Climate Change and Environmental Risk in the City

Climate Change and Environmental Risk in the City

Environmental issues are becoming more and more a key challenge for cities around the world. C40 shows that “70% of cities are already dealing with the effects of climate change”. Cities have played a significant role in accelerating risks because of the continuous and unlimited urban growth we have witnessed in the past years. They are becoming bigger and bigger, creating over 70% of global CO2 emissions, and consuming ⅔ of the world’s energy. A striking C40 data warns us of the catastrophic effects that climate change can have on urban societies in the future: “Over 90% of all urban areas are coastal, putting most cities on Earth at risk of flooding from rising sea levels and powerful storms”.

What are the consequences of these environmental risks for the future of our cities? How to manage it? What solutions can we find?

In order to avoid any simplistic explanation on a topic of such importance and complexity, we ought to make clarity on the real terms of the discussion. What is risk and how do we define it?

Ulrich Beck sees a different and more obscure dimension to development; a “risk society” based on an acute awareness of risks and loss of faith in progress.
Even more interesting, is how this reflexive modernity embodies the exegesis of the progressive disillusion with institutional and traditional politics. According to Beck this detachment from traditional rhetorics produces a “sub-politics”, concerned with issues such as consumption and lifestyle.
Following this post-modern flavor, Beck concentrated initially on environmental issues such as the problematization of energy. Unlike goods, these “bads” could not be subject to a politics of distribution. The smog produced by domestic coal-burning, affected everyone. Because of this “egalitarian” redistributive effect, environmental hazards constitute an undiscriminated threat for everyone.

Natural hazards and disaster produce increasing catastrophes in cities (just see what has blown up Italy in the last few days!). That does not mean that other kinds of hazards are incapable of producing urban catastrophes. The answer is that natural hazards are joint products of nature and society. Unlike the other threats just mentioned, they are only partly created by humans; thus their unpredictable nature contributes to an incremental and general insecurity.

Since the industrial revolution cities are risk-producers and risk-bearers, both victims and executioners. Economic activity, sprawl and proximity have caused cities to become less and less sustainable; in particular we can infer a negative correlation between economic productivity and sustainability. Take a city-state as Singapore for example; in 1965 it was a polluter’s paradise: mucky rivers, polluted canals and raw sewage running rampant. A modern “Coke Town”. Per contra, things are changing because of the efforts of enlightened personalities. The city’s pioneer generation understood that if you make a city “a nice place to live, then people will come and invest.” Lee Kuan Yew became often called ‘Chief Gardener’ for his belief in the power of plants and biodiversity to transform people’s overall mental well-being, as well as physical spaces. Huge plants crawling up skyscrapers, natural parks and water sanitation measures (just to clean-up Singapore’s river took around 10 years!) represent a significant step towards global future objectives.

The renowned 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development addresses global challenges such as poverty, inequality but also climate and environmental degradation Nevertheless, 12 years seem to be not enough to face multifarious issues. Concerns have been raised too by the ASviS (Alleanza Italiana per lo Sviluppo Sostenibile). In the recently issued report, the association expressed its concern with respect to the “too slow” progress towards the SDGs, both for Italy and the European Union, which should present a framework of policies by the end of the year.

The 7th Environment Action Program (EAP) constitutes for the moment, the legislative and guiding framework to work on, identifying key objectives such as the protection of natural capital; the transformation towards a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy; and to safeguard Union’s citizens fro environment-related pressures.



Therefore, we should prepare our institutions and environmental management strategies for the twenty-first century, especially in the mega-cities that will likely become the pivots of global society. Worth mentioning is what 100 Resilient Cities does and aims to; pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, their ultimate objective is to help cities to become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges – earthquakes, floods, sprawl, etc. – of the XXI century. Their philosophy is that, addressing both the shocks and the stresses, a city becomes more able to respond to adverse events, and is overall better able to deliver basic functions in both good times and bad, to all populations.

Thus, can we meet the basic needs—food, water, and energy—of a growing population and a growing economy and do better for biodiversity by 2030? If each country shows an increasing commitment towards environmental risk management, the answer will be probably an affirmative one. As James Mitchell has observed, failure to recognize natural hazards as a worsening urban problem suggests a myopic view of urban management and signals flaws in the conceptualization of sustainable development as a principle of urban management. It is to be hoped that efforts will be canalized into correcting the structural deficiencies peculiar of our risk society.

Addressing bottom-linked governance and citizenship through Living Street in the City of Ghent

Addressing bottom-linked governance and citizenship through Living Street in the City of Ghent

In 2010 the City of Ghent, together with other four cities – Aberdeen, Rotterdam, Montreuil, Ludwigsburg – engaged in the European project Music, aimed at catalyzing and mainstreaming carbon and energy reduction in urban policies, activities and the build environment. The project represented an opportunity for decisive local actions to address sustainability challenges. In particular, the City of Ghent pointed at becoming a climate-neutral city. To implement the project, the City gathered around twenty people of Ghent society, who were involved or interested in topics such as pollution, sustainability, urban livability, though in different ways and with different roles. After the first meeting the civil servants in charge of conducting the brainstorming within the group realized that the topics mentioned above were not cause of concerns, while mobility and the way through which urban streets get used by their inhabitants were fundamental in the conception of a livable city. Addressing these topics, indeed, the group found the inspiration to think about different possibilities to approach urban space, reducing parking slots and car access to streets, implementing socialization spaces and outdoor activities. Therefore, new ideas and proposals were presented at the final event of Music, with the hope to see them realized, but the reaction of the City and its representatives was cold and doubtful for a lack of resources and for the proximity to municipal elections.

Therefore, the group of frontrunners decided to set up the organization Lab Van Troje, in order to try out one of their proposals using their own resources and their own energies. The chosen idea was Living Street – Leefstraat in Dutch – with the aim to turn Ghent into a sustainable, liveable and climate-neutral region. Concretely this was translated into planning a different way to live the street of residence for few months: the street was closed, usually during the summer months, reducing the area dedicated to the traffic and the parking but increasing the green areas and creating spaces for socialization activities.

Living Street in Maurice Verdoncklaan, Ghent. Source: interviewed resident.

One of the fundamental aspects of Living Street is the voluntary engagement in the project. The first group of frontrunners gathered by the City accepted to meet and to spend time on the issue for free; as well the citizens were involved only if they were interested in the experiment. Lab Van Troje, indeed, never opens applications or contacts anyone, it just receives the request of citizens. The latter, after a first informative meeting, are asked to ring the bell of all their neighbours collecting dreams and fears related to the street, on basis of which a plan is projected and then proposed again to every resident. If everyone agrees, hence, it is possible to organize the activities to create the Living Street. As the website reports, Living Street functions as a common project and a learning-by-doing process. Citizens, indeed, have to communicate, collaborate and interact with many different actors living and experiencing urban spaces daily. Both the implementation of the idea and the concrete realization of the Living Street become processes of commoning[1], as the practice of the creation, preservation, and use of commons is called.

Citizens working for the realization of structures to install in Kozijntjesstraat, Ghent. Source: interviewed resident.

The activity duration of Lab Van Troje has been settled for five years until 2017, hoping in the meantime to spread its insights into Living Street to the current system of residential street design. In total 50 Living Streets have been experimented from 2012 to 2016, with an increasing involvement of the City of Ghent, that acted more as a spectator in the beginning, while it took part into the project as an active partner in the last few editions. Considering the imminent end of Lab Van Troje, in 2017 the latter and the City of Ghent collaborate for the transition of Living Street under the guide of the City. The Meeting and Engaging Department has been appointed to continue building on the experiment by creating a new Living Street 2.0 project. The intention is to try out the experience implemented by Living Street in different environments or situations, by involving partners with diverse roles and functions and focusing also on the social aspects of urban life. One of Lab Van Troje’s volunteers has been hired by the Department, together with another dedicated civil servant, in order to give continuity to the project. Moreover, citizens who already implemented Living Street in their streets are involved in the transition from Lab Van Troje to the City, during a completely accountable process used to explaining them the reasons of the change and to collect by them past experiences of the experiment, suggestions and ideas for the future, and expectations towards the City.

Taking a look at the type of actors involved from the beginning – UE, City of Ghent, Lab Van Troje, research institutes, private companies, citizens – it is notable that the project crossed many different levels, depicting the concept of multi-level governance. In this particular case, I believe it is possible to use the notion of bottom-linked governance, achieved when bottom-up initiatives combine with top-down policies, including alternative mechanisms of negotiation between various groups and networks, potentially empowering local government and embracing alternative creative strategies[2]. I add, though, that the subdivision of society in top-down and bottom-up actors is not sufficient anymore to explain the current complexity and therefore it needs to be substituted by another representation. A complementary and parallel process can be identified in the conception of citizenship: in the last twenty years, debates about the re-scaling of individual rights and duties at transnational[3] or local levels[4] different from the nation-state level, have increasingly arisen; connected with the movement of the right to the city[5], also the vision of citizens claiming actively rights and responsibilities is more acknowledged. However, I argue that neither an idea of citizenship received as a “package” from the State or an idea of citizenship achieved by citizens as consequence of their activation in the making of the city[6] are fully satisfactory. Citizenship is, nowadays, a set of rights/duties co-shaped by different actors, tracing various dynamics at multiple scales to obtain or to concede benefits and responsibilities in the public arena. Thus, it is necessary to find a model that, always maintaining the idea of peer actors, interacting on horizontal basis, with principles of subsidiarity and accountability, in a reflexive and dynamic process, can better help in representing both this type of governance and this perception of citizenship.



L’articolo riflette su processi di governance urbana e sulle trasformazioni riguardanti il concetto di cittadinanza attraverso il progetto Living Street, implementato dal 2010 ad oggi nella città di Ghent, Belgio. Principale scopo del progetto è trovare soluzioni innovative al fine di rendere la città maggiormente vivibile da un punto di vista socio-ecologico. Dopo aver descritto lo sviluppo del progetto come pratica di commoning, viene sottolineata la necessità di andare oltre sia la ripartizione, ormai inadeguata, tra attori bottom-up e top-down sia l’idea di cittadinanza concessa dallo Stato o ottenuta attivamente dai cittadini. È indispensabile, infatti, trovare un nuovo modello che descriva la complessità attuale delle dinamiche sociali e la diversità degli attori che ne prendono parte.



[1] Linebaugh P. 2008, The Magna Carta Manifesto. Liberties and Commons for all, London: University of California Press.

[2] Eizaguirre S, Pradel M., Terrones A., Matinez-Celorrio X., Garcìa M., 2012, Multilevel Governance and Social Cohesion: Bringing Back Conflict in Citizenship Practice, Urban Studies, 49(9), 1999-2016.

[3] Isin, E., 1997, Who is the new citizen? Toward a genealogy, Citizenship Studies, 1, 115–132; Sassen S., 2000, The global city: strategic site/new frontier, in: E. Isin, Ed. Democracy, Citizenship and the Global City, New York: Routledge;

[4] Baubock R., 2003, Reinventing urban citizenship, Citizenship Studies, 7, 139–160; Smith M. P., McQuarrie M. Eds. 2012, Remaking Urban Citizenship. Organizations, Institutions and the Right to the City, London: Transaction Publisher.

[5] Lefebvre H., 1996, Writing on Cities, Cambridge (MA): Blackwell; Harvey D., 2003, The Right to the City, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 27(4), 939-941; Purcell M., 2003, Citizenship and the Right to the Global City: Reimagining the Capitalist World Order, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 27(3), 564-590.

[6] Dahlgren P., 2006, Doing Citizenship. The Cultural Origin of Civic Agency in the Public Sphere. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 9(3), 267-286.

The potential of collective drones’ monitoring for Indigenous communities at risk

The potential of collective drones’ monitoring for Indigenous communities at risk

Nowadays, we are experiencing a sharp and progressive decrease of oil and gas prices.[i] Nevertheless, irresponsible and only profit-driven extractive activities continue to expand and to impose their toxic footprint on the environment and the society. The extent to which these practices conflict with the sustainability goals stated at the international level is significant. Furthermore, initiatives from state authorities and international organizations often disregard local impacts on marginalized communities, which are frequently the most exposed to extractive exploitation. From the imperative of involving communities in making companies accountable for their bad practices, arose the idea of applying advanced technologies for enabling communities to detect environmental hazards, and safely spread alerts. [ii]

When discussing bottom-up monitoring, the case of Indigenous communities living in rural and remote areas must be made. These communities indeed are particularly threatened[iii] by expanding hydrocarbon and mining industries. In this context, environmental liabilities generated by extraction practices continue to create adverse environmental and public health impacts. As a response to this challenge, a series of ongoing initiatives have been launched by Digital Democracy, an US-based organization working at the intersection of human rights and technology with marginalized communities around the world.

It seems particularly worth of attention the approach that the organization adopted, as based on three steps. First, in the ‘Direct Implementation’ stage, the community training aimed at capacity building is carried out. Subsequently, the ‘Tool Building’ stage intervenes with the aim of co-creating technological solutions in response to community’s needs. All the tools created are made available under open-source format, and are suitable for use by other interested communities. Finally, in the ‘Local-to-Global Engagement’ the local initiative is scaled up by its presentation to the broader world community, through e.g. events, workshops, and tool-kits.

Particularly timely to exemplify community-driven solutions using technology[iv] is one of the Digital Democracy’s project implemented in the Ecuadorean Amazon Rainforest. The project analysed was aimed at combining drones’ monitoring of oil spills with a mobile reporting platform to allow Indigenous communities to safely report oil contamination alerts. Sparks for further research include the need to explore the level of people’s engagement, their acceptance and trust in the process, and the goals fulfilled by the people engaged in the intiative. In addition, the legal risks and criticisms hidden in the monitoring system should be evaluated, and possible ways   to neutralize them inspected.

An analysis of this case suggests that community-based early-warning systems aimed at monitoring environmental liabilities could encourage the state and corporate actors to intervene more promptly and effectively to mitigate socio-environmental impacts of environmental hazards. Pushing this analysis further, one can affirm that technology brings the potential of achieving a transformative change by giving voice to those communities who are often silent victims. As Digital Democracy uses to proclaim, “empowerment from within, rather than involvement from outside actors” is the key. Ultimately, it seems worth to reflect on the potential that such projects have in creating bridges between remote communities and the outside world, enabling them to spread denounces and awareness on environmental liabilities. Yet it must be stressed that change does not come from the technology per se, but from how people use it. Therefore, a human-centred and ethical approach result in being crucial for making such monitoring technologies in the hands of Indigenous communities a positive, responsible and sustainable innovation.

Community Monitoring, from Digital Democracy

Il presente articolo discute una serie di iniziative vertenti intorno all’uso da parte di comunità indigene di strumenti di monitoraggio remoto, al fine di tracciare rischi derivanti da attività estrattive. L’attenzione si focalizza sulle comunità abitanti zone remote, spesso lontane dagli occhi dell’opinione pubblica. Tali popolazioni sono spesso le più esposte al rischio di abusi corporativi. In riposta all’esigenza di fronteggiare tali pericoli, un’organizzazione statunitense, Digital Democracy, ha deciso di affidare droni in mano a comunità interessate al fine di tracciare in maniera sicura cattive pratiche legate all’estrazione di idrocarburi. Un’iniziativa in particolare, realizzata nell’Amazzonia Ecuadoriana, viene discussa nell’articolo. In conclusione, si sviluppa una riflessione sul potenziale, ma anche le sfide, di simili iniziative volte alla co-creazione di soluzioni tecnologiche in risposta a rischi socio-ambientali.

[i] H. Halland et al., “The Extractive Industries Sector”, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, The World Bank, 2015 (ISBN 978-1-4648-0492-2).

[ii] F. Danielsen et al., “Environmental monitoring: the scale and speed of implementation varies according to the degree of peoples involvement”, Journal of Applied Ecology, 2010.

[iii] E. Skinnider, “Effect, Issues and Challenges for Victims of Crimes that have a Significant Impact on the Environment”, International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Police, Vancouver, March 2013.

[iv] A. Kumar Pratihast et al., “Application of mobile devices for community based forest monitoring”, Sensing a Changing World, 2012.


Gaming the future and the futures of gaming: on pathways and possibilities of anticipatory commons

Gaming the future and the futures of gaming: on pathways and possibilities of anticipatory commons

World Game Seminar at New York Studio School (1969, New York). Courtesy of Stanford University Libraries Special Collections

»Make the world work, for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone« Buckminster Fuller[1]

»Imagine a future where cities are modeled, tested, designed, and reshaped through interactive, collaborative games« – Ekim Tan[2]

In recent years there has been a major upsurge in theories around and prefigurative experimentation with various alternative institutional models (e.g. commons-based urban co-governance, platform cooperativism, alternative currencies,[3] universal basic assets,[4] circular economy) that challenge the unquestionability of the neoliberal narrative[5] and reflect and integrate to various degrees new and old ideas about possible alternative forms of societal and political economic organization. The many (political) challenges associated with the uptake, experimentation with and scaling of such path-deviant models have prompted parallell developments of more nuanced theories around innovation and institutional change,[6] as well as the articulation and development of novel techniques, tools and platforms that may help incite and facilitate transformations towards sustainability.

With regard to the latter, sustainability foresight is increasingly recognized as a key component. Foresight in short entails various typically participatory and transdisciplinary engagements – e.g. in the form of creating visions, scenarios, backcasts and transition pathways – that help actors better understand and account for possible futures and the processes of change, so that wiser preferred futures and pathways can be created.[7] Additionally, developments in experiential futures and speculative design,[8] generative city gaming[9] and internet and communications technologies (ICTs) enabled network foresight[10] have begun to outline exciting new possibilities of more engaging, strategic, cross-scale, multi-actor, collaborative and anticipatory (i.e. futures oriented) forms of deliberation, cosmopolitan city-making and governance.

Two concepts crucial to zoom in here are anticipatory governance and global foresight commoning. Anticipatory governance may denote practices that involve tools, systems and open knowledge platforms that empower futures-inquiry and futures-making by enabling the smaller and larger scale pre-imagining and exploration of dynamics of change and near and distant future possibilities and in turn informing the development of strategies, pathways, policies, designs and experiments.[11] Global foresight commons has been taken up by some scholars as a concept denoting »a network of globally distributed and shared resources between people, institutions, businesses and other communities, which provides an increasing and useful pool of knowledge, ideas and capabilities that potentiate all of humanity’s capacity to think about shared futures in effective ways.«[12]

While as of yet largely speculative and/or experimental, in very recent years projects have emerged that may be considered as prefigurations or components of more integrated, cross-scale, polycentric and collaborative foresight, knowledge, design and governance supporting systems, i.e. systems that support »wiki-commoning«,[13] social innovation, policymaking, socio-technical-ecological transition design[14] and reflexive transition management.[15] Interesting existing examples of such projects include:

  • Seeds of Good Anthropocenes: a repository that maps more than a hundred initial case studies, and allows, by means of a questionnaire-type interface, for the crowdsourcing of ‘seeds’, i.e. initiatives, at least in prototype form, that represent diverse »social, technological, economic, or social–ecological ways of thinking or doing.«[16]
  • TRANSIT Critical Turning Points: a platform that contains a database and global map of social innovation initiative case studies, and an overview of ‘critical turning points’; i.e. the »breakthroughs, setbacks, and surprises« concerning their emergence and development.[17]
  • Open Futures Library: a »publically contributed, indexed, searchable collection of future scenarios and other images of the future.«[18]
  • Play the City: a transdisciplinary research organization and online platform that researches, develops with urban stakeholders, and offers a database of games around issues such as urban transformation, social change, smart cities, and sharing and circular economy.[19]
  • Foresight Engine: a »platform for engaging various publics in rapid conversation about pressing issues of the future, using basic game dynamics to make it fun and encourage participation.«[20]

The Co-Cities project’s ( platform may also be regarded as a possible prefigurative constitutent of such systems, which, much akin to Seeds of Good Anthropocenes, counts more than a hundred initial case studies and offers a global map and questionnaire-based crowdsourcing of new entries, albeit with an explicit focus on forms of collaborative city-making and participatory urban governance, and the teasing out, application and refining of institutional design principles for the urban commons.[21]

Numerous questions regarding such systems however remain, of which, to conclude, I outline some of the most pertinent:

(1) In what ways may such and other (digital and/or face-to-face) tools and platforms complement each other in creating more robust and comprehensive toolboxes, or pooling, co-creative and moderation systems; e.g. linking »seed« case studies, designs, design principles and repositories; existing scenarios and other tools for and ways of expressing, experiencing, exploring, playing and experimenting with possible, plausible, probable, desirable, utopian, dystopian, heterotopic and other alternative futures (e.g. films, games, theatrical performances, comics, interactive virtual reality experiences, and artefacts from the future); with ICT enabled network capabilities; new tool and content generation; transition pathway mapping; »citizen sensing«,[22] simulations of (gl-)urban socio-ecological metabolisms; and value and »strong sustainability«[23] based service and product design; in virtuous cycles of open sharing, co-production, experimentation and co-evolution?

(2) In what ways and by what means can lessons learned from such endeavors be transposed to the real world by trandisciplinary communities of practice?[24]

(3) How can such engagements commensurate different interests, worldviews and ways of knowing, and/or make any inherent tensions, discomforts and knowledge gaps productive?[25]

(4) Whose and what kinds of »transformative capacities«[26] are being and can be developed through the use of such approaches, and how do and can these contribute to smaller and wider transformative change?

(5) In what ways may these approaches represent new »emancipatory and egalitarian modalities of politics«[27] and cosmopolitan forms of city-making,[28] and how may these correspond to (i.e. be in conflict with, compliment, transform) existing institutional and actor constellations, norms, roles, responsibilities and power relations?

(6) What are the useful and appropriate forms of analysis, moderation, transposition, codification and meta-data enrichment of small and larger scale workshop, interview, questionnaire, deliberative poll, scenario, game-play, etc., results, for various applications in open knowledge pooling and (co-)creation?

(7) How can »seeds«, theories of change, design tools, etc., be integrated in the form of engaging game based, network enabled, and other (hybrid?) practices of foresight? How can and/or should the mechanics, design and set-up of these today account for and/or incorporate the politics of transformations towards sustainability?[29]

(8) What kinds of tools can enable the evaluation and (re-)combination (through »bricolage«) and multi-tier scaling (i.e. scaling up, out and deep)[30] of »seeds« or social innovations to foster more future-fit, multi-dimensional and complex socio-ecological systems oriented experiments, transition pathways and institutional alternatives?

(9) Assuming that today radical transformations are necessary to stay within surmisable planetary boundaries,[31] how can the design and set-up of such tools, systems and platforms ensure that co-creation involving different stakeholders is deliberatively yet normatively geared towards path-deviant and more radical innovation, rather than path-dependency and the status quo?

(10) Can immersive and confrontational experiential futures (e.g. confronting actors with ‘voices of future generations’,[32] or undesirable socio-ecological futures extrapolated from scenarios and simulations of continued status quo) accelerate (social, political, economic, etc.) paradigm shifts, and what may be the ramifications of such tactics and strategies?


[1] Fuller, B. (1971). The World Game: Integrative Resource Utilization Planning Tool. World Resources Inventory. Carbondale.




[5] Longhurst et al. (2017) Experimenting with alternative economies: four emergent counter-narratives of urban economic development. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 22, 69–74

[6] Haxeltine et al. (2016). TRANSIT WP3 Deliverable D3.3 – A Second Prototype of TSI Theory.

[7] Inayatullah, S. (2008). Six pillars: futures thinking for transforming. Foresight, 10(1), 4–21.

[8] Dunne, A., & F. Raby (2013). Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming. Cambridge & London: MIT Press; Candy, S. (2010). The Futures of Everyday Life: Politics and the Design of Experiential Scenarios (PhD thesis). School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago.

[9] Tan, E. (2016) The Evolution of City Gaming. In: Portugali J., Stolk E. (eds) Complexity, Cognition, Urban Planning and Design. Springer Proceedings in Complexity. Springer, Cham; Schouten, B., Ferri, G., de Lange, M. & K. Millenaar (2017). Games as Strong Concepts for City-Making. Playable Cities, Gaming Media and Social Effects; Other interesting examples of ‘commons transition’ games include Utopoly (, Transition Ingredients Cards ( and C@rds in Common (

[10] Ramos, J.M, Mansfield, T. & G. Priday (2012). Foresight in a Network Era: Peer-producing Alternative Futures. Journal of Futures Studies, 17(1), 71–90; Raford, N. (2014). Online foresight platforms: Evidence for their impact on scenario planning & strategic foresight. Technological Forecasting & Social Change (97): 65–76.

[11] Ramos, J.M. (2014). Anticipatory Governance: Traditions and Trajectories for Strategic Design. Journal of Futures Studies, 19(1), 35–52; Boyd, E., Borgstrom, S., Nykvist, B., & I.A. Stacewicz (2015). Anticipatory governance for social-ecological resilience. Ambio, (44): 149–161.; Ravetz, J. (2017). From “smart” cities to “wise”: synergistic pathways for collective urban intelligence, JPI Urban Europe – Urban Transition Pathways Symposium;


[13] Iaione, C. (2016). The CO-City: Sharing, Collaborating, Cooperating, and Commoning in the City. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 75(2): 415-455.

[14] Irwin, T. (2016). Transition Design: A Proposal for a New Area of Design Practice, Study, and Research. Design and Culture, 7(2), 229–246.

[15] Voß, J., & B. Bornemann (2011). The politics of reflexive governance: challenges for designing adaptive management and transition management. Ecology and Society 16(2): 9

[16] Bennett et al. (2016). Bright spots: seeds of a good Anthropocene. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14(8): 441–448.;


[18]; see also Priday, G., Mansfield, T., & J.M. Ramos (2014). The Open Futures Library: One Step Toward a Global Foresight Commons? Journal of Futures Studies, 18(4): 131–142.



[21]; see also

[22] Gabrys, J. (2014) Programming Environments: Environmentality and Citizen Sensing in the Smart City. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 32(1): 30 – 48

[23] Hobson, K. (2013). “Weak” or “Strong” Sustainable Consumption? Efficiency, Degrowth, and the 10 Year Framework of Programmes. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 31(6), 1082–1098

[24] Cundill, G., Roux, D. J., & J. N. Parker (2015). Nurturing communities of practice for transdisciplinary research, Ecology and Society, 20(2): 22.

[25] Vervoort et al. (2015). Scenarios and the art of worldmaking. Futures (74): 62–70.

[26] Wolfram, M., Frantzeskaki, N., & S. Maschmeyer (2016) Cities, systems and sustainability: status and perspective of research on urban transformations, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability (22): 18–25.

[27] Swyngedouw, E. (2016). Unlocking the mind-trap: politicising urban theory and practice. Urban Studies, 54(1): 55-61

[28] Manzini, E., & M. K. M Rithaa (2016). Distributed Systems And Cosmopolitan Localism: An Emerging Design Scenario For Resilient Societies. Sustainable Development, 24(5): 275–280

[29] Patterson et al. (2016). Exploring the governance and politics of transformations towards sustainability. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 1–16; Avelino, et al. (2016). The Politics of Sustainability Transitions. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 18(5): 557–567

[30] Moore, M.-L., Ridell, D. & D. Vocisano (2015) Scaling Out, Scaling Up, Scaling Deep: Strategies of Non-profits in Advancing Systemic Social Innovation. The Journal of Corporate Citizenship No. 58, Large Systems Change: An Emerging Field of Transformation and Transitions (June 2015), 67–84; Olsson, P., M.-L. Moore, F. R. Westley, & D. D. P. McCarthy (2017). The concept of the Anthropocene as a game-changer: a new context for social innovation and transformations to sustainability. Ecology and Society 22(2):31.

[31] Steffen et al. (2015). Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science, 347(6223): 1259855

[32] Y. Kamijo, A. Komiya, N. Mifune & T. Saijo (2017) Negotiating with the future: incorporating imaginary future generations into negotiations, Sustainability Science, 12, 409-420.

Un focus sul gaming applicato ai nuovi modelli di collaborazione tra gli attori operanti a livello urbano, uno sguardo sui progetti sperimentali già attivi a livello internazionale, e alcune domande aperte sui tool digitali che sono emersi e quelli che emergeranno.

Not private, not public, but common: the experience of the Italian consortia for water management

Not private, not public, but common: the experience of the Italian consortia for water management

When it comes to discussing the role of civil society in water management, the experience of the Italian “consorzi” (consortia) is worth of attention. Similar examples, representing the material implementation of the horizontal subsidiarity, result in being particularly successful in cases of small communities with a high degree of social cohesion. However, its applicability in medium to large contexts becomes more problematic[1] because, as “The Tragedy of the Commons” theory reminds[2], a shared power of a large group on water is likely to generate an uncontrolled exploitation of the resource. As a matter of fact, the wider becomes the community of reference, the least the inhabitants feel themselves bound by the limits necessary for a proper common governance of the resource and the more they are tempted to waste it. This risk makes often preferable solutions like the exclusive control of the State on water or privatization of the water system[3].

In this contribution, the “consortium approach” to water management is presented as a successful experience in the Italian scenario. The consortium model consists of the entrustment of the service to cooperatives where users directly participate. Although this approach has been limitedly adopted in Italy, it is growing in other European countries[4]. Efficient examples can be found in Holland – the Waterschapenn – and in Wales – for example, Welsh Water.

These solutions share the feature to be an alternative to the direct assumption of the water service’s responsibility by the State. The key advantage here identified is that the service is directly supervised by the citizens, which are incentivized to participate in water management.

For the Italian case, a relevant example is represented by the Consorzi di Bonifica and the Consorzi di sviluppo industrialeThe first entities mainly operate in the agricultural sector, although there are hypothesis in which they have also the task to manage public services and to take care of water supply infrastructures. The second bodies are located in industrial areas and manage not only the industrial infrastructures, but also water treatment plants, acting in synergy with the authorities entrusted with the water service[5].

Specifically, it is noteworthy the experience of the small-sized municipalities in the northern part of Italy, where a solution neither privatenor publicbut common has been adopted for water management. For example, in the Oltrepò Pavese, the 24 hamlets of Varzi have joined their efforts to govern the water service through a communitarian approach. A similar solution has been chosen by the communities of Mezzana Montaldo in the Alto Biellese and of Cerveno in the Alta Val Camonica. Furthermore, the experience of the Consorzio acque delta ferrarese (now transformed in a stock company under the name of C.A.D.F. Spa) is particularly timely as it represents an example of water management in common through a consortium created in reaction and opposition to the HERA model, the PPP dominant in the area.

These consortia fight to defend their autonomy; they are reluctant to give away their know-how and resources to the private market and resist to the pressure of political interests. Indeed, these consortia have to resist the centripetal pressure of the State which, for economic and logistical reasons, tend to consolidate them in a few ATOs (Ambiti Territoriali Ottimali), which arguably is the first step which will lead to the conferral of the ATO to private operators[6].

It could be affirmed that there are certain similarities between this communitarian approach and the approach adopted by the medieval municipalities in which the public goods, like the woods, the fields, the springs etc. were managed in common. This ancient solution might result in being an efficient alternative in a moment of public utilities’ crisis. An antique practice can be the answer to modern difficulties of the actual society.

Moreover, the consortium approach represents the fulfillment of Article 43 of the Italian Constitution which states that essential public services can be conferred to workers or users communities  (the case here analyzed) in order to better represent the general interest. Nevertheless, numerous challenges hinder this approach, for example the scarcity of financial resources that make for the consortia hard to cover the service’s expenses.

In conclusion, it can be argued that these alternative solutions demonstrate that – in certain instances – a communitarian management of the water resource could be more efficient than a rigid assignment of property rights to private operators or to the State. Nevertheless, the outcome of the “in common solution” depends on the awareness of the relative community, on its willingness to participate, and on its capacity to respect common rules.


[1] Interview with Andrei Jouravlev at the Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe – CEPAL.

[2] Hardin, G.. 1968. The Tragedy of the Commons. Science, New Series, Vol. 162, No. 3859, pp. 1243-1248. Available at

[3] Segerfeldt, F. 2011.  Acqua in vendita? (2003), Torino: IBL, p.52.

[4] Santi, F. 2011. Amministrazione e controlli. Società di persone. Imprese gestite da enti collettivi. Consorzi. Gruppi europei di interesse economico. Imprese Famigliari, Associazioni in partecipazione. Padova: Cedam.

[5] Massarutto, A. 2011. Privati dell’Acqua? Bologna: Il Mulino, p.115.

[6] Ambiti Territoriali Ottimali are territorial subdivisions for water management and were created by the Law “Galli” of 1994. Legge 5 gennaio 1994 n.36, G.U. n.14 del 19-1-1994.  

Il presente articolo illustra l’esperienza dei consorzi italiani per la gestione del sistema idrico. La relazione di proporzionalità inversa tra la dimensione della comunità di riferimento e il grado di riuscita della gestione in comune della risorsa idrica viene discussa. Alcuni esempi in Europa ed in Italia di consorzi di gestione in comune dell’acqua vengono presentati. Segue una riflessione sulle sfide che il mercato e gli interessi politici presentano all’approccio comunitario. In conclusione, si auspica l’adozione e la preservazione di tale approccio, tuttavia tenendo presente il necessario sussistere di alcune condizioni, come per esempio la capacità della collettività di auto-porsi limiti e regole.