From November 11th to 12th, Gaverina Terme is going to host the second edition of Cooperative in Cammino – “La cooperazione per i beni comuni”, a moment of analysis and elaboration of proposals for a new model of connection between public and private, a place where different experiences of cooperation meet and share their knowledge on those new experimental models of organization.
Cooperative in cammino comes up from the need of defining more open and participated models of cooperation, that provide the involvement of citizens in the management of goods and services of common interest, and that experiment new forms of dialogue between those actors and public administration.
Saturday, November 11th, Cooperative in Cammino will host the convention “Give back commons to collectivity” (“Restituire i beni comuni alla collettività“), that is going to be introduced by Lodovico Patelli, President of the Cooperative, and Christian Iaione, LabGov’s co-founder.
Sunday, November 12th, the round table “Experimenting the management of public goods and services” (“Sperimentare la gestione di beni e servizi pubblici“) will take place.
Four years ago, in September 2013, the Facebook group Residenti in Via Fondazza – Bologna was born: after a fast growth of its members and thank to a strong mediatic interest, the group triggered the Social Street phenomenon. The Social Street is a form of neighbourhood communities, whose purpose is to «promote socialization between neighbours in the same street in order to build relationships, to interchange needs, to share expertise and knowledges, to implement common interest projects, with common benefits from a closer social interaction […] It is a no-profit activity with social purpose. Social Street is not pursuing any political, religious, ideological view. It brings people together with the sole criterion of the proximity between area residents».
Indeed, since every group is organized around a specific urban area – street, square, park, part of neighbourhood – the territory takes on strong importance, because it becomes the basis for the construction of a shared identity among Social Street members. These ones share, moreover, three main values:
The sociality, as well as being the primary need from which the experience was born, also becomes the most important goal to reach. All the initiatives organized have the single purpose to stimulate citizens in socialising and participating in common projects. Semantically the gift implies gratitude and allows to activate virtuous circles of reciprocity and trust; in addition, every donated goods and services implies a bonding value. Lastly, the access to Social Street is open to everyone for total participation, regardless any ethnical, political or religious differences.
Currently there are 397 Social Street in Italy and 8 abroad – Portugal, Netherlands, Poland, US, Canada, Brasil and New Zealand. In Italy they spread more in the North and gradually less in the Centre-South of the country: Milan 86, Bologna 67, Rome 45, Palermo 21 (data are updated on 13/10/2017). Among all neighbourhood groups there is a huge diversity due to:
collocation within cities;
type of activities;
Here what I want to focus on is the external governance, meaning the relational network established by every Social Street with other socio-political subjects of the territory, such as the Municipality, the local administrative institutions and any other kind of associations belonging to civil society. From the beginning Social Street groups chose different approach to deal with this issue. The website, opened by the first Social Street’s founders, underlines that reaching the goal of sociality does not require funding, private spaces to be rent or any formal collaborations with municipalities. Therefore some group decide to follow strictly these guidelines and maintain just an informal dialogue with other urban actors. The fear to be exploited by public administration and the will not to be identified as a possible solution to local collective problems affect this choice as well. On the contrary, other groups that engage in urban regeneration or participatory projects feel the necessity to collaborate closely with public administrations, sometimes even applying for common projects with other civil society actors.
The structure arising from these practices recall the concept of multi-level governance, namely new forms of state power organization based on a double process: an increase in the distribution of power between different levels of government and the creation of policy making coalitions that only in part consist of representatives of the state, opening the participation to private and civil actors. These network-based forms of governance, though, do not always have codified rules and regulations that shape or define participation and identify the exact domains or arenas of power. On the one hand, such absence of codification potentially permits socially innovative forms of organisation and of governing; on the other hand, it also opens up a vast terrain of contestation and potential conflict. The innovation occurs when bottom-linked governance is achieved, that is when bottom-up initiatives combine with top-down policies, including alternative mechanisms of negotiation between various groups and networks, potentially empowering local government and embracing who disagrees with mainstream policy formulation and who presents alternative creative strategies. In Italy, already in 2001, the constitutional reform of Title V – Article 118 – defined the principle of horizontal subsidiarity, underlining the support that State, regions and municipalities must give to the free exercise of general interest activities by citizens as individual and as organizations. Moreover, in 2014 the City of Bologna implemented the Regulation on civic collaboration for the urban commons, that allows to establish collaborations between local governments and citizens in order to care, re-generate and manage urban commons, tangible and intangible, functional to the individual and collective wellbeing.
Going back to Social Streets, there are many examples of both choices.
The first Social Street, Residenti in Via Fondazza, strongly claims its independence from every type of stable and formalized relationship with the public administration. This choice, nevertheless, does not prevent its members from organizing many activities and events for the realization of which they regularly ask for permissions about public spaces’ use to the City of Bologna. One of the services that this group has implemented is a system of bike sharing, after the request to the public administration to install more bicycle parking spots. Some residents have offered unused bicycles to the neighbours; now these bicycle are identified by a signboard saying that they belong to the Social Street. When one of the members needs a bicycle, he/she can directly ask for the key to the greengrocer of Via Fondazza, use the bicycle until he/she needs it and bring it back to the square at the end.
Credits: picture from the Facebook group “Residenti in via Fondazza – Bologna”
From three years, Via Fondazza is also the location of Muri Di Versi, an event of poetry, music and culture aiming to animate the surrounding area and to invite everyone to socialise exchanging every existing type of art.
Credits: picture from the Facebook group “Residenti in Via Fondazza – Bologna”
Similarly, one of the Social Streets in Verona, Residenti in Via Venti Settembre, refused the Municipality request to work closely for drawing a call for new Social Street creation. Furthermore, even if the members adopted a garden placed along the street and the small building inside it as location for their weekly meetings, taking care of both regularly, they prefer to ask the City for permission about public space use each time, instead of setting a permanent collaboration.
Credits: picture from Facebook group “Residenti in via Venti Settembre – Verona – Social Street”
Opposite attitude characterizes decisions taken by other groups. Another Social Street of Bologna, Residenti in Via Duse, was the first group of citizens to sign a collaboration pact with the Municipality through the Regulation mentioned above. Thanks to this partnership, citizens have obtained the possibility to use and take care of a public notice board, otherwise left unused, for advertising their activities/events/projects and for exchanging useful information. Moreover, they managed to associate with other civil actors active in the same urban area, such as a neighbourhood committee and a cooperative of architects, in order to develop together participatory projects and to rent an indoor space where to gather in.
Credits: picture from Facebook group “Residenti in Via Duse e dintorni Bologna – Social Street”
Similar is the case of Residenti in Via San Pio X, Social Street in Trento, where the members, animated by strong interest in networking with the local area and in spreading a conception of common management for public spaces, are collaborating with public institutions and many associations and schools. They took care of regenerating a public wall along the street; since one year and a half they garden regularly local flowerbeds; a notice board and a book-crossing library have been installed. Besides, the Social Street implemented a project within schools, spreading among students the idea of active citizenship and of common responsibility towards the local territory.
Credits: picture from Facebook group “Residenti in via San Pio X e dintorni Trento – Social Street”
Preferring to avoid the use of money, other Social Streets simply signed the collaboration pact with their own Municipality: it is the case of Residenti in Via Pitteri, in Ferrara, for example, where members, among many other activities, take care of a little urban area and a park, receiving in exchange from the City the material to keep it clean and the maintenance necessary for structures.
Credits: picture from Facebook group “Residenti in via Pitteri e dintorni – a Ferrara”
In conclusion, Social Streets can take different directions when they network within the city. This does not mean though that the groups, not willing to establish collaborations, are less careful about the local territory or about collective needs, but it only means that the latter are diverse in every context. Different are also the population living in a specific area, services offered by public institutions or third sector, the geographical configuration of the space. Therefore, it is unreasonable to identify the most efficient practice, rather it is important not to forget an analysis of geographical, social, economic and political aspects of local contexts, considering the path-dependence rooted in every Social Street and, generally, in every bottom-up movement.
Il fenomeno Social Street ha appena compiuto quattro anni dalla nascita del primo gruppo di residenti. Dopo una breve introduzione riguardo ai principali valori alla base dell’idea, in questa riflessione si vuole portare l’attenzione sulla differenza che caratterizza i vari gruppi. In particolare, i diversi approcci con cui ogni Social Street si rapporta alla pubblica amministrazione e agli attori di terzo settore, delineando diversi assetti di governance.
 Riccardo Prandini, 1998, Le radici fiduciarie del legame sociale, Milano: Franco Angeli.
 Jacques T. Godbout and Alain C. Caillè, 1998, The World of the Gift, Canada; McGillQueen University’s Press.
 Pradel M, Garcìa M. & Eizaguirre S., 2013, Theorizing multi-level governance in social innovation dynamics. In: Moulaert F., MacCallum D., Mehmood A. & Hamdouch Abdelillah (Eds.), The International Handbook on Social Innovation. Collective Action, Social Learning and Transdisciplinary Research, pp. 155-168, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
 Swyngedouw E., 2005, Governance Innovation and The Citizen: The Janus Face of Governace-beyond-the-state, Urban Studies, 42 (11), 1991-2006.
 Eizaguirre S, Pradel M., Terrones A., Matinez-Celorrio X., Garcìa M., 2012, Multilevel Governance and Social Cohesion: Bringing Back Conflict in Citizenship Practice, Urban Studies, 49 (9), 1999-2016.
Source: The Guardian. “Cable cars and escalators now carry tens of thousands of people a day between Medellín’s comunas and the city centre. Photograph: Alamy”
Urban scholars and practitioners today look up to Medellin as one of the most progressive cities in the world. Winner of an impressive amount of awards like the Curry Stone Design Prize, Harvard’s Green Prize in Urban Design, and the Most Innovative City Award by the Urban Land Institute, Medellin truly became a model to follow when it comes to addressing urban challenges like violence, insecurity, poor education, and lack of mobility, which all reinforce the spatial and material inequalities in our megacities today. “Social Urbanism” is the best practice that Medellin showcases in the international community, proving the positive impact of the construction of social infrastructure, which allows for an improved access to education, mobility, and safer public spaces. This article seeks to present the policy interventions that brought Medellin to the spotlight, stressing the importance of participatory urban upgrading policies in informal areas. However, we would like to stress that an appraisal of the “Medellin Miracle” must include a deeper analysis of the contextual political and social factors which have made such a miracle possible in the first place. To some extent, the Medellin case shows that tackling the complexities of peripheral urban informal settlements requires the introduction of new governance models that go beyond the public and private dychotomy. Indeed, urban informality more in general can be intended as a crisis of existing governance actors who have been unable or unwilling to equally redistribute resources in the city. This short article attempts at reflecting on what Sheila R. Foster calls the « urban informality commons dilemma », through an analysis of the Medellin case.
From being the most violent city in the world in 1993 with 381 homicides for 100 000 inhabitants, Medellin has embarked in a transformation journey starting from the 1990s. To address the problems of violence, social segregation and urban inequalities, the Colombian government established the Consejeria para el Area Metropolitana de Medellin program in 1990. The Consejeria also proposed the Integrated Slum Upgrading Program of Medellin (Programa Integral de Mejoramiento de Barrios Subnormales en Medellín – PRIMED), that is often cited as a forerunner when it comes to the progressive policy turn taken by Medellin at the beginning of the 21st century. As Sheila R. Foster highlights, PRIMED is especially interesting because it followed a “methodology of partnership with the community” in order to upgrade informal settlements. A similar approach was followed by the two mayors, Luis Perez and Sergio Fajardo, who were elected respectively in 2000 and 2004. They have implemented key projects to tackle the inequality and violence, which were further marginalizing the populations living in the informal settlements (“comunas”) on hillsides of Medellin. Representing half of the entire population of Medellin, comunas inhabitants lacked access to the city center, to education and utilities, as well as suffered from the violence and insecurities of their neighborhoods, often taken over by drug cartels. Investing in a cable car to connect the comuna of Santo Domingo, Luis Perez initiated a process that was for the majority carried out during the term of Mayor Farjado.
In order to get rid of the corruption and inertia in local governance, Farjado implemented his “social urbanism” policies through an autonomous agency, the Urban Development Corporation (EDU).
The “integral urban projects” (PUIs) – “projects that incorporate multiple programs simultaneously, from transport to landscaping, from street lighting to cultural centres” – implemented between 2004 and 2007 include:
“the Parque Explora, a park with a free science museum in it;
the Botanical Gardens, site of the octagonal Orquideorama; ten new school buildings
five ambitious library-parks in the comunas of Santo Domingo, La Quintana, La Ladera, San Javier and Belén;
a cultural centre in the run-down district of Moravia; and the completion and extension of the Metrocable”.
It is Echeverri, the head of EDU under Mayor Farjado, that actually explains how the success of the “integral urban projects” (PUIs) carried out by the agency was highly dependent on a set of national and local political enabling factors. Mayors were indeed given more autonomy in the rewriting of the Colombian Constitution of 1991. Moreover, Farjado was heavily inspired by Bogota’s mayors, whose innovative policies reinforced the idea that violence and inequalities should be at the top of cities’ political agenda. Finally, the decrease in violence in Medellin cannot entirely be attributed to social infrastructure and upgrading policies. The PRIMED and Consejera programs as well as military pacification operations and peace deals between cartels are also often cited as enabling factors when it comes to the decrease in violence in Medellin
Stressing the importance of contextual enabling factors is important in the case of Medellin’s social urbanism as its programs tend to be analyzed under the “best practice” lens. Best practices cannot be replicated everywhere in the world following an identical reproduction. Understanding such a critique allows us to stress the importance of taking into account context and inhabitants demands when it comes to implementing urban renewal projects.
Medellin’ social urbanism strength point can be indeed found in its participatorynature. While Mayor Farjado’s policy choices ensured a heavy intervention in the renewal of educational facilities like schools and libraries and in the beautification of public spaces, it is through a participatory process that such projects were designed.
In the case of the Parque Biblioteca Espana, Echeverri explains how the project was conducted following participatory design methods: “‘We had a specific team that combined architects, urbanists, social workers, communications people, lawyers and a leader who was the “social manager” for that area of Santo Domingo. And that guy worked with the community keeping the project on the agenda,’ says Echeverri. ‘We also had imagination workshops every month, with children trying to think about how to make a park.
Beyond being a social urbanism for the people, the urbanism of Medellin strikes us for its deep commitment to a participatory model of urban integration in the fight against violence and inequalities. Social infrastructure renewals coupled with the feeling of civic ownership of the local community have contributed to improve the conditions of the populations living in comunas.
Inequalities and segregation still exist in Medellin. The programs implemented in the past should serve as a starting point for more comprehensive policies that can tackle such issues at bigger scales and in a more integrated way.
 Sheila R. Foster, Urban Informality as a Commons Dilemma, 40 U. Miami Inter-Am. L. Rev. 261 (2009)
 John J. Betancur, Approached to the Regularization of Informal Settlements : The Case of PRIMED in Medellin, Colombia. Global Urban Development Magazine, 2007 http://www.globalurban.org/GUDMag07Vol3Iss1/Betancur.htm
 McGuirk, J. (2014). Radical cities. London: Verso.
 McGuirk, J. (2014). Radical cities. London: Verso.
Maclean, K. (2015). Social Urbanism and the Politics of Violence: The Medellín Miracle. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.
 McGuirk, J. (2014). Radical cities. London: Verso.
Le politiche urbane che hanno trasformato Medellin hanno reso la città colombiana famosa in tutto il mondo. Applicando il modello di ‘social urbanism’, il Governo della città si è impegnato a ridurre le ineguaglianze sociali e la segregazione spaziale che divide il centro della città dagli insediamenti informali che occupano i versanti delle colline di Medellin.
“Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons” is the new publication from the non-profit media outlet Shareable, which collects 137 case studies divided in 11 categories in order to demonstrate that another city governance model is possible, and is in fact, already in the making. By showcasing initiatives from all over the world, and in particular from the US and Europe, Sharing Cities unfolds as a concrete testament to the richness, creativity and diversity of the world of urban commons today. Indeed, the book is structured as a powerful storytelling and showcasing work of the best practices in the field of urban commons. Such collections represent the starting point for the work that LabGov is carrying on with the drafting of the scientific research project known as the Co-Cities Report¹.
Shareable has been one of the key initiators of the Sharing Cities movement: they organized ShareFS in 2011, the first event held under the joint theme of sharing cities, and in 2013 they launched the Sharing Cities Network to connect local sharing activists in cities around the world for mutual support and movement building.
Before presenting an overview of the wide range of urban commons projects presented in Sharing Cities, it is important to mention the introductory theoretical framework developed by Neal Gorenflo. Indeed, the co-founder of Shareable introduces the collection of case-studies by providing the theoretical background on the study of urban commons, acknowledging the analytical contribution of scholars like Christian Iaione from LabGov, Sheila Foster from georgetown University, Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation, and David Bollier of the Commons Strategies Group, among others.
Gorenflo adfirms, There are 67 case studies and 66 model policies in this book. Though the book only scratches the surface of what’s out there, the geographic and sectoral diversity of our selections will expand your view of what’s possible. Together, they are provocative in the best possible way. In terms of the case studies, I challenge you to flip through the book and not be amazed at what ordinary people can do when they commit to projects where personal interests and the common good are aligned.
In particular, citing the work of Christian Iaione and Sheila Foster, as well as the seminal urban commons initiatives like the CO-Bologna project and regulation², the book underlines the importance of urban commons initiatives in today’s context of citizens disempowerment. As the introduction argues “the importance of the urban commons to cities today is that it situates residents as the key actors – not markets, technologies, or governments, as popular narratives suggest – at a time when people feel increasingly powerless. To paraphrase commons scholars Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione, the city as a commons is a claim on the city by the people.” What is key to understand when talking about the urban commons framework is that it is not only about sharing resources, knowledge, and tools. Sharing for the sake of innovative profit making lacks the fundamental constitutive element of the commons, that is the creation of collaborative relationships between urban residents, NGOs, public institutions and businesses in order to manage resources in urban communities in a way that gives the decision-making power back to the people.
After the introduction on urban commons, the book dedicates 11 chapters to the different categories of commons, namely: Housing, mobility, food, work, energy, land, waste, water, information and communication technology, finance, and governance³. Ranging from cases of co-housing, open-data initiatives, comprehensive shared mobility projects, open access edible plots of land, networks of workers cooperatives, commons collaborative economy initiatives, community energy distribution networks, to examples of commons regulatory frameworks, this book represents an inspiring proof of the existence of new governance models that can ensure an alternative, more sustainable, way-forward. These cases and policies reveal a new model of city, where people has been put at the centre, having a primary role among market priorities, technologies or government. Moreover, it is not a simple demonstration that a city run by the people is possible, but it unveils that much of it is already here. In this perspective, the book represents a claim.
La nuova pubblicazione di Shareable intitolata “Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons”approfondisce il tema dei commons, mostrando attraverso 133 casi studio, come il modello di governance dei commons rappresenti un’alternativa valida e realizzabile per la gestione condivisa delle risorse al livello urbano.
The Italian scene of activism for the commons increasingly often sees local communities getting organized and starting real estate negotiations with public or private owners to transfer the property of important pieces of real estate in communities’ hands. A recent post on this blog presented the case of the Innesto Community Coop in Val Cavallina, Lombardia. The community coop launched a crowdfunding campaign to buy back from a public authority “La Casa del Pescatore”. This is considered a critical facility for the local community for this is the place where many community activities take place. At the same time this facility is the means through which the micro-economic activities that guarantee the economic sustainability and therefore the social impact produced by the community coop are run.
There at least two similar experiences in Italy. They are carried out in Rome by the Co-Roma project and in Milan by Macao. There might be more cases and we would be happy to discuss this kind of commons-based real estate transactions on our blog more and more if our readers know of similar cases. We have seen this happening also abroad in difficult contexts like in New York City with the REIC and in Germany with the Mietzhauser Sindakat.
We will focus here on a brief description of the Macao experience in Milano. We will then suggest this approach could be a possible strategy for contexts that are facing similar issues in Bologna, where the Làbas collective was recently evicted by the police from an abandoned former barracks and in Mondeggi, Tuscany where the Mondeggi as a Commons initiative gathers a diverse network of organic producers, farmers, professors, architects, students and active citizens who want to oppose the selling out of public heritage in favor of private investors, and propose to the City as an alternative to privatization the civic use of the whole property.
The Macao experience
The Macao experience was initiated by a group of artists and creative workers, part of the “Lavoratori dell’arte”, Art Workers movement in 2012. Macao blossomed under the Mayorship of Giuliano Pisapia and the large coalition of left wing parties that he led, that succeeded at the local elections in Milan after decades of right-wing coalitions governing the City. The Macao experience initiated with the occupation of an abandoned skyscraper in the center of Milan, the “Torre Galfa”. The group of activists, artists and creative workers were evicted some days after the occupation, but a few weeks later they managed to occupy and move into a former slaughterhouse, in Via Molise 12, were they are still based. In the initial phase of the path, thousands of people participated to the Macao activity. After the first months of activity, the participation considerably shrank to 120 people in late 2012. The building that Macao is currently occupying is publicly owned, and located in a semi-peripheral area of the city. The occupation is therefore illegal, but the City undertook a strategy based on tolerance and informality. In the early summer of 2014, the City of Milan set up a negotiation board to deal with City-owned abandoned spaces with a potentiality for social innovation purpose. The aim of the negotiation board was to find ways to include even informal associations or autonomous organizations or collectives. Macao accepted to participate to the negotiation. However the dialogue did not produce substantial results. The intense dialogue with the City produced a draft of City Resolution, that takes inspiration from the Bologna Regulation on the Urban Commons with significant adaptation. The Resolution was not approved by the City Government in charge.
Picture from Zero: https://goo.gl/DLd4MC.
The building where Macao is currently based is formally owned by a publicly owned company, Sogemi S.P.A., and is part of a larger complex called Ortomercato. Sogemi board decided to sell the buildings contained in the area including Macao’s headquarter. Macao therefore decided to implement a proactive strategy and proceed with the acquisition of the building, following the successful model of collective property adopted by the Mietzhauser Sindakat, a German reality. After manifesting their interest to buy the property to the City of Milan, who declared that they must proceed with a public contest, Macao launched a fundraising campaign for the acquisition of the building and constituted an open association, composed by individuals and other NGOs that want to contribute to Macao’s activities. The bylaws of the association is available here.
The Mondeggi and Labàs cases
Could the experiences that we just described be a role model for other cases like Làbas and Mondeggi?
Picture from Fuori Binario: https://goo.gl/Q5M8Rw.
The Mondeggi Initiative was recently analysed on our blog. The Mondeggi Bene Comune initiative was born in 2013, out of the Florence Committee for Land as a Common Good (Terra bene Comune Firenze), with the support of Genuino Clandestino, in order to defend the principles of commoning on agricultural lands on the specific site of the Mondeggi farm, a 200 hectares territory situated in the Florence metropolitan region and owned by the Florence Province, who wanted to sell the farm because of a huge dept. a group of around 100 people immediately opposed to the sell the property and proposed biological agricultural projects in the farm. One year after the first manifestation of interest, in 2014, this community decided to occupy one of the colonic houses of the farm. Currently, 20 people are living in the farm and collectively manage it. Recently, the Committee issued a Declaration of Civic Use and proposed to the public actor to manage the whole Mondeggi Farm also launching a petition addressing public intellectuals and academics for supporting this initiative.
In the City of Bologna, the eviction of the Làbas collective from the former Caserma Masini, is stimulating a strong debate on active resistance and occupation of public buildings for social use. Làbas is the political collective that on November 13, 2012, occupied an abandoned military station of 9.000 squared meters, the former Caserma Masini on Orfeo Street n. 46, currently owned by the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (the Italian Soveriegn Wealth Fund, hereinafter CdP). Since the occupation, Làbas regenerated the space and organized a wide set of activities, open to the neighbourhood and the whole city, ranging from political activity such as the campaign #iooccupo, #I occupy, a protest against housing policies of the City of Bologna, that also practice concrete fight against evictions and support realities that promote access to housing for vulnerable groups, also through illegal occupations such as the “Via Solferino 42”, occupation of a building owned by the a Blind Institute, the Istituto Cavazza, that allows 20 families to access housing. Another core issue of Làbas is the migration crisis, that they address through communication activities and volunteering actions, social urban gardening and social economic activities.
Picture from Il resto del Carlino: https://goo.gl/eHAupH.
The Làbas collective recently started a dialogue with the City Government about the future of the space and established a “Comitato per la Tutela e l’Affermazione del’’ex Caserma Masini Bene Comune”, a Committee for the Care and Affirmation of the former Caserma Masini as a commons, that provides them with a legally recognised infrastructure with currently 700 members. In early August, the Làbas center was evicted and received manifestation of support from a wide array of social actors in the City. What is required for the civic and institutional actors involved in this situation for addressing it is to carry out an exercise of civic imagination, as stated by Matteo Lepore (deputy-mayor for economic development, the commons and civic imagination) that recently proposed for Làbas and other realities active in the neighbourhood to open a dialogue on the possibility to contribute to the regeneration and temporary reuse of the wide abandoned Staveco area, a former military area which is going to be destined for 85% of its space to social use. Also, declarations from the Mayor of Bologna Virginio Merola are open to the dialogue to find an alternative solution for Làbas. On September 9th hundreds of city inhabitants walked the streets of the city center in a peaceful parade aimed to ask the reopening of Làbas and its activities. The peaceful attitude of the participants contrasts the sudden and violent eviction of early August, showing the willingness to restore the pre-existing collaborative atmosphere with public authorities, that was abruptly and wrongly breached, also according to Lepore’ opinion.
Buying back the commons
Is an alternative solution, meaning another building in another place, just good enough for real commons?
Commons is about the social process of commoning as many thought leaders and scholars say. And some of these collectives are not just simple collectives, but a manifestation of what we could call potential “commons enterprises”. Some progressive cities like Bologna are adopting an approach to this kind of experiences that is definitely advanced compared to the average of Italian Cities. As a matter of fact, the institutional strategy to address illegal occupations so far has been two-folded: regularizations where the City Government was led by radical left wing or radical social right wing coalitions and evictions where the City Government was led by liberal, pro-market centre-right and sometimes also centre-left coalitions. Some cities like Bologna have chosen a third path, based on the recognition of the social value produced by those experiences and on a public-commons bargaining process, whereby such collectives in exchange for leaving an occupied space, the social reality involved would have been allowed to find an appropriate arrangement with the support of the City Government. However, even this third far-sighted approach still relies on a role of the local government as an intermediary and not as a platform or enabling actor. Also, the local government exposes itself to the critique that in this way it incentivizes a sort of real estate market of occupations. Last, the political meaning of the urban commons initiative gets lost, generating a loss of social and cultural value produced meanwhile in that specific building not elsewhere.
If the commons want to succeed they need to fight with instruments similar to those that other economic actors use. So, a fourth path, definitely more challenging for both the city government, as well as Labàs and similar commons entrepreneurs, could be to enable them to buy the building. This is a strategy Iaione suggested in 2011. This option is already contemplated somehow by the Bologna Regulation on Civic Collaboration for the Urban Commons, but newer and more refined financing and regulatory tools have been developed meanwhile. Using these newer tools some experimentations on commons-based finance such as the Co-Roma experimentation, the case of Macao in Milan and “l’Innesto” Community Cooperative are carried out.
This strategy seems to be applicable, through a public-private-commons partnership, even to larger infrastructure like the Port of Capri which is facing far bigger risks and a more complex regulatory framework. The Masini Barracks – which according to a formal estimate is valued 12 million Euros on paper – is worth way less then its formal prices in the current market conditions and therefore it seems to be the perfect test bed for a commons-based financing operation. Maybe if the community was provided with the right expertise, it could definitely negotiate on an equal footing and further lower the cost of the deal to get it closer to a threshold that the community can reasonably afford.
Civic imagination might therefore be conceived not as a new episode of participatory democracy, but rather as that process through which social actors, individually and collectively, are enabled to challenge the ordinary bureaucratic rationality and envision “better political, social, and civic environments and work towards achieving those futures”. Also imagination is civic when it is concerned with society and not, for Instance, with individual aspiration. Civic Imagination should therefore be about transforming utopias, micro-actions, ideas, projects of collectives and active citizens into real “commons enterprises” and “collective institutions” to achieve a real “economic democracy”.
The role of the public sphere (bureaucracy and politics) in this game should change. Primarily, it should avoid any extreme repressive attitudes, understanding the added value coming from such initiatives. As Matteo Lepore recently stated: “while somebody has been busy for a long time placing traps along the way, thinking only in terms of formal rules and formal legality, everyone willing to walk towards the goal of a new policy on these issues have already taken a step forward down this path. We would no longer have this kind of problems, if we were able to turn city inhabitants needs into participatory paths and urban assets into opportunities open to everyone, in a city where there are still many abandoned spaces to be recovered and a third sector already very active and widespread. Over the next few weeks, through the Civic Imagination Office, we will move along this path”.
Both civic and public actors have to change their attitude, adapting their role in order to find appropriate solutions, even through experimental initiatives.
City inhabitants must start thinking in a more entrepreneurial way. They actually have the duty to be entrepreneurial in order to adopt the most appropriate means to safeguard the commons from some backward-looking bureaucracies. Thus, there is also a liability towards future generations, which shall not be considered just as an ethical principle. It can be configured as a constitutional principle in Italy, pursuant to articles 2, 9, 67 e 98. In this regard, the civic buy back of the commons could be a solution perfectly aligned with the new proactive role citizens have to play and successfully achieved in many countries, like in India or The Netherlands, aimed at the protection of the environment as well as other common assets. It is not new even for the Italian scene. Many civil society organizations like WWF, Italia Nostra, FAI, Legambiente, Libera have initiated similar projects investing in the regeneration and/or acquisition or management of common assets at risk. In this perspective, as the Macao collective has announced, it could be adopted the model created by the Mietshäuser Syndikat, a cooperative which manages the collective purchase of occupied properties. It practices the path of private law as a suitable tool for the buy back of the commons, so that the property is taken away from the logic of profit and commercial speculation.
Public authorities should also start upgrading their approach. They need to give up on their role as an intermediary and start acting as an institutional platform enabling civic imagination. For instance Làbas as much as any other informal community does not want to incorporate a legal entity. Policymakers could therefore enable the establishment of a special purpose vehicle, a so-called “Friends of Làbas”, that would act as a trustee, a shepard, a custodian working for and with the Làbas informal community on a solid and credible project for potential investors (in technical terms articulating the project pipeline) that would embed Làbas values and goals in the proposal to the current owners, raise funds for the acquisition, negotiate the terms of the acquisition from the national publicly-owned company that owns the asset, grant rights of perpetual use to the Làbas informal community. The bylaws of such legal entity should provide the destination to use by the Làbas informal community of the building and grant/secure the right to use to Làbas in perpetuity. This would be a great project on which the Civic Imagination Office should work on.
Il panorama italiano dell’attivismo per i beni comuni vede in misura crescente esperienze di comunità locali che si auto-organizzano e avviano negoziazioni immobiliari con i proprietari, pubblici o privati, degli immobili per trasferirne la proprietà nelle mani della comunità. Un recente post su questo blog ha presentato il caso della Cooperativa di Comunità Innesto in Val Cavallina, Lombardia, la quale ha lanciato una campagna di crowdfunding per acquistare dal proprietario pubblico “La Casa del Pescatore”. Possiamo osservare altre due esperienze similari nel panorama italiano: a Roma, con il progetto Co-Roma e l’attività della Comunità per il Parco Pubblico di Centocelle e a Milano, con il caso di Macao. Ci sarebbero molte altre esperienze con cui confrontare questi casi, anche a livello internazionale per esempio a New York City con il REIC e in Germania con il Mietzhauser Sindakat. L’articolo si soffermerà, dopo una riflessione introduttiva su approfondimento di questi casi, in particolare l’esperienza di Macao, connettendoli con la recente vicenda del collettivo Làbas (Bologna), e il caso di Mondeggi (Toscana, Provincia di Firenze), che presentano tratti comuni seppur con rilevanti differenze.