EU and Urban Commons

The capitalist world-system has entered a multiple crisis, while the stalemate of the growth function hampered the socio-economic progress. Energy provision, climate stability, food production and distribution, land access and political stability are consequentially threatened by a system that is no more sustainable and self-reliant. Moreover, the congestion and the rivalry upon the use and exploitation of resources leave no room for development, at least if the current structural paradigm is not questioned. It is far obvious that we need a transition but in order to have a legitimation, it is necessary to establish a new contract that can meet priorities even under a regime of resources constraint. The focal question is then to redesign existing structures in a functional way and appealing to the notion of justice.

In this sense we need to protect the opportunity of people and their ability to participate to the public life; arguably the claim here is simple: if the functioning of the society is based on cooperation, solidarity, democracy, equality and responsibility, then it would be easier to talk about commons. I feel that whenever there is sufficient reason to claim ownership and inclusiveness over public goods -here in the sense of common sharing of resources and assets- there would be enough reason to take care of those commons.

The end of the story is that, if people have the chance to enjoy the public space as something that makes them feeling attached to it, then it is naturally consequential that new inputs and energies will flow in.

The power of commons is the one of making the latent potential of people concrete: the transformative evolution of the capacity of the citizens to serve and cultivate urban life is the product of integration, inclusiveness and social enrichment. However changing paradigm is not merely a matter of smooth transition, rather is it a matter of complete regeneration that goes beyond the classical schemes of social struggles -(see also: TRANSITION EUROPE).


Here there is the twofold dimension of such evolution: revolution is accompanied by innovation and, as far as innovation is concerned, lots of activities founded justification and legitimation across Europe.


In France, the CEPEL centre (Centre d’études politiques de l’Europe latine) follows four main points to study the evolution of such social transformation: public action, identities of citizens, political élites and sociology of elections. Laura Michel, member of CEPEL and professor of Public Action and Governance in Montpellier (Languedoc-Roussillon) underlines how the decentralization of institutional responsibilities and resources criticities forced the inception of new forms of multilevel governance and multi-stakeholder accountability.

First of all, the transformative process that involved the institutional structure is significant for the fact that  restored the significance of participatory democracy: citizens, corporations, private entities and public actors are now participating on equal footing at the managerial process.


If we translate it to National ground or to Urban networks, we could easily discover how enhanced participation nourishes people imagination and enhances their willingness in contributing for making the city a better place where to live. Consequently also enterprises and investments would be attracted by a model of active citizenship; the new urban ecosystem would not be anymore a mere storage loci for the depletion of resources,but an incubator of tangible and intangible resources that develop spillover effects throughout the territory.


Clearly we cannot yet simply consider the realm of Commons as a ready to go policy, however it is significative how the paradigm of social innovation is currently spreading all over Europe.

In many Countries it is possible to experience the contours of a new urban outline and the reason is simple: the territory is full of qualities and resources that are not fully exploited and in some cases urban ecosystems resemble the cemetery of lost spaces. Giving life to ghost cities is the effect of a participative governance.


If we investigate our assumptions, it would be possible to understand that the call for a new urban ecosystem is not the sum of few isolated cases, but that the path of Commons -if rightly guided- can lead far away from the classical islands of sufficiency.


Here we have some interesting examples of how social innovation and multi stakeholder participation can produce an high quality  social technology,  as it positively impact on economy, culture and sustainability.

1. Participatory urban neighborhood, Vienna, Austria

Located in the city of Vienna, Austria, the project identifies a set of rules for establishing a sustainable urban neighbor­hood based on democratic principles of governance, commu­nication, and participation. Instead of proposing a pre-de­signed urban tissue, the strategy tenders a collective pattern based on a grid of gardens that structure the area. The gar­dens function as a framework for physical and social develop­ment, outlining a porous fabric with low environmental im­pact and a collective space – re-programmable in time, while furthering ownership capacity-building. The area will first operate as an urban park; a matrix of gardens is inserted around existing trees. Gradually the district grows around these gardens and the shared open space. The approach es­tablishes a minimally-invasive intervention that will develop over time according to the needs of the society at every step – a continuous process of small scale growth and appropria­tion, with autonomy at every stage ”.

source: Holcim foundation


2.  Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction, Switzerland :


Urban growth must deliver urban quality. Cities are defined not just by built density, but also interaction intensity. Only when urban growth results in urban quality will it be accepted by its inhabitants. In the context of the loss of local identity and the globalization of architectural styles and technologies, the research of Yoshiharu Tsukamoto shows that progress and local identity do not need to be mutually exclusive”.

source: Holcim foundation


3. potagers collectifs et familiaux de Bruxelles


The topic of urban gardening is very interesting insofar as it is linked to collective participation.

For example, the Brussels environment is populated by forms of “jarden de quartier”, based on a special project that allows the forming of “contract de quartier durable”.

Some examples of urban gardening in Brussels are: Velt Koekelberg, Jardin majorelle-moelenbeek, Jardin collectif.



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