Comparative Urban Commoning


In 2016 five European universities of applied sciences, located in Frankfurt, Ghent, Edinburgh, Oslo and Amsterdam, set up the U!REKA consortium. In 2020 partners from Lisbon and Ostrava joined Universities involved in the U!REKA Lab: Urban Commons are Frankfurt Hochschule, Metropolia (Helsinki), Hogeschool Gent, and Hogeschool van Amsterdam. Ostrava and Lisbon will join soon. More information on U!REKA:

The universities partner in various ways to educate, shape and empower the European professionals of tomorrow. One of the key elements within this network is the joint program U!REKA Lab: Urban Commons, which kicked off its online curriculum at the beginning of this year.

In search of an actual, relevant and interdisciplinary topic that would ‘fit’ and ‘make a difference’ in all the U!REKA partner cities, the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) suggested Urban Commons as the main theme. Amsterdam has had the privilege of hosting Christian Iaione and Sheila Foster several times and several urban professionals, including myself, got inspired by their work. Other cities, except for Ghent (Bauwens, 2017), were not yet familiar with the term Urban Commons. This of course does not mean that they do not have commoning initiatives.

The U!REKA cities are united in searching for (new) answers to complex and persistent challenges, like poverty, mobility, housing, energy, and so on. To deal with these challenges, they create innovation hubs, transition grounds and democratic renewal spaces. But, how do we keep our cities and neighborhoods livable in a situation of growing economic polarization and social fragmentation and how do we create a transition towards a truly democratic and sustainable society? (Majoor, et al., 2017; Raworth, 2017).

Behind these challenges is an underlying governance question: what kinds of arrangements are needed to ‘guide’ these transitions? In most cities, like the U!reka ones, there is a growing interest in (and practice of) new forms of governance that aim to work from the principle of common ownership. A shared community garden, a local car-sharing program, a program of local neighborhood assistance, a local currency, etc. How are they organized? What kind of values will be added to the community and place, when a more collaborative governance is introduced? How does this kind of cooperation support the societal and ecological transitions and foster the Sustainable Development Goals?

Common goal

In the U!REKA Lab: Urban Commons, we want to find out how Urban Commons manifest themselves in the different cities. We will not only identify, study and critically assess these initiatives in the context of changing economic, social and political settings, we also aim to create co-learning between these practices to optimize their performance. An important perspective is for example how these initiatives are connected to, or interfere with, existing local and national government and market regulations.

For the U!REKA universities, this forwarding international cooperation and the exploration of new e-learning methods help to contribute to the important political, cultural and economic role of the practice-oriented universities in the respective cities and countries.

What happens in the lab?

Since the concept of the common applies to many sectors and issues, the U!REKA Lab has decided to integrate it into already existing courses from participating lecturers, ranging from social work to art, urban governance, urban planning and housing, on both Bachelor and Master level. In this way, students not only learn more about Urban Commons, but they also experience how it appears in other fields and disciplines and develop new interdisciplinary perspectives.

The lab is set up in two interlinked streams: education and research. The education aspect consists of interdisciplinary blended learning through screencasts from each university of applied sciences and online forums. Each screencast consists of a few fixed components, including basic commons theory, an introduction of the city, university and course, local policy on citizens’ initiatives, and a showcase of a local initiative.)

The research aspect focuses on joint assignments and projects by students and researchers to study and compare local initiatives in the participating cities. Since the U!REKA Lab is a university-based initiative we want to focus on the role of knowledge institutions in the development of Urban Commons and our future cities. As universities, we can not only do research on urban commons and co-creation, we can also play a role in initiating, facilitating and monitoring these practices. Also, we can train our students, the future (urban) professionals, on co-ownership, sharing and collaborative governance and educate experts in this new sustainable and truly democratic form of collaborative governance.

The results of this year U!REKA were presented during the digital U!RCommons Day, which was attended by 70 students from our universities. Part of the program was a presentation of student’s field research. These videos were also shown in the Forum of the Deutsche Werkbund in Frankfurt (summer 2020) and in November will be part of a virtual exhibition during the U!REKA Annual Meeting.

The U!REKA Lab: Urban Commons will continue its approach of co-learning, co-teaching and co-researching  and expand with more transnational partners and online exchanges between students, lecturers and researchers on different aspects of the Urban Commons. Looking forward, the project team is participating in the Erasmus+ virtual exchange advanced training course to gain the skills needed to further develop the program and preparing a U!REKA Summer School on Urban Commons in 2021 in Frankfurt.

Literature list

Bauwens, Michel, A Commons Transition Plan for the city of Ghent, 2017.

Foster, Sheila, Iaione, Christian (2016) ‘The city as a commons’ in: Yale Law & Policy Review vol. 34 (2).

Majoor, Stan, Morel, Marie (eds) (2017) Lab Amsterdam. Working, Learning, Reflections. Thoth Publishers: Bussum.

Ostrom, Elinor (1990) Governing the commons. The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action,Cambridge University Press.

Raworth, Kate, The Doughnut Economics. Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist (Random House UK, 2017)