The City, the Commons, the Flower

The City, the Commons, the Flower

di Miguel Martinez


Today June 7th, a small event, highly symbolic however for all of Europe’s historic centres being turned into Disneylands for tourism, will take place in Florence, when the children of the Oltrarno district will plant forty rhizomes of iris about one hundred metres from the Brancacci Chapel, where Masaccio unwittingly unleashed the Renaissance (and also painted an extraordinary allegory of the Commons).

Whatever is bureaucratic and artificial, is easy to understand. Whatever is real is unique and complex, so it will take some explaining, but the fun lies precisely in putting the strands together.

The first strand lies just behind the Carmine church, in Florence’s Oltrarno district: a garden hidden behind a high wall called the “Nidiaci”, a gift by the American Red Cross, in 1920 to the children of what was then the poorest district of the city, riddled with TBC and crime, yet the scene of extraordinary human passions and solidarity.

Today the inhabitants of the centre of Florence are being driven out by an Airbnb economy based on evictions, empty houses, craftsmen overwhelmed by taxes losing their workplaces to pubs.

Flats are filled by people who have no contact with the area they sleep in for a night or two, while bartenders and cooks – largely from remote parts of the world – commute every night for miles, to reach their zoned homes, leaving a trail of burnt fossil fuel behind them.

Metaphorically, we could say that a certain number of Florentines make money by gluing their ancestors’ bones to clothes hangers and putting them up in their shop windows. As an exceptionally kind hearted landowner put it to a single mother and her child before evicting them, “I’m so sorry, but if you leave, I can earn 90 euros a night from this flat!”

To make way for tourists yearning to see the “Oltrarno, district of craftsmen”, the last shoemaker was evicted too: he held out bravely for several months in his tiny shop, with no running water, before finally leaving the city.

The hidden Nidiaci garden has become a rallying point for old and new residents – Florentine carpenters and bakers alongside Macedonian hotel cleaners, Egyptian pizza cooks and Irish artists – who keep it open as a Commons: arts, music, crafts, a vegetable garden, a football school, set up by the legendary Lebowski team (the only soccer club owned by fans in Italy) and guided tours for local children, to remind them that they are the guardians of the rich history of Florence, wherever their parents may have been born.

Children’s concert at the Nidiaci


The second strand concerns the name of Florence, supposedly derived from the Latin flos, “flower”: a city founded, according to legend, during the Roman festival of Floralia, an image which immediately brings to mind Flora in Botticelli’s Primavera, so beautifully thinned out in Evelyn De Morgan’s painting Flora, sold to a Scottish patron.

Evelyn De Morgan, Flora


On the bottom right of the painting, the small tag, written in rhymed medieval Italian, says,

“I come down from Florence and am Flora,

This city takes its name from flower

Among the flowers I was born and now by a change of home

I have my dwelling among the mountains of Scotia

Welcome me, and let my treasure amid northern mists be dear to you.”


The heraldic symbol of the city-state of Florence, since before Dante, has always been the fleur-de-lys, as it appears on the town banners. Here you can see it in one of those ambiguous events where true Florentines wear, with enormous commitment, authentically fake Renaissance costumes, partly to attract tourists, but mainly because they have a tremendous desire to express a deeply felt identity.


People all over Italy do similar things, like the Chivalry Joust of Sulmona, which has no spectators because nearly everybody in town is an actor and nobody knows where Sulmona is.

The fleur-de-lys of Florence is actually an iris, the humble giaggiolo which until not so many years ago used to grow everywhere along the banks of the Arno, but has now nearly disappeared.


Next to Piazzale Michelangelo, where tourists enjoy a splendid view over the city, there is another little known garden, kept open only a few weeks a year by a group of enthusiasts and dedicated exclusively to the iris.

The third strand is the University of Florence, where Professor Stefano Mancuso has opened a new field of research, that of plant sensitivity, establishing the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology.

Mancuso is also the inventor of the fascinating and somewhat frightening Jellyfish Barge, a kind of Noah’s Ark to help us survive the Anthropocene we have created.

Right now, probably the most prominent cultural event in town is an unlikely experiment set up by Mancuso and a German artist, in the courtyard of the Renaissance Palazzo Strozzi, on the relations between plant and human psychology.


The Florence Experiment is a research project where visitors slide down a structure from a height of 20 metres; their emotional reactions will be recorded and compared with those of plants to examine the empathetic possibilities between humans and plant organisms.



The issue of relations between plants and us, is of course enormous, quite simply because without plants, we would cease to exist; and our future therefore depends on how we relate to them.

This takes us to the fourth strand. Professor Mancuso has launched an interdisciplinary master’s degree, called “Plant Future” – Futuro Vegetale, – bringing together scholars from very different fields (biology, sociology, architecture, political science) who are seeking a way out of the suicidal course we are currently engaged in.

Then there is the fifth strand, Florence’s Calcio fiorentino, a no-holds-barred form of football developed in Florence in Renaissance times, played between the four historic districts of the old part of Florence,

Though it is a rediscovered tradition (dating back to the 1930s), it is firmly rooted in local culture, and is the strongest source of identity of the Oltrarno district, which is of the “White” colour, and where a hardy group of unpaid bar keepers, electricians and carpenters risk their lives every year for this match dedicated to Saint John, the city patron.


The official matches are a municipal institution, so fans and players have set up an independent organisation, recreating the fourteenth-century fraternity of the “Whites”, the Compagnia dei Bianchi, one of the countless lively community organisations of medieval Italy, to develop local solidarity and help the countless people whose very survival is in doubt in these hard times.

The scholars of Plant Future decided that the most symbolic place in all Florence to launch a new idea of how to found a city was the Nidiaci garden, its plants, trees and human community.

The first irises would be there, then they would be gradually planted wherever people took care of community gardens.

So they went to the Iris Garden, where the organisers immediately understood, and gave forty of their best rhizomes, kept for international competitions, to plant in the Nidiaci, recreating the original Florentia or flowering.

The minute beginning of a renewal of a whole city, based on commoning.

The Plant Future scholars came over to visit the garden.

An Albanian mother, who sells shirts in the market at San Lorenzo and teaches the children how to grow tomatoes and melons in the Nidiaci garden, decided where the rhizomes should be planted.

Then the organisers got in touch with the Compagnia dei Bianchi, because it was fundamental for them to be present in such a special moment.

All of this is very small, and very concentrated.

And smallness, and concentration, is exactly what we all need.

As Rising Appalachia put it,

Stand up, look around and then scale that down too!”



Luiss garden: the first harvest and the (re)discovering of the little joy of life.

Luiss garden: the first harvest and the (re)discovering of the little joy of life.








February the 2nd was an important milestone for the people of LabGov. On that day happened the first harvesting of some products farmed by the students: spinach, mushrooms and lemons.

The day started with the General Director Lo Storto paid a visit to greet all the students, professors and the LUISS staff which met for this special occasion. In his opening addressing, Dott. Lo Storto stressed the importance of rediscovering a “slow” kind of life, an idea gradually replaced by the modern “fast” lifestyles.

The LUISS Community Garden, inaugurated on November,  is a perfect example of common good managed by the people and on how to apply the collaborative governance to the commons, such as the environment, agriculture and food. These are also the topics of the Laboratory of this year that involve students in the design, management and communication of this garden sited in our Campus placed in Viale Romania. The university students gathered ideas and resources and, thanks to the precious  help and supervision of  the LUISS staff, managed to start a system that is willing to become a way to gather the efforts of students interested in the rediscovering of the joy of growing fresh products.

In any case, the work is far from over: in the following months there will be the harvesting of other products, such as  broccoli and fennels in February, since the complete harvesting at the end of March. Moreover, work has already started for the realization of a vineyard that is going to be inaugurate in the near future.

Quoting professor Iaione: “We eat together, we save money, we share advices on exams and other problems of everyday life and we seek solution for the challenges of our generation. We should follow a healthier and greener lifestyle. We should project the future and we should ask ourselves how we are going to nudge more and more people to join us, and have fun with us. Break free from Facebook and from its fast-relationships by building offline relationships more stable and enduring. We want to be the driving force of change, not a simple a leading élite. Patience and tenacity are our distinctive features as farmers of the relations that needs to be developed to make changing, innovation and collaboration blossom”.


Orto Luiss: il primo raccolto e la (ri)scoperta delle piccole gioie della vita


Il 2 Febbraio LabGov, insieme a dipendenti e professori LUISS, ha effettuato la prima raccolta di alcuni prodotti del LUISS Community Garden. In particolare sono stati raccolti spinaci, funghi e limoni. Anche il Direttore Generale Lo Storto ha fatto visita all’Orto per salutare il gruppo che si è riunito per questa occasione.

Il LUISS Community Garden può essere considerato un esempio perfetto di come si può applicare la governace collaborativa ai beni comuni, come l’ambiente, l’agricoltura e il cibo. Questi sono infatti i temi del Laboratorio di quest’anno, che vede i nuovi labgovers impegnati nella progettazione, comunicazione e organizzazione di questo nuovo spazio all’interno del Campus di Viale Romania.

Fino a Marzo ci sarà la raccolta di altri prodotti, tra cui ad esempio i broccoli, i finocchi, la verza, i cavolfiori.  Nel prossimo futuro si aprirà la vigna.

Nelle parole del professor Iaione: “Dobbiamo progettare il futuro e liberarci da Facebook e dalle sue relazioni rapide costruendo interazioni offline stabili e durature. Vogliamo essere la forza motrice del cambiamento, non una semplice classe dirigente. Pazienza e costanza sono i nostri tratti distintivi come coltivatori delle relazioni che devono essere sviluppate per far nascere il cambiamento, la collaborazione e la collaborazione”.

Garden of Solidarity

Garden of Solidarity

A Garden example of collaboration allows people to cultivate themselves.

A perfect example of how a project of governance of the Commons has to be realized. In the city of Olbia, in the north-east coast of Sardinia, the collaboration and cooperation of different subjects, starting from the Municipality, the High School Amsicora, the Law Court, passing to the Police, the Civil Protection, the Caritas and also a Recovery community, make possible the creation of a Garden of Solidarity.

The project gives the opportunity for those who have committed an error, generally responsible for a traffic offence, to replace the serving of a sentence in activities socially useful. The Garden, a real farm with a plant nursery, is set in a large plot in the High School “Amsicora”, a place previously not exploited, that the Director Gianluca Corda wanted to return to the community. As we know the school is a public space and must be enjoyed by all the community, not only in the morning for lessons.

Until now there have been sixteen persons in the Garden, men and women of different ages. They have cleared and fenced the land and finally cultivated it with their hands. The products of the Garden are reserved for the Caritas making possible that the soup kitchen has always fresh and genuine products also for disadvantage persons. A chain of solidarity is created: public institutions help those who make mistakes and who makes mistakes helps those in need.

Moreover the project has proved extremely useful for the social reintegration. The persons that have participated often started not very motivated, but at the end they change their life and from the land, with the help of the nature, sometime it is easier to overcome problems like alcoholism or drug addiction.