The City as  a Commons – How Democratic are the Urban Commons?

The City as a Commons – How Democratic are the Urban Commons?

The 1st IASC (International Association for the Study of the Commons) Thematic Conference on urban commons is approaching. The call for abstracts is out until Aug 10th at 12:00 AM PT. The Conference title unveils the complexity and the ambition of an event that wishes to gather for two days the most prominent scholars and practitioners on urban commons, social innovation, sharing economy, to talk about “The City as a Commons: Reconceiving Urban Space, Common Goods And City Governance”. The Conference is organized by LabGov – LABoratory for the GOVernance of Commons, a partnership between the Urban Law Center of Fordham University and the International Center on Democracy and Democratization (ICEDD) of the LUISS University of Rome ( It will take place in Bologna on  November 6-7, 2015. One of the track of the Conference concerns the Democratic Innovation and how governance of the urban commons could influence it. This is why we decided to interview one of the most prominent international scholars on democratic theory, Professor Nadia Urbinati.

On July the 5th, the Greek citizens went to the polls for the referendum announced by their Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras. Greek people were asked to reply to a hard question, which then raised countless debates and opinions starting from the decision whether accept, or not, the austerity policies and economic measures proposed by the European Union and international creditors, to solve the issues about the Greek debt.

Many scholars, professors, writers and academics put the stress on the important fact that Greece is the cradle of democracy, the country where were born the most important historical thinkers of democracy.

Nadia Urbinati is one of those we are referring to. She is “Kyriakos Tsakopoulos Professor of Political Theory and Hellenic Studies” at the Department of Political Science of the Columbia University, she is also a political theorist who specializes in modern and contemporary political thought and the democratic and anti-democratic traditions. She co-chaired the Columbia University Faculty Seminar on Political and Social Thought and founded and chaired the Workshop on Politics, Religion and Human Rights.

The day before the Greek referendum, the Italian newspaper “La Repubblica” published an interesting article written by professor Urbinati. The title of the article is Greece and the European democracy myth which briefly but effectively analyses the history of democracy and the development of the political thought around this myth.

Some LabGov editors seized the opportunity and had the chance to build up a dialogue with professor Nadia Urbinati, trying to investigate the intersections between LabGov projects and  the academic thought of professor Urbinati:

1) The twenty-first century seems to be identified as “urban century”. Can you create a model of urban democracy in Greece, in Italy, in Europe, or in the world? What features should you get?

Aristotle writes in the collection of the Greek constitutions that there are urban democracies and countryside democracies. However, a good democracy is mostly urban. Democracy, historically speaking, had its roots and developed in urban areas. Cooperation among people is essential to achieve it, regular exchanges are needed. These features are all better achieved in a urban environment. It is even possible to say, that democracy is the best form of an urban policy.
In ancient Greece or during the American or French revolution, participation was limited and fluctuant. Ephialte and Pericles created daily indemnities to allow people to participate. Today the situation is completely different, and there is the co-existence of two apparently opposite trends: on the one hand, physicality is no longer necessary in order to share in power, (the social media allow us to participate without “being there”); but on the other hand, politics lost credibility and attraction at least at the national level. Yet we witness the rise to a re-discover of “locality” and as we know democracy lives in small spaces better than in large ones, closer to us better than far from us.

2) The twenty-first century seems to have also another feature, a prefix. The one of the Latin “cum” or the Anglo-Saxon “CO-“. There are many debate on co-operation, co-working, co-design of the commons (i.e. “beni comuni”), the regained centrality of the community, the importance of communication, the knowledge economy, etc. In Bologna, Mantua, Battipaglia, Palermo, Rome – as well as in other Italian and foreign cities – are emerging examples underlining the need for the community to get involved in public life through public actions and in daily collaboration of citizens. For example, in Battipaglia there is a process of collaborative planning, which puts around the same table to co-design services: citizens, institutions, businesses, civil society organizations, schools and universities. The main goal is to propose a new approach to the city’s development through a fostered channel of both citizens and institutions. In Bologna, we recently celebrated the first year of the Regulation on the collaboration between citizens and Public Administration for the care and regeneration of urban commons (i.e.Regolamento sulla collaborazione per la cura e rigenerazione dei beni comuni urbani“). In Mantua, it has been built a platform of collaborative governance for a development centered on local culture and knowledge. What kind of role can these experiments have in the broader process of rethinking the local democracy? Could – a model of this kind – be the right approach to give Mediterranean countries back the role of “cradle of democracy”?

The founding fathers had this intuition. Altiero Spinelli thought of the unification starting from the local not only the national. Subsidiarity tells us that what can be solved at the local level, should not be solved at the national level. Take the issue of immigration, which is wrongly always thought as a national problem. However, it is in each municipality that lies the seeds of a possible solution: we should involve marginalized people; there are many things they can do, and many sector in which they can play a big role as participant. But in order to do so, a strong local community is needed.

3) Greece, and even more its citizens need to work in order to reactivate their economy: how can an investment in democratic innovations turn into a positive economic investment for the welfare of the local community?
Let’s think of the referendum recently held in Greece; it did not turn out to be what many believed it ought to, but at least it was a strong statement by the Greek people. Most of us had no idea of ​​the meaning of public debt (who owns what to whom?). We need a stronger Europe, with less bias by Norther States against Mediterranean States. And above all we would need bright leaders and with strong European belief. In the US, when the State of California when bankrupt, Washington took the lead of a process of economic regeneration — we have to do the same in Europe too. Innovations, even democratic ones, may have a positive impact on our life; and so we would need to invest in our community, and unleash all their potentiality. Cooperation is the only way forward.


4) According to Professor François Garçon, author of Knowing Switzerland, the debt crisis reflected the indifference of the sovereign people. Greece, which has already taken a first step through a referendum, towards a model of direct democracy on economic and financial choices, could now explore new ways to regain possession of their relays and by doing so revive the economy itself, starting from small urban and regional economies. What is your opinion on that?

On an European dimension: we can and we must criticize the actual governance in Europe. The member states have no equal power and have no equivalence among them. There is not a European demos capable of expressing beyond the states. Treaties are no longer enough, especially in a time of economic crisis. The whole European construction was allowed by very lucky circumstances, like economic growth and reconstruction after WW2. Unfortunately, today’s circumstances are dramatically different. We must return to strengthen the local even more than the national if we want to have a political EU. The state should be an enabler of this change, and lately a partner.

5) How would it be possible, for local community inspired by the Rules of Bologna to interact with each other, and so give their contribution in the creation of democratic and horizontal network of local communities? Can they really change democratic and economic premises

It is a matter of education. Legality begins in interpersonal relationships, and cooperation is already a sign of education. American pragmatist thinkers had understood that for the management of a public good coordination was necessary to make everyone fell responsible. We often use the wrong words. For example the word “owner” is improper. We use the word for understanding reasons, but we rarely “own” something; we rather “borrow” or “share”. The key to success is to set good rules so as to make all the people who are involved in some communal enterprise feel they are partners on a equal foot.

The Italian collaborative cities at the European Parliament for the event “Radical Democracy – a Media Showcase”

The Italian collaborative cities at the European Parliament for the event “Radical Democracy – a Media Showcase”

eurcultfoundIf it is true that a revolutionary co-cities’ movement is growing up day by day in Italy, it is even more than true that at European level the discussion is going ahead at the same serious level. And, who is familiar with the EU institution’s offices, is admiring to and staring at what is happening in the first Italian collaborative city, that is Bologna, followed by other beautiful local examples such as Mantova, Battipaglia and Palermo.

Why I am sure about this?

Because professor Iaione, who coordinates LabGov, will travel another time around Europe (two months ago he took part in another ECF’s event, in the Netherlands) to discuss with European activists, policy makers, researchers and scholars about Urban Commons, a theme theorized in 2011 by professor Sheila Foster who will coordinate 2015/2016 LabGov’s edition with professor Iaione.

Actually, during the past months they have constantly shared their ideas, compared their projects and finally they wrote a four handed paper entitled “The city as a Commons”.

In particular, professor Iaione will be part of the panel of experts during the event “Radical Democracy – a Media Showcase”, co-hosted by Julie Ward (S&D Member of the European Parliament) and the European Parliament Intergroup on Public Services and Common Goods, in cooperation with the Doc Next Network and the European Cultural Foundation.

Sophie Bloemen (Commons Network) and Carlos Delclòs will enrich the event, together with professor Iaione and Julie Ward, which will take place in the room “Altiero Spinelli” A3H-1 at the European Parliament, in Brussels. The event will be moderated by Peter Matjasic (OSIFE).

It will be also an innovative event during which, after an introduction, some videos about Commons in European cities will be shown, followed by brief reactions from the discussants and a debate.

Why it is worthy to organize such events?And how this was possible?

Because, as the European Cultural Foundation states, on the occasion of the European elections in May 2014, the Radical Democracy project invited media makers, social activists and critical thinkers to submit audiovisual media works about the Europe they would like to live in. The 250 videos submitted expressed a profound, widespread desire to remake democracy from the bottom up by claiming public spaces, occupying buildings, renovating neglected parks and reshaping them all with a radical democratic spirit and principles.

With this showcase and debate, we aim to contribute to the dialogue between Members of the European Parliament, media makers, campaigners, activists and citizens, for improving our democracy through enfranchising citizens to reclaim and improve the urban commons”.




Se è vero che in Italia è nata e si stasviluppando una rete delle città fondate sulla collaborazione, è altrettanto vero che in Europa la discussione procede a vele spiegate, con la recente formazione di un intergruppo Europarlamentare sui Commons che inevitabilmente guarda all’Italia come un esempio da seguire.

Se ne parlerà oggi, 16 giugno, a Bruxelles, nell’aula A3H-1 del Parlamento Europeo, durante l’evento “Radical Democracy – a Media Showcase”, cui partecipaerà il professor Christian Iaione, coordinatore di Labgov, assieme a Julie Ward, Sophie Bloemen, Carlos Delclòs e Peter Matjasic.

Be ready for the first civic Collaboration Fest in Bologna!

Be ready for the first civic Collaboration Fest in Bologna!

collaboIt is more than a year since the municipality of Bologna adopted the Regulation for the care and regeneration of Urban Commons, that was also translated into English few months later (you can read it here).

Since that moment, the idea behind the project itself has rapidly spread not only in Italy, where tens of municipalities decided to adopt the Regulation, but also all over the world.
Indeed, this regulation, that is part of a greater project based on the idea of the
“City as a Commons”, has been appreciated by international commons activists such as David Bollier and Michel Bauwens, here and here.

So, after a year, Virginio Merola, Bologna’s mayor, has established the Civic Collaboration Fest, a whole day dedicated to celebrating the spirit of the city of Bologna, which is already called by many “civic collaboration”, with the aim to mobilize Bologna’s citizens who get to work every day in order to make the city more liveable and beautiful.

Virginio Merola’s words are emblematic: “I would like to see Bologna full of enthusiasm every second Saturday of May, every year, with all the people realizing what could be our potentials. For this reason, the Civic Collaboration Day is dedicated especially to our indisputable right to look for happiness, fighting every day against our biggest enemy, that is the resignation. We all know that collaborating together for the common good is what has made of Bologna a special and different city. We face every problem in this way, working together in every field and facing every prospective obstacle. And it is in this context that the first Italian Social streets and the Iperbole Civic Network were born”.

So far, thanks to the regulation adopted, more than 100 collaboration pacts have been signed between the Administration and the citizens. Doubtless, these pacts have triggered a new civic sense.

That is why next month, on the 16th of May, Santa Viola neighbourhood is waiting for more than twenty-thousand people for the first Civic Collaboration Fest, occasion in which the visitors will enjoy the many events thanks to the efforts of more than three hundred volunteers.

As regards the programme, the Fest will start at 10 a.m. at the MAST, with the “Cities as Commons” international conference with the mayor Virginio Merola, professor Sheila Foster – Vice Dean and Albert A. Walsh Professor of Real Estate, Land use and Property law at Fordham University School of Law – the international commons activists David Bollier and Neal Gorenflo, and professor Christian Iaione – LabGov’s coordinator.

In the afternoon, at the Pontelungo sport complex, it will be time for the “Bologna Collabora” co-design session for the collaborative governance of Bologna. The session will follow the three aspects that public policies must consider, that is to say living together (collaborative services), growing together (co-ventures) and making together (co-production), which are the three axis through which Co-Mantova too was designed.

Finally, from 7 p.m. on, in via Emilia Ponente, the “Purple Night” street fest will take place.

To join all the activities, please fill in the following form! And, to take a look to the full programme and to obtain any further information, please follow this link.

Save the date, see you in Bologna! 



A distanza di poco più di un anno dall’adozione da parte del Comune di Bologna del regolamento sulla cura e la rigenerazione dei beni comuni urbani, il prossimo 16 maggio si terrà a Bologna la prima festa della collaborazione civica.

L’evento è stato fortemente voluto dal Comune poiché, citando le parole del sindaco Virginio Merola: “la Festa della Collaborazione civica è dedicata soprattutto al nostro sacrosanto diritto di ricercare la felicità, combattendo ogni giorno il nostro nemico più grande che è la rassegnazione. La Collaborazione per il bene comune, lo sappiamo, è ciò che ha sempre reso speciale e diversa Bologna. In ogni campo e di fronte ad ogni ostacolo, noi i problemi li affrontiamo così, collaborando insieme”.

La giornata inizierà con una conferenza internazionale al MAST alle ore 10, la quale vedrà come relatori il sindaco Virginio Merola, la professoressa Sheila Foster, il professor Christian Iaione e due dei più importanti attivisti dei Commons a livello internazionale, David Bollier e Neal Gorenflo.

Nel pomeriggio, presso il centro sportivo Pontelungo, i cittadini avranno l’opportunità di partecipare ad un workshop per promuovere la partecipazione e la co-progettazione di pratiche e politiche pubbliche collaborative tra la città e il Comune.

La giornata si chiuderà con la Festa di strada in collaborazione con il Comitato Santa Viola con giochi, musica e fuochi artificiali in via Emilia Ponente, per l’occasione chiusa al traffico, a partire dalle ore 19.

A new pact for Europe: public debate in Leeuwarden about the future of citizens in Europe, towards a European “Mienskip”

A new pact for Europe: public debate in Leeuwarden about the future of citizens in Europe, towards a European “Mienskip”

New+Pact_23+AprilThe European Cultural Foundation has organised a very important event.

It is the public debate about the future of citizens in Europe, towards a European “Mienskip”, that means “Community” in the Frisian language.

Actually the event will take place in the Netherlands, to be more precise it will be hosted at the Blokhuispoort of the city of Leeuwarden – that will be European capital of culture in 2018 – from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., on April the 23rd.

Among the scheduled speakers there will be LabGov’s coordinator, professor Christian Iaione, who will be interviewed with Matthew Fox from Engage LiverpoolCarmen Lozano Bright from the spanish Peer to Peer Movement and Wim Hiemstra from the local Kening fan de Greide. The four will share local examples, their methodology and actions on how to connect citizens and local governments.

That is basically what LabGov has done in the last years in some Italian municipalities.

With no doubts, professor Iaione will illustrate to the audience two projects that have already reached an international echo and have been appreciated by international Commons activists such as Michel Bauwens and David Bollier, here and here.

I am talking about the work that has been conducted in Bologna, on the Bologna’s regulation for the care and regeneration of Urban Commons, that has been also translated into english.

Secondly, the audience and the other speakers will have the opportunity to better understand what has been made in Mantova, where the local administration, together with the local Chamber of Commerce, decided to make the city a prototype for the network of the co-cities. Co-Mantova was born last year and hopefully other Italian cities will follow its example.

These two main ideas were born from the greater project on the City as a commons”, whose paper was presented in 2012 during the second thematic conference of the IASC, entitled Design and Dynamics of Institutions for Collective Action: A Tribute to Prof. Elinor Ostrom” and downloadable here.

To put into contact different personalities from all over the European Union that are studying and working on the commons and who believe that traditional power structures are changing, it is an incredible, huge and unique opportunity to build a “New Pact for Europe”, that is also the name of the project launched by a transnational consortium of foundations, including the ECF, and in partnership with the European Policy Centre.

Coming back to the Leeuwarden’s debate, besides the interview, the programme is composed of a welcome and opening remarks by Katherine Watson, ECF director, and Ferd Crone, mayor of Leeuwarden, followed by an introduction of the evening by Lennart Booji who will moderate and conclude the debate.

Silke Helfrich will be the keynote speaker, who will talk about societal an political challenges in Europe regarding regional development, culture and economy, considering where and how communities are taking matters into their own hands. She will also talk about a needed and real cultural paradigm shift in order to make the 21st century as the co-century of the commons.

After the time dedicated to the interviews to professor Iaione, Matthew Fox, Carmen Lozano Bright and Wim Hiemstra, it will be time for a reflection by Teun van de Keuken, journalist, columnist and producer.

In conclusion, Agnes Jongerius, European MP, Pascal Gielen, Professor of Sociology in Art and Cultural Politic at the Rijksuniversiteit of Groningen and Bouwe de Boer, Policy-maker energy in Leeuwarden will debate about connections between citizens and politicians at European level.

According to the information materials provided by the organisers, the goals of the debate are:

  • Raise civic and political awareness of shifting roles, responsibilities, and opportunities for involving citizens in the exercise of democracy from the local to the European level.
  • Share inspiring examples from across sectors (economic, social, ecological and cultural) that put collective imagination into political practice.
  • Work towards concrete recommendations of citizen and social cooperation in Europe.

Furthermore, the following questions will be discussed during the debate:

  • What are the concerns or challenges in society on local level in Europe, where communities are taking matters into their own hands – regarding ecology, culture public spaces, management of cities, energy and economy?
  •  What are new collaborative initiatives – methods, models or tools – of participation in governance and economy to tackle these concerns? And how to apply them in a region as Leeuwarden?
  • What can the EU do regarding these social challenges and shifting responsibilities: how to involve citizens in different ways in policymaking? How to re-balance responsibilities between government, market and citizens? What are necessary steps/recommendations from both citizens and government to realise more participation regarding regional development, culture and economy?
New strategies for legal order: is collaborative governance the way to go?

New strategies for legal order: is collaborative governance the way to go?

LOCANDINA 17 marzo - A4  (11)On March 17th, 2015, LabGov will host the Conference Land and new forms of legal order at LUISS University of Rome. The Conference – that will start at 4:30 PM in Aula Nocco, Via Parenzo 11, LUISS School of Law – will address the issue of collaborative governance for the commons as a tool to fight corruption and organized crime, safeguard the territory and promote legal economic growth and social progress.

Following the experiences developed in Mantova with the CO-Mantova, a collaborative governance territorial pact, and in Bologna with the Regulation on public collaboration, participants will focus on new forms of collaboration between public institutions, social innovators, businesses, civil society organizations and knowledge institutions.

The conference is part of the LabGov workshops series that this academic year has been focused on Land as a commons: environment, agriculture and food.

Giovanni Lo Storto, LUISS General Director, and Roberto Pessi, professor of Labor Law and LUISS Vice Provost for education, will open the Conference. Main session will see the keynote addresses of Paola Severino, professor of criminal law and LUISS Executive Vice Provost, and Giancarlo Caselli, president of the “Osservatorio Agromafie” scientific committee. Antonella Manzione, Head of the Council of Ministries Presidency Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Department, will act as discussant. Second session will be a roundtable with LUISS professors Melina Decaro (professor of public comparative law), Gian Candido De Martin (professor of public law), Antonio La Spina (professor of public policies) and Bruno Frattasi (Head of the Interior Ministry Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Department).

Raffaele Bifulco, professor of constitutional law at LUISS, will chair the two sessions of the conference. The conference will end with the closing remarks of Claudio Rossano, professor of public law.

Full program of the conference is available at the following link:

Territorio e nuove forme di legalità – programma


Territorio e nuove forme di legalità: la governance collaborativa è la strada?

Il prossimo 17 marzo 2015 LabGov – LABoratorio per la GOVernance dei beni comuni organizza la conferenza “Territorio e nuove forme di legalità” presso la LUISS Guido Carli. L’incontro, che avrà luogo nell’Aula Nocco della Facoltà di Giurisprudenza, Via Parenzo, 11, Roma, indagherà il rapporto fra legalità e salvaguardia del territorio attraverso forme di sperimentazione ispirate alla governance collaborativa, come il Regolamento sulla collaborazione per la cura e rigenerazione dei beni comuni urbani di Bologna e CO-Mantova, il patto di collaborazione territoriale per uno sviluppo economico locale orientato ai beni comuni.

I lavori saranno aperti dai saluti istituzionali del dott. Giovanni Lo Storto, direttore generale della LUISS Guido Carli, e del Prof. Roberto Pessi, Prorettore LUISS per la didattica. Le relazioni principali sono affidate alla Prof.ssa Paola Severino, ordinario di Diritto Penale e Pro-Rettore Vicario LUISS, e al dott. Gian Carlo Caselli, Presidente del Comitato scientifico dell’Osservatorio Agromafie. La dott.ssa Antonella Manzione, Capo Dipartimento per gli affari giuridici e legislativi della Presidenza del Consiglio dei Ministri, agirà in veste di discussant. Seguirà una tavola rotonda con la Prof.ssa Melina Decaro, il Prof. Gian Candido De Martin, il Prof. Antonio La Spina e il prefetto Bruno Frattasi. ll Prof. Claudio Rossano concluderà i lavori della giornata.

Il Prof. Raffaele Bifulco coordinerà i lavori dell’incontro.

Per consultare il programma della giornata:

Territorio e nuove forme di legalità – programma