The Co-City Design Principles

The Co-City Design Principles

The Co-city approach has been formulated at this stage considering the various developmental phases it has been through in each chapter and the cases that have been analyzed in different cities. The most recent chapter dubbed Urban Co-governance illustrated the 5P’s which are public-private-science-social-community partnerships. This refers to a legal and economic arrangement between communities, civil society organizations, science, or knowledge institutions, and the social, science, and community actors. The final chapter now offers a set of design principles extracted from the previous chapters and empirically acquired co-cities research projects.


They are: (1) co-governance; (2) enabling state; (3) pooling economies; (4) urban experimentalism; and (5) tech justice. These were also somewhat inspired by Elinor Ostrom’s 8 design principles in her book entitled “Governing the Commons” (Ostrom, 1990).


The co-cities examined case studies of community or city-level initiatives that represent horizons of cooperative or collaborative urban governance, inclusive and sustainable local economies, and social innovation in the provision of local goods and services. It surveyed over 200 cities and over 500 projects and policies within these cities, especially from countries within the Global North. It consisted of examples of public projects and policies from many kinds of cities. These were included in the data set, including some ground-breaking policy experiments were also discussed. The intention was for a larger effort to be explained in the dynamic process (or transition) from a city where urban commons were absent to one in which they were emerging, supported, and enabled by the state, both the community-led examples and those institutionalized in local government. This write-up focuses on the first design principle and will explain the other four design principles (Enabling State, Pooling Economies, Urban Experimentalism & Tech Justice).


Principle 1: Co-governance is the first principle developed for the co-city framework. Some scholars call it multi-actor governance while others also term it collective governance. Ostrom at a point called it polycentrism (Ansell & Gash, 2008; Wilson et al.  2003; Ostrom, 2010). Tine De Moor (2012) helpfully suggests that we think about the commons as consisting of three dimensions: a resource system, a collective property regime, and interactions between the resource and its users; these three come together to form a common-pool resource. From the lenses of Foster and Iaione, co-governance embraces and entails the collective management and ownership of urban assets that provide resources and critical services for the well-being of the most vulnerable urban residents. The co-governance principle simply focuses on collaboration or interaction amongst the various stakeholders in pursuit of a common goal or interest. Co-governance has the potential to evolve, and this helps to enable and recognize the development of urban commons throughout a city. For instance, policies in cities such as Bologna, Naples, Barcelona, and Madrid have enabled shared governance among urban actors and local authorities through collaborative efforts. Co-governance may be applied as a ladder to fabricate urban commons public policies and projects in a specific context by encouraging superiors in an institutional unit. Gathering definitions by other scholars and a thorough observation of case studies in various countries, Foster and Iaione came up with the definition of co-governance as a multistakeholder governance scheme whereby the community emerges as a key actor and partners with at least one of the other four actors or sectors in the quintuple helix governance scheme—the public sector, the civic sector, the private sector, and the knowledge sector. The five helices are first, the Knowledge / Academic helix: This helix depicts academic institutions and universities as the main forces behind knowledge generation, research, and education. By supplying intellectual capital, carrying out research, and providing training programs that promote entrepreneurial abilities, they support the growth of an intrapreneurial ecosystem. The second is the private sector/industrial helix which is made up of companies and sectors that promote economic expansion and open doors for entrepreneurship and innovation. They provide tools, market information, money, and industry-specific knowledge to help the growth and commercialization of innovative ideas. The third helix is the Public Sector helix which identifies the government’s role in establishing the laws, rules, and institutions that encourage innovation and entrepreneurship is crucial. They support the expansion of intrapreneurial ecosystems by providing resources such as money, infrastructure, enabling laws, and hospitable business environments. Civil society helix is the fourth helix and is made up of non-governmental organizations, neighborhood associations, the media, and citizens who take an active interest in social and environmental issues. By supporting social innovation, solving societal issues, and advocating for sustainable and socially responsible behaviors, civil society groups support the entrepreneurial environment. Finally, the last helix which was introduced by Carayannis and Campbell is the Environment Helix: The Environment Helix tackles the effects of entrepreneurship on the environment and underlines the significance of ecological sustainability. It acknowledges the necessity of eco-innovation, sustainable business practices, and ethical entrepreneurship to secure long-term profitability and reduce unfavorable environmental effects. This is referred to as the quintuple helix because a fifth actor is included, that is, the Environment. Carayannis and Campbell proposed the fifth helix because they found the Quadruple helix lacking especially at a point where Sustainability had become a global trend. The Quintuple Helix provides an analytical framework where knowledge and innovation are linked to the environment on the one hand, thus respecting social ecology (Carayannis, Barth &Campbell, 2012). This allows co-governance to respond to the extent of diversity among actors, ensures the distribution of power between them, and encourages responsibilities and benefits within the partnership. Under co-governance, Foster and Iaione classify this into three other forms, Shared governance, collaborative governance, and polycentrism.


Shared Governance includes cross-border contacts or alliances, such as those between public authorities and urban communities or citizens. It practically exists in the management and stewardship of small-scale resources such as neighborhood parks, and community gardens, just to name a few. Shared governance may be likened to Ostrom’s idea of self-governance. She explains it as a type of governance where resource users themselves establish and enforce regulations to protect or conserve common pool resources. This is viewed as a prerequisite for more complex and dynamic kinds of collective governance. Though others consider it as privatization, Foster and Iaione agree with Kooiman and van Vliet that it is a form of re-regulation. This is because it remains in the domain of the public, thus, the residents themselves who use and depend on the resources without having to wait on the central government’s efforts.


Collaborative governance transcends bilateral public-community partnerships and usually includes different types of stakeholders. They are involved in constructing and supporting institutional arrangements to support resource stewardship. They may be formal or informal, but they are the result of extensive contact and exchanges with various stakeholders (Kooiman 2003, 97). Collaborative governance is realized through the implementation of public policies that enable nongovernmental stakeholders to manage public resources collaboratively. These policies frequently stimulate cross-sector collaboration and alliances between for-profit and nonprofit players, depending on previous or new connections and social networks (Cepiku, Ferrari, and Greco 2006).


Polycentric governance is cooperative governance arrangements that eventually develop into a polycentric system, whether they are fueled by formal institutions or informal social norms at the city level. The book cites examples of policies that indicate forms of shared governance and self-governance that may lead to polycentrism. Such are in the cases of Turin, Reggio Emilia, Barcelona, or certain US towns where community land trusts are predominant.


Co-governance has evolved and progressed over time, it gives room to build authentic, power-sharing relationships among the actors, offering opportunities for transformative changes in cities and beyond.   The first principle has been elaborated upon in this paper, and the other four design principles will be critically analyzed and discussed in the next segment.


Co-governance covers both vertical and horizontal governance, self-governance, shared governance, and collaborative governance. It does not settle on one framework but considers the most suitable form for the city or community and how best it can solve the urban challenges they face today.




Ansell, Chris & Gash, Alison. (2008). Collaborative Governance in Theory. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory. 18. 10.1093/jopart/mum032.

Carayannis, E.G., Barth, T.D. & Campbell, D.F. The Quintuple Helix innovation model: global warming as a challenge and driver for innovation. J Innov Entrep 1, 2 (2012).

Elinor Ostrom, Polycentric systems for coping with collective action and global environmental change, Global Environmental Change, Volume 20, Issue 4, 2010, Pages 550-557, ISSN 0959-3780,

Ostrom, E. (1990). Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions) Cambridge: Cambridge Press University.


The Co-City Design Principles

Urban Co-Governance

As the previous chapter exposed us to the policies and regulatory instruments to enhance the city collectively and provided clear examples of cities that have learned from the Reggio Emilia Regulation which also brought forth Co-Bologna, this chapter seeks to build upon the abstraction of urban co-governance. This chapter is a build-up and spells out 3 tenets which are broken down into comprehensive units as it unfolds. These 3 tenets focus on firstly, communities as necessary but not self-sufficient actors: multistakeholder cooperation as essential for the long-term durability and effectiveness of urban commons. The second tenet is a consequence of tenet 1, legal recognition and legal tools (e.g., pacts of collaboration or civic uses) recognizing or granting governance rights to communities are not enough; what is required are policies and programs that provide a set of enabling conditions that structure complex forms of cooperation in the form of public-community and public-private-community partnerships; and the third views it as an addition to legal tools, creating a set of enabling conditions requires institutional, learning capacity-building, digital, and financial tools. The question to ponder over is: to enhance urban co-governance in cities, what is the unique significant role of multi actors and how are their individual and group roles beneficial? The chapter is vivisected to answer the question with examples. It is presented in six fractions, with each building upon another.


It Is Not Just About The Community

The main thing this chapter does is to vividly explore urban co-governance from a policy and communal perspective. It presents us with features of urban co-governance and the first feature identified is that it embraces the role of the enabling state, in which city officials and staff have a responsibility of providing resources and technical guidance to help create the conditions for co-governance, in the form of partnerships. The second feature is that urban co-governance develops a system that, at its core, redistributes power and influence in decision-making away from the center and toward a network of active urban players. This symbolizes the quintuple helix of innovation founded by Carayannis and Campbell in 2010. The quintuple helix evolved from the triple helix which was designed by Leydesdorff and Etzkowitz in the 1990s. Carayannis and Campbell found it insufficient and later formed the Quadruple helix but found that lacking certain components and added another helix to form the quintuple helix we have today (Carayannis et al 2012). It includes the government, private sector, university/research institutions, civic & media-based actors, and the environment. These actors exist to co-produce, co-design knowledge and new ideas. Foster and Iaione advise that cities choose the most suitable innovation helix as it arises from a matter of context, yet through both empirical and experiential observation, currently, the quintuple helix meets the rising needs of cities. The final feature the chapter proposes of co-governance is the capacity to build a bridge between science and society, thus citizen science theory. Urban citizen science frequently focuses on the creation of solutions to deal with pandemics and climate change, which require cities to mitigate and adapt to these kinds of existential and difficult problems, eg. City Science Initiative of the Joint Research Center of the European Commission.


From Government To Governance: Public-Private science-Social-Community Partnerships

The usual form of partnership is the Public Private Partnership (PPP or 3P’s), yet the chapter mentions a shift to another model known as the public-private people partnerships (4P’s). This partnership is a collaboration between private companies, public institutions, and citizens. The difference between the 3Ps and 4Ps is the element of city residents. One strong example of the 4Ps is the case of Manila, Philippines in the management and delivery of water services to residents who lacked. Collaboration was obvious among the public water utility and local government, two private concessionaires of the water utility, and local associations and nongovernmental organizations. Another model introduced by the authors is the 5Ps which is public-private-science-social-community partnerships. This refers to a legal and economic arrangement between communities, civil society organizations, science or knowledge institutions, and the social, science, and community actors. A co-city is built from the 5Ps model, a typical polycentric governance approach where each actor plays a unique role to improve the city. Concurrently, the 5Ps stress the role of knowledge institutions in building capacity, improving skills, and providing knowledge. An example is the Urban Collaboration Lab situated in London. However, if urban co-governance is to scale and enable the co-governance of massive, complex resources and infrastructure, the private sector is a frequent crucial actor.


Scaling The Ladder Of Citizen Participation

This section presents examples of cities in the US that through the establishment of distributed sub-local bodies, primarily advisory, offer chances for direct community input into local government decision-making about goods and services in their communities and facilitate communication with various stakeholders. A variety of participatory or collaborative governance models were made possible through boroughs, neighborhood councils, community boards, etc.  Community boards were founded in the 1960s and exist in cities such as New York, North Carolina, Seattle, and Washington DC. Advisory boards also have no binding authority in the city’s centralized decision-making process. Regardless of the positive outcomes that these sub-local bodies present, they are also faced with power struggles between elected officials, developers, and communities. Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) also come up, which benefit large-scale urban development. CBAs are confidential agreements made between developers and the areas affected by a project the most. It began in Los Angeles in the early 2000s as a private agreement between developers and community groups. (Gross et al 2005). Both developers and communities have incentives to participate in and negotiate with one another, it becomes a win-win situation for both parties.


Enabling The Community In Co-Governance

In the context of urban or living labs, the passage discusses the idea of collaborative hubs. These hubs act as meeting places for stakeholders, community members, and municipal officials to collaborate and co-design projects. They operate outside of the established structures of government and promote collaboration and mutual learning. An example of a city that has developed collaborative hubs at the neighborhood level, Reggio Emilia in Italy is used. Reggio Emilia develops institutional spaces where public, corporate, community, and civic representatives can collaborate to construct community-based institutions and enterprises through neighborhood-as-a-commons programs and citizenship agreements. These agreements cover tasks including repurposing and revitalizing urban areas, helping small enterprises, and developing digital services. By assisting urban communities in drafting and concluding citizenship agreements, the neighborhood architect plays a crucial part in the collaborative process. They collaborate with groups of people to establish a shared vision and include other parties in developing solutions. The main objective of collaborative hubs, like urban or living laboratories, is to provide areas where local populations may actively take part in the design and management of solutions to regional problems, promoting social, economic, and technological innovation at the neighborhood level.


Urban Co-Governance as A Driver For Neighborhood Pooling Economies

Urban co-governance’s framework places a strong emphasis on the value of public-private-science social-community (5P) partnerships in fostering collaboration between the public sector and locally based social innovators. This entails building platforms for group action and funding collaborative ecosystems throughout the city. Turin is used as an illustration of how municipal co-governance might encourage cooperative economies for urban people who are at risk. Turin has experienced financial difficulties as a result of the demise of its automobile manufacturing sector. Diversifying the economy, encouraging social entrepreneurship, and regenerating urban areas have all been attempted as ways to rejuvenate the city. The Turin Neighborhood Houses are essential in fostering cooperative economies. They serve as development organizations that pool economies and bring together a variety of urban players to provide goods and services for the local community. Partnerships between the local government, people, and the innovation ecosystem are used in the residences, which concentrate on rehabilitating abandoned urban assets. Pacts for cooperation have been put in place in Turin to combat poverty and promote neighborhood-based pooled economies. These agreements cover efforts like turning vacant buildings into community centers, starting culinary and culture-related enterprises, offering childcare and support services, and setting up teen art studios. The Turin examples demonstrate how neighborhood-level cooperation and institutional structures can create collaborative economies by transforming resources and services into jointly controlled ones.


Financing Urban Co-Governance

Two encouraging strategies for funding the Commons are discussed; the first entails project financing strategies designed to support the objectives of local communities, such as the creation of an Urban Commons Foundation. The Turin Regulation established this foundation, which enables a city to transfer assets to a foundation in charge of administering shared municipal resources for the benefit of the public. The foundation performs tasks that the community would ordinarily perform, maximizing the value of the assets for future generations. The second strategy makes use of the corporate finance strategy known as green or sustainable finance, known as the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) approach. Reevaluating public and private investment indicators are part of this strategy’s effort to assess the effectiveness of cooperative neighborhood-based business models. The New Turin Regulation offers financing options like tax exemptions, fee waivers, support for co-governance, and management of pooled resources. The rule also highlights how crucial monitoring and assessment are to determining the social and economic effects of the civic deal’s actions. The Community Interest Company (CIC), which reinvests income solely for social objectives, is another alternative for financing (Cho, 2016). Community-based integrated approaches to urban development are further supported by the European Urban Initiative and the EU Cohesion Policy framework. The rate of vulnerable communities can be capped if the strategy for funding commons in the most vulnerable states is adopted and more resilient communities will be built, and Urban Co-Governance will be enhanced.


To conclude, the 5 P’s are relevant to build resilient communities and cities such as Bologna, Turin, and Rome and many others have tried it out and can sincerely testify to how helpful the concept has been. Both local and international development agencies as well as local and national authorities in conjunction with research institutions, citizens, and the media in both Global South and North countries can effectively apply it. Ongoing projects in Rome such as Co-Roma, the Agenda Tevere project, and the Caserta project are recently applying the 5Ps. This proves the relevance of urban co-governance.


In the next post, we will return to the principles underlying this paradigm, further exploring the Co-city book.




Samuel R. Gross, Kristen Jacoby, Daniel J. Matheson, Nicholas Montgomery, Exonerations in the United States 1989 through 2003, 95 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 523 (2004-2005).

Carayannis, E.G., Barth, T.D. & Campbell, D.F. The Quintuple Helix innovation model: global warming as a challenge and driver for innovation. J Innov Entrep 1, 2 (2012).

Cho, E. (2016). Making Reliability Reliable: A Systematic Approach to Reliability Coefficients. Organizational Research Methods, 19(4), 651–682.



Author: Benedicta Quarcoo



The City as a Commons

This chapter looks at how public policies have developed in a few places that allow both public and private players to jointly or cooperatively generate and then manage shared urban resources across the city. It gives varying definitions of collaboration and how much it has evolved from mere governance. Since it is unclear if the examples described in the chapter represent engaging ad hoc experiments, unconnected to a city’s everyday operations and administration, the compelling question is: whether these policies, institutional procedures, and social infrastructure can spread and scale throughout a city, supported by the public administration? Are there laws or practices that enable a city, or specific areas of a city, to function as an urban commons?


Although this chapter contains seven sections, they are organized to enable the free flow of understanding. In this excerpt, two types of policies—declaratory and constitutive—are discussed concerning the establishment and maintenance of urban commons in local communities. Foster and Iaione explain that declaratory policies formally acknowledge the existence of locally controlled institutions or individually managed resources as urban commons. They support communities’ right to self-organize and fortify community efforts to collectively govern themselves. Declaratory policies may entail approving the collectively accepted social norms or the community’s contributions to the public good. The main examples of such policies are the cases of Naples and Barcelona. Local governments also have the power to contract with collectives, giving credibility and stability to their efforts and promoting similar projects around the city. Constitutive policies, on the other hand, adopt a more top-down strategy and seek to provide communities with the power to manage the city’s resources, infrastructure, and services. By providing new legal power or amending existing laws, these policies establish the necessary framework for cooperative government. The objective is to encourage the development of urban commons across the entire city.

The early city policies identified in the chapter place a strong emphasis on agreements for cooperation as a form of group action and shared administration of urban resources. The first city to implement collaborative pacts was the Italian city of Bologna. The Co-Bologna initiative adopted a new regulatory framework for the urban commons to integrate other local public policies with the co-governance of urban resources using the same design principles. That regulation provided for citizens, social innovators, business owners, members of civic society, academic institutions, and the municipal administration to work together to define the governance of specific urban spaces and services. With additional sectors joining later, this strategy aimed to make the public sector and the unorganized public the main players in the collaborative process.

The experimental process was called the Bologna Regulation, and the city used the Cities as a Commons project to carry it out. The project was supported by the Centro Antartide, a regional non-profit, the Fondazione del Monte di Bologna, and a group of legal and PR experts from the Labsus non-profit, where one of the authors of this book, Iaione, served as managing director. The first substantial regulatory innovation to encourage cooperation as a way of managing the city and its resources in Italy, Europe, and globally, this rule has won numerous awards. This prompted an analysis of the regulatory race toward the commons that carefully examined the regulation and its goals. Later, LabGov researchers evaluated to arrive at the Bologna rule, analyzing the first many partnership pacts were analyzed using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies (De Nictolis & Pais, 2018).

Seoul, the capital of South Korea, also implemented a similar approach through its Seoul Sharing City policy. That policy, initiated in 2011 and still ongoing, promotes the sharing and collaborative economy at the city and district levels. It included the enactment of the Seoul Metropolitan Government Ordinance on the Promotion of Sharing and supporting various sharing-based services, such as car sharing, bike sharing, meal sharing, and housing sharing. The policy evolved through three phases, focusing on expanding users’ access to the sharing economy, consolidating international standing, and catalyzing efforts to turn residents into proactive actors in co-producing sharing economy services.

Other cities’ adoption of the Bologna Regulation has sparked a regulatory arms race without taking Bologna’s lessons into account. While some Italian localities adopted the rule without question, others adopted it more cautiously. The Bologna experiment piqued the interest of cities like Amsterdam, Ghent, and Madrid, which tailored it to their circumstances. Madrid adopted a law that is very similar to the Bologna rule, while Ghent created its common governance principles. Participatory methods have a history in Ghent, which is now working on pilot programs to support citizen-led initiatives. The objective is to establish a cooperative relationship between the city and its citizens for the management of urban commons.

The declaratory approach acknowledges the right of the community to self-organize and exert control or management of important resources for local communities. This manifests through two types of practices or policies: urban civic uses and civic management. Urban civic uses include “use rights” belonging to the members of a given community over public or private property (Casprini et al; 2023). These policies allow communities to self-organize, be proactive, and manage a local public service that they need. Civic management policies, also known as civic stewardship, allow assets to be stewarded by non-governmental organizations and community organizations that protect, manage, observe, inform the public, promote, and alter their local ecological and socioeconomic surroundings (Caggiano et al; 2022).

Blending The Constitutive And Declaratory Approaches

Although different cities have adopted different legal approaches, the chapter points out that the Co-City Turin project, sponsored by the UIA initiative, embraced a new version of the “Regulation on Governing the urban commons in the City of Turin”. The New Turin Regulation’s innovation is its endorsement of two forms of co-governance for urban commons: shared governance and self-governance.

Both constitutive and declaratory approaches cannot stand alone but instead are interdependent and interrelated for supporting the urban commons in the Italian system and globally if it is adapted to suit the city or communities’ context. It is necessary to acknowledge the role of partnership alongside blending and working with these policies and regulations. Both are vital in managing urban commons in the general, public, and common interest. This chapter has provided various examples of cities that are experimenting with different legal tools that enable and empower urban communities to utilize city resources and infrastructure to collectively create and sustain different forms of urban commons. The subsequent chapter will examine whether the suggested legal tools are enough to promote the reduction of power asymmetries in the city and to enable urban communities to leverage legal and financial mechanisms that ensure the sustainability of urban commons and the survival and flourishing of the communities relying on them.


With the agreements for cooperation supported by the Co-City Turin project sponsored by the UIA initiative.

Short List of References

Casprini, D.; Oppio, A.; Torrieri, F. Usi Civici: Open Evaluation Issues in the Italian Legal Framework on Civic Use Properties Land 2023, 12, 871. 10.3390/land12040871

Caggiano, H; Landau Laura F.; Campbell, Lindsay K.; Johnson, Michelle L.; Svendsen Erika S.: Civic Stewardship and Urban Climate Governance: Opportunities for Transboundary Planning, 2022

Pais, I., & nictolis, E. D. (2018). Valutare una politica pubblica urbana sui beni comuni. La valutazione dei patti di collaborazione approvati per effetto del regolamento per la cura e rigenerazione dei beni comuni urbani di Bologna. In La Co-Città. Diritto urbano e politiche pubbliche per i beni comuni e la rigenerazione urbana. (pp. 203-242)


Author: Benedicta Quarcoo

The Urban Commons

The second chapter of the Co-city book is initiated by recalling Elinor Ostrom’s revolutionary studies of natural resource commons (Ostrom 1990), posing the question:

Are there groups of residents and/or resource users who are willing and able to organize themselves, work together to establish rules for sharing resources, and monitor themselves in the absence of external authority or externally imposed regulations?

The definite answer given by the authors of the Co-cities book is yes, considering the several empirical analysis and observations conducted in about 200 cities across the globe. This is reflected in many forms: from simple community mesh wireless networks to urban villages or parks. Usually, organized community groups or associations of users and or residents come together to manage and or co-create community resources.

The writers go ahead to apply Ostrom’s analytical framework to urban resources in cities. Ostrom’s design principles are seen to be most relevant in the management of many kinds of public and shared resources in a city but Foster and Iaione give evidence according to which these principles may not work in the exact same way outside the city.

Thus, chapter 2 offshoots Ostrom in the City.


This part exposes readers to how much Ostrom’s design principles and observations are either applicable, of limited utility, or need to be modified to the current urban context. Instances such as community size and cohesion, shared social norms, social capital, community homogeneity, the scale of resources, and the recognition and support of central authorities and external actors all play a significant role in a community’s capacity to manage a shared resource collectively and sustainably over time.

It is quite significant, for example, to not undermine or disregard the role of central authority in the creation and sustainability of the urban commons. Since the State cannot be disregarded in the management and regulation of urban resources, sometimes collective natural resources demand a certain level of legal and property modification. Thus, a larger group of urban residents, many of whom are on the social and economic periphery of expanding cities gain access to these services. The benefit of the State’s effort to bridge the gap between the marginalized and the elite is partly bridged.


Another example regards “Urban Green Commons”, whose management considers them as urban ecological resources, such as lakes or urban parks. They are meant to promote social integration and enhance social networks in crowded, diverse, and frequently socially stratified metropolitan contexts. As much as they are beneficial to residents, they tend to be vulnerable and one way to tackle it is through collective action.

For instance, quoting: “Ostrom’s framework for the study of the commons in cities has been applied by researchers who have looked at ecological resources like lakes, rivers, and forests that urban local communities use for traditional cultural and economic uses and/or recent urban migrants use for aesthetic and recreational purposes” (D’Souza and Nagendra 2011).


The following section focuses on all levels of support from the various actors and how their roles are significant to the management of urban commons. These kinds of cooperation take the legal or institutional form of agreements or partnerships between local government and the association of residents that have set up an asset, for instance, agreements like the one between the city of New York and the Central Park Conservancy serve to formalize the parameters of the conservancy’s responsibility for the day-to-day management of the park as well as to establish important norms regarding the limits of the group’s responsibility for the resource, such as reverse crowd-out protection that ensures public funds won’t be replaced by private donations.

Despite strong social links and cooperative activities, these efforts might not be successful or long-lasting if local, but also central, governments and their programs.

Other forms of enabling thus include partnerships between local businesses, property owners, and local governments established to manage the neighborhood commons, special institutions arrangements, hence, in most cases, public-private partnerships.


A top-down, institutionalized, state-enabled form of collective resource governance is initiated and comes into being only through government authority or action, especially in cases such as large park conservancies and BIDs. Yet for most urban commons, a bottom-up approach is used and as such needed, and these initiatives are made by locals or resource users who are driven to work together to create new goods and services that many urban areas lack or find inaccessible to overcome traditional collective action challenges. Citizens and community-led associations and groups identify opportunities within the community such as vacant land spaces, abandoned parks, and forest reserves. They then ensure that the local government’s attention is drawn to this. The bottom-up approach, fostering what is called public-private-community partnership, comes with challenges but is appropriate for the urban commons and encourages both collective action and an enabling State.


This part characterizes commoning as a bottom-up technique of cooperatively generating or constructing resources that can be shared with others and that satisfy precise user needs. Commoning patterns and practices vary naturally based on the resource, the type of user community, and the social or cultural context. Both a resource and a community are requisite in this case to co-manage, steward, and cater for assets and services over a longer period.


Indeed, the enterprise is not easy.

The cost and accessibility of urban land and infrastructure are noted as what precisely makes the development of new types of shared and jointly managed urban products hard. Legal and Property adaptation exposes how urban communities and “commoners” are striving to change the legal status of the land and structures they use and/or occupy to take ownership of them.  Alternative solutions are available, for example by using legal and property tools such as community land trusts (CLTs) or limited equity cooperatives (LECs).  CLTs are created to enable communities to self-govern and care for urban land and structures, keeping them accessible and affordable for future users. Gray, 2008 states that the essence of land trusts is to promote affordable home ownership and local control of the land. The International Community of Economics (ICE) describes CLTs as a private nonprofit corporation established to purchase and keep land for the benefit of a community and to provide community inhabitants with safe, affordable access to land and homes. CLTs can scale through networking with the support of local policies and public resources. The intent is to protect the community at a neighborhood level: nested urban commons.


This last portion of the second chapter is dedicated to numerous examples of community land trusts, how they work, when they were initiated, and the numerous benefits it has had on the residents in various parts of the US. This signifies that there are communities that have the capacity to organize, co-create, co-share, and co-produce assets and services that are beneficial to them. They also act as stewards to safeguard and protect these social amenities through the zeal of ownership. The bottom-up approach establishes the concept of the commons considering its participatory approach and collective action by all stakeholders. The legal factor is also upheld where necessary according to the context of the society or community. The pursuit of urban commons transcends theory.


Short References

Bunce, Mel. (2015). International news and the image of Africa: New storytellers, new narratives?

D’Souza R, Nagendra H. Changes in public commons as a consequence of urbanization: the Agara lake in Bangalore, India. Environ Manage. 2011 May;47(5):840-50. doi: 10.1007/s00267-011-9658-8. Epub 2011 Mar 23. PMID: 21431444.

Institute for Community Economics. (1982). The Community land trust handbook. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press

Gray, Karen. (2008). Community Land Trusts in the United States. Journal of Community Practice. 16. 65-78. 10.1080/10705420801977999.

One-on-one conversation with Professor Sheila Foster about the Co-Cities book

Welcome to our CO-Cities book blog, readers. 


This post features a one-on-one conversation with Professor Sheila Foster, co-author of the Co-Cities book and co-director of LabGov, a scientific and applied research laboratory in multiple cities.

Let’s get started.


  1. What inspired you to write this book about co-cities? 

Foster stated that the inspiration to write Co-cities arose from working with Professor Christian Iaione, co-director of LabGov, as they investigated the idea of the city as a “shared infrastructure” or a commons. She stated: “Working with LabGov in Bologna, seeing how they regulated and developed the city, inspired me. We then went on to host a gathering in Bologna and later in Bellagio at the Rockefeller Foundation. In Bellagio, we invited various representatives from cities across America and Europe to workshop the co-city framework. Clearly, this framework could be effectively used to motivate other cities. I then was inspired to bring it to the U.S.”


  1. How do you balance being a mother, a mentor, a researcher, and a writer?

When asked how she copes and balances her life being a lecturer, a mother, a researcher, a writer, a community builder, and a mentor to many, she smiled and happily responded that service is something that she enjoys doing. She also explained that she is currently involved in applying the co-city framework in Baton Rouge, Louisiana:

“As part of a co-city project in Baton Rouge in the U.S. South, I’m usually not on the ground but meet with the local actors on Zoom. We have a project manager that travels to Baton Rouge and is on the ground. I make time for travel, conferences, research, papers, articles, and writing during breaks because we do not teach all year round. As well as being a member of the New York City Mayor panel on Climate Change, I also advise and support grassroots community groups.” She stresses that the co-city model is highly practical and poses the question of how to assist vulnerable communities with becoming net-zero and making a successful transition. This framework provides a pathway towards climate neutrality, sustainability, and just transitions, as well as reducing energy costs. She says that no institution alone can make this happen, yet it is possible by implementing larger policies from higher levels of government. For example, the US’s Inflation Reduction Act means incentives are available at an individual and household level, as well as at the community, local, and state government levels. It is necessary to consider how to facilitate these funds reaching those who need them most – through solar panel installation, creative community solar projects, or networked microgrids.


  1. How does the co-city paradigm differ from traditional conceptions of cities (give me an example)?

Urban theorists have come up with various models and frameworks to guide cities in the desired direction. The Co-city book discusses “Creative Cities”, “Smart Cities”, and “Right to the City” approaches, among others. Foster elaborates on Richard Florida’s model wherein cities should be a hub for educated and innovative minds in the tech, knowledge, and healthcare domains; an idea that is similar to what former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said, “capital follows talent”. Urban Agglomeration is one result of people’s movement into cities as per economic theory which entails the concentration of knowledge actors learning from each other. The book also discusses the Smart City concept which sees the city as a platform for the greatest technologies meant to improve every area of city functioning. The Co-city paradigm takes it further by focusing on “The Right to the City” idea – redirecting these innovations to help disadvantaged regions/communities become empowered.

The co-city concept is also rooted more in the “right to the city” and Owen Hatherley’s “Rebel City”. These concepts have grown in popularity in Latin America and Europe. In this framework, everyone has a right to physically participate in the governance of their city—especially those who are usually left out. The difference between the two stages of the conceptualization is that the “right to the city” has been challenged in its implementation in Latin America, in particular, due to rising land prices. The co-city, on the contrary, offers responsive prototypes and tools like community land trusts, limited equity cooperatives, and wireless energy networks that can create an environment allowing residents to co-govern their neighborhoods while attending to rising land values. It is this practicality that distinguishes it from other conceptualizations.


  1. Can you give me some examples of co-cities in action? 

Foster mentioned Baton Rouge as the second largest metropolitan area in the state of Louisiana- a racially and economically stratified city populated by blacks, Latinos, and many living in poverty. The area of the city LabGov is working in is predominantly black and poor and is an “infrastructure desert”, lacking good sidewalks, traffic lights, green space, adequate housing, and small businesses. It is filled with vacant lots. At the same time, it is near “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana, a stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge with a heavy concentration of petrochemical facilities.  Foster was invited into Baton Rouge to apply the co-city model to bring together, and pool resources, from a wide network of stakeholders such as local redevelopment authorities, local innovators and entrepreneurs, civic groups, private industries, foundations, both local and national, and others. “Co-City Baton Rouge” (CCBR) is focused on a 4-mile area of the city which, as described above, is in dire need of innovative approaches to urban revitalization. JPMorgan Chase Bank has provided funding to CCBR, which is part of a larger collaborative working in the area, including the local redevelopment agency, community and civic organizations, and community development financial institutions. CCBR has co-designed and is implementing prototypes that will provide goods and services—such as entrepreneurial spaces, high-speed internet, green space, and housing— tailored specifically for that community. A notable prototype is an eco-park that could address flooding issues while providing green space. It was co-designed with local authorities, residents, and a design studio at a local university.  The park, using vacant lots, will provide residents with safe spaces to recreate, a place to put a new bus stop, and offers a green infrastructure to ensure climate resiliency. The eco-park will be managed and paid for by the city’s park agency but will be held by the Community Land Bank and Trust (CLBT) which Foster created for the project and which will hold properties until they are redeveloped. Eventually, the CLBT will contain a food incubator cooperative helping people from food trucks create sustainable businesses as well. A number of other projects have been launched in other parts of the world, including Hong Kong, Sao Paolo, and Costa Rica. Understanding the context is crucial if the co-city framework is to function in a city, as it isn’t a cut-and-paste operation, and what worked in one city might not work in the other due to a variety of factors including location, culture, and governance model.


  1. What can be done to adapt co-city models to different cultures and contexts? 

In her opinion, the co-city model must be tailored to the place, the politics, and the culture of the area. The principles of the co-cities have been designed to allow actors to come together, map out resources, and prototype. Only democratic cultures and governance systems may be able to implement the co-city model, which is experimental and adaptive.


  1. Which lessons can be learned from successful cases or examples around the world? 

In an answer to this question, Foster proposed that much can be learned from specific applications of the co-city approach. These examples require local residents, officials, and different sectors to contemplate how the approach can be rooted in a specific place and context. One of the things that Foster and LabGov researchers and practitioners are exploring now is whether the co-city approach can help promote energy democracy, energy justice, or even climate justice in places like the U.S., Sub-Saharan Africa, or Latin America. Further research needs to be conducted to determine its suitability for various cities. It will be a great advantage if some cities begin employing the co-city governance model ensuring consistency. This can act as a learning experience and enable experimental-based exploration by everyone involved.


  1. What elements of the Co-cities book did you think received more attention for you to win the Prose 2023 award? 

Foster believes that the Co-cities book’s nomination for the 2023 Prose Award was a result of its combination of theoretical background, practical illustrations, and empirical research. She revealed that it took 550 examples from 200 cities to create their co-city survey, believing that it is a novel approach within academic literature. Another aspect contributing to its practicality was the collaborations and dialogues of various players involved. She expressed great joy with the number of positive reactions she has been receiving, highlighting how the process was a long yet affectionate endeavour.



Author: Benedicta Quarcoo