LabGov – the LABoratory for the GOVernance of the City as a Commons – is an international network of theoretical, empirical and applied research platforms engaged in exploring and developing methods, policies, and projects focused on the shared and collaborative management of urban spaces and resources.
LabGov is co-directed by Professor Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione and is mainly active within Georgetown University and Luiss Guido Carli University. At Luiss, LabGov is part of the International Center on Democracy and Democratization (ICEDD), led by Professor Leonardo Morlino and directed by Professor Giovanni Orsina. LabGov is also an interdisciplinary urban clinic for action-based learning within the Soft Skills program at Luiss University. Most of LabGov’s work is conducted at Georgetown and Luiss, two internationally renowned universities, but the laboratory also operates in partnership with various other knowledge institutions from across the world. These partnerships, together with a collaborative approach to learning, contribute to LabGov’s mission of building a global community of Co-Cities focused on creating and implementing innovative urban projects designed to make cities more inclusive, sustainable, equitable, and collaboratively governed.
The study of urban “commoning” processes – the transition to more collaborative forms of urban governance – was inspired by the pioneering work of Dr. Elinor Ostrom, an American political economist awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2009 for her research on the commons. Overturning the existing conventional wisdom at the time, which was based on Garrett Hardin’s famous “Tragedy of the Commons” theory – which held that shared, open access spaces would succumb to the selfish and self-interested impulses of its users, leading towards the deterioration and degradation of that space – Ostrom demonstrated that, when certain conditions are met, self-organized communities are able to manage open-access resources without overexploiting and ultimately destroying them. Bridging urban and commons studies, Professors Iaione and Foster reimagine and reframe Ostrom’s design principles for the shared management of what are referred to as common pool resources (rivers, fisheries, lakes, and forests) and apply them to the city. LabGov’s approach conceives cities as spaces where a multitude of actors, including city residents, civil society organizations, local governments, and various private actors, should have opportunities to work collaboratively together in order to regenerate and enjoy their shared urban spaces and resources.
The history of LabGov dates back to 2011, when Professor Iaione founded the first laboratory devoted to the study and practice of urban co-governance at Luiss Guido Carli University in Rome. The theoretical framework of Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione was put into practice for the first time in 2012-2014, when Christian Iaione participated as a key investigator in the experimentation, drafting and oversight of the Bologna Regulation on the Urban Commons. In November 2015, LabGov gained broader recognition following the first international academic conference “The City as a Commons”, organized by Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione and hosted in Bologna, under the umbrella of the International Association for the study of the commons (IASC). This was the first international conference on the urban commons and brought together over 200 researchers, experts and practitioners from around the world to present their work. Following this conference, other LabGovs, based on the original LabGov Italy, began to emerge and spread across several urban areas worldwide.
The Co-City Project
The first LabGov project carried out in Bologna laid the foundation of the Co-City protocol that was later tested in other Italian cities, including Battipaglia, Mantua, Reggio Emilia, and Rome. Several municipalities participated in developing innovative Co-City projects and experimenting with territorial collaboration pacts for commons-driven social and economic growth. Other Co-Cities emerged in various European and North American cities, including New York and Amsterdam, shortly followed by other projects in the Global South, in San Jose, Sao Paolo and Accra.
LabGov created a Co-Cities database which collects 130+ cities implementing 400+ commons-based projects and urban policies LabGov and closely track their progress to run empirical analysis. Using the knowledge acquired through observation of experimentations in the Co-Cities projects and the database, the first version of the Co-City Protocol was codified. This protocol, which is in constant evolution and adaptable to the needs and conditions of each local context where it is implemented, is a methodology aimed at guiding urban policy makers, researchers, and communities willing to be involved in co-governance experiments.
People studying and practicing the conditions for creating a co-city
Alicia Bonner Ness
Giovanni Lo Storto
Founder of the P2P Foundation