Amsterdam, a Commons City?!

In imitation of the city of Ghent, Amsterdam has expressed the intention to become a commons city. This happened during the annual Urban Management Conference of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (November 2018).

Stan Majoor, director of the Urban Management programme, was asked to explain the title of the conference ‘The selforganising city: confronting the commons’, since it contains a light critical note. Majoor warned for misuse of the term commons; not all civic initiatives become all of a sudden commoning practices. As a knowledge institution, the AUAS would like to play a role as knowledge partner in this ‘commons movement’ by facilitating, researching, monitoring and being part of commons cases in the city.

To learn from our southern neighboring city Ghent, we had invited Michel Bauwens as key note speaker. He is the author of the Commons Transition Plan of Ghent. In this document he describes the many initiatives in Ghent with a collaborative character and explores how Ghent could become a co-city; which policy changes and instruments are necessary?

The alderman Rutger Groot Wassink (Social work, diversity and democracy for the Green Party) was invited to react on Bauwens’ story. He was very clear from the start: he wants to support the commons in the city of Amsterdam; working together with knowledge institutions and other partners. He understands that you can not create commons as a municipality, but that you should rely on the bottom up initiatives in society. He is willing to facilitate four local commons experiments to learn what a local government should (not) do to strengthen these activities. This new, third way of governance might add new values to the city. Finally he stated that he would like to learn more from Ghent and other European cities.

The lively plenary session ended with many people on stage who subscribe the intention of supporting Amsterdam as a Commons City, among which Municipality Amsterdam, de Waag, Commons Network, Coöpolis en the AUAS.

During the several interactive working sessions the commons practices in Amsterdam were critically discussed. In the session LabGov at Plein 40-45 we played the new unique, Amsterdam made Game of Commons with the 30 participants. An exercise to move from thinking/acting based on individual interests to common interest. After taking into account some small changes, the game will be very suitable to play in different settings with all kinds of stakeholders.

Thanks to this conference the knowledge and discussion about commons and its opportunities have certainly grown in Amsterdam.

For an (Dutch) impression of the conference, watch:

Practice what you preach

We do not only talk about commons in Amsterdam. In some neighborhoods it is also already happening. At Plein ’40-’45 in the NorthWest of Amsterdam a group of citizens, (social) entrepreneurs, municipal employees and AUAS teachers, researchers and students are trying to design a new way of collaboration. Two years ago we started here the first LabGov pilot. During the last few months for example each Tuesday morning approximately 30 AUAS students Public Administration gathered in the Town Hall, located at Plein ’40-’45 to work on the project Open Plaza: How to make the lower part of the Town Hall a common place? They have interviewed many people and organisations in the neighborhood and designed new ways of involving the neighborhood in this project.

Local network

Thanks to the successful Urban Management Conference on Urban Commons, AUAS and local partners like the municipality of Amsterdam, De Waag and Commons Network are researching the possibilities of mapping the commons initiatives in the city and setting up a local network of commons practices and stakeholders, where people can ask for support and advise.

European network

Not only at local level the AUAS is trying to ask attention for the governance structure of commoning. Within the U!reka consortium, a European network of six Universities of Applied Sciences (Amsterdam, Ghent, Frankfurt, Oslo, Helsinki, Edinborough) will try to set up a joint programme with as a central theme: ‘Comparative Urban Commons’. In the following years the knowledge institutions will collaborate and exchange information and cases from their home-cities. In some cities ‘co-city’ is still an unknown concept. The research and joint programme will therefore include several stages of collaborative governance and civic participation. This spring AUAS will organise a first co-meeting in Amsterdam with these European colleagues and several Amsterdam commoners.