The Possibility of a CO-City – Interview with Christian Iaione

This interview by Anne de Zeeuw and Michiel Hulshof originally appeared on New Europe, Cities in Transition on the 17th of November. 

“Citizens should not just be involved, but they should be driving the process, being the managers.”

What does the rise of bottom-up initiatives mean for our current welfare state? Does it provide a way out of the growing dichotomy between active citizens and non-active citizens?

Professor Christian Iaione (LUISS University, Rome) talks about the idea of a ‘co-city’ – cognitive, collaborative city – which has been implemented in Bologna’s administration.


In the American Journal of Economics and Sociology you write about the City as a Commons, could you describe how the management of such a city differs from the actual situation?

You no longer have one city hall, but a distributed network of city halls in which even the single household could become – if the governance is polycentric – a small atom of the city hall.

-In what way would the single household be an atom?

Well, if household starts producing energy, save water or become part of a distributed and shared wireless network, they become part of a supply chain and do not only react on the demand. This is different than the current situation, where public and private organizations have been producing goods for consumers. The typical city hall is either commanding, controlling or providing services. It is producing something to satisfy the demand of the public by producing an offer. The product can be services just like policing and sanctions.

When looking at the collaborative city hall, the city hall works more on the transformation of the demand through production units. Think of it as all these new co-operations of citizens that produce energy.

– So this means that people become producers and users at the same time?

They produce, they use and they sell their surplus to the grid. That way, they get money out of the grid. With that money they can pay for other services, like wireless internet or even social services. This is something that is actually happening in a few countries, like in Italy. So, in one building there are elderly people who share solar panels for the production of energy and then they collectively hire a nurse to take care of them. That way they do not have to move to residential homes for the elderly. The elderly people stay in their own houses, but they share the health care services. And at the same time they become part of a unit that produces energy.

-How would the management of all that differ from the actual situation? For instance, how would be the local health care system managed?

The difference of this kind of idea of collaborative commons is that this is really based on commons design principles. It means that they should be run by hyper-local co-ops that are more democratic than having just the households that use a grid owned by some company that has its offices somewhere else. There’s a risk, though. The same thing that happened with Uber and Airbnb – where users do not have any voice – could also happen with the production of energy within the households. In that case, users are in a hierarchical structure. Then the ownership of the grid is private, and there is no possible way to include in the matrix social values, social goals or environmental goals. They are not committed to the commons. It is the commitment to the commons that makes the difference.

What kind of goods can be co-produced in this ideal situation?

Not everything. As Tine de Moor would say: ‘you don’t share the toothbrush’ but you can share your kitchen, which used to be the most private kind of environment. You could share the wireless internet, you could share in energy production, you could share food lifestyles. Even for buying food, you have local groups in Italy, the so-called Solidarity Purchase Groups. These groups buy together all the veggies and other sorts of food that is locally grown and this is part of the social and solidarity economy movement. They have a whole chain that is outside the normal distribution chain, otherwise, they would not be able to bare the costs. So they have parallel structures in which basically the local sort of network of local farmers create a logistic platform that then serves all sorts of consumers that create dispatch points within these buildings, private or shared spaces in communities, depends on the area. You create a so-called solidarity economy district.

Where is the solidarity in this system?

Solidarity exists from the producer to the consumer, directly without any intermediary.

This is part of the co-city, which is the polycentric level. It is when you change your lifestyle, instead of buying food that is produced millions of miles away that produces emissions and transportation costs, you buy local, you go local. In cities people are not really living in this paradigm. The current social paradigm is buying things by going to the supermarket and not caring about the origin. For example in New York where I lived ten years ago I had the problem of proper nutrition because the whole food paradigm in the States is very different from the Italian diet. So, it was really difficult for me to go to the supermarket, because there you could  find mainly products full of fats – unhealthy food. Right at that time, the whole foods movement started. Whole foods are supermarkets that bring together all the local products from everywhere in the world. I thought at first that it was a good thing, because you have the genuine thing. But I didn’t think about the kind of travel that this specific food made, because you would have salmon from the North Sea or tuna from Japan. In Italy for instance it is the same, Italy is now shipping Italian products to everywhere in the world. It is pushing to produce more than the land needs. To change that scenario you should look for the local farmers markets.

Ok, so we can share energy, food lifestyles, and more?

Also water efficiency, and waste treatment. Maybe in large cities, in global cities, recycling by now is really both mandatory by law and it is also a social norm, but if you come to Rome or you go to the cities in the Global South waste is widespread. Even Amsterdam and other Western cities produce a lot of trash. So we should start thinking about the way people act in the city by saying, like the FabCity movement says, ‘let’s produce things that have nine lives of recycling’. So, it is a social paradigm that has to change.

To go polycentric you need to change behavior. People should understand that they need to buy things that are recyclable, that they need to recycle, they need to be more careful and more conscious about what they buy and, in general, about their behavior in the city. That is the very last layer or ingredient of a co-city.

-How do you make sure in such a polycentric city everybody gets what he needs?

There are different levels. You go from sharing to collaboration, then cooperation and then polycentric. You start basic, you start simply by sharing the urban commons. Then you start creating collaboration between local businesses to run some areas. Then you might end up creating institutions that are cooperative in their DNA. And then you go polycentric when you create a regulatory framework that sparks and fosters the kind of behaviors that I was talking about.

-Could you also make the welfare state polycentric or is this a step too far?

No, this is all about the welfare state. If you think about hospitals, they are usually perceived as the place where you have to go when you are sick and this creates a congestion. But most of the care could start in the single household. You could have doctors who are dedicated to single households, to single buildings. So instead of having the hospital as a concentration, as a hub, you would have a distributed health care system.

Like my grandfather used to do, he used to be a doctor in a small village in the south of Italy. Because there were no hospitals he would go house by house to take care of people. So this started in medio-Romania as a way not to create concentration and therefore congestion – many people have sicknesses that could be prevented easily by taking care of them at home.

We actually have this system in the Netherlands, you first need to go to your local doctor before you can go to a hospital.

What I am saying is that maybe you should not have a patient going to the doctor, but rather the doctor going to the patients. It would cost less, because when there is a pool of inhabitants then you could also have a dedicated pool of doctors. You see intermediation. You group the demand, and you group the offer and you enable the encounter between these two pools.

My own example, I always make is about the elderly people. Also because of my personal experience: my grandmother died because she fell down in her apartment because of her carpet. If doctors would visit people at home, they would probably give them advice like: ‘You should have a light here, because you don’t see the steps, you should take out the carpets because you can slip.’ These are simple things, that matter.

-So this system is focused on individual needs, how does it take care of the general needs?

The answer is straightforward – by treating the individual needs and aggregating then you help the public. So, if you look at the figures how many home accidents of elderly people occur and they could have been prevented by just giving them some good advice. It is about a lot of money that you could safe, so it is taking care of the public.

I-f you have this distributive system, parts of it will fail and parts – flourish. So there will be experiments that work and experiments that do not work. Who is paying for the costs of failure?

Who is paying for big, giant programs that do not really have an impact? How much time do we need to change the framework before we understand that something is wrong? How much money do we spend the time that we realize that something is not working anymore? There are giant public policies that use a lot of money yet only lead to  a new reform. By the time you understand that it is obsolete you have spend a lot of money. When we want to realize a huge infrastructure and we don’t ask the people and the people then oppose the infrastructure and this makes the whole financial plan to go rogue. That’s the cost. This cost is concentrated on the state on the collectivity – we are all paying.

-But in the distributed system, not all of us would be losing. Only some people would lose.

It is not about losing or winning it is about common learning. Justice Brendice of the supreme court used to say that states in the US are laboratories for experimentation. He said so, because states could learn from the mistakes of the other and improve the public policy through cycle after cycle of experimentation. So distribution, polycentrism, federalism is about this basically, it is about learning from each other. So giving autonomy means that someone could find new ways, and then look at these new ways and maybe improve by learning from each other. And then the other aspect is the ring-fencing. By giving more autonomy you decrease the amount of risk. Because when someone fails it is contained. You may have to make sure it doesn’t spread through the system.

-What to do with these few people that are in this nasty position?

You have to create a kind of parachute for those who fail. There should be no stigma in failing and making mistakes. We should have a cultural and economic investment on reframing failure as just the next step for a future success. And, of course, you should have come to balance that people do not become failure oriented, but you should have some form of recovery.

-Do you then think that there should be a combination of a welfare state and a polycentric state?

Yes, definitely. The welfare state is there to stay.  I am not saying that we should get rid of the Leviathan State or the Gargantua State, but we need to rebuild the form of State. I call this the third institutional revolution. Going from the Leviathan to the Gargantuan, from the Gargantua to a new type of state.

-How do you deal with the division between active citizens who innovate and non-active citizens who remain dependent on the welfare state?

So far, we are used to having these two morphologies. What I am saying is that City Makers, social innovators, active citizens and urban farmers among others are giving birth to a third form of state – which is not the Leviathan or the Gargantua. These are there to stay, because you still need someone to exercise safety, like the police. I wouldn’t have the police be run as a private entity. That is not the governance of the commons that is something else. That is big society, or substitutions, or private cities. You have these neighborhood watches. I don’t think that they should be perceived as governance of the commons, because they are more substituting the public. What I am saying is that instead you should have forms of co-management. I don’t want to end up in a private city, a gated community, in which the police is a private, and where I have no democratic rights.

-Do you have to have a strategy to prevent such a complete privatization?

The first strategy is to be aware of it. This could be interpreted as going towards a complete self-organization, complete privatization. That is the difference between the studies that Elinor Ostrom has carried out and our studies – mine and Sheila Fosters’ studies. Because in a city the self-organization is not enough, you need co-organization. You need co-governance. You don’t need self-government. You need to have the public involved because the public should take care of both the needs of those who are not able to take care of themselves and you also need to have the public as a watchdog, as a referee, as a sort of seeing entity that is also preserving democracy. That is the ultimate, the universal service, what is called the universal service in EU terms should be guaranteed by the public.

-So there is a key difference between self-organization and co-organization

Yes, that is why I call it ‘urban co-governance’ instead of urban self-governance. Actually, Ostrom said, with the eight design principles, that once the scale of the commons is higher and the stakes are higher and more complex, then you need to have multi-layered nested enterprises. For me, that is what urban co-governance is about. It is about creating nested enterprises. In the city, you need to have nestedness. Because you cannot run the city as a commons without involving the private sector. I think it is stupid to think you can throw out the economic sector, since they are an important actor this would only create conflicts. Which does not mean you give them veto powers, but you need to take them into account.

You need to enable citizens. They should not just be involved, but they should be driving the process, being the managers. Then you have the public overseeing the process, and as a last resort the judicial system should be in some way public.

-If you would make a map of bottom-up initiatives, just starting spontaneously, it is usually only certain groups, right?

Yes, that is the sharing level, which is the first level. If you stay at this level in a city, these initiatives are going to die, they are not going to survive, maybe just a few of them. On this level you do not turn the whole city into a commons, you just cultivate sharing practices. You do shared governance for single urban commons, single assets. You do not update the whole framework. In the city as a commons, urban democracy is completely different. Elections may become useless. Elections we know now do not always ensure democratic quality to democracy, the system could be broken and could be contaminated, influenced by the money that is injected to the electoral process.

-In the previous discussion on The Commons and the Principle of Equality you mentioned we need to differentiate between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. Could you shortly explain ‘equality of outcome’?

This can be explained by the metaphor of a running race. The first dimension is equality before the law, a formal equality. This means that everybody should be able to participate in the race. Then equality of opportunity means that everybody should be on the blocks, even those that are poor or have sicknesses. That is what the welfare state is doing, trying to put everybody on the starting blocks. That is all ex ante, but nobody cares about ex post.

So, equality of outcome asks: how do we make sure that the race does not end up with perpetuating divide? This is very complex. While at first, someone is going to win, now we make sure that no one is going to win at all. For this, we should change the differences in the prices, which should not be so large that you create deeper divides in society. If you don’t care about what is happening during the race, of course during the race everybody should first of all stick to the rules, but then if the winner wins the first price and the first price is 5.000 times more valuable than whatever the third in the rank gets. Or 10.000 more than the last in the race, someone who participated, who co-produced the race, because he participated. What if he was not there, what if at some point these people do not participate anymore. So this is also about a redistribution of power.

Thank you, Christian.

Focus on the author: Sheila Foster

This article is a focus on the figure of Professor Sheila Foster, LabGov’s co-founder.

Sheila R. Foster is University Professor and the Albert A. Walsh Professor of Real Estate, Land Use and Property Law at Fordham University. She is also the faculty co-director of the Fordham Urban Law Center. She served as Vice Dean of the Law School from 2011-2014 and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs from 2008-2011. Professor Foster is the author of numerous publications on land use, environmental law, and antidiscrimination law. Her early work was dedicated to exploring the intersection of civil rights and environmental law, in a field called “environmental justice”. Her most recent work explores the legal and theoretical frameworks in which urban land use decisions are made. Land use scholars voted her article on Collective Action and the Urban Commons (Notre Dame Law Review, 2011) as one of the 5 best (out of 100) articles on land use published that year.Professor Foster is the recipient of two Ford Foundation grants for her on environmental justice and urban development. Professor Foster is also the coauthor of a recent groundbreaking casebook, Comparative Equality and Antidiscrimination Law: Cases, Codes, Constitutions and Commentary (Foundation Press, 2012). She has taught and conducted research internationally in Switzerland, Italy, France, England, Austria, Colombia, Panama, and Cuba. Her

Here is an anthology of her publications.


  • Comparative equality and antidiscrimination law: Cases, codes, constitutions and commentary, with David Oppenheimer and Sora Han (Foundation Press, 2012).
    “This casebook compares U.S. equality and anti-discrimination law with the law of several other legal systems, such as Europe, South Africa, China, Colombia, and Argentina. Coverage includes equality issues in marriage, employment, affirmative action, reproductive rights, state religion, religious minorities, hate speech, and federalism”.
  • The law of environmental justice: Theories and procedures to address disproportionate risks, co-editor with Michael B. Gerrard (American Bar Association, 2008).
    “Environmental justice is the concept that minority and low-income individuals, communities and populations should not be disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards, and that they should share fully in making the decisions that affect their environment”.
  • From the ground up: Environmental racism and the rise of the environmental justice movement, with Luke Cole (NYU Press, 2001). 
    “When Bill Clinton signed an Executive Order on Environmental Justice in 1994, the phenomenon of environmental racism—the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards, particularly toxic waste dumps and polluting factories, on people of color and low-income communities—gained unprecedented recognition. Behind the President’s signature, however, lies a remarkable tale of grassroots activism and political mobilization”. 

Recent Publications:

  • Vulnerability, Equality and Environmental Justice in Handbook of Environmental Justice (eds.  Jayajit Chakraborty and Gordon Walker) (forthcoming Routledge 2017)
  • The City as a Commons, with Christian Iaione (Yale Law & Policy Review, Vol. 34, No. 2, 2016). “City space is highly contested space. As rapid urbanization takes hold around much of the world, contestations over city space – how that space is used and for whose benefit – are at the heart of many urban movements and policy debates”. Full article here.
  • Human Rights and Climate Change: Building Synergies for a Common Future, with Paolo Galizzi, in The Climate Change Law Encyclopedia (eds. Daniel Farber and Marjan Peeters, 2016). “Human rights exist only on the margins of the existing international climate change regime. Undoubtedly, bringing a human rights framework to international efforts can help to solidify the ethical moorings needed to compel meaningful action to address climate change. However, while advocates of a rights-based approach to climate change agree that human rights principles should underpin global climate change policies, there are many variations in how human rights may be defined, justified, and brought to bear in the climate change arena”. Full article here.
  • Comparative Urban Governance for Lawyers, with Fernanda Nicola (Fordham Urban Law Journal n. 42, 2015).
    “How can some cities’ experiences guide and enrich our understanding of what cities in other parts of the world should or should not do? What is the relevance of these comparisons in determining what type of economic development agenda is more suitable to a specific political and economic environment? How can interdisciplinary tools be utilized to establish some entry points for cross-national comparisons? What are the limitations of crossnational comparisons given the ways in which most local governments around the world are constrained within a vertical system of legal
    Full article here.
  • Breaking up Payday: Anti-Agglomeration Zoning and Consumer Welfare (Ohio State Law Journal n. 75, 2014).
    “Dozens of local governments have enacted zoning ordinances designed to limit the concentration of payday lenders and other alternative financial services providers (AFSPs), such as check-cashing businesses and auto title loan shops, in their communities. The main impetus for these ordinances is to shield economically vulnerable residents from the industry’s lending practices in the absence of sufficiently aggressive federal and state consumer protection regulation.
    This article casts considerable doubt on whether zoning is the appropriate regulatory tool to achieve the consumer protection and welfare goals animating these ordinances”. 
    Full article here.
  • The Mobility Case for Regionalism, with Nestor Davidson (UC Davis Law Review n. 47, 2013).
    “In the discourse of local government law, the idea that a mobile populace can “vote with its feet” has long served as a justification for devolution and decentralization. Tracing to Charles Tiebout’s seminal work in public finance, the legal-structural prescription that follows is that a diversity of independent and empowered local governments can best satisfy the varied preferences of residents metaphorically shopping for bundles of public services, regulatory environment, and tax burden”.
    Full article here.
  • Collective Action and the Urban Commons (Notre Dame Law Review n. 87, 2011). 
    “Urban residents share access to a number of local resources in which they have a common stake. These resources range from local streets and parks to public spaces to a variety of shared neighborhood amenities. Collectively shared urban resources suffer from the same rivalry and free-riding problems that Garrett Hardin described in his Tragedy of the Commons tale. Scholars have not yet worked up a theory about how this tragedy unfolds in the urban context, particularly in light of existing government regulation and control of common urban resources”. 
    Full article here
  • Integrative Lawyering: Navigating the Political Economy of Urban Development, with Brian Glick (California Law Review n. 95, 2007).
    “In this article we explore how contemporary urban development practices present intriguing challenges for lawyers representing community-based organizations working to proactively rebuild their communities into ones that are both socially just and ecologically sustainable”.
    Full article here.
  • The City as an Ecological Space: Social Capital and Urban Land Use (Notre Dame Law Review n. 82, 2006).
    “The notion that certain uses of public and private property can have negative effects beyond legally defined property boundaries is firmly embedded in land use law. We are now comfortable regulating land use to prevent and control for impacts to our natural resources, environmental quality, and nuisances to third parties. This idea is partly rooted in economic theory – i.e., the existence of negative externalities – but also in the theory of ecology – i.e., the notion that property is inextricably part of a network of social and economic relationships and that its impacts traverse legally defined property boundaries. But not all impacts, or costs, of land use are properly accounted for in land use regulation”. 
    Full article here.

Additional publications can be found here.

Recently published articles:

  • The Co-City: from the Tragedy to the comedy of the Urban Commons, published on The Nature of Cities, November 2nd 2016. Available here.
  • Common threads: connections among the ideas of Jane Jacobs and Elinor Ostrom, and their relevance to urban socio-ecology, published on The Nature of Cities, May 28th, 2016. Available here.

  • Cities, Inequality and the Common Good, published on The Huffington Post, US Edition, October 30th 2015. Available here.
Interview with Professor Christian Iaione. Co-governance: building a stronger spirit of collaboration

Interview with Professor Christian Iaione. Co-governance: building a stronger spirit of collaboration

This interview with Professor Christian Iaione (originally published by the Academy of Urbanism) provides us with fundamental insights into the ideas constituting the foundations of the Bologna Regulation, of the CO-City framework and, more in general, of LabGov’s work. The original article can be found here.


How to co-create and negotiate the endless city is an ongoing process between its citizens, state and administration. Katy Hawkins interviews Christian Iaione, innovator behind Bologna’s Co-cities Protocol – now set to transcend international borders – in search of new examples of collaboration, specifically between authorities and communities.

Conversations about community engagement and local action have long surpassed the idea of top-down, bottom-up process. Indeed, they have become dominated by ideas of networked-thinking, devolution and polycentric structures: process orientated approaches.

These conversations, when successfully played out in reality, see local action that is able to travel in all directions through advanced and nimble mechanisms that enable it to impact on policy and inform governmental priorities. They also allow for the distribution, rather than centralisation, of power. This is epitomised in the structural properties of blockchain, a network of voices that operates without a central linchpin and thus enables anyone (those with differing views in particular) to work in a peer-to-peer fashion.

These initiatives, when not community-led, are typically run by facilitators and enablers – often a hybrid of urbanist, sociologist and social innovator, but mostly defying such categorical distinctions – of which there is a growing breed. They are positioned at various points within the network – typically somewhere between the state and the local community – to enable the process of collaboration and co-creating.



Collaborare è Bologna is a City of Bologna project managed with the Bologna Urban Center and various partners. It promotes a ‘Culture of Collaboration’, with continuous and consistent community involvement, while making technologies, resources, spaces, knowledge, skills and information more accessible.

Within this framework, in May 2014 the Municipality of Bologna approved an instruction manual, Regulations on the Collaboration Between Citizens and the Administration, for a collaborative dialogue between the public, private and community spheres. It is a tool that seeks to simplify and promote forms of collaboration in the management of the commons.

Working on a city-wide scale, Co-city in Bologna is a framework that has since been applied to other cities, not by replicating itself but by following the same process of learning from the ground and accommodating a process that is respondent to the specific place and people within.

The project was co-developed by Christian Iaione as a part of LabGov (LABoratory for GOVernance of the commons), where experiments and trials are the way of working – failure is viewed as an opportunity to learn. As one of the initiators, Iaione saw this process as “a way to collaboratively redesign institution and laws – to enable action for the general interest, with ideas of social justice, inclusion and democracy at the model’s core.”

A framework that acknowledges everyone means that input from all those that such a process affects can be channelled effectively. This was in fact one of the starting points: a realization that a lot of energy was being lost due to a lack of organization.

Of the five actors the framework identifies: citizens, public authorities, private sector, civil society organizations and knowledge institutions (of nurture and culture), it was citizens’ (specifically activists and social innovators) energy that was often lost either due to lack of direction or being misdirected towards another place, namely to fight against the state.

From this starting point Iaione asked the question: why don’t we invite the individual into a polycentric governance scheme that keeps central the individual? We should invite them to work within the system – and then give them the tools to organise and collaborate with the other actors.

What then is the role of public authorities within this model? Iaione explains: “First to scout and enable active citizens and social innovators, and then to oversee the process and give technical support to citizens, the proper techniques to collaborate – and ensure they are collaborative, not competitive, processes. Secondly, they need to be working on finding solutions that re-define asymmetries.” It is their role to treasure the civic imagination and liberate the imagination and energies. Then oversee the process and resolve any conflict.

The framework is careful not to relieve activists of their non-conformist and often nomadic status. According to Iaione, this action should be “organised, but not necessarily formalised, therefore aimed at delivering all sorts of solutions that may contribute to the wellbeing of people in a certain city. As for the citizen, their role is conceived as central. They have the knowledge to come up with new solutions. Nowadays knowledge is distributed. It’s not like 19th Century – knowledge is spread out – and society bears it.”

So what about the central notion of the commons?

The idea behind the Co-city project in Bologna was to apply the thinking of American political scientist Elinor Ostrom to the urban realm, by considering the whole city to be a commons.

By tracing the development of the term ‘commons’, from agriculture to guilds to urban, it can be broadly agreed that there is no commons without commoning. It is in the act of collective-doing, or, the relational aspect, that is important. The value of the resource is that it is collectively produced as a result of human activity.

Theoretically speaking, Ostrom’s work on the commons was the leading principle for the co-city model – she won the famous Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons. Her work was confined to how people collectively manage common and pooled resources in rural areas, such as forests, fisheries, oil fields, grazing lands, and
irrigation systems.

Ostrom examined successful examples of self-organised governance systems and defined the context in which they can work: where there are clear boundaries of the resources and the parties involved, internal rules and sanctioning processes, monitoring systems to ensure accountability, mechanisms of conflict resolution, and ensuring stakeholders (appropriators of the common resources) are involved in the decision-making process. Beyond this: effective communication, internal trust and reciprocity, and the nature of the resource system as a whole.

Ostrom famously disproved American ecologist and philosopher Garrett Hardin’s notion of the ‘tragedy of the commons’, which was the idea that without centralised monitoring people would abuse the commons and take more than their fair share. Ostrom pointed to examples whereby communities have successfully managed common resources – through internal processes of self-sanctioning and exclusion and other successful self-organising principles.

In November 2015, Iaione hosted a conference in Bologna – the so-called Red City – to unpack some of these ideas, with an international audience of experts bringing their first-hand experiences. The conference, entitled The City as Commons, posited that we might view the entire city as the commons1

What can the UK and other places learn from this? It could be argued that Italy’s lack of public funds for physical infrastructure mean that re-framing the role of the municipality and the citizen is beneficial to its resources. Yet in actuality it seems to demonstrate a strengthened social infrastructure in spite of the economic climate.

In the UK, our obsession with productivity and building leaves less time to reflect on social infrastructure and ways of working. By way of devolved governance we have an overlapping and layered myriad of structures at play, situated within differing frameworks.

Community Rights, such as those outlined in the UK’s Localism Act, have led to neighbourhood forums. There are also community land trusts, tenant management organisations, an array of lighter touch ‘friends of groups’, tenants and residents mixes between community and business, traders associations, business improvement districts and even business-led neighbourhood plans that are being trialled in certain areas.

Iaiones’ research notes the restrictions of such governance structures in that they are nestled within an existing system where capacity for scaling-up is, in this way, restricted. Moreover, with rights set from above – thus limiting their abilities – they often come with issues surrounding legitimacy, accountability, inclusivity and transparency due to the fact that these principles are not sufficiently in-built into their framework. Furthermore, the task of enabling people to seize these opportunities is one that is often under-resourced. Indeed, funding to help with technical aid in neighbourhood planning processes is declining, meaning that not all people can make use of what’s on offer.

Perhaps as in Bologna, there needs to be more focus in the UK on inclusivity and creating an environment in which all people – regardless of background – can make use of the opportunities that are available.

As Iaione puts it: “When you run a study you try and find springs of innovation – from whatever is existing: the Business Improvement Districts and neighbourhood improvement trajectory, coupled with participatory urban assembly … these are ingredients we need to use.” Indeed, polycentric structures often simply co-exist, with governance boundary lines sometimes unknowingly overlapping.

By bringing representatives from the aforementioned groups (and more) together, there is a big opportunity to build understanding and see how they can work better together, with the whole of the community in mind… And therefore build a stronger spirit of collaboration between these often-disparate local governance structures.

Katy Hawkins is a project co-ordinator for The Means, consultant for HopCroft Neighbourhood Forum, associate at something good something useful and an active TRA committee member. Previously she undertook an MRes in Interdisciplinary Urban Design, at Bartlett UCL


LabGov on Co-cities on agenda

Longtime LabGov member Elena de Nictolis and environmental law expert Chiara Prevete wrote an article on the “Open Government Forum” section. The article describes the modus operandi adopted by LabGov in fostering the trasformation of our cities in co-cities with a collaborative governance.

The “Co-City” action carried on by LabGov promotes collaboration as a technology using “incentive prizes, crowdsourcing, and citizen science to advance national priorities, collaborating with civil societies including companies, universities, foundations, non-profits, and the public”. This action also includes a methodology to develop a collaborative government structure, which enables various kinds of collective action: not only the voluntary, individual ones, neither that of associations, but also those originated by solidarity and by the shared management of services of common interest. 

The final aim of this action is to transform the cities into “co-cities“, that is collaborative cities, by means of the implementation of the governance of the commons design principles, outlined by the Nobel Prize Elinor Ostrom. This strategy aims at creating a quintuple helix institutional structure (an approach recognized by EU’s new Urban Agenda). This structure stimulates public-private partnerships, by involving five types of actors: civic (social innovators and active citizens), social (third sector organizations), cognitive (cultural institutions, schools and universities), public (public institutions) and private (local enterprises and industries). 

The methodological protocol is a key-element of this strategy, and it is divided into five steps:

  1. constitution of a civic collaboration unit, formed by experts in different subjects, to interact with the PA and support the whole process;
  2. social innovation mapping, by involving citizens and exploring the territory; 
  3. co-design paths, to coordinate the projects found in the previous step between them and with the city;  
  4. definition of polycentric and collaborative governance tools, tailored to the specific situation; 
  5. monitoring and evaluation of those governance tools.

As examples of this strategy and its adaptation to various local conditions, please visit,,,


If you are interested in this subject, please explore the full article here.


Elena de Nictolis e Chiara Prevete, in un articolo pubblicato su, hanno esposto i principi e il modus operandi che guidano l’azione Co-città portata avanti da LabGov negli ultimi anni. Quest’azione mira a trasformare le nostre città in città collaborative, basate sulla gestione cooperativa dei beni comuni urbani, risultante dall’interazione efficiente e costante tra i cinque attori chiave della società (modello a quintupla elica). Questa strategia si avvale inoltre di un protocollo metodologico volto a elaborare e applicare strumenti di governance policentrica fatti su misura per il contesto in cui si troveranno a operare.

Focus on the author: Christian Iaione

This article is a focus on the figure of LabGov’s coordinator, professor Christian Iaione.

Christian Iaione is associate professor of public law at Guglielmo Marconi University of Rome, fellow of the Urban Law Center at Fordham University, and visiting professor of governance of the commons at LUISS Guido Carli. He is an expert of the EU Committee of the Regions and he is member of the Sharing Economy International Advisory Board of the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

Prof. Iaione has published several articles in the field of public and administrative law and, in particular, land use, public goods and the commons, public services and public contracts, urban law and local government. He has authored two books on In house publicly-owned companies. Contribution to the principle of self-organization and self-production of local governments (Jovene, 2007 – 2012, II ed.) and The regulation of urban mobility (Jovene, 2008) and has co-authored Italy of the Commons (Carocci, 2012) and The Age of Sharing (Carocci, 2015).

Here is an anthology of his publications:


  • L’Italia dei beni comuni (with G.Arena), Carrocci, Rome, (2012).
  • L’età della condivisione (with G.Arena) Carrocci, Rome (2015).


Recent Publications:

  • La città collaborativa: la governance dei beni comuni per l’urbanistica collaborata e collaborativa, published in Agenda RE-CYCLE, Proposte per reinventare la città (Il Mulino, 2017). Available soon.
  • The City as a Commons (Yale Law and Policy Review, 2016), together with Sheila R. Foster. “City space is highly contested space. As rapid urbanization takes hold around much of the world, contestations over city space – how that space is used and for whose benefit – are at the heart of many urban movements and policy debates”. Full article here.
  • Lo Stato – Piattaforma di immaginazione civica, la politica e le istituzioni nel secolo del CO-, published in 25 anni di riforme della PA: troppe norme, pochi traguardi, 39 (Forum PA, Annual Report 2016). An analysis of how the State should begin to function as a Platform and of how institutions and policies should evolve in the “CO-” age – a period in which the key words seem to be community, collaboration, cooperation, communication, commons, co-design, co-production, co-management, co-housing, co-design, sharing, knowledge, etc. Full article here.
  • La quintupla elica come approccio alla governance dell’innovazione sociale, published in I luoghi dell’innovazione aperta, modelli di sviluppo territoriale e inclusione sociale, 74 (Quaderni, Fondazione G.Brodolini, Studi e Ricerche, November 2016).  In this paper it is stated that the “Collaborative City” (CO-City) urban co-governance framework, based on the three levels of sharing, pooling and poly-centrism, can facilitate collaborative and open knowledge production and social innovation processes within the city. Furthermore, the CO-City approach further elaborates on the triple helix governance model and develops a more complex and precise version, defined as quintuple helix model, which identifies the five actors of the polycentric governance. Full article here.
  • Poolism: sharing economy vs. pooling economy (LabGov website, 2015). Sharing economy builds on new or revived social patterns having important business, legal and institutional implications: the social practices of sharing and collaboration. They both build on the well known social practice of co-operation.
    Full article here.
  • The Co-City (American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 2015).
    This paper introduces an innovative, experimental, adaptive, and iterative approach to creating legal and institutional frameworks based on urban polycentric governance to foster collaborative urban planning. Full article here.
  • The Collaborative and Polycentric Governance of the Urban and Local Commons (Urban Pamphleteer #5, 2015), together with Paola Cannavò. “Institutions, designed in a historical era in which the government handed out basic services to citizens, are nowadays required to design new types of services in collaboration with citizens. In order to define better forms of urban and local governance, it’s necessary to study and elaborate a new paradigm, to find new theories, policies and development models”. Full article here.
  • Governing the Urban Commons (Italian Journal of Public Law, 2015).
    The purpose of this paper is to investigate a fundamental question relating to institutional design in the public sector. After two centuries of Leviathan-like public institutions or Welfare State, do we still need full delegation of every public responsibility and/or exclusive monopoly of the power to manage public affairs? Full article here.
  • La collaborazione civica per l’amministrazione, la governance e l’economia dei beni comuni (L’età della condivisione, 2015).
    “In Italia i beni comuni sono ormai entrati nel lessico quotidiano. Il rischio è che «beni comuni» diventi un’espressione di senso comune, ma priva di effettivo valore semantico e, soprattutto, di rigore scientifico: casella vuota che chiunque si senta legittimato a riempire con qualunque significato”. Full article here.
  • Città e Beni Comuni (L’Italia dei Beni Comuni, 2012).
    “Dove va una persona se vive in una città, non ha la fortuna di possedere un giardino e sente il bisogno di immergersi in un ambiente naturale, usufruire di tutti i servizi che uno spazio verde può fornire come correre, leggere un libro su un prato all’aria aperta, respirare aria mediamente più pulita?”. Full article here.
  • The Tragedy of Urban Roads: Saving Cities from Choking, Calling on Citizens to Combat Climate Change (Fordham Urban Law Journal, 2009).
    This article argues that the best response to the tragedy of road congestion has to rely on market-based regulatory techniques and public policies aimed at controlling the demand-side of transportation congestion.
    Full article here.
  • Local Public Entrepreneurship and Judicial Intervention in a Euro-American and Global Perspective (Washington University Global Studies Law Review, 2008). “Local public entrepreneurship encompasses a variety of activities carried out by local governments designed to foster local economic development. This article presents local public entrepreneurship as a windfall of the right to local self-government”. Full article here.

A complete list of his publications is available here.


Recent articles and interviews:


The City as a Commons, by Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione

The City as a Commons” is an article written by LabGov coordinator, professor Christian Iaione, together with Sheila Foster, and it was published in 2016 on the Yale Law and Policy Review

As rapid urbanization intensifies around the world, so do contestations over how city space is utilized and for whose benefit urban revitalization is undertaken. The most prominent sites of this contestation are efforts by city residents to claim important urban goods – open squares, parks, abandoned or underutilized buildings, vacant lots, cultural institutions, streets and other urban infrastructure – as collective, or shared, resources of urban communities. The assertion of a common stake or interest in resources shared with others is a way of resisting the privatization and/or commodification of these resources. We situate these claims within an emerging “urban commons” framework embraced by progressive reformers and scholars across multiple disciplines. The urban commons framework has the potential to provide a discourse, and set of tools, for the development of revitalized and inclusive cities. Yet, scholars have failed to fully develop the concept of the “urban commons,” limiting its utility to policymakers. In this article, we offer a pluralistic account of the urban commons, including the idea of the city itself as a commons. We find that, as a descriptive matter, the characteristics of some shared urban resources mimic open-access, depletable resources that require a governance or management regime to protect them in a congested and rivalrous urban environment. For other kinds of resources in dispute, the language and framework of the commons operates as a normative claim to open up access of an otherwise closed or limited access good. This latter claim resonates with the social obligation norm in property law identified by progressive property scholars and reflected in some doctrines which recognize that private ownership rights must sometimes yield to the common good or community interest. Ultimately, however, the urban commons framework is more than a legal tool to make proprietary claims on particular urban goods and resources. Rather, we argue that the utility of the commons framework is to raise the question of how best to manage, or govern, shared or common resources. The literature on the commons suggests alternatives beyond privatization of common resources or monopolistic public regulatory control over them. We propose that the collaborative and polycentric governance strategies already being employed to manage some natural and urban common resources can be scaled up to the city level to guide decisions about how city space and common goods are used, who has access to them, and how they are shared among a diverse population. We explore what it might look like to manage the city as a commons by describing two evolving models of what we call “urban collaborative governance”: the sharing city and the collaborative city.

If you are interested in this subject, please explore the full paper here.