. Large cities, as giant Gargantuas, swallow 78% of the energy produced globally (UN-Habitat; 2019). 

Filling the metaphor, these ogres rely on greedy centralized metabolisms, the French Marchés d’Intérêt Nationaux or American periurban wholesales outlets, that have been adopted globally to cope with sanitary risks and provide scale economies. This production and distribution of food have been highly criticized for pollution costs and food waste that do not match contemporary ecological requirements to contrast climate change. Claims for a bio-transition toward more local, inclusive, and organic food systems in urban settings have emerged globally after years of ‘hypercapitalism’. (Galtung; 2012). 

A food system, rather than a simple chain of components (production – distribution – consumption – recycling), can be defined as a ‘socio-ecological system’ meaning ‘a coherent system of biophysical and social factors that regularly interact in a resilient, sustained manner (Ericksen; 2008). Stated boldly, feeding megacities is not only a matter of spatial optimization but a project accounting for specific geographical-environmental features and social contexts. And new advocates of urban agriculture promise they can do so by creating  ‘circular metabolisms’ to envisage the before mentioned food transition (Barles; 2012). 

Bringing food production in cities would foster a circular use of land while cutting negative externalities such as food distribution distances while directly including communities and consumers in food production, distribution and waste. According to Marc Dufrêne, specialist of ecosystem services at the University of Liège, ‘urban farming ticks the three pillars of sustainable development: it contributes to production, it boosts social integration and it improves the environment and health’. However, this more inclusive scheme is put under strong economic pressure by private actors. In this article, we discuss this idyllic representation based on our researches conducted in Detroit, United States, and Brussels, Belgium wondering to what extent urban farming is relevant for food and social city metabolism nowadays.

Besides presenting the positive, perverse effects and limitations of large-scale urban farming projects in these two cities, we share our understandings pertaining to this promising phenomenon based on our field-work conducted between January and June 2019. 

A tale of two cities: positive, perverse effects of urban farming on the Brussels and Detroit ground

 Maps of Urban Agriculture sites in Brussels as of 2019. (Bruxelles Environnement 2019)  

Urban agriculture in Brussels is a living part of a new cross-cutting green vision. The Belgian capital’s administration learned from its terrain, notably from NGOs like urban agriculture ‘Les Début des Haricots’ that from the first year 2000s promote ecology and local food production and consumption. In January 2016 the local authorities inaugurated the ambitious GoodFood strategy to support and network whoever wants to promote, produce, learn or distribute food produced locally or waste treated ecologically. The strategy aims at increasing the local production of food to 30% of fruits and vegetables by 2035 and reduce food waste production of 30% by 2020. Agronomists’ expertise from Gembloux University jointly with the consulting cabinet Group One contributed to the creation of some of the existing 300 urban gardening sites. They also contributed to the birth of many of the 30 urban agriculture new companies in the last 3 years.

This new green vision bridges the institutional fragmentation among stakeholders due to the technical and economic complexity of managing urban agriculture projects. Within the metropolitan authority, horizontal coordination of economic, urbanism and environmental bodies was necessary to organize funds, legal permits, and technical standards to support and implement new projects.

La pousse qui pousse. Site founded by début des Haricots in the courtyard of social housing units in Saint Gilles, Brussels. Source:

The brand-new urban farming scene has challenged centralized supply chains not only at a practical level: a new culture of innovation is evidenced by many projects: BIGH’s 2,000m2 farm, on the roof of Anderlecht’s slaughterhouse, produces vegetables and fishery through aquaponics while few meters underneath, Champignon de Bruxelles grows Japanese mushrooms on spent brewery grains in the 750m2 Caves de Cureghem, close by the Little Food crickets’ producer. Similarly, Urbi Leaf grows sprouts with LEDs in a cellar under Ateliers des Tanneurs in the city center. Closing the circle, the rising scene of bio and zero waste supermarkets, part of the GoodFood network, is selling products coming from these businesses shaping the new ecological geography of the Bruxelles middle class’ lifestyle. 

By contrast, Detroit saw urban agriculture blossoming in rather different urban settings: years of deindustrialization and depopulation have left a third of the city abandoned (40 sqm/103.6km2). Since the 1990s, remaining inhabitants, as well as local non-profits, have found in urban farming a solution to fight against food insecurity and poverty: more than 1,600 gardens were identified within city limits in 2018. The reason why urban farming assumed massive dimensions relies on urban farming’s capacity to solve food security issues for the most deprived populations. A great number of nonprofits, local foundations, and engaged residents believe in it. As evidenced by a recent study on the impact of people’s participation in urban farming programs on their diets: individuals participating to the Keep Growing Detroit’s Garden Resource Program in 2018 learned sustainable and healthy ways to feed themselves while participating in gardening activities. This active form of culinary education admittedly reduced their food bill significantly by self-production (Beaver et al; 2019).

Keep Growing Detroit Farm; Source: Keep Growing Detroit

Parallelly, Detroit’s urban farming development surprisingly helped to recreate ‘communities’ by bringing together different social groups and generations. The North Cass Community Garden, developed by Midtown Detroit Inc. has recreated public spaces around private gardens. There barbecues and neighbors’ parties take place supported by residents and nonprofit organizations. In spite of the perceived success of the project, reproduction of race, gender, and class discriminations are not always prevented: white and African American residents do not necessarily agree on how and when to use shared spaces, forcing the nonprofit to hire a gardener/supervisor rather than leaving the garden self-managed. 

Urban conflicts, right for land and market pressure

“It’s a strong but fragile movement,” says Christophe Mercier, co-author of the recent new guide to Brussels’ urban gardens. The common problem of lack of and competition for space gives great responsibility to the local authorities in charge of preserving public space. Many producers benefit from low rents and public support expressed in freedom to use space and easy regulation. Food production is still an economy of scale based on land. And before being profitable, producers need to overcome the fix costs of launching their businesses. Besides, whether the green land preservation vision put in place in the last decade will change towards land consumption, given the economic pressure, only certain urban farmers would afford and find the favor of privates and land developers. This would be the case of Peas&Love, whose business is to rent parcels to clients who for 9€ can harvest their parcel on the roof of private buildings like malls and sports clubs. Potential private and public common space thus becomes a fast track to gentrification. And professional farming would risk becoming ecology for rich clients who can afford it. 

A similar contrast between accessible urban farming and profit-makers occurs in Detroit. Initiatives such as MUFI, for instance, propose free food to inhabitants while neighboring farms attempt to make a living from vegetable sales. This conflict is expressed by the enthusiasm generated by urban farm projects that have in some cases been rejected by the inhabitants themselves. Due to its national media coverage, urban farming development in Detroit brought new populations (mostly white) to the city, buying land and developing their own farms, not necessarily taking into account inhabitants claims. This ‘colonial’ appropriation, as depicted by local African-American activists, becomes even more problematic when connected to real estate issues. The Hantz Farm, for instance, is a 180 acres farm developed by John Hantz (a US national bank owner) in which trees are planted in order to reevaluate land prices in a deprived neighborhood. Such real estate operations lead to local contestations because both residents and local nonprofit organizations depict such purchases as ‘land grabs’. 

Overall, urban farming projects in Detroit, either considered as grassroots-born or privately held by large companies, generate social tensions in a city already exposed to structural racism and social relegation. Even though land availability is not yet a problem, urban agriculture exacerbates existing social conflicts while solving some food concerns in Detroit. These perverse effects are in fact dependent on some inherent limitations of urban farms capacities to sustain food production within urban settings. 

Interestingly, limitations to urban agriculture developments in Brussels and Detroit are very similar: issues of economic scalability, of financial stability and technical inequations, are found in both cities. Indeed, despite the vitality of the sector, urban agriculture’s relevance in terms of volumes of production remains limited in both cities, especially when compared to conventional agriculture. To mention some relevant number, in Detroit for instance, around 193 US tons of vegetables came from urban farms and gardens in 2018, while corn production represented 5,950,000 US tons the same year in Michigan, to keep in mind orders of magnitude. 

Economic constraints and the amount of production matter. As of now, urban farming businesses rely greatly on public or philanthropic subsidies to get started and sometimes to remain economically viable. If urban agriculture remains a second-hand choice for urban food supply, omens of technological progress may favor its development for the years to come. Moreover, urban planners show nowadays great interests in ‘productive landscapes’ urban farms alike: they are presented as showcases of urban common properties and creative green uses of city land, two necessary features for our future cities. 


Alyssa W. Beavers, Ashley Atkinson & Katherine Alaimo (2019) How Gardening and a Gardener Support Program in Detroit Influence Participants’ Diet, Food Security, and Food Values, Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, DOI: 10.1080/19320248.2019.1587332

Barles Sabine, (2012). ‘The Seine and Parisian metabolism: growth of capital dependencies in the 19th and 20th centuries. In: Castonguay, S., Evenden, M.D. (Eds.), Urban Waters:Rivers, Cities and the Production of Space in Europe and North America. Pittsburgh University Press, Pittsburgh, pp. 94–112.

Galtung Johan (2012) “Peace Economics: From a Killing to a Living Economy” Chapter 1, 

Kolofon Press, Trascend University Press.

Marot Sebastien (2018) )

Mougeot, L.J.A. 2000. Urban agriculture: definition, presence, potentials and risks. In:

Bakker, N., M. Dubbeling, S.Guendel, U. Sabel Koschella, H. de Zeeuw (eds.). 2000.

Growing Cities, Growing Food, Urban Agriculture on the Policy Agenda. DSE,

Feldafing Germany, 1-42


RUAF Organization.

Jijakli (2018) “Agriculture Urbaine sur les toits des bâtiments Faisabilité technique et études de cas en Région Bruxelloise” Université De Liège


Hostello delle Idee – Commons Lab

Hostello delle Idee – Commons Lab

Transforming a common space in Terni (Umbria) into a common good is one of LabGov’s new project. In collaboration with Indisciplinarte and many others, LabGov is leading the project “hostello delle idee” aimed at regenerating an ex-guesthouse. In September, it will set up a laboratory -Commons Lab- for the constitution of “communities of practice” working towards urban commons regeneration.


Commons Lab will take place in Terni from the 5th to 8th of September 2019. LabGov’ team will lead the scientific direction. The Lab will be attended by a group of 15 people with different backgrounds (students, community’ representatives, architects, artists and artisans), in order to create a rich ecosystem, a plurality of proposals and a wide integration. Hostello delle idee will be the result of this three-days Lab aiming to the study of tools and knowledge necessary to outline collaborative governance’s strategies, by adapting Nobel Prize Elinor Ostrom’s studies and methodology to the urban context. The class will develop a concrete project of social innovation and collaborative economy to transform an ex-guesthouse (which is the last unregenerated part part of an ex-chemical factory), and this, relying on local creative intelligence.


The further objective is to apprehend how to work in cooperation with local communities to promote and encourage initiatives of urban regeneration, to build community cooperatives and to generate public collaborative policies.

The Commons Lab is divided in training modules: 1) “Architecture of the territory”, to familiarize with local resources, infrastructures and socio-cultural components, they are necessary elements to create concrete results. 2) “Social business modeling”, aiming at estimating social impact and at evaluating sustainable aspects. 3) “Urban governance, policy and law”, legal means will be analyzed in view of urban law.

During co-working sessions, the class will have the possibility to practically experience training modules notions.

LabGov team’s work will cover five training environments; acquisitions of territorial analytical skills and knowledge, usage of tools to facilitate commons’ collaborative governance, experimentation of collaboration as test bench functional for territory transformation, capability to adapt tools and knowledge to the context, experimentation of innovative solutions for commons management.

Co-City protocol will be applied as teaching aid for collaborative communities’ building, six steps of Co-City Cycle dealing with knowing, mapping, experimenting, prototyping, modeling and evaluating, in order to adapt the whole process to the context and to create the most effective form of urban cooperativism.

This initiative is a natural continuation of the several transformations that have been taking place in the city of Terni.

Italian summary

Hostello delle idee è il nuovo progetto che LabGov sta portando avanti nella città di Terni (Umbria) in collaborazione con Indisciplinarte e altri partner. Tra il 5 e l’8 settembre il team sarà impegnato nell’attività di formazione di un gruppo di volontari eterogeneo per età e background. L’obiettivo è la riqualificazione di una ex-foresteria che verrà convertita in un Hostello a disposizione di artisti ed architetti che vorranno condividere le loro idee per aggiungere valore alla città. Verrà seguita  la metodologia proposta dal premio Nobel E. Ostrom adattandola al contesto urbano.

Partecipazione gratuita. Spese di viaggio e alloggio a carico dei partecipanti. Iscrizioni entro il 19 Agosto. 

Per info e iscrizioni contattare: 

CAOS CENTRO ARTI OPIFICIO SIRI Viale Campofregoso n.98, 05100 – Terni telefono 0744 285946

A Commons approach to urban collectives

A Commons approach to urban collectives

How Area Based Collaborative Enterprises are a strategy for economic, social and ecologic vitality in a city

ABCitiEs descended on Athens to gather for the second interregional meeting. In a city that is recovering from a devastating crisis with the help of a tourism boom and the influx of international financial capital, we asked ourselves if collectives of entrepreneurs can play a role in maintaining the liveability and economic vitality of cities for its citizens. And what role is there for governments? We used the concept of urban commons to think of some answers, comparing the Athens cases with Plein ’40-’45 in Amsterdam.

In the margins of our interregional meeting in Athens of the Interreg ABCitiEs project we found some spare time to allow ourselves to give in to the touristic tendencies we can’t deny. We decided to pay a visit to the Acropolis. We were not the only ones. As one could expect, the archaeological site, the cradle of European civilisation and the birthplace of mathematics, theatre, medicine, democracy and what more, was completely overrun by visitors from all over the globe, busy taking photo’s of themselves with the Parthenon, Propylaia, the Erechtheion or the Temple of Nike as the background of choice. To make matters worse, it was International Museum Day.

Touristification: a blessing or a curse?

The phenomenon we were confronted with had frequently been the subject of our conversations during the days we spend together in Athens. The touristification of the city is one of the dominant background dynamics against which we considered the value and ambitions of collectives of entrepreneurs. In the last two years, so we are told, a rapid increase in the amount of visitors from abroad has emerged as both the lifeline and potential deathblow for a city that has hardly recovered from the consequences of a cruel crisis.

Tourism is the sparse source of optimism for an economic resurrection. The spendings of the city-hopping adventurers are not only opening up all kinds of opportunities for businesses and creating new jobs, albeit low-paid ones, it is also reviving the value of property and real estate. At the same time it is transforming the inner city in a centre for leisure and entertainment, where sites of historical and cultural conservation and learning are changed into human ant-hills and selfie sticks magnets, where housing is replaced by short stay apartments that thrive on the widespread popularity and appeal of AirBnB, and where quotidian shops are substituted by bars, restaurants and gift shops, not seldom owned and run by international companies. While residents are estranged of their habitat international companies and wealthy individuals are rapidly buying up land and real estate, already reserving the largest chunk of the economic gain for foreign investors and depriving local actors of the resources that are the fundamental building bricks of sustainable prosperity. In the distance a city abandoned by its citizens and parasitising the local economy for global profit is revealing itself, terrifyingly resembling Saskia Sassen’s expulsions. [1]

The role of collectives

Are then Area Based Collaborative Enterprises (ABCE’s) an adequate answer to the destructive side effects of the global financial economy? At Aiolou Street we discussed this question with Dimitris Markantonis, entrepreneur and initiator of a collective in development. The street, an area in fact, is at the frontier of the touristification, marked by the gradually increasing share of bars and restaurants in the streetscape. Shopkeepers and other entrepreneurs in the area form a network Dimitris describes as “a family”.[2] Historically they have clustered together in the area as collections of branches, one street offering predominantly sanitary ware shops, another haberdasheries and the third specialised as a street for cooking utensils. Shops cater both individual consumers and other companies as a whole sale. Coagulating in specific streets did not only play a role in attracting business as a marketing strategy, it also resulted in light forms of collaboration and mutual support, as entrepreneurs recognize an interdependency and grow familial relationships. But as businesses, and the area at large, are now under pressure, the question is if this network is strong enough to develop collective resilience and sustainability.

Why are these businesses threatened? In this regard there is a fine line between the sound functioning of the logic of the market and the intrusive and exploitative excrescences of a gentrifying global economy. One might argue that the shops and their offer concerned are out-dated and their evanescence is a sign of a valid economic evolution. On the other hand, how fair and responsible is it to give free reign to competition that is not only too big to battle, but also hardly has an interest nor stake in fostering the liveability and economic vitality of the area? In his presentation ABCitiEs partner and director of the Institute of Place Management Steve Millington reformulated this dilemma as the challenge for any city to move from an economy that exploits the local to profit the external, to one that is local and contributes to the welfare and prosperity of the local. A complex challenge, as matters are not black and white. I argue that we need to find a balance between offering space to external capital to flow in and building a local resilience and capability to spur local liveability and vitality. Preserving and retaining resources appears to be crucial in this regard. Collectives, in many cases including or supported by (local) authorities, might well offer plausible strategies to this goal. In the end, the logic of the market develops within the boundaries of the law and policy, and is thus up for political debate. ABCE’s can very well be part of that debate and steer it in a particular direction.

Understanding collectives as urban commons

Collectives such as at Aiolou Street can be explained in terms of urban commons. Dimitris and his colleagues seek to maintain and exploit, in his words, the (business) opportunities of the area. These opportunities, the fertile ground for local businesses, is the common resource the community of stakeholders aims to manage and preserve. The complexity of this ambition is to be found in the above-mentioned interference of different tendencies and interests, such as the important impact of touristification and the influx of financial capital  on the revival of the Athenian economy at large. Answers to address such complex situations are to be developed in the practice of dialogue and collaboration between the entrepreneurs, municipality and other stakeholders, but perceiving it as an urban commons assists in getting the right questions on the table:

  • who are to be viewed as the community of stakeholders and how are they related;
  • what is the shared resource, which functions does it have for the different stakeholders and what kind of qualities do they desire;
  • what policies, institutions and other (market) forces have which kind of effects on the development of the shared resource?

Starting from these kinds of questions we can imagine a more profound and informed debate to emerge on the future of the area. It is the point of departure for developing shared ideas, views and ambitions. It also provides an overview of the interests at stake, helpful for the municipality to formulate their political position and ambition (which agenda to follow?), and to specify the role or relation they want to have in or with the collective.

Building resilient self-organisations together

Aiolou Market is not a unique case. The bigger context of the issues they are dealing with are recognized amongst the partners of the ABCitiEs project. In the Plein ’40-’45 case in Amsterdam the street market is facing the long term challenge to deal with the effects of gentrification in the area and the broader economic strategy for street trade of the municipality. While the street market is turning to better self-organisation to improve its functioning by developing facilities such as a waste recycling system and tackling the problem of litter, the stallholders need to take into account that this self-organisation is deemed to fail if it does not address larger trends in consumer preferences by slowly changing bits and pieces of the character of the market. Not catering to the changing needs of the surrounding population could be an economic threat to the market, but moreover it diminishes the approval and legitimacy of its presence in public space, as it rather becomes a source of annoyance and nuisance.

Moreover, as the economic viability of street markets in general is decreasing, the municipality is developing a top down policy to safeguard their existence on the long term. This policy might very well include measures like cutting back the amount of days a market can be open. For stallholders though, this appears to be more of a threat than a solution. They also argue that the municipality is basing its ideas on general figures rather than on a specific and detailed analysis per market. But if they want to have constructive influence on these kinds of policies the market needs to set up the self-organisation in such a way that it can be the vehicle for collaboration with the municipality and be a co-designing partner.

The municipality recognizes the important function a market has for an area and a society, but is facing a dilemma regarding its responsibilities to other stakeholders. Therefore it needs to find a balance between the different interests. A very practical example of this dilemma is free parking. While free parking is one of the unique selling points for the market, it is believed that introducing taxation would solve issues like shortage of parking space and nuisance of an abundance of visitors. The dilemma becomes even more complex when the presence of markets is considered in relation to (when it interferes with) the value development of real estate or long term planning developments, especially in cities where tourism and international financial capital play such a big role, as is also the case in Amsterdam. Again, which agenda to follow?

Urban commons as a model for collaborative governance

The point here is that approaching cases like Aiolou Street or the market on Plein ’40-’45 as an urban commons does not only entail the collective management of what is considered as the shared resource by the direct users, but almost by definition means including governmental authorities and possibly other (indirect) stakeholders that represent different kinds of interests. Urban commons thus, is the vehicle to design the collaborative governance of such places with the help of the particular vocabulary of shared resources, communities of stakeholders and self-organisation (collective action), taking into consideration, and this point can’t be stressed enough, the broader context, interests and actions of institutions, companies and markets, physical an ecological surroundings and society at large.

Obstacles for collaboration: conflict

Touristification and the influx of international capital, and contextual circumstances in general, are not the only obstacles managing the city as an urban commons. There are in fact numerous. Those who ever tried to bring about collaboration know that maybe the biggest hurdles are to be found within the community itself. One of these obstacles, and probably the most obvious of all, is conflict. Conflicts come in all shapes and sizes. At Kipseli Market in Athens we have seen with our own eyes how it stands in the way of collaboration, even between people who have the most admirable and altruistic intentions. The former covered municipal market is redeveloped in recent years by the municipality and is now managed by Impact Hub Athens as a market for social entrepreneurship. The building hosts companies that refurbish old computers and donate them to schools, sell organic products of local farmers on a non-profit base, or offer free training and courses for refugees.

The neighbourhood however has a negative image of the new users of the market. People see them as intruders funded by the EU (the same EU that is held responsible for the recent devastating crisis), whom are hard to get in contact with and form a closed community with exclusive activities. Meanwhile the Kipseli crew argues that they did everything they could to connect to the neighbourhood and be as inclusive as possible, but their invitations are structurally rejected and their members receive a lot of disrespect. Witnessing the discussion between the two camps that took place while were there, the truth appeared to be more nuanced to us. Above all, what became clear is that unresolved conflicts of the past, starting with the assignment to Impact Hub of the building itself, continuing with, for example, events behind closed doors, play a continuous disruptive factor for actions in the present. And although they might agree at some point to leave it all behind and start new collaborative projects together, it remains that suppurating wound, slumbering in the background, ready to come the surface at any given time to dash all good intentions and brilliant ideas.

Again this phenomenon resonated strongly in the group and called for associations with the different cases in the participating cities, including our case of Plein ’40-’45. There a history of misconduct, undelivered promises and corruption even forms the scar that is a continuous reminder of the distrust between the different parties. And conflict is also more subtle. By sticking to a traditional way of working, where consultation and participation are the legitimising supplement for a top down process of policy making behind closed doors with unclear agendas, the municipality keeps the distance between themselves and the entrepreneurs in place and is de facto feeding the mutual distrust. Likewise, the unorganised character of the market as a collective and the somewhat churlish and reactionary manners of the average stallholder is also not contributing to building a constructive and cooperative relationship.

Working with/on the community

What is worth naming here is that the concept of urban commons directs us to the necessity to address issues within the community of stakeholders that are the obstacles for fruitful collaboration, and to do that in a thorough way. After all, as urban commons is the collaborative management of shared resources by the community of stakeholders, tackling anything that stands in the way of that collaboration is crucial. Interpersonal relationships, but also the competences and capacities within a community, are thus the backbone of urban commons, which need to be build, fostered and cared for.

In this respect, cases like Kipseli Market and Plein ’40-’45 could profit a lot from taking the time to deal with the conflicts of the past. Methods such as developed by the Public Mediation Program of the University of Amsterdam can be useful. Briefly, the method focuses on creating mutual understanding of what the conflict is and where it originates. Through research and moderated group sessions it establishes a jointly constructed time line that encapsulates all the events that are part of the coming into being of the here and now. These events are told and commented on from the different perspectives of each actor. In the group sessions participants are asked to elucidate their side of the story, but restrained from reacting on, and altering, other participant’s versions. Forced to listen to the perspectives of different actors on the same event it creates a more nuanced insight and understanding of what the conflict is about and how it evolved. Quite often it is found that the origin is trivial and the conflict is the result of accumulating misunderstandings. Public mediation is a method that helps to unravel this complex jumble and normalize relations. Thereby it constructs a new fundament to start building on relationships of trust.

Model for Collaborative Governance Arrangement for the Urban Commons

In more general terms, the urban commons approach is all about identifying where the community is curbed in collaboration and creating interventions to address the causes, just as it is about identifying obstacles in the environment, such as the institutional context, the forces of surrounding or overarching markets or the limitations of the physical and ecological world. As part of the ABCitiEs team and the RaakPro Toekomstbestendig Evenwicht (Future proof balance) project the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences is developing a model to bring this idea into practice and works on building experience and knowhow through the experiments we contribute to. Stay tuned for more information about the model and the experiments.

[1] Saskia Sassen, Expulsions : Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy, 2014.

[2] We were explained that in Greece relationship definitions such as collectives are somewhat problematic. To put it exaggerated, the Greek see themselves associated with their family and others outside the family are distrusted. This explains why Dimitris spoke of a family when describing the network in the area, and one might interpret these relations thus to be strong and valued.

Pooling urban commons: the Civic eState

Pooling urban commons: the Civic eState

Naples’ Urban Civic Uses policy is characterised by the way artists, creatives, innovators and city inhabitants are entitled to organise themselves to establish forms of self-government for critical social infrastructure including urban commons such as abandoned, unused or underused city assets. Christian Iaione, URBACT Lead Expert, and LabGov’s director tells us how Naples’ Good Practice is being transferred to other European cities thanks to the Civic eState project.

The Civic eState network is all about the policy challenge of recognising and/or co-designing legal and sustainable urban commons governance mechanisms enabling city inhabitants and local communities constitutional rights to collectively act in the general interest.

The urban commons are tangible and intangible assets, services and infrastructures functional to the exercise of fundamental rights considered by the city of Naples as collectively owned and therefore removed from the “exclusive use” proprietary logic to be governed through civic “direct management”.

The revitalisation of the urban historical heritage represents a cultural, economic and social challenge, but also a spur for the city to re-elaborate its identity, creating a new bond with and between the local activists, civic entrepreneurs and the active citizenship scene.

The city of Naples carved out a policy based on several city council and mayor’s office resolutions to overcome the traditional top-down command-and-control approach bringing city inhabitants to the centre of the decision-making and city assets management process, strengthening participation in political decisions relevant for the care and regeneration of the urban commons.

These are new policy tools that aim to give back to the community public and private abandoned properties.

Transferring Naples’ Good Practice on urban commons collective governance

Watch the interview of Nicola Masella, from the Municipality of Naples and who coordinates the Urbact project and integrated development policies here

Naples’ Good Practice consists of enabling collective management of urban essential facilities conceived as urban commons. This public-community governance approach secures fair and open access, co-design, preservation and a social and economic sustainability model of urban assets and infrastructures, all for the benefit of future generations.

Collective governance is carried out through the involvement of the community of neighbourhood inhabitants in designing, experimenting, managing, and delivering new forms of cultural and social services.

The network’s objective is to transfer, with appropriate adaptations and improvements, Naples’ Good Practice to partner cities: Barcelona (ES), Gdansk (PL), Ghent (BE), Amsterdam (NL), Iasi (RO) and Presov (SK).

The path to civic use

During the last decade, the city of Naples has been experimenting with new urban governance tools to give new life to abandoned and/or deprived buildings. Different movements and informal organizations have highlighted the need for such spaces to be used and managed by city inhabitants in common through self-organization mechanisms that turn such spaces into new institutions. The civic use of these empty buildings implied a temporary use and it represented a starting point for their “renaissance”. It also created a stimulus to start searching for innovative mechanisms to use such spaces as community-managed or a community-managed estate.

By revisiting the ancient legal institution of “civic use” and adapting it to the urban context, the administration structured a new form of participatory governance that intends to go beyond the classic “concession agreement model”, which is based on a dichotomous view of the public-private partnership.

The civic use recognises the existence of a relationship between the community and these public assets. This process makes community-led initiatives recognisable and institutionalised, ensuring the autonomy of both parties involved. On one hand the citizens are engaged in the reuse of the urban commons and on the other hand the city administration enables the practice.

Urban commons

The first asset recognised as common property, to be managed through the collective governance mechanism of the civic use, was the ex-asilo Filangieri, an URBACT Good Practice (resolution of Naples City Council n. 893/2015). It is there that the first Declaration of Civic and Collective Urban Use was carved out.

One year later, 7 other public properties were recognised by Naples City Council as “relevant civic spaces to be ascribed to the category of urban commons”: ex-Convento delle Teresiane: Giardino LiberatoLido Pola; Villa Medusa; ex-OGP di Materdei; ex-Carcere Minorile – Scugnizzo Liberatoex-Conservatorio S. Maria della Fedeex-Scuola Schipa (resolution n. 446, 27 May 2016).

The recognition will be finalised with appropriate agreements after the communities managing the spaces draft a Declaration of Civic and Collective Use, on the model of those of the ex-asilo, securing inclusivity, accessibility, impartiality and usability of the governance of the assets.

credits: URBACT

In the future, the list can be enriched with more urban common resources. These assets were unutilised or under-utilised urban buildings and spaces, informally occupied and re-generated by informal communities that animate them and still contribute to their regeneration (in many cases, the renovation works could not be completed at the beginning of the informal management and were carried out through self-funding schemes). These assets constitute the civic heritage of the city of Naples, co-used and co-managed by Naples’ city inhabitants in the general interest.

Public-civic partnerships: a transferable model

Naples’ Good Practice (i.e. the civic uses resolution) has forged one of the first examples of a new generation of public partnerships, the public-community or public-civic partnership (PCPs). PCPs are aimed at transforming city assets into sustainable social infrastructures that produce public value and social impact through social & solidarity, cultural & creative, collaborative, digital and circular economy initiatives.

Nicola Masella, lead partner, stresses the value of the Naples’ Good Practice for the EU by saying that “the mechanism proposed by the city of Naples, although anchored in the Italian legal system, is certainly characterised by a high degree of adaptability to other European urban contexts as it is based on largely shared ethical, legal and social values. In contrast to the models proposed by other Italian and European cities, where the municipality is in charge of setting up of the rules for the management of commons, the tool implemented in Naples has been built by recognising the citizens’ self-organization models, through a continuous exchange between the community and the municipality.

A blueprint for the future?

credits: URBACT

The Civic eState approach could generate a prototype methodology for cities to generate a new breed of cooperative agreements or projects between city governments and civic, social, local businesses aimed at developing cities through an integrated approach. In particular the civic uses resolution could be considered a blueprint for a larger category of legal tools in compliance with EU law, especially the relevant EU legislation on public procurement and state aid, stifling cooperation among urban actors in order to build and deliver social infrastructure and services such as education, healthcare and housing.

It might also be able to generate through the hybridisation of these places and economic models new community-based job opportunities and forms of civic entrepreneurships. These cooperative agreements, partnerships or projects could be the basis for more sophisticated and solid forms of financing that could fund social projects through new funding mechanisms including social impact bonds, social project finance schemes and many other new public-private partnerships that involve the participation of long-term investors to generate a sustainability model through social bonds and impact investing mechanisms.

Overtourism policies in European cities: the cases of Venice and Amsterdam

Overtourism policies in European cities: the cases of Venice and Amsterdam

The term “overtourism” has gained so much popularity over the last few years that it is even the word of the year 2018 in Oxford and Collins dictionaries. We are talking about a new global phenomenon that can be defined as “the impact of tourism on a destination, or parts thereof, that excessively influences perceived quality of life of citizens and/or quality of visitors experiences in a negative way”. This means that tourism is growing but not sustainably and responsibly. Rather, it damages communities instead of enriching them by increasing the quality of such touristic places. 

Tourism is increasing and will increase sharply in the next years because of the ever-growing middle class in developing countries and the increased mobility due to the lowering costs of transport and accommodation.  In 2017, the percentage of international travelers rose by 7% up to 1.3 billion. The UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) forecasts that this will continue to grow by 3.3% annually by 2030 where roughly 2 billion people will cross borders. 

Certainly, the income generated from tourism contributes significantly to the socio-economic and cultural development of many cities and their surroundings. However, the problem is that tourism is concentrated only in few accredited destinations, especially in cities, where citizens live and work and, therefore, feel the pressure of too many tourists on public transport and public places. In this case, tourism may have many negative consequences for cities such as increased congestion by crowds around specific iconic places, waste production, bottlenecks on infrastructures (crowd on bridges, roads, footpaths, public transport) as well as the reduction of water and energy supplies. In addition, changing the identity of neighbourhoods and misbehaviours among tourists can damage the quality of life of local residents, as well as the greater demand of private residences as accommodation for tourists leads to an increase of costs of living for local residents. As a result, the city centres have been depopulated by their citizens. Furthermore, great numbers of tourists can generate pollution, causing damage for the environment. As well as many tourists and inadequate touristic management facilities can spoil historic buildings and monuments. 

For these reasons, this new issue has been introduced into the EU Urban Agenda in order to tackle this phenomenon and to address visitors’ growth, by ensuring sustainable policies and measures considering the needs and benefits of both local communities and visitors, through the collaboration among different stakeholders within the private sector, local communities and tourists themselves.

There is not a unique solution for this complex issue. In fact, several measures have been proposed at the European level by the TRAN committee, particularly 17 potential European policy responses result from 41 cases study of different cities. Among these 17 strategies, the first main goal is to encourage the dispersal of tourists in other parts of the city, by promoting events and attractions, and in different periods of time, promoting experiences and events during low season, dynamic pricing and real time monitoring of visitors in the most important venues. Another strategy regards the review and the introduction of financial regulation for tourism services, traffic regulation and operational regulation regarding the management of touristic attractions. In addition, some strategies aim to make tourism benefit the local community through new services in the city, new job opportunities and businesses. Finally, some measures are based on the communication and the engagement of local stakeholders and tourists in order to create a collaboration to find the best compromise for sustainable tourism. 

As an example, according to a recent report launched by Airbnb (Healthy Travel and Healthy Destinations) Venice is the first city in the world affected by overtourism, with 25 million tourists estimated every year and projected to reach 38 million tourists by 2025. In 2016, there was a large protest “No grandi navi” (“No Big Ships”) against the cruise ships into the canal, when locals stopped the passage of six huge cruise ships with their fishing boats. Because the most damaging visitors are the day-trippers. In Venice citizens are engaged to safeguard the lagoon, by promoting sustainable initiatives such as the collection of waste, or certain hotel owners offered steel flacks to the guests of the hotel to reduce the use of plastic. A Venetian resident Emanuele dal Carlo is launching Fairbnb a platform of home sharing not-for-profit, in order to crowdfund money to support local community projects with half of the booking fees, and it has the policy of one home per host, to avoid multi-hosts and prevent from short term rentals. Cities’ authorities banned the construction of new hotels in the city, inserted cartels around the city to sensitise tourists to respect, installed turnstiles in periods of large turnout to monitor the flux of tourists and imposed entry-fee for day trippers. However, there still isn’t any structural policy response to this problem. 

Amsterdam, that is among the most overcrowded cities, found different effective solutions. Netherlands tourist officials recently took the decision to stop promoting the city and recognized that the perspective of 2030 will be the “destination management” instead of “destination promotion”. There was a halt to building new hotels and souvenirs shops, the city is also limiting private rental platforms like Airbnb and, it has for instance been imposed to homeowners a maximum of rental for no more than 30 days a year. The city has also raised the fines for minor offenses by tourists who behave badly. Furthermore, a strategy consisting in dispersing tourists in other parts of the cities was adopted, and “live lines” have provided visitors of an overview of live queue times in 10 Amsterdam’s museums, in order to avoid the crowd in public spaces. In addition, in October 2018, the city started a collaboration with to design a strategic plan around three key themes related to responsible tourism: tourism dispersal, inclusive growth and behavioural awareness.

The complexity of the problem does not permit a unique and homogeneous policy response, what is important is the collaboration among citizens, authorities and touristic services in order to guarantee a responsible tourism that can enrich cities economically and culturally. So, a possible way to transform this problem into an opportunity is to “create a tourism model that works for local communities as well as for travellers” (Emanuele Dal Carlo, The Guardian, 30/04/2019).