The impact of universities on society: Working on neighborhood commons in San José, Costa Rica

The impact of universities on society: Working on neighborhood commons in San José, Costa Rica

Versión en español a continuación

As part of the LabGov research and extension program for Costa Rica, the Architecture students of the Universidad Latina continue to apply the concepts of common goods to the city, collaborating with the community of the Cedros neighborhood, in San Pedro de Montes de Oca, an area of the capital of Costa Rica, San José.

The process that was carried out in the first months of 2018 began with the realization of an analysis of the community, followed by the setting of objectives and schedule of activities to be carried out as a laboratory and as workshops. The project could be carried out thanks to the help of the community and also of the Scouts group in the area. Starting the investigation, surveys and talks were conducted in order to have more accurate information to project the needs. The best option was to involve the community around the coexistence space that belongs to it and is part of their daily routine: the neighborhood park and the community hall.

As a result of the activities carried out, certain problems were determined in the community, specifically in the sector near the Community Hall and the School of Cedars, which, indeed, as had been observed in the first stage, are the areas most used by the neighbors.

Based on the LabGov methodology, the research group applied the Co-city protocol: knowing, mapping, practicing, prototyping, testing and modeling. In order to achieve a shared city, it was proposed from the beginning to promote in the community the appropriation of public space through specific interventions and achievable with short-term actions that did not come exclusively from the group of researchers, but from the members of the community itself. In this way it was concluded to carry out an intervention with urban furniture, since fundamentally public areas only lend themselves to certain defined uses (field/court sports and indoor congregation activities) and lack comfortable and simple facilities to sit, rest and socialize in the outdoors.


An initial challenge, before starting any project, was to make the community aware of what the common goods are. And how this information could be transmitted in a way that was co-constructed among all.

The commons are resources and networks that sustain life, and although their legal possession may be of a certain group or community, or an individual, they are used by all and of all is the benefit.

Taking into account that every resource becomes common through a process of work and regulation, we wanted to focus on finding and recognizing the Common Goods with the Cedros Community, as well as later introducing a set of new goods to take care of and reproduce: the urban furniture produced with recycled pallets as the main material, which were implemented according to the needs of the community.

The common goods, in addition to achieving citizen participation and creating urban awareness, also help to create an environment of collaboration and equality: as it is related in Peter Linebaugh’s book about “El Manifiesto de la Carta Magna” and the Forest Charter, for a long time, humanity has sought to create a more equitable society, through documents created so that common goods are preserved and protected. Based on these texts it has been shown how this legacy has remained over the years and it is our obligation as citizens to watch over the common goods, since being shared brings benefits for all. Likewise, not only should they be preserved, but improved with the help of a community structure that, in mutual agreement, fosters good communication and teamwork. With this, goods can be renewed over time and could be used by our society and inherited by future generations [1].

On the other hand, as clarified in the book “La Carta de los Comunes”, common goods are not only translated into public space or, in the case of our intervention, in urban furniture, but they go much further, contemplating the goods to which we all have access in our daily life, such as water, air and other natural elements. It is from these fundamental commons that awareness must arise for responsible use. In other words, we cannot limit ourselves to taking care of the benches of our park, if our rivers and seas are full of garbage. For this reason we have sought ways to encourage the recognition of different types of common goods by the young population of the community, involving them in the first person in the care of these goods; so that in a broader way they focus on taking care not only of the community’s assets, but also beyond, an heritage such as water [2].


The decision about the prototype to be proposed was taken after making several field visits and noting that the large green areas had a space dedicated to a small playground and a court. However these are not used due to various problems, among them, the easiest solution was to solve the absence of adequate equipment for living areas. Therefore, it was decided to create functional and modular furniture that could later be replicated by people, remaining as a prototype model that the community could build alone, when it needed more furniture. Trying to create a quiet, cozy and safe space to share with the children, this also required garbage dumps, to have a space free of waste and at the same time educate the recycling.


Within the activities programmed to achieve this project, the workshop was aimed at young people between the ages of 9 and 16. This got a very positive response from them after working on the book quoted above from the “La Carta de los Comunes” [2]. With this, they were able to understand the importance of greater participation and allowed to spring up in them a sincere interest for the care of our goods.


In the development of this project, a positive response was observed from the members of the community to get involved in decision-making. This was proven in the workshops held, such as the furniture-manufacturing workshop, in which the young people were willing to collaborate and thus they were even more incentivized to preserve these goods, since they were involved in the design process as well as manufacturing, manifesting feelings of appropriation on his part.

This type of activities developed together with the neighbors, generate a tangible impact on the communities, since that attitude arouses the interest of other nearby communities, making it replicate and have an impact at the country level, and at a global level as part of the LabGov program, which aims to be a network of local efforts as the ultimate goal of these actions.

As an added value, in the case of this urban laboratory in the Community of Cedros, it was intended from the beginning to strengthen and promote self-management and not the resolution of a specific problem by external actors. Therefore, the necessary tools were provided for any citizen to be able to repeat or adapt the models proposed in this prototype, through an open technical manual and editable 3D files, accessible to anyone who requires it, within the framework of the Creative Commons concept.

It is very important for urban life to achieve coexistence among its citizens through the use of public spaces that the city offers us. However, the urban space by itself does not work, because it needs to be thought for and by the citizens, used and cared for by them in a continuous and organic way. For this reason, academic interventions are not an achievement but a stimulus to revitalize these spaces as social nodes.

In Costa Rica, despite the renowned democratic culture, people still need to be empowered on the subject of civic rights and duties, and to become active and participatory members of the city’s spaces [3]. This is achieved through the management, methodologies and tools of citizen participation, which give a reason of real use to those spaces. The development of this management was done in coordination between the Creative Campus of the Latina University of Costa Rica, the Cedros Integral Development Association of Montes de Oca and Plataforma de Integración Ciudadana, thanks to the participation of the community and organized groups as the Guides and Scouts of Costa Rica.

The LabGov program of Costa Rica seeks to involve the students of urban design courses in a process of research and extension in order to experience and understand processes of innovation in urban design, not limited to the drawing stage but to processes of co-design management. This not only in order to achieve a broad citizen participation and create an urban awareness of care and maintenance of the urban commons, but also to understand the students as qualitative researchers and community stakeholders, which can – and should – be involved in social projects.


1 Linebaugh, P. (2013). El Manifiesto de la Carta Magna, Comunes y libertades para el pueblo. Madrid: Traficantes de Sueños.

2 (2011). La Carta de los Comunes, Para el cuidado y disfrute de lo que todos es. Madrid: Traficantes de Sueños.

3 PNUD. 2013. Informe Nacional sobre Desarrollo Humano 2013, Aprendiendo a vivir juntos: Convivencia y desarrollo humano en Costa Rica. San José, C.R.: Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo – PNUD Costa Rica, p. 233-235.




Como parte del programa de investigación y extensión LabGov para Costa Rica, los estudiantes de Arquitectura de la Universidad Latina continúan aplicando los conceptos de bienes comunes a la ciudad, colaborando con la comunidad del barrio Cedros, en San Pedro de Montes de Oca, una área de la capital de Costa Rica, San José.

El proceso que se llevó a cabo en los primeros meses del 2018 comenzó con la realización de un análisis de la comunidad, seguido por el planteamiento de objetivos y cronograma de actividades a llevar a cabo como laboratorio y como talleres. El proyecto pudo realizarse gracias a la ayuda de la comunidad y también del grupo Scouts de la zona. Dando comienzo a la investigación se realizaron encuestas y charlas con el fin de tener información más acertada para proyectar las necesidades. La mejor opción era involucrar a la comunidad alrededor del espacio de convivencia que le pertenece y es parte de su rutina diaria: el parque barrial y el salón comunal.

Como resultado de las actividades realizadas, se determinaron ciertos problemas en la comunidad, específicamente en el sector cercano al Salón Comunal y a la Escuela de Cedros, que, efectivamente como se había observado en la primera etapa, son las zonas más utilizadas por los vecinos.

Basándose en la metodología del LabGov el grupo de investigación aplicó el protocolo Co-ciudad: saber, mapear, practicar, prototipar, probar y modelar. Con el fin de lograr una ciudad compartida, se planteó desde el inicio promover en la comunidad la apropiación del espacio público por medio de intervenciones puntuales y alcanzables con acciones a corto plazo que no vinieran exclusivamente del grupo de investigadores, sino de los miembros de la comunidad misma. De esta manera se concluyó realizar una intervención con mobiliario urbano, ya que fundamentalmente las áreas públicas no se prestan más que a ciertos usos definidos (deportes en cancha y actividades de congregación bajo techo) y carecen de instalaciones comodas y simples para sentarse, estar, descansar y relacionarse en los exteriores.


La decisión acerca del prototipo que se quería proponer fue tomada luego de realizar varias visitas de campo y notar que las amplias zonas verdes, contaban con un espacio dedicado a un pequeño parque infantil y una cancha, sin embargo no son aprovechados debido a diversos problemas, entre ellos, el de más fácil solución, era resolver la ausencia de un equipo adecuado para zonas de estar. Por lo tanto, se decidió crear un mobiliario funcional y modular que pudiera posteriormente ser replicado por las personas, quedando como un prototipo modelo que la comunidad pudiera construir sola, quando esta necesitara más mobiliario. Tratando de crear un espacio tranquilo, acogedor y seguro para compartir con los niños, se requerían también basureros, para contar con un espacio libre de desechos y que al mismo tiempo educara al reciclaje.


Un desafío inicial, antes de comenzar cualquier proyecto, era hacer que la comunidad conociera cuáles son los bienes comunes. Y, sobre todo, cómo podría transmitirse esta información de una manera que fuera co-construida entre todos.

Los bienes comunes son recursos y redes que sostienen la vida, y aunque su posesión legal puede ser de un cierto grupo o comunidad, o de un individuo, son utilizados por todos y de todos es el beneficio.

Tomando en cuenta de que todo recurso se convierte en común a través de un proceso de trabajo y reglamentación, se quiso dar enfoque en buscar y reconocer los Bienes Comunes con la Comunidad de Cedros, así como posteriormente introducir un conjunto de nuevos bienes que cuidar y reproducir: el mobiliario urbano producido con pallets reciclados como material principal, los cuales fueron implementados según las necesidades de la comunidad.

Los bienes comunes, además de lograr una participación ciudadana y crear conciencia urbana, también ayudan a crear un ambiente de colaboración e igualdad: como se relata en el libro del Peter Linebaugh acerca de “Manifiesto de la Carta Magna” y la Carta del Bosque, ya hace mucho tiempo la humanidad ha buscado generar una sociedad más equitativa, a través de documentos creados para que los bienes comunes fueran preservados y protegidos. Con base en estos textos se ha mostrado como ese legado ha permanecido a través de los años y es nuestra obligación como ciudadanos velar por los bienes comunes, ya que siendo compartidos traen beneficios para todos. De igual manera no sólo se deben de preservar, sino mejorar con ayuda de una estructura comunitaria que, estando en mutuo acuerdo, fomente una buena comunicación y trabajo en equipo. Con ello los bienes pueden ir renovándose con el tiempo y podrían ser utilizados por nuestra sociedad y heredados por las generaciones futuras (Linebaugh, 2008).

Por otro lado, como se aclara en el libro “La carta de los Comunes”, los bienes comunes no solo se traducen en espacio público o, en el caso de nuestra intervención, en mobiliario urbano, si no que van mucho más allá, contemplando los bienes a los que todos tenemos acceso en nuestra vida cotidiana, como lo son el agua, el aire y demás elementos naturales. Es de estos bienes comunes fundamentales que debe surgir la concientización para su uso responsable. Es decir no podemos limitarnos a cuidar las bancas de nuestro parque, si nuestros ríos y mares están llenos de basura. Por esta razón hemos buscado la manera de incentivar el reconocimiento de diferentes tipos de bienes comunes por parte de la población joven de la comunidad, involucrandoles en primera persona en el cuido de estos bienes; para que de una manera más amplia se enfocaran en cuidar no sólo los bienes de la comunidad, si no más allá, un bien de la humanidad como lo es el agua (, 2011).


Dentro de las actividades programadas para lograr este proyecto, el taller fue dirigido a jóvenes de edades entre los 9 y los 16 años. Esto obtuvo una respuesta muy positiva por parte de ellos luego de trabajar en el libro citado anteriormente de la “Carta de los Comunes”. Con esto se logró que ellos entendieran la importancia de una mayor participación y permitió que brotara en ellos, un interés sincero por el cuido de nuestros bienes.


En el desarrollo de este proyecto se observó una respuesta positiva de los miembros de la comunidad para involucrarse en la toma de decisiones. Esto se comprobó en los talleres realizados, como el taller de la fabricación del mobiliario, en el que los jóvenes se mostraron anuentes a colaborar y así se logró aun más incentivar el interés por preservar estos bienes, pues estuvieron involucrados en el proceso tanto de diseño así como el de manufactura, manifestando sentimientos de apropiación de su parte.

Este tipo de actividades desarrolladas en conjunto con los vecinos, generan un impacto tangible en las comunidades, ya que esa actitud suscita interés de otras comunidades cercanas, haciendo que se replique y pueda tener un impacto a nivel de país, y a nivel mundial como parte del programa LabGov, el cual plantea ser una red de esfuerzos locales como el objetivo final de estas acciones.

 Como valor agregado, en el caso de este laboratorio urbano en la Comunidad de Cedros, se pretendió desde el inicio fortalecer y promover la autogestión y no la resolución de un problema puntual por parte de actores externos. Por lo tanto se brindaron las herramientas necesarias para que cualquier ciudadano fuera capaz de repetir o adaptar los modelos propuestos en este prototipo, mediante un manual técnico que fue diseñado para ser “open” y archivos 3D editables, accesibles para toda persona que lo requiera, en el marco del concepto Creative Commons.

Es de suma importancia para la vida urbana lograr la convivencia entre sus ciudadanos mediante el aprovechamiento de los espacios públicos que nos brinda la ciudad. Sin embargo el espacio urbano por sí solo no funciona, pues necesita ser pensado para y por los ciudadanos, usado y cuidado por ellos mismos de forma continua y organica. Por esta razón las intervenciones académicas no son un logro si no un estímulo a revitalizar dichos espacios como nodos sociales.

En Costa Rica, a pesar de la renombrada cultura democrática, las personas todavía se deben empoderar en el tema de derechos y deberes civicos, y lograr ser miembros partícipes y activos de los espacios de la ciudad. Esto se logra mediante la gestión, metodologías y herramientas de participación ciudadana, que den una razón de uso real a dichos espacios. El desarrollo de esta gestión se realizó en coordinación entre el Campus Creativo de la Universidad Latina de Costa Rica, la Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Cedros de Montes de Oca y la Plataforma de Integración Ciudadana, gracias a la participación de la comunidad y de grupos organizados como los Guías y Scouts de Costa Rica.

El programa LabGov de Costa Rica busca involucrar los estudiantes de los cursos de Diseño Urbano en un proceso de investigación y extensión con el fin de experimentar y entender procesos innovativos de diseño urbano, no limitados al dibujo sino a los procesos de gestión participada del diseño. Esto no sólo con el fin de lograr una amplia participación ciudadana y crear una conciencia urbana de cuido y mantenimiento de los Bienes Comunes Urbanos, sino además entender a los estudiantes como investigadores cualitativos y actores integrantes de la comunidad, los cuales pueden y deben involucrarse en proyectos sociales.


Linebaugh, P. (2008). Manifestación de la Carta Magna.

Madrilonia.Org. (2011). Carta de los Comunes.

An event about collaborative innovation @MISE

An event about collaborative innovation @MISE

On Thursday, November 17th, the MISE will host an event all about cooperatives: “PROGETTI DI FRONTIERA PER LE COOPERATIVE” (“border projects for cooperatives”). The event will focus on feasibility studies for an innovative collaboration between the public sector and the cooperative movement.


During the day, 8 feasibility studies promoted and financed by the MISE will be presented and discussed, in order to promote and develop the cooperative movement. The project, realized in collaboration with Invitalia, has the aim of accompanying cooperatives in their path of growth and consolidation in the market, and of sustaining new projects built by collaborative enterprises in innovative fields.

LabGov will attend the event, with its co-founder Christian Iaione, who is going to intervene in the afternoon, during the presentation of the results of the round tables.

The full program of the event is available here:


Reclaiming the City: Engage Seminar Series in Liverpool!

Reclaiming the City: Engage Seminar Series in Liverpool!

On Wednesday, November 2nd, Engage Liverpool is going to host the final event of Engage Seminar Series 2016, a series of 3 transformational seminars, designed to empower people and bring about a more engaged and active populace.


Professor Christian Iaione, LabGov’s co-founder, will be the main speaker of the Seminar, and he will be talking about how people are bringing about real change in Bologna and other Italian cities. The main question to be looked at during this last event, in fact, is “how cities are governed”.

The whole Seminar Series is focusing on how city centre residents can challenge and change prevailing attitudes around consumerism, individualism and fatalism and in the process become citizens, neighbours and collaborators in governing the city.

Engage Liverpool CIC is a social enterprise which is run by volunteers who live in the apartments of the Waterfront and City Centre: learn more about the project on its official website:

Book the tickets for this last seminar here:

About the final Seminar:

Who owns the city?  We own the city! How commons makes cities more inclusive, righteous and democratic

Who owns the city? We own the city! How commons makes cities more inclusive, righteous and democratic

Needless to say, the city is a system, which is in a continuous progress or – as David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography would say – in a ‘process of becoming’. The city is a complex and incomplete event, a space and a condition at the same time, and that is why a city today is completely different from what it was centuries ago. This process of becoming should be perceived with caution, because sometimes cities might end up in a tragic event – cities might lose their ‘citiness’. Democracy is at stake here. In order to understand these processes, it is necessary to focus on a couple of particular questions. What is a city and who owns it? What processes in our cities are accelerated by the current economic and political system? And what could be the potential practice that would lead the way towards sustaining cities for everyone, and hence renovating democracy, that is, towards a ‘new democracy’?

By Joachim Meerkerk & Ieva Punyte New Democracy Pakhuis de Zwijger

In order to visualise the sound claim of a non-urban city in an era of global capital, widespread gentrification, and the dominance of top-down political decision making, it is first important to address the complex and incomplete system that a city is. In his book The City (1925), American urban sociologist Robert E. Park described the city as ‘something more than a congeries of individual men and social conveniences – streets, buildings, electric lights, tramways, and telephones, etc.; something more, also, than a mere constellation of institutions and administrative devices – courts, hospitals, schools police, and civil functionaries of various sorts. The city is, rather, a state, a body of customs and traditions, and of organized attitudes and sentiments that inhere in these customs and are transmitted with this tradition. The city is not, in other words, merely a physical mechanism and an artificial construction. It is involved in the vital processes of the people who compose it; it is a product of nature, and particularly human nature.’ Saskia Sassen – an urban sociologist whose research and writings focus on globalisation and its social, economic and political dimensions – stresses this in her book Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy. She states that a concrete, densely built city infrastructure is actually not enough to constitute a city. Rather the opposite – it could even constitute the loss of urbanity, i.e. the loss of its citiness. But what does that exactly mean?

Social, political and economic expulsion is a phenomenon described by Sassen that explains this the best. Expulsion is something that varies enormously across social strata, physical conditions, and across the world, but one of the ways to address it is by stressing the fact that cities of today – an era of international capital and global networks – are experiencing an increase in corporate urban buying. It is not a secret that urban land and property are an extremely profitable investment. Hence, by buying it, it is impossible to go wrong. This is not a problem in itself, but often the corporate buying leads to underutilisation or enclosure of the bought infrastructure. When national or foreign corporations buy property – housing complexes and cultural or industrial heritage for example – and leave it abandoned or enclosed, a city undergoes the loss of its citiness. It evaporates when the boiling social and cultural heterogeneity – in the form of communities with no property rights – is wiped out from cities, making them conserved for homogeneity and the owning elite. This is also closely related to the concept of gentrification.

Saskia Sassen at the New Democracy Series in Pakhuis de Zwijger

Urban land is a resource. It is one of those things we need to make a city, just like real estate, radio frequencies, sunlight, urban waters (such as canals, lakes, and rivers) and much more. Citizens making the city has an intrinsic democratic quality that is appealing at a time when existing democratic institutionalisation is under pressure and the democratic reach and effectiveness of representation is questioned. The ownership of resources has an important meaning for cities’ inhabitants because it enables them to become active makers, who can develop and improve their neighbourhoods and the city as a whole. This is because ownership rights allow acquiring housing, while at the same time creating opportunities to introduce new initiatives, start activities for the neighbourhood, or undertake projects for energy production, food and water supply. The current system of ownership makes this process problematic. A city is not a pre-political and pre-market place like some non-urban areas are. Citizens don’t have free access to the resources a city has to offer. Almost all resources in the city are already owned and regulated either by the state or private entities. They are already part of a public-private usage scheme and are not open for any alternatives, without state or market complying with the change.

To clarify, the state here should not be perceived as a neutral party that merely represents the interests of diverse communities. Everyday reality shows that the state is subdued to more complex sets of interests, in which political parties, for example, play a decisive role. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples where the state is serving interests that are opposite to those of the community. Let’s not go in depth however whether this is done intentionally or not. More important is the fact that communities and social innovators, who make the city bottom-up, are dependent on allowance and permission by other parties and do not own the resources they need to make the city. The only way to overcome this dependency is to obtain ownership, but this – obviously – is not within reach for all communities. As a matter of fact, only a small portion can be anticipated to gain such force in cities. The rest – the poor and the modest – get expelled.

This is why property rights are crucial in the way essential goods and resources are allocated, not just for people who own property, but for the non-owners too. What is actually hindered by the conventional property regimes, is the fact that property rights tend to expel the non-owners from the property. This is critical if we address the question of urban inequality. Despite the fact that the city is the main democratic space to act, the poor and the modest don’t get to own or organise, and so, in a large part are excluded from the process of city making.

Sassen stresses that cities have always been democratic spaces for everyone to make history, culture, and economy. Yet, with mostly privatized and state-owned land and property, those with less or no ownership lose their power and right to the city. Maybe they are left with modest neighbourhoods in a periphery where they are given a space ‘to do their thing’, but in the end, they get to be the makers without resources – dependent on the approval of owners, running the risk to be stopped and expelled at any given moment.

Unenclosed spaces with an open and unrestricted access not only ‘refresh the soul of the city, but they also empower citizens’, states American political scientist Benjamin Barber in his book If Mayors Ruled the World (2016). The loss of citiness is a strong indication of democratic shrinkage and decline of good governance. Diverse communities are not able to capture the full value of the urban life anymore. They become segregated due to their social and economic status and hence lose the right to live the life they have reason to value. The loss of the right to own a city as a collective resource is the loss of the freedom of a reasonable social co-existence – the loss of democracy.

Having stressed that cities lose their citiness when their inhabitants are deprived of their right to the city, the ’Urban Commons’ phenomenon appears as a progressive way to address inclusive, collective ownership as well as introduce democratic renewal. Urban Commons has been formulated by, among others, Sheila Foster, professor of Real Estate, Land Use and Property Law at Fordham University New York, and Christian Iaione, professor of Public Law and Government Economic Regulation at Guglielmo Marconi University of Rome. The commons in a city could be tangible as well as intangible goods and resources. That means it could be digital goods, knowledge, and culture, but it also refers to environmental and urban commons, such as squares, parks, waters, buildings, street paths, vacant lots, cultural institutions, and other urban infrastructure private or public units. These places are recognised to serve for social access and existential exchange, which makes them of a truly common good nature. In their joint work City as a Commons, Iaione and Foster stress that the quality of urban life depends on the open and collective access to the city’s common resources. This is why, the whole city should run as a collaborative commons, in other words: as a ‘co-city’.

What is particular about commons, is that it could be seen as an intervention into the logic of expulsions. Where expulsions, as addressed by Sassen, are about private wealth, exclusion, enclosure, and a culture of consumption, the commons is about common wealth, inclusion, and access, as well as openness to property and resources. It is not about consuming, but rather generating goods for human development, flourishing, and wellbeing. So, expulsions and commons are two opposing lenses through which local authorities perceive a city and its resources that many different stakeholders depend on. What is important here is that these lenses determine public policies, which are developed by governmental authorities, for example, on land use, area development, property and other.

Christian Iaione at New Democracy Series in Pakhuis de Zwijger

Commons stakes out the claim to the city. It intervenes into privatisation and commodification of a city space by stating that city’s resources belong to a broader group of urban inhabitants than just the political and economic elites. This means that ownership of city resources should not be limited to a single entity because the underlying claim is that urban resources are not something that should be locked up by one owner, but rather belong to all city inhabitants and be open for city making by any one.

The commons lens focuses on two things. First, the issue of city resources and how we could categorise a resource that should be neither privatised nor solely owned by the state, rather accessible for those who have no formal property rights but – as every human being – have a right to flourish. This is how not just material assets but also immaterial ones – including relational interest of communities to a particular resource in cities – are protected. Second, the issue of governance regarding a democratic process of inclusive co-management of an urban resource. This means that city spaces and a city itself are the right place for a collaborative production of public life, goods and services. The commons means that city resources – formalised in communal ownership – should not only be accessible to but essentially should be governed by a broad and diverse range of stakeholders to make the city and simultaneously restore democracy from the ground-up. It aims to provide communities with resources – not on a temporary or use basis, but in a permanent manner. The democratic quality of commons depends, for a large part, on a cultural shift in terms of how we think about government. The commons challenge us to  develop new governance structures.

This is why Foster and Iaione introduce the co-city with a co-creative governance scheme based on moving away from hierarchical, standardised, and uniform government toward collaborative or polycentric governance which aims to include multiple stakeholders in order to co-make the city. Communal ownership over the resource is a prerequisite for a truly co-creative governance, based on inclusivity and a productive use of expertise and the different roles and interests stakeholders have. It creates a form of accountability for those who are involved in the co-creation process as well as it shores the democratic legitimacy for the community at large, transcending the internal governance structure.

Every city has different urban development and governance paths. Every city differs significantly in terms of its political, legal and economic systems or even urban issues. Even within one city, there is this great variety. The idea of commons in the city is thus to come up with context-based policies and strategies to address both resource and governance issues and by doing so transforming cities into sufficiently responsive, flexible and adaptive spaces which engage and involve different ‘publics’ in owning and governing collective economic and social city assets. A co-city is a new democratic arena – the interface between state and society, conduits for negotiation, information, and exchange – to designate urban space, structure or infrastructure, like community gardens, parks, abandoned buildings, vacant lots, cultural institutions, as experimental Urban Commons in which different actors can collaborate to co-create solutions to meet local needs.

Despite that a co-city framework is meant to adapt to local peculiarities of different contexts, it has three underlying principles. The first one is collective governance. It refers to a pluralism of actors (members of the public, public authorities, businesses, civil society organisations, and knowledge institutions), incorporating sub-local communities, cooperating and collaborating together to create, access, use, and co-manage common resources. With collective action, it aims to identify and reinforce social norms and social capital as well as leverage access to civic and other assets. The second principle is an enabling state, which is based on the transformation of the local administrative culture and norms. This principle stresses the increase of local competencies and capabilities to incentivise and coordinate collective governance to change the ‘architecture’ of the city (administrative, cognitive and professional, technological, financial, etc.). The enabling state should take part in designing new legal and policy tools to facilitate collaboration and cooperation. The third principle is social pooling. It is a peer-to-peer production of goods and services (such as, Do It Yourself and open production, and value produced through open source software, information, data, and culture). Social pooling is based on social mutualism and reciprocity to produce social welfare and well-being through street, block or sidewalk level cooperativism (collectively ownership or management, internal collaborative decision-making). It is preceded by building on the value of local or sub-local ingenuity and entrepreneurship, anchoring the social and economic wealth of the community through public-private-community partnerships.

We could say that Foster and Iaione’s City as a Commons challenges Sassen’s City as a Commodity because one of the underlying objectives of a co-city is securing rather than reducing the right of its inhabitants to co-own and co-manage the city. The commons lens reorients city officials from a hierarchical, standardised, expertise-based governance model to a distributed, adaptive, collaborative one, in which local and sub-local actors share responsibility and collaborate with the city to achieve a range of social and economic ends. This commons-based approach is practiced on the ground having received support from Laboratory for the Governance of the Commons (LabGov), which experiments with a methodology or a Co-city protocol to support local city makers projects and strengthen the relationships between city officials and the local community at large, and thereby redesign democracy in practice. This is a profoundly experimental process, which differs in every city.

So far, LabGov is based in Bologna and New York, where it ensures collective and inclusive governance of community goods, develops and implements legal and institutional infrastructures that facilitate collaboration and cooperation, and promotes the cooperative production of goods and services (social pooling). As an ultimate goal, it aims to establish true commons and bring together community groups and neighbourhood anchor institutions, along with universities, social innovators, local businesses, and non-profit public interest organisations working as catalysers to co-design and implement local cooperative platforms or regulatory schemes, or city-wide networks or collaborative partnerships to create new opportunities to support the needs of all urban inhabitants and differentiated communities to flourish. A LabGov Amsterdam is in the making.

An example of a successful urban commons project is located in Bologna, where the City Council adopted the Regulation on Collaboration Between Citizens and the Administration for the Care and Regulation of Urban Commons. It is a regulation that allows the unorganised public, such as social entrepreneurs and social innovators, to become involved in projects that require ‘municipal assets or cooperation’ and also allows for a ‘collaboration agreement’ for each project that lays out the terms (what kind of support the city will provide citizens or civic groups, which can include supplies, property, or technical expertise). The securing of the city to its people is played out by pacts of collaboration that identify various kinds of opportunities for collaboration of residents, or whomever else, to take over some of the abandoned underutilised properties and enter them into a collaboration for the city in order to regenerate them. One of the core ideas behind the collaboration pacts in Bologna is to facilitate a transparent process, addressing questions who can access city resources and whether there is a mechanism that regulates this process.

With the co-Bologna project, LabGov Bologna has identified new ground for experimentation. Within the project, there are three locations at the edges of the city that share common features, like a high number of low-income families living in public housing complexes, a high number of first or second generation migrants and a high unemployment rate. The co-Bologna project is about the creation of social pools in these modest areas, where people would be enabled to share basic resources and the basic needs that they have in order to reach a common goal. In Piazza dei Colori, one of these neighbourhoods, where the underutilised commercial spaces have been used as sort of laboratories to start a collaborative economy circuit, in which all the actors on the ground would take part. This has proven to be the way to self-develop in support of other actors. These are hence social pools based on the outskirts of the city where local communities are the driving force. A lot of time and energy is needed in order to collectively build the culture of collaboration within the community itself. This is the reason why governance of commons is a continuous process based on experimentation in order to bring back citiness to the cities.

In order to be successful, co-city needs to be fully inclusive. This emphasises the fact that co-city is not just an invitation to the collaboration process, because this means that those who join collaboration are people who already have resources, such as, time, technical know-how, etc. Co-city rather pays special attention to including groups and individuals who are at the margins or the edges of the city in literal terms and stresses the increase of the capacity of people that are normally left out, expelled or dependent on allowance and permission to participate in city making. Only by adopting the commons lens in public policies on land use, area development, property and other, urban inhabitants are enabled to contribute to the new democracy at the city level.

The governance of the commons is a challenging process, nonetheless, it is going viral. The fact that laws and general city dynamics can be changed from the ground up is fascinating and this is why many cities are working along these lines. Securing commons to urban inhabitants is the way to bring the right to the city back to its citizens and intervene into the logic of expulsions. The commons gives us an answer to the question ‘Who owns the city?’ The answer is ‘We own the city’. Commons encourages us to start working on both the fundamental and practical interpretations of this statement. The commons requires us to define the meaning and culmination of: ‘We’ as the community that it concerns; ‘own’ as the governance structure to co-govern with the community; and ‘the city’ as the resource that this community co-governs.


LabGov in practice – Piazza dei Colori

Piazza dei Colori

Sign of Piazza

Piazza dei Colori is a public housing complex on the outskirts of Bologna. It was built in the late 70s for Italians who moved from the South all the way up to the North of Italy. The building is four storeys high, with commercial spaces on the ground floor and three layers of apartments. During the 90s, a new group formed by immigrants and refugees found residence in this area. This had a significant impact on the social infrastructure. Moreover, many urban problems such as unemployment, poverty, addiction, and criminality begun to be visible in the area. Meanwhile, as the establishment of large supermarkets and other hyper stores in the area caused small businesses to fail, the commercial spaces on the piazza became vacant.

Second-Hand Store ran by Annabella at Piazza dei Colori

In an attempt to revitalize the area, the municipality – which owns the piazza and its real estate – started a programme to attract entrepreneurs and their respective ideas for new social projects in the piazza. The city itself had no money to invest but by providing initiatives and businesses with spaces, it has created opportunities for people who could invest not just in terms of money but above all time and entrepreneurship. To name some examples, Annabella Losco started a second-hand shop where people from the neighbourhood can contribute by donating things they don’t use anymore. The profit of the shop is being invested in social projects such as language courses for residents. In another space, Livio Talozzi and Andrea Sartori opened a FabLab. During the day they earn their money with commercial production and at night their lab is open for makers from all over Bologna. The FabLab reconnects Piazza dei Colori with the larger community of the city of Bologna, most of whom had no idea of its existence. It has also become a place for education and personal development for the local community.

FabLab at Piazza dei Colori

Co-design session at Piazza dei Colori

Since 2016, LabGov is involved with the piazza. The project started with building a community and network. LabGov connects the different entrepreneurs and other stakeholders by organising meetings and co-design sessions. The first result of LabGov is the realisation of a jointly written regulation for collaboration, which was found necessary by the participants to build mutual trust. The next step is to develop joint projects and initiatives. LabGov has a long way to go with the piazza, but the potential is appealing. As a long-term ambition or end game, one can think of transferring the ownership over the commercial and public spaces to the community, making it a true commons.


Strengthening democracy at city level

kqjpzcpn-copyWhile introducing commons in New York, Sheila Foster – professor of Real Estate, Land Use and Property Law at Fordham University – has focused on three main aspects: affordable housing and commercial spaces, climate resiliency and justice, and technological equality. Having a strong contact with local communities and being a respected property law scholar, she initiated drafting legislations and collaboration pacts, creating urban collaboration labs and establishing collaboration in experimental zones in Harlem, Brooklyn, and The Bronx. In the light of LabGov Amsterdam, she recently visited
Pakhuis de Zwijger to share her experience and insights and talk about urban commoning in Amsterdam with active urban innovators from The Netherlands. ‘There are some urban commons that are identified by their relationship to the surrounding community [at the scale of a block, a neighborhood, or a city]’, she answer when asked why she works with urban commons and what value the governance of the commons generates for the city. ‘One of the things about these spaces in the relation to communities is to talk about them in terms of what humans in cities need to survive and flourish, for instance, affordable housing, safe environment, and access to good food. The value generated by transforming an underutilised or vacant urban land or a building into a public or community good like a community garden, urban farm, affordable housing, cooperatively managed work space], outweighs or at least competes with whatever value that structure would have, either being sold on a market or laying vacant and underutilised.’ According to Sheila, local communities have the proper expertise to self-govern the commons. ‘Look at Detroit for example. Communities have turned some of the vacant, abandoned, burnt out land into urban farms and gardens. Urban abandoned structures were turned into places for affordable housing or for other community functions. This illuminated the categorisation of these resources not as privately
owned by someone who has abandoned it or even held publically by the city, but rather as a commons, property in transition  that belongs to all of us’, she says. Commons is the way of saying that resources should be more accessible to a broader group of people, and in particular to those who are the most vulnerable to expulsion. ‘And not just accessible and available,’ she adds, ‘but most importantly generative, these resources should be made available so they can be used to generate other collective goods, such as housing culture, art, etcetera.’

This article was originally published here

This is article will be published at the NEW AMSTERDAM Magazine, you can find the last edition of the magazine here.

From storytelling to active engagement: let’s co-work together!

From storytelling to active engagement: let’s co-work together!

The second day of co-working session, held on October the 15th  begun with Eloisa Susanna’s general outlook about other eloisa-susannaactive projects, similar to #coRome, spread all over Italy.Eloisa,a young architect,rapidly commemorated the G124 project,launched by Renzo Piano in which great relevance is given to peripheral areas and the imperative need of maintenance trough micro-surgical interventions,this is what the Otranto project of 1979 was about.In general,this procedure implies two fundamental principles:first of all it has to be interest-based,secondly it has to be performed through a collaborative process that consist in framing and contextualizing the city of Rome and its surrounding territory,focusing on those areas that constitute a patrimonial identity.

Than,Claudio Gnessi explained the explosive role of  the Ecomuseo Casino Ad Duas claudio-gnassiLauros ( This institution owns much to the “comunità di eredità” which actively engaged in several partecipative laboratories,with the common goal to define the space in which cultural and natural sites have previously been identified.The actual plan is focused in Tor Pignattara,a neighborhood where around 130 cultural resources were mapped,thanks to the fruitful work of a social network composed by inhabitants of that neighborhood but also public and private actors.It is important to underline the social consequence brought by this initiative:cooperation was promoted among different religious and cultural realities,unified by a shared interest and motivated by common moral values.

Right after the Labgovers productively engaged in a workshop that consisted in reporting on a widespread map four different topic developed with the aid of expert mentors and of Alessandra and Urio, the co-founders of the newborn Community for the Public Park of Centocelle.The participants were divided into four groups,namely:Mobility, Accessibility, Potentialities and Public Services.
gruppo mobilitàThe first group,”mobility”,identified which public transport are easily available both from the center and the outskirt of Rome:the main one are the “trenino laziale” and the tram “19”.Than the participants focused over the potentialities that the park could offer if,in one hand,the pedestrian accessibility was open on both sides of the park’s perimeter and,on the other side,the bicycle route,know as GRAB, could pass trough the park instead of in its proximity.potenzialita

The second group,”accessibility”,listed more accurately  all the potential resources that the park could make available.Surprisingly the V Municipal seems to be blessed by so many cultural sites that could re-animate the entire area from a touristic perspective,but also for the sole purpose of embellish the neighborhood.

criticitaA third group ,”potentialities”,brought to light many critical matters such as security and sanitary issues,in fact the park has several abusive occupied zone,not omitting the wasted paper and rubbish that pollutes the park everywhere.

serviziThe fourth group;”public services”,classified and mapped all the accessible public services around the PaC zone,such as  churches, schools,parks,cultural attractions,theaters and cinemas.-


As it emerges from the images,the V Municipality has extraordinary  potentialities,however,due to its marginalized position,its shabby’s first appearance,and the elevate conglomeration of immigrants and religious identities, its efficiency is completely unexploited and its integrity is gradually decreasing and deteriorating running the risk to fall in the oblivion.

stefania-favoritoThe meeting ended up with Stefania Favorito’s  speech over the importance of the park from an archaeological point of view,the park is surrounded by historical sites such as the Villa Ad Duas Lauros,il Forte Casino,la Villa della Piscina,la Vecchio Osteria,all dated back from the republican era until the XIX century,plus the natural resources of l’Agro Romano,il Canneto,l’Agri-Fauna and the whole park of Centocelle.It is important to be mature the awareness to understand what this park does symbolize for the cohabitants of the V Municipality, how this zone reflects their feeling of social marginalization and how this project give them the possibility to join a community in which moral and civic values are promoted and cooperation constantly active.( )