LabGov’s inter-atlantic workshop on the Urban Commons: Sheila Foster and Giacinto della Cananea speak with the Labgovers

31 ita def (3) pOn October, 31st Professor Christian Iaione – LabGov’s coordinator – along with the LabGov’s tutors and the new Labgovers, had the possibility to have an inter-atlantic dialogue with two internationally prominent scholars about the collaboration for the Urban Commons.

Actually, the audience listened to the speeches and then debated with Professor Sheila Foster – Vice Dean and Albert A. Walsh Professor of Real Estate, Land use and Property law at Fordham University School of Law, Visiting Professor at Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, co-director of the Stein Center for Law and Ethics and Professor Giacinto della Cananea – Full professor of Administrative Law at University of Rome Tor Vergata and member of the Presidential Council of the Italian Supreme Audit Institution.

The topic of the workshop was the Urban Commons, particularly focusing on the Bologna regulation on public collaboration and its comparison with some international practical examples. Professor Iaione opened the workshop, saying what LabGov is and how it works. He soon gave the floor to Professor Sheila Foster.

Professor Foster gave us a theoretical framework and seemed excited and pleased of being there. “I have studied and looked to the Bologna regulation with great passion, and I do believe that LabGov is my field” she soon affirmed. Her enriching speech moved towards three directions.

Firstly she gave to the audience a general idea of the commons especially in the urban context, then she moved to some ideas about how the government/management of the commons comes up and finally she went in depth by underlining how the Bologna regulation approaches these questions.

It was an enriching speech because of its clarity and linearity, through which she explained that we must consider the Commons as opposed to an asset or a mere good, so as a shared and open thing. Shared by everyone and open in the sense that it provides open access to the people who should be involved and obviously not excluded.

Of course the natural world contains Commons but exist other types such as cultural, digital and Urban Commons” Professor Foster explained, but “many collectively shared Urban Commons shares the same dilemma that Hardin wrote about in his essay regarding the tragedy of the Commons”, she continued and “The debate that Elinor Ostrom launched, goes in two directions: privatization and shared government control with the people”. Since Professor Foster and Labgov operate in the this last context, it was interesting reflecting together about the need of a public regulation even because an unregulated context does not exist.

Moreover, “contemporary Commons’ dilemmas arise not in open spaces but in highly regulated spaces” Professor Foster explained. This is Foster’s point of view, that is shareable by everyone who realize that in urban areas we have all seen open spaces where public authority have rules and we all see tragedies, such as degradation but even crimes. “This regulatory slippage in the urban contexts creates the tragedy or the Commons dilemma”, Foster affirmed.
So, how do we deal with these dilemmas? Some scholars proposed a public way, others a simple privatization of the Commons but what is the core idea, for a Commoner, is the collective management of the Commons.

After having provided the audience with same cases, such as what happened in New York’s Central Park and the Guardian Angels, and some examples concerning the commercial sector, Foster told the audience that these are the cases in which groups of users cooperate to allocate resources even if they could be temped by individualism or personal use. And she wrote extensively about these situations. “What is interesting is not the cooperation or the collaboration, but the collective action in the pure sense” she pointed out. And soon after, she made the audience meditate on the question concerning the Government, if it supports and helps citizens in doing actions for the general interest. A Government that facilitates the creation of partnerships or agreements is praiseworthy.

And by analysing this point it was easy to move to the Bologna regulation, on which Professor Foster made some comments and suggestions. These regarded the definition of Urban Commons, that in the regulation is similar to the one of public goods and should be revised, by getting it tighter. But Sheila Foster said that the regulation does a very good job in bringing together citizens for public goals.

The second part of the workshop had as lecturer Professor Giacinto della Cananea, and we saw the Bologna regulation on public collaboration in the administrative and constitutional Italian context, considering the legal categories that the regulation touches and challenges. “We are having a huge public debate in Italy about the commons, but a little bit misleading”, Professor Iaione stated and gave the floor to the lecturer.

Starting with a distinction between ownership and management and underlining that the concept of ownership is fully explained and contained in the Italian Civil Code, Professor della Cananea reminded the audience that only the national Government can legislate on matters regarding topics expressed in the Civil Code. But this is not true in the United States, for example, where different civil codes coexist.

After having pointed out this issue, della Cananea stated that there is “a confusing debate about ownership and use of common goods” and for this reason the question of the Bologna regulation on public collaboration is of importance to him.

And he followed a clear outline in order to illustrate his arguments, after having clarified that the translation into English of the regulation could not mean the same of the Italian one, as Professor Foster said before him.

In particular, Professor della Cananea stated that the Bologna regulation is a tool of public policy, it is precious because a similar document is still missing in Italy, and it is unique because it is not a political document, it is an ideological one.

He pointed out some issues regarding the question of the ethical principles in the regulation, the question placed by the art. 33 of the regulation regarding conciliations in case of eventual disputes, problems in the definitions of the concepts of urban commons and active citizens, liability and inertia.

Moreover, Professor della Cananea went in depth in the analysis of the practises of the local governments, especially at the regional level.

Italy is differentiated from north to south and, following the ideas of Robert Putnam, he affirmed that the different performances of the local public institutions are mainly, not only, caused by the different city traditions. And this brilliant examination led him to ask a basic but fundamental question: “is this a very helpful tool or a dangerous tool? Not all the Italian areas are like Bologna and we obviously know something about criminal organizations. As a lawyer I must raise this question”.

For sure, it was a passionate and punctual dissertation made by Professor della Cananea that left the students with a lot of food for thought.

Finally, Professor Iaione spoke. He thanked both the scholars very much for their very precious contributions and emphasized on the meaning of the art. 35 of the regulation: “Art. 35 is the mission impossible of Labgov’s intents, this regulation was an experiment and that is why we are here today, to discuss and improve our capabilities” was the closing remark which was followed by a passionate debate with the students from the audience.