Empowering Communities To Save America

Empowering Communities To Save America

A lot of analysts affirm that Donald J. Trump was elected as president of the “divided states of America”, but, a more in-depth analysis, reveals that Donald Trump is not the cause of this division but he is a consequence of the crisis of the American democracy.

When we talk about democratic crisis in America (but this phenomenon is about other countries in Western World, of course), we refer to polarization between right and left because Republicans and Democrats just don’t seem interested in reaching a “mutual partisan adjustment” but they prefer conflict. And this phenomenon is very rooted in the whole society: in fact, according to the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt: “Polarization is here to stay for many decades, and it’s probably going to get worse”.

Last November, Trump won the elections thanks to different aspects: the race (whites voted overwhelmingly for Trump and levels of turnout and support of racial minorities for Clinton are insufficient), party affiliation (Trump gained a great support among Republicans and also among Independents), the importance of some issues (i.e. economy, immigration, terrorism, federal government efficiency, etc.) and urban/rural conflict.

And it is the main point of focus: in America, but also in Europe, there is a stark difference between big cities and rural areas, between the center and the peripheries that leads to a polarization of political preferences among voters. This scenario reminds the masterpiece of Rokkan and Lipset about cleavage structures in Western countries. According to electoral studies based on United Kingdom (2016 Brexit referendum) and France (2017 Presidential elections) there is a re-emerging polarized pattern in American and European societies: the conflict between the center and the peripheries, namely the conflict between the more developed and richest areas and the less developed and poorest areas.

At this point, the mistake we must avoid is thinking that centralization of power is the answer to tackle the problem. Au contraire, it is not the solutions because the United States is a geographically, culturally, socially and economically varied place. In this case, a top-down approach could hit the trust in democratic institutions.

Is there a solution?

Richard Florida (director of the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute) and Joel Kotkin (Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange) affirm that the way to adapt democracy under intense polarization does not lies in “enforcing uniformity from left or right but in embracing and empowering our diversity of communities”. This idea concerns two aspects.

First of all, the American citizens. Recent polls (2015 Gallup poll and separate 2015 Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll) say that almost half of Americans (49 percent) view the federal government as “an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens” and nearly two-thirds (64 percent) believe that “more progress” is made on critical issues at the local rather than the federal level. It is clear that citizens think that it is easier to solve problems through pragmatic responses provided by local government instead the dysfunction of national government.

In the second place, we have a lot of papers and books by political scientists, economists and sociologists that underline the fact that America is “a nation of cities” – to use a phrase popularized by Lyndon B. Johnson. One of the most important thinkers was Daniel J. Elazar, a scholar of federalism that thinks that the pragmatist orientation toward democracy and the democratic experience, emphasizing social intelligence for social problem solving and the self-guiding society, de facto offer a way to overcome the narrow view of democracy as an exclusive product of the central state.

It is indeed necessary to re-discover the importance of local roots of democracy and traditional American federalism based on local autonomies and cities. A federal approach is necessary if we want to recover an appropriate civic environment through civil society and civil community based on collaboration, cooperation and responsibility. Measures as shifting decision-making authority from the national government to cities and metropolitan areas, giving cities greater tax and fiscal authority, creating new mechanisms to coordinate major investments in infrastructure, talent, and economic development recognizes both the advantages that come from local innovation and problem solving and the substantial variations in local capabilities and needs.


La polarizzazione ideologica nella democrazia americana ha trovato il suo apice nell’elezione a presidente di Donald Trump. Per ridurre questa polarizzazione bisogna operare a livello locale, promuovendo l’empowerment dei cittadini riscoprendo il carattere tipicamente americano di “nation of cities”.


French Cities in the Making: A State of the Art of the Research on the Habitat Participatif Movement

French Cities in the Making: A State of the Art of the Research on the Habitat Participatif Movement

On January 10th, a one-day long seminar organized by the interdepartmental agency PUCA (Plan Urbanisme Construction Architecture), sponsored and hosted by the French Ministries of Housing and the Environment in Paris, gathered researchers from different fields (urbanism, architecture, law, and sociology) to discuss the state of the art and the future objectives of the research on habitat participatif[1]. This seminar has been an opportunity to retrace the origins, evolution and main implications of habitat participatif since the movement has gained momentum in the 2000s.

Over the last fifteen years, France has witnessed a resurgence of interest in residents-led housing projects as a response to the difficulties that a growing number of households encountered in getting access to housing due to the economic, financial, and real estate crisis. In particular, middle-income households – until then protected by their level of education and social integration – have seen their chances to get access to decent and affordable housing, especially in major cities and towns, seriously undermined[2]. On the one hand, the speculative rise in house and land prices prevented these groups from entering the private real estate and rental market. On the other hand, their income level was far too high to be eligible for social housing, also provided that the supply of social accommodation was unable to meet the demand of an increasingly large share of the population.

The instability created by the crisis, however, has served as the breeding ground for the re-emergence and spread of residents-led housing initiatives in France and, since the beginning of the 2000s, new housing projects have developed throughout the country and they are now in the hundreds[3]. At the heart of this spontaneous, residents-led mobilisation there is an increased awareness of the importance of protecting and fostering values such as environmental sustainability, mutual solidarity, citizens’ participation, and sharing of resources, knowledge and expertise. Rather than relying on the private market or being the passive recipients of social housing policies, groups of residents have increasingly been engaged in the conception, building, and management of their own housing projects, so playing an active role in shaping the city in a way that better responds to their needs and expectations. The multiplicity of terms that are used in France to describe these projects – habitat groupé, habitat autogéré, habitat alternatif, habitat participatif, habitat cooperatif and cooperatives d’habitants – captures the diversity of values, principles, layout, design, and legal arrangements that characterises the projects[4]. However, in spite of this heterogeneous mix, the expression habitat participatif has been increasingly chosen as a term capable of referring to all housing projects whose common goal is to place the resident at the earth of the realisation and management of her living space and to provide a valuable alternative to both the private market sector and public-led initiatives[5].

Grown out from the mobilisation of groups of residents, the habitat participatif movement has also acquired a national and institutional dimension due to the creation of national networks[6] and the involvement of social housing promoters[7] and other institutional players[8]. The dialogue among the different stakeholders culminated, after a long process of public consultation and discussion, in the legal recognition of the habitat participatif in the Loi ALUR[9]. The law reformed the Code de la construction et de l’habitation by introducing in the Code a definition of habitat participatif and by providing a new legal framework for its practical implementation. On the one hand, the law defined habitat participatif as a “citizens-based initiative that allows individuals to associate, if necessary with legal persons, in order to participate in the definition and design of their individual dwellings and common spaces, to construct or acquire one or more buildings and, where possible, to ensure their management”. Emphasis is placed on sharing and solidarity, since the habitat participatif is meant to promote “the construction and the supply of housing, as well as the development of collective spaces, under a logic of sharing and solidarity between inhabitants” [10]. On the other hand, the reform provided a completely new legal framework to be used by habitat participatif projects, and notably the cooperative d’habitants and the société d’attribution et d’autopromotion[11], which should replace, at least to a certain extent, the legal scheme of the copropriété des immeubles[12].

Although major innovations have been accomplished by this law reform and projects are flourishing throughout the country, the habitat participatif keeps raising important questions that deserve further study and investigation, as emerged during the afternoon workshops of the PUCA seminar. A first suggested line of research might investigate the major implications and changes that the institutionalisation of the habitat participatif, recently accomplished by the Loi ALUR, have brought about. A second line of research might instead focus on the individual/collective dimension of the projects and address issues related to the residents’ life and sustainability of the projects in the long-term. From a legal perspective, focusing on the individual/collective dimension of the habitat participatif would also lead to investigate and reconsider the way ownership, and multi-owned housing legal schemes in particular, have been conceived of and used so far in the framework of these projects[13]. Finally, a third line of research may attempt to further explore the reciprocal interaction between habitat participatif projects and the city, by examining both the role of the stakeholders involved and the outcomes of this interaction.

To conclude, what the state of the art of the research on habitat participatif has revealed is that habitat participatif represents more than a means to get access to housing by way of sharing common spaces and services; rather, the values it promotes and its structure deeply affect the role individuals play within the community and in the city. As Alain Jünd observed during the seminar, habitat participatif not only concerns the way in which projects are built and spaces shared, but also represents an entirely new way of “fabriquer la ville collectivement[14].


Fabiana Bettini, Postdoctoral Researcher, Sciences Po Law School, Paris

This article is drawn from a broader research conducted in the framework of the ERC-funded project “INCLUSIVE” (2014-2019) led by Professor Séverine Dusollier and hosted by the Sciences Po Law School, Paris


[1] The program of the seminar and the links to the relevant documents can be found at http://www.urbanisme-puca.gouv.fr/seminaire-l-habitat-participatif-les-derniers-a1048.html

[2] S. Bresson, L. Tummers, L’habitat participatif en Europe. Vers des politiques alternatives de développement urbain?, in Métropoles, 15 (2014), 15 décembre 2014, available at https://metropoles.revues.org/4960.

[3] Data are taken from a survey of habitat participatif projects made by La Coordin’action, an association that gathers and coordinates fourteen French associations involved in the promotion, development and realization of habitat participatif projects as well as in keeping the dialogue with other institutional actors open. The mapping of existing habitat participatif projects, at the different stage of their completion, is available at http://www.habitatparticipatif.eu/cartographie-de-lhabitat-participatif-2017/.

[4] S. Bresson, S. Denèfle, Diversity of self-managed co-housing initiatives in France, in Urban research and practice, 8:1, 2015, p. 5-16.  On the major trends of habitat participatif projects, their roots and ideologies, see A. D’Orazio, La nébuleuse de l’habitat participatif: radiographie d’une mobilisation, in Métropolitiques, 16 janvier 2012, available at http://www.metropolitiques.eu/La-nebuleuse-de-l-habitat.html.

[5] This is the definition given in the preamble of the Livre Blanc de l’Habitat Participatif, where the term habitat participatif is used to encompass “toute une série d’initiatives dont l’objectif est la recherche d’alternatives aux cadres de production classiques du logement, en positionnant l’usager au cœur de la réalisation et de la gestion de son lieu de vie. […] il pourra s’imposer comme une voie alternative au logement aux côtés du parc privé et du logement social”: Livre Blanc de l’Habitat Participatif, Strasbourg, 2011, p.1. The Livre Blanc has been realised by the association Eco-Quartier Strasbourg on behalf of the Coordin’action in the aftermath of the national habitat participatif meetings held in Strasbourg during 2010.

[6] The Réseau national des collectivités pour l’habitat participatif formed in 2010 with the aim of bringing together municipalities, groups of municipalities, and regions, whose involvement in participatif housing was increasingly requested by the citizens’ initiatives. The brochure of the network is available for downloading at   http://www.strasbourg.eu/developpement-rayonnement/urbanisme-logement-amenagement/projets-urbains/autopromotion-habitat-participatif/reseau-national-collectivite-habitat-participatif. Likewise, associations involved in supporting and promoting habitat participatif gathered into a national network called La Coordin’action : http://www.habitatparticipatif.eu/la-coordinaction/.

[7] Social housing in France is mostly provided by the organismes d’habitations à loyer modéré (HLM). They are organized in the Union Sociale pour l’Habitat and the Fédération des Coopératives HLM. For the role played by HLM organisms in the context of the habitat participatif projects, see La place et le role des organismes HLM dans l’habitat participatif, Réseau HLM pour l’Habitat Participatif, septembre 2016, available for downloading at http://habitatparticipatif.hlm.union-habitat.org/ush/Blog/La+note+de+positionnement+du+Mouvement+Hlm+sur+l%27habitat+participatif+est+parue.

[8] Other institutional players have been the Ministry of Housing, the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, banks (and notably the Crédit Mutuel), the Architectes Association, the CAUE Federation for Architecture, Urbanism and the Environment, the National Chamber of civil law notaries. The process of institutionalisation of the habitat participatif movement has been explored by C. Devaux, De l’experimentation à l’institutionalisation: l’habitat participatif à un tournant?, in Métropolitiques, 23 janvier 2012, available at http://www.metropolitiques.eu/De-l-experimentation-a-l.html, and more extensively, C. Devaux, L’habitat participatif. De l’initiative habitante à l’action publique, PUR, 2015.

[9] Cfr. Loi n°2014-366 du 24 mars 2014 pour l’accès au logement et un urbanisme rénové, available at https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000028772256&categorieLien=id.

[10] Art. 200-1 provides that “l’habitat participatif est une démarche citoyenne qui permet à des personnes physiques de s’associer, le cas échéant avec des personnes morales, afin de participer à la définition et à la conception de leurs logements et des espaces destinés à un usage commun, de construire ou d’acquérir un ou plusieurs immeubles destinés à leur habitation et, le cas échéant, d’assurer la gestion ultérieure des immeubles construits ou acquis. […] L’habitat participatif favorise la construction et la mise à disposition de logements, ainsi que la mise en valeur d’espaces collectifs dans une logique de partage et de solidarité entre habitants”.

[11] See articles 201-1 to 201-13 and articles 202-1 to 202-11 of the Code de la construction et de l’habitation. More detailed rules are still in the process of being adopted thorough implementing decrees of the Conseil d’Etat.

[12] Copropriété des immeubles is the most widespread legal arrangements used in France for multi-owned housing and a large portion of habitat participatif projects so far built have resorted to the copropriété scheme. Although the Loi ALUR has provided a new legal framework mostly based on cooperatives, copropriété will still be used in the future to a certain extent.

[13] This is the main focus of the research conducted in the framework of ERC-funded project “INCLUSIVE” led by Professor Séverine Dusollier and hosted by the Sciences Po Law School, Paris.

[14]Alain Jünd is Deputy Major of the city of Strasbourg responsible for town planning and environmental transition, and president of the Réseau national des collectivités pour l’habitat participatif.


Il 10 gennaio a Parigi ha avuto luogo un seminario dedicato all’habitat participatif (abitare partecipativo e collaborativo), una pratica abitativa sempre più diffusa, caratterizzata dal coinvolgimento degli abitanti nella progettazione, realizzazione e gestione dello spazio abitativo. Questa soluzione, nata dalla mobilitazione di gruppi di residenti, rappresenta una valida alternativa sia al mercato immobiliare privato, con i suoi prezzi sempre più proibitivi, che alle iniziative di housing pubblico.

Ciò che emerge dalle ricerche sull’habitat participatif è che questa soluzione abitativa, oltre ad offrire una modalità differente di accesso all’abitazione, basata sulla condivisione di spazi e servizi, genera una profonda trasformazione nella concezione del ruolo dell’individuo all’interno della città e della società.


Citizens of the world-2nd Workshop LabGov EDU

Citizens of the world-2nd Workshop LabGov EDU

The second workshop of LabGov EDU 2016/2017 has been held on the 4th of November by Simone D’Antonio, an Italian urban journalist and communicator, member of ANCI and responsible for the activities of the Italian URBACT . He discussed with the class how the development of cities in the global scene is protected and followed by the international institutions.


Firstly, he introduced some international projects, like the European initiative “URBACT”, but above all he spoke about Habitat III, a meeting organized by the UN every 20 years to rewrite the New Urban Agenda. This year Habitat III took place in Quito, Ecuador, one of the few countries that provide the “right to the city” in its constitution. Due to its complex morphology, it is always searching for new solutions in order to adapt the cities to the territory facilitating all the citizens.

Next, he illustrated the “KNOW YOUR CITY” project, designed to give a voice to everyone who usually suffers in silence, like some African slums’ inhabitants or young Muslims who live in Middle East war zones, that show their own tragic realities with their strength.

He continued, talking about the “shrinking cities” phenomenon (that is unfortunately becoming frequent in our days, in many citiesimg-20161108-wa0026 such as Detroit), and the meaning of being an urban journalist; someone who is interested in finding solutions to the cities’ problems, through knowledge and communication. He underlined the importance of communication (through new media, internet, social networks), arguing how it’s important to build information networks in order to realize projects and create new economic systems, as the supportive one adopted by some marketplaces in Milan, after the Expo experience, in order to fight against food wasting. (link to know more about the experience in Milan: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/oct/16/milan-fight-against-food-waste-ugly-fruit-grassroots-world-food-day)

It is a good habit to be constantly informed about what is happening around the world in the urbanistic sector and to be aware of who makes the difference by giving birth to initiatives and projects, because we are all parts of this big scenery.

More info here: http://citiscope.org ; https://www.theguardian.com/international

Stay tuned!


Written by Claudia Caruso 

LabGov in Turin to talk about Urban Visions

LabGov in Turin to talk about Urban Visions

Schermata 2016-05-10 alle 14.44.07

The theme of the 29th Salone Internazionale del Libro, which will take place from May 12th to May 16th,  is “Visions”. The protagonists of this book fair will be those who can look far and who can implement fairly impossible projects.

Urban Center Metropolitano Torino have organized, during the fair, a meeting about Urban Visions.

“Oltre il confine. Visioni di città” is a multi-voice debate about the future of Italian and european cities. The debate will focus on some crucial issues of our times: resilience, new economies, urban regeneration, civic care of Commons, new social and institutional models.

Schermata 2016-05-10 alle 19.53.48

The meeting will have two speakers talking about Urban Visions:

  • Antonio Calafati, urban economist, who will focus his speech on “visionary cities (in Europe)”
  • Christian Iaione, from LabGov, who will talk about “Co-Cities as (in)voluntary cities”

The debate will take place on Saturday 14th oh May, in the “Sala Arena Piemonte”.


LabGov a Torino per parlare di Co-Cities. Il coordinatore del progetto, Christian Iaione, sarà ospite di Urban Center Metropolitano Torino, durante il XXIX Salone Internazionale del Libro, per parlare di Co-Città.

Appuntamento sabato 14 maggio alla Sala Arena Piemonte.


















LabGov a Torino per parlare di Co-Cities. Il coordinatore del progetto, Christian Iaione, sarà ospite di Urban Center Metropolitano Torino, durante la XXIX Fiera Internazionale del Libro.

Appuntamento sabato 14 maggio alla Sala Arena Piemonte.

Road to Amsterdam: urban governance, the commons and the principle of equality

Road to Amsterdam: urban governance, the commons and the principle of equality

As two thirds of Europeans live in urban areas, the latter have become the core of both institutional relations and economic activities. By carrying out almost 55% of public investments, cities are inescapably fore-front players at different political dimensions. Faced by increasingly more complex issues – from urban poverty and social exclusion to environmental protection and action against climate change -, they represent the locus where challenges arise but also where innovative solutions bloom.


More and more, communities, local authorities, national governments are developing their awareness about the role and importance that the city plays nowadays.

As stated in “Cities of tomorrow“, an EC report published in 2011, cities are and must be “centres of creativity and entrepreneurship, in short: a bundle of opportunities”.


As a matter of fact, to date, little has been achieved in order to sponsor and support a thorough coordination of actions between different levels of governance that should involve cities, States and the European Union in a tangled matrix.

The European Union took on the mission to support the formulation of a coherent EU Urban Agenda through the Riga Declaration of June 2015, in an attempt to foster bottom-up, inclusive and participatory forms of implementation of its social and economic policies.

Most recently, urban governance has been adopted by the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union as one of its top priorities for the first half of 2016. Ultimately, by the end of May, Member States will adopt the Amsterdam Pact that will finally give to the EU its new Urban Agenda.


Despite the fact that it  is the outcome of a large-scale effort to an open dialogue involving stakeholders in its formulation, the new document will represent only half of the puzzle.

In other words, the reform of the city as we all knew it must be the outcome of a two-fold, concerted approach that mixes top-down and bottom-up instances.

An EU eager to recognize the importance of the city as the crux of policy implementation indeed represents a big achievement. However, this must be complemented by the promotion of local processes aimed at rebuilding the meaning of “citizenship” at the neighbourhood and city level.


Betting on urban governance means contributing to a new, responsible and inclusive political culture, making citizens’ participation and active cooperation with both private and public sectors structural features of a new form of governance.

Current institutional settings are still inappropriate to embrace the structural, qualitative transformation that such an ambitious idea entails.

A need-based, integrated, cross-sectorial approach built on creative processes and social innovative projects is necessary to start an urban revolution from the bottom.


As a forerunner of participatory forms of governance of the commons, LabGov is extremely open to dialogue with other stakeholders.

That is the reason why we will be in Amsterdam on the 19th of April on the occasion of the conference “The Commons and the Principle of Equality“. The event is part of the “New Amsterdam –City in Transition” series, organized by Pakhius de Zwiger with the ambitious goal to “inform, inspire and debate” on the role of the city within the context of the transition to a society more sustainable, inclusive and capable to face today complex challenges.


Amsterdam has become the capital of the urban revolution in Europe. We were there in February (here the post) to give a contribution to the above-mentioned EU Urban Agenda.

This time we will share our experience on the “bottom-up” side of the urban coin, illustrating how grassroots cooperative projects enable citizens to create their own cities collectively by taking care of the commons and developing a new social culture.

Tine de Moor, Professor of “Institutions for Collective Action in Historical Perspective” at Utrecht University, will open the conference with a lecture on the commons and the sharing economy. Christian Iaione, Professor of Public Law, Director of the Laboratory for the Governance of the Commons, LUISS Roma and member of the International Association for the Study of the Commons, will make a link between the commons and the principle of equality, trying to detect whether it has to be redesigned and whether the governance of the commons can be seen as a new regime for equality and access to resources.


For further details click here.


Amsterdam, capitale delle rivoluzione urbana in atto in Europa, accoglierà domani la conferenza “The Commons and the Principle of Equality“, il quarto incontro della serie “New Amsterdam –City in Transition” organizzata da Pakhius de Zwiger. Informiamo, ispiriamo, dialoghiamo!