What are the Commons?


The second meeting of the new cycle of seminars of LabGov was held at LUISS – Guido Carli, Viale Romania, 32. The agenda focused on the presentation of the “Regulation on collaboration between citizens and the Administration for the care and regeneration of urban commons”, presented on February 22nd in Bologna.  Prof. Gregorio Arena, President of Labsus – Laboratory for subsidiarity, explained how the Regulation is actually the first case in Italy to incorporate concretely the principle of horizontal subsidiarity, as advocated by Art. 118 of the Italian Constitution.

An initial focus has gone immediately to the question: why a regulation rather than a law? As it is explained, there might be in the near future some sort of regional laws governing such matters; however the risk of the so-called institutional bricolage has to be avoided – which often leads to the limitation of the autonomous initiative, rather than to its promotion. Historically, moreover, the need for  intermediate organizations has always been registered in each social system – let’s just think of the Corporations in the Middle Ages, or to the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno issued by Pope Pius XI (1931) which called for the administrative decentralization and for the fragmentation of the services provided by the Public sector.

The discussion then moved on the choice between local administrations and the state administration for what concerns the protection of citizens’ activities: after an exchange of views on this issue, it has come to the conclusion that it is the case for the local government to ensure and support these activities in the first place. It is not only the internal debate at the meeting that suggests us this type of approach to the topic: the jurist Sabino Cassese, at the end of the 80s, noted that the 70% of the total amount of resources used for the functioning of the Italian system is monopolized by the services provided by municipalities; in addition to that, the reform of Title V of the Italian Constitution in 2001 represents a further example of this thesis.

The Municipality of Bologna was taken as an example of the fact that Italy is an incubator of priceless public goods and of cities of rare beauty. Today we live in a time of (re-)discovery of such assets. The arcades of Bologna are a good example: they have all the necessary features to be defined by UNESCO as world heritage, as long as someone decides to take care of their maintenance. To date, only 60 owners in the area were successfully mobilized in this way. Why? Due to lack of information and training. In this respect, Donato Di Memmo, currently Head of Administrative Simplification, Institutional Affairs, Decentralization and Metropolitan Cities in the municipality of Bologna, in the June of last year, ‘put down’ a first but articulated Memorandum of Understanding between citizens and the Administration.

What do we mean by the term ‘administration’? An evergreen distinction (Giannini, 1961): Administration as activity and Administration as organization. When we speak of Administration as an organization, we mean a redundant system – in the sense that it has influence – on the functions and activities of the very same Administration; if the administrative organization is hierarchical, the activities of popular initiative will suffer, because they are perceived as secondary. Instead, Art. 98 par. 1 of the Italian Constitution: ‘Public employees are at the exclusive service of the Nation.’ establish a different concept of Administration. It is possible to highlight three major observations: 1) the meaning of public employees listed above assume a paternalistic meaning – which sees citizens as ‘passive’ subjects in providing care and protection; 2) service is here understood as in the civil servant case of Anglo-Saxon derivation, according to which the public employee can not and must not be in a higher position with respect to the citizens; 3) in the final analysis, the term Nation – and not Republic, as is the case of many other articles of the Italian Constitution – has to be intended not as an aggregation of institutions, but as a defined territory to preserve and defend. Once concluded the debate which covered differences and relations between citizens and the Administration according to the Italian Constitution, as well as in the everyday life, we moved to investigate the Regulation on collaboration between citizens and the Administration for the care and regeneration of urban commons’ specifically, by giving some definitions.

URBAN COMMONS – are those which, if enriched, enrich all, if impoverished, impoverish all: it is the case of goods that are, tangible, intangible and digital that citizens and the Administration, through participatory and deliberative procedures, acknowledge to be functional to the well-being of individuals and of the collectivity. Pursuant to Art. 118 last paragraph of the Italian Constitution, the citizens share the responsibility with the administration (defined as responsiveness – ability to respond) of the regeneration of these goods in order to improve the collective use;

MEASURES OF CARE: interventions aimed at the protection, preservation and maintenance of the urban commons to ensure and improve their usability and quality – an element that is reactive and proactive in protecting the urban commons;

MEASURES OF REGENERATION: interventions aimed at the recovery, transformation and innovation of the commons, as a part of social, economic, technological and environmental processes, broad and integrated, which have an impact on improving the quality of life in the city.

CHAPTER I – GENERAL PROVISIONS contains a series of precise and accurate ‘rules’ to which the regulation is harmonized – namely the Constitution, general rules, municipal statute and local rules – and emphasizes the ultimate purpose of the interaction between citizens and Administration: collaboration. Something that can be easily derived, following three principles of the text: freedom, responsibility, and solidarity.