Resilient transportation in a pandemic: can coronavirus push for more sustainable mobility?

Resilient transportation in a pandemic: can coronavirus push for more sustainable mobility?

The question of how we will inhabit cities after COVID-19 has popped amongst most urban planners, as we all question urban dynamics and see the pandemic as an opportunity to reshape not only the way we inhabit cities, but also how we move in them.

Since the first images from an isolated Wuhan to the photos of empty streets in New York, the media have shared powerful images that invite urban enthusiasts to question the use of street space generally dominated by cars.

The disruption of our everyday lives brought a perfect momentum for urbanists to push forward a sustainable mobility agenda as many people worked from home, micro-mobility became the only type of mobility for many, and even the World Health Organisation encouraged people to consider riding bikes and walking whenever feasible.

Technical guidance for mobility published by the World Health Organisation

Since public transportation and cab services are still considered risky spaces for infection, local governments decided to pedestrianise streets and broaden bike lanes in cities such as New York, Berlin, Milan, Bogota, Barcelona, Mexico City, Paris, Vienna, Sydney and Brussels.

Planners and local governments have described it as a moment for mobility to change, an approach that is still to be tested once the social distancing restrictions are lifted, and the use of walking and biking is tested versus motorised transportation such as motorbikes and cars.

Car affluence dropped to almost 40% in most major cities; some cities adopted temporary measures implementing pop-up bike lanes while others fast-tracked bike paths scheduled in the pre-corona city planning.

Percentage of city movement in comparison to usual in the European cities of Paris, Milan and Berlin during February and March 2020. Source: City Mapper Mobility Index.

City mobility adapting to a health crisis

One of the most relevant examples of city mobility adapted to the health crisis is Paris. The region plans to invest 300 million euros in building 650 kilometres of pop-up and pre-planned cycleway infrastructure. In an overnight operation street workers blocked traffic and painted bike icons turning streets into safe streets for biking.

Coronavirus lockdown and the decrease in car traffic accelerated the implementation of the “Plan Vélo” which is part of major Anne Hidalgo’s promise to turn every street in Paris cycle-friendly by 2024.

Berlin introduced 20 kilometres of pop-up bike lanes, as Berlin Roads and Parks Department official Felix Weisbrich called this a “pandemic-resilient infrastructure.” As the pandemic has accelerated the discussions in districts and municipal parliaments, public officials can push for urban infrastructure to be implemented ata faster speed than what the bouroucratic procedure would usually take.

Pop-up bike lane in Kottbusser Damm, Berlin. Source: author

The city of Milan implemented the “Strade Aperte” plan which contemplated the transformation of 35 kilometres of city streets into either pedestrian or cyclists roads. The Italian government issued bike-friendly traffic rules and promised people in bigger cities to provide a subsidy of up to 60 per cent of the price for the purchase of bicycles and e-scooters, up to a maximum of 500 euros.

Brussels planned to build a total of 40 kilometers of new cycle lanes. While the British government announced an emergency plan of 250 million pounds to set up pop-up bike lanes, safer junctions and cycle-only corridors.

Finally, Bogotá is one of the cities with the largest pop-up cycling lanes expansion during the pandemic crisis as the city implemented 80km of temporary in-street bikeways to supplement 550 km existing bike paths.

The pop-up infrastructure like removable tape and mobile signs not only makes it easier for people riding bikes to keep self-distancing, but it also encourages people who would not cycle regularly to explore new ways of transportation in a more comfortable space.

What about cars?

The adaptation to COVID-19 is not always sustainable and resilient. The sanitary measures present a risk as cars represent a tool for isolated mobility. Car-centric cities may continue to be so as car use increases.

As there is a higher demand for activities to restart under social distancing conditions, many cities in Europe started embracing drive-in culture not only for food but also for churches, cinemas and even concerts. 

Examples of drive-in entertainment alternatives take place in the outskirts of cities as it is the case in Lithuania and Denmark. German car cinemas became popular near Cologne, and the city of Schüttorf close to the border of Germany and the Netherlands hosted a party in a drive-in club where the performer invited people to “honk if they were having a good time”.

In the United States, famous for its drive-in culture,  a strip club continued operation under  this new modality that would allow people to keep distance as the attendees stayed inside their cars.

While drive-ins help entertainment industries to cope with the closures imposed by the sanitary restrictions, there is a risk, especially in the suburbs, to develop an even more motorised culture and a lifestyle that is more dependable on cars. 

What can urban planning learn from past epidemics?

One of the first examples of a city adapting to an epidemic is the cholera outbreak mapped by John Snow which encouraged cities to establish higher hygiene standards and prompted the relevance of statistical data in city planning.

However, more recent outbreaks like the case of SARS epidemic that affected cities in China, South East Asia and Canada highlighted the vulnerability of dense cities to become arenas for a fast spread of the virus. Although the use of public transportation was reduced in cities like Taipei, -the daily ridership of public transportation decreased to 50% during the peak of the 2003 SARS period–  there is no significant evidence of a shift toward sustainable transportation. The SARS epidemic provided more examples of social control and exceptionalism than examples of sustainable transportation.

In the case of Covid-19, even if urbanists hope for the outbreak to be a significant opportunity to design more sustainable cities in the “new normality”, and car sales have drastically dropped, there is hope in the car industry for sales to rise once the distance regulations are eased since people will opt for a car to comply with social distancing rules.

In Korea and China the fears of contracting the Coronavirus have already shown an increase in the sales of cars and in the United States, according to the IBM study  on Consumer Behavior Alterations, “More than 20 percent of respondents who regularly used buses, subways or trains now said they no longer would, and another 28 percent said they will likely use public transportation less often.”.

In addition, they claim that “more than 17 percent of people surveyed said that they intend to use their personal vehicle more as a result of COVID-19, with approximately 1 in 4 saying they will use it as their exclusive mode of transportation going forward.” .   

In this matter, public transportation might be the most affected in terms of revenue, New York City metro system reported its worst financial crisis as their ridership decreased by 90%, while London Underground put one quarter of its staff in furlough as it has only been used at a 5% of its capacity for the past months.  Even after the social distancing measures are eased, public transport might be considered more hazardous than other means of transportation and be the most affected financially.

Can city mobility restart in a resilient way?

After the biggest part of the crisis has passed and we will inhabit cities with eased sanitary restrictions is still uncertain whether mobility patterns will be affected in a permanent way. Further data will show if the coronavirus pandemic did encourage the creation of instruments for the implementations of sustainable mobility or it  perpetuated a car centered approach.

So far, at a medium-term, the relevance of longer-trips has been questioned, and work from home acquired significance as an alternative to commutes. Trips are expected to be carried out mostly by walking, cycling and driving a personal car and the investment in cycling infrastructure will remain as a long-term outcome of this pandemic.

A woman biking through Schillingbrücke in Berlin. Source: author.

The learning outcomes of this experience can also have a long-term impact as they will be documented in guidelines and the experience will set a precedent for critical and resilient responses for local governments.  For instance, the guide for temporary bike lanes titled “Making a safe space for cycling in 10 days”, developed by the consultancy Mobicon, delineates what should the first relevant action should include to keep safe distance while boosting more sustainable commutes.

The restoration of activities in dense cities might not bring an automatic radical change in mobility behaviour and policy but, despite the circumstances, life under social distancing became an actual experimental period that many urbanists have dreamed of and many citizens had not experimented before.

The relevant question now is whether we will be able to maintain partially closed streets and broader bike lanes after lockdown restrictions are lifted once cities get through this moment, hoping for planners, public officials and citizens to recognise the perks of having more room and infrastructure for alternative mobility.

Growing food in cities during Covid-19

Growing food in cities during Covid-19

FAO reports that about 80% of food produced globally is destined to feed urban areas (FAO 2020). During the last century, the bond between food production and urban planning was devalued by the very idea of urban life as antithetic to rural life. The food system seemed condemned to industrial and mass production. More recently, agriculture has slowly started to make its way back to the city.

Urban agriculture or urban farming is the practice of cultivating and distributing food in or around urban area. If urban agriculture, stricto sensu, refers to small areas inside the city such as small farms or community gardens for growing crops or raising small livestock for own consumption or sale in neighborhood markets. Peri-urban agriculture refers to intensive or semi-intensive agriculture undertaken on the fringes of urban areas (FAO 2015). Indeed, urban agriculture has been spreading in cities across the world in the last years, with the aim to boost more sustainable food systems and the hope to offer a better relationship between natural systems and human communities (McDonough 2014). In New York City, for example, growing food in the city has been booming in the last years and agriculture networks strengthened (McDonough 2014). In London, the enterprise GrowUp Urban Farms, which produces fish, salads and herbs in unused city spaces now sells wholesale (Lovett 2016).

The Covid-19 pandemic is not only changing our daily lives but especially the way we live in cities. It also affected the globalized and industrialized food system producing a variety of responses, both in the short and in the long-term. FAO and RUAF provided a framework to understand the vulnerabilities of urban food systems, to improve communication and cooperation and provide new strategies to safeguard food security and nutrition during this trying time (Blay-Palmer et Al. 2020). In particular, they recognized how some cities are particularly exposed to food supply problems, given their lack of diversification of food value and supply chains, their dependency on imports and other economic and natural vulnerabilities (Blay-Palmer et Al. 2020). The less cities rely on their rural hinterlands, the more they result unprotected to unpredictable shocks of their food supply chain, as the pandemic showed.

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Indeed Covid-19 health crisis has quickly aggravated food security for most vulnerable urban populations. According to FAO, “the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting urban food systems worldwide, posing a number of challenges for cities and local governments that are obliged to deal with rapid changes in food availability, accessibility and affordability” (FAO 2020: 1). In London, for example, foodbanks are struggling to provide food to city dwellers during the lockdown, and this is affecting mostly low incomes, older people, those with disabilities, rough sleepers and asylum seekers, given the fall of donations, the insufficient supplies from supermarkets and lack of volunteers (London City Hall 2020).  RUAF also reported that in Quito, Ecuador, public places being locked down meant that local markets, could not remain open and provide food to low-income residents (RUAF 2020). Maximo Torero, Food and Agriculture Organization chief economist, explained that the challenges that the pandemic is posing to the food system do not affect the supply of food in itself but the logistics of food distribution, given the high dependency on food imports (Harvey 2020). Moreover, The Economist reported how current food system bottlenecks have severe impacts on consumers, who are facing reduced or lost incomes since the lockdown measures were implemented globally (The Economist 2020). In fact, vulnerable urban residents can only afford to buy food in small quantities and depend mostly on small shops and open-air markets rather than supermarkets and other food delivery options. Therefore, some national governments are trying to maintain outdoor food markets open to support vulnerable groups’ access to food. For example, in France food markets partially reopened at the end of March (The Connexion 2020) and UK is prepared to reopen all outdoor markets from the 1st June (Sustain 2020).

Hence, it could be interesting to investigate if among other long-term actions that cities and local governments can implement to strengthen urban food systems’ resilience, growing food in cities may be a viable option. FAO stated that promoting short supply chains may adequately support the resilience of urban food systems in the long-term. In particular, “the crisis provides an opportunity to underline the multiple benefits of local food systems, enabling local actors to better coordinate during the crisis to avoid main gaps distribution, and making cities more food resilient” (FAO 2020: 6).

Therefore, cases of urban and peri-urban agriculture and/or urban residents directly growing their food from home are spreading. In particular, Kotchakorn Voraakhom, the designer of the largest urban rooftop farm in Bangkok stated that “more people are thinking about where their food comes from, how easily it can be disrupted, and how to reduce disruptions” (Chandran 2020). She also reported how urban planners and local governments tend now to be more concerned with land-use in cities (Chandran 2020).

For instance, Singapore relies on other nations for almost everything its residents eat. More recently, it has been working on addressing land constraints to diversify food sources and increase local production. According to William Chen Professor of Food Science and Technology ant Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (Kwiatkowski and Stringer 2020), Singapore is not only developing expertise in technologies such as vertical farming, but it has also been working constantly to increase free additional urban spaces for urban farming, such as rooftops on multi-storeys car parks (Kwiatkowski and Stringer 2020). An example is a structure atop a car park in the Ang Mo Kio district where “Citiponics Pte Ltd. grows about 4 tons of Georgina lettuces and other leafy greens a month, while part of a former downtown high school site has also recently been re-purposed for urban agriculture” (Kwiatkowski and Stringer 2020).

In the meanwhile in UK, the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Sustainable Food is working on the launch of the Resilience Food Project which will see the creation of “financially self-supporting aquaponic micro-farms in unused or under-used urban spaces of Sheffield that offer a localized high tech intensive food production method” (Nickles 2020). The project aims to assess the financial viability and resource efficiency of urban agriculture, gather evidence to stimulate investor confidence and explore ways to involve local communities in the co-production of farms and food, particularly in more vulnerable urban areas (Nickles 2020).

Also, in Bolivia, lockdown measures highly affected the urban food system. However, families working in urban and peri-urban agriculture resulted fundamental to guarantee the supply of food into Bolivia’s cities. With local governments and FAO’s support to urban and peri-urban food sector, farmers managed to shorten food value chains and guarantee food access in Bolivian cities during quarantine (FAO 2020).

These examples showed how the increased attention towards urban and peri-urban agriculture in the attempt to shorten food supply chains has become even more urgent, since lockdown measures have been implemented in cities all around the world. Even if urban farms can only partially address food needs in cities, they seem able to promote more sustainable communities and generative capacity of buildings and urban infrastructure (Yang 2020). Additionally, Covid-19 is showing how urban and especially peri-urban agriculture will certainly play a more relevant role in reducing food insecurity and food supply chains vulnerabilities, if unpredictable shocks happen to compromise the food system. Therefore, more attention from local authorities is needed to ensure the safety of local food production by supporting policies aimed at shortening food supply chains. As Jane Jacobs noted, perseverance of peri-urban agriculture embodies the symbiotic relationship that occurs between cities and their hinterlands (Jacobs 1984) which can definitely be a shock absorber during disruptions such as a global pandemic. Therefore, in a world after coronavirus, as the European Agriculture Commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, advocated “we need to have our own food, produced on our fields, by our own farmers, and we have to take better care of local markets, shorten those supply chains” (POLITICO 2020).


Blay-Palmer, A., Santini, G., Halliday, J., Van Veenhuizen, R., and M. Taguchi (2020). City Region Food Systems to cope with COVID-19 and other pandemic emergencies. Food and Agriculture Organization. [online] Available at:

Chandran, R. (2020). Urban farming is flourishing during the coronavirus lockdowns. World Economic Forum [online] Available at:

Food and Agriculture Organization (2020). In times of COVID-19, Bolivian urban farmers rethink their ways of working. [online] Available at:

Food and Agriculture Organization (2015). Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture. Food and Agriculture Organization (2020). Urban Food Agenda. Available at:

Food and Agriculture Organization (2020). Urban food systems and COVID-19: The role of cities and local governments in responding to the emergency. [online] Available at:

Harvey, F. (2020). Coronavirus measures could cause global food shortage, UN warns. The Guardian. [online]  Available at:

Jacobs J. (1984), Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life. New York: Random House.

Kwiatkowski, A., and D. Stringer (2020). How Singapore Plans to Survive World’s Impending Food Crisis. Bloomberg. [online] Available at:

London City Hall. (2020). Coronavirus (COVID-19): Supporting foodbanks. Available at:

Lovett, G. (2016). Is urban farming only for rich hipsters? The Guardian. [online] 15 Feb. Available at:

McDonough, W. (2014). Designing cities and factories with urban agriculture in mind. [online] the Guardian. Available at:

Nickels, J. (2020). The current situation: COVID-19, urban agriculture and the need to change the food system. N8 AgriFood. [online] Available at:

POLITICO (2020). The world after coronavirus. [online] POLITICO. Available at:

RUAF Urban Agriculture and Food Systems. (2020). City Region Food Systems to cope with COVID-19 and other pandemic emergencies. [online] Available at: .

Sustain (2020). All outdoor markets can fully re-open from 1st June. [online] Available at:

The Connexion (2020). Quarter of food markets can reopen in France. [online] Available at:

The Economist (2020). The world’s food system has so far weathered the challenge of covid-19. [online] Available at:

Yang, C. (2020). Rethinking Food Post-Covid with Urban Agriculture. STATION F.[online]. Available at:

Paris 2020 municipal elections: caveats and challenges for la Ville-lumière

Paris 2020 municipal elections: caveats and challenges for la Ville-lumière

Paris 2020 municipal elections: caveats and challenges for la Ville-lumière

After the transportation strikes that blocked the city for over a month in opposition to French President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform, the year 2020 seems to continue on the path of 2019, conveying radical changes and bouleversements for the French political universe.

Well before the deciding presidential elections which will be held in 2022, the current year appears to be crucial for political parties. In point of fact, in March 2020 the political scenario will be largely dominated by the upcoming municipal elections; for the sake of this article, our attention will vert solely on Paris.

As to avoid simplistic conclusions as well as spurious and scattered information, first and foremost we will provide introductory premises regarding the nature of the electoral system and the incumbent administration.

French political tradition is consistently conjoined with the Two-Round System, given that presidential, legislative, regional and departmental elections all employ the system. The first round resembles the typical First Past the Post (FPTP) system; if a candidate receives an absolute majority of the vote, then it is elected outright with no need for a second ballot. Otherwise, in case no candidate receives an absolute majority, then a second voting round is conducted. The candidate who wins the most votes in the second round will be then elected. For the French National Assembly, all candidates winning more than 12.5% of the votes of registered voters, or the top two candidates, go through the second ballot.

In the case of municipal elections, a Two-Round system is exerted only for municipalities with more than one thousand residents. While it is slightly more representative at the constituency level than the First Past the Post (FPTP), it is deemed to be highly disproportional while artificially boosting large parties.

“Before the city, there was a land” (Cronon,1991).

In his book, William Cronon recounts how Chicago was formed out of a city-less landscape, by people who migrated there and crafted the urban scenery through cultural and economic exchanges.
Cities are not structures, cities are people, or better, they are the people who live them. This is why their destinies are so dissimilar one from the other. Assuming the equation city = people, in a social Darwinistic perspective cities can be considered to be struggling for survival too. Their success or their failure, their sterility or their blossoming, is strictly dependent on the renewed impulses of its inhabitants. What this brief and not exhaustive excursus wishes to highlight, is how significant a mayor can be for an urban space. 

Since 2014 elections, Paris has been administered by the socialist Anne Hidalgo[1], the first women to conquer the French capital and one of the most prominent figures of the Socialist party on the national chessboard. Portrayed as strict and inflexible, the Socialist mayor of Paris has stood and still stands as a symbol of resistance to the ballot-box domination of 2017 which saw the macronian party La République En Marche! (LREM) winning 12 out of 18 National Assembly seats. In between acclaims and harsh criticism, she has renewed her willingness to be elected and has launched her campaign for 2020.

Anne Hidalgo, during a press conference in March 21, 2019. Source: France24

According to the French newspaper Le Monde, around 60 percent from a sample of 2.942 electors, have expressed their dissent towards a putative re-election of Hidalgo; despite this fact, the polls still deem the incumbent mayor to be the favourite, just before Benjamin Griveaux.

Her term has seen efforts to strive towards a “eco-friendlier” city, including battles to thin out car traffic as well as an array of construction projects throughout the city which have appraised a positive record on environmental transition.

La République En Marche (LREM) has indeed been characterized by an odd schism within its proposed candidates. The official name has been the one of Benjamin Griveaux[2], who won the seat in the fifth constituency of Paris during the 2017 legislative elections, with 56.27 percent of the vote. His campaign seems to be proactive and verts around urban planning pillars, like the pretentious project of a Parisian “Central Park”. Howbeit, during the summer another LREM affiliate decided to take a stand in the mayor race. Cédric Villani[3], French deputy and university professor but with an Italian heritage, is best known for being a mathematician rather than a political leader, winning in 2010 the Fields prize for a pioneering empirical work. 

 Cédric Villani and Benjamin Griveaux; Source: Le Parisien

His growing consensus, despite Macron’s latent dissent, is probably due to his willingness to have a direct contact with citizens; within his proposals, the desire to create a parallel body to the parish council, composed by citizens and experts in the socio-economic realm. His attempt represents a forceful rupture and a quantum leap towards inclusiveness under the aegis of horizontal subsidiarity. Quite hazardously, it may appear a sui generis tentative co-governance.

From the part of the Republicans, the presented candidate is Rachida Dati[4]; her proposals will focus primarily on the well-known rightist triad of security, health and family. At the moment, the polls attest her to be the fourth most favoured candidate.

Rachida Dati. Source:

The Green Party’s nominee has been for David Belliard[5], journalist and president of the group at the parish council. Given the fracture from the macronian side, the ecologists will be increasingly relevant and weighty during the campaign. Quite coherently with his party affiliation, the proposed plan for Paris, is to commute it into a ville nature, so a “city of nature”, with particular attention on climate change challenges, tourism and traffic spillovers (namely, limiting emissions).

David Belliard. Source:

The scenario seems to be quite scattered and fragmented in light of a large supply side. The Socialist candidate Hidalgo leads the polls, followed by Griveaux (LREM), Villani (Independent), Dati (LR) and Belliard (EELV), while leaving a marginal and insignificant role to the candidates Rassemblement National and France Insoumise.

The graph shows the projected consensus of each candidate according to the polls. Source: Ifop, Ipsos

After our considerations and suppositions around Paris municipal elections, candidates and their tailored programmes, we ought to ask whether the upcoming mayor will be a blessing or a curse for a city facing growing challenges in terms of security, migration, increasing costs and climate issues. Each candidate’s programme pinpoints on issues such as urban planning, measures for a “greener” Paris, more involvement form the part of the citizens and security, although the latter seems quite marginal. Will their tentative effort be enough or remain exclusively heuristic in value? Will he or she will be capable to restore the grandeur of la Ville-Lumière?


Featured image of Paris:

[1] More at:

[2] More about Griveaux’s campaign:

[3] More about Villani’s research interests and campaign:

[4] More at:

[5] More about proposals and campaign:

Corporate Action Speaks Louder Than Words

Corporate Action Speaks Louder Than Words

The Business Roundtable has released a new definition of a corporation, which advocates that companies account for all their stakeholders, not just their shareholders, when distributing corporate value. To fully implement their stated intent, companies will need to invest not just in their own strategic objectives but in processes that allow communities to self-determine their priorities and direction.

Earlier this month, Apple announced it would invest $2.5 billion to address the housing crisis in the SF Bay Area. Joining Facebook and Google in their investment, Apple has never placed much stock in “philanthropy.” Why the change?

Corporate investment in socially beneficially initiatives may have finally reached a tipping point. This August, the Business Roundtable released a new statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, the first time this credo has been updated in more than twenty years. Signed by 185 member CEOs, including those of many of America’s largest companies, the new statement stipulated that a corporation would no longer solely seek to deliver profits to its shareholders but would instead seek to maximize value for their broader community of stakeholders.

While in recent decades, many companies have increased their philanthropic investments in social programs that benefit communities where they operate, this statement marks the first time that such a large group or business leaders have explicitly changed their shared understanding of a company’s operational intent. 

While the new statement offers cause for celebration, it is likely to be met with a healthy dose of skepticism from social change advocates. Adding a CEO’s signature to a one-page letter of intent, while culturally significant, is a simple act that doesn’t itself deliver any social value. Adapting supply chains, business models, and revenue management to account for the holistic needs of a company’s constituents is orders of magnitude more complex (not to mention, expensive). 

Companies should be judged, not on their intent, but on their actions and follow-through. Revised intent will only matter if corporate leaders make investments that drive results. The three big tech giants’ co-investment in Bay Area housing is a promising start. But more of those 185 companies need to make billion-dollar commitments that advance solutions to pressing social challenges. 

As more companies seek to make good on their new shared intent, it’s vital that journalists and activists alike scrutinize not just what social issues companies choose to address but also the process they use to make those investments and the way that communities are engaged in determining the parameters of social value and wellbeing.

So who exactly are the “communities” these 185 companies will now seek to benefit? A majority of US corporations are headquartered in cities. In 2010, McKinsey reported that 85% of US GDP was generated by cities of 150,000 inhabitants or more. As such, when companies commit to improving the lives of their stakeholders, they should actually interpret this to mean the ecosystem of the cities in which they operate. 

Urbanization worldwide is on the rise. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, including 82 percent of Americans and 41 percent of Europeans. Human consolidation into urban centers helps companies find easy access to skilled labor. But increased human density creates its own slew of hairy problems. Housing is one issue that is well met with a private-sector solution. But what about education, transportation, childcare, healthcare, and general economic inequality? 

Corporate leaders are accustomed to using the leverage of hierarchy to make choices from the top down. Based on whatever sources of information they choose to consider, a select group of senior leaders within any one company will typically decide how resources are allocated and utilized. When it comes to making meaningful, long-term investments in the health and well-being of cities and their residents, a top down decision making model will often fail to deliver meaningful outcomes. Indeed, companies could learn from the experience of the international development sector, where many practitioners have finally realized how vitally important it is to involve target stakeholders from the very beginning in the process of defining problems and devising solutions. 

Why? Because the most effective solutions to the biggest problems facing the world today cannot be mass produced. Each city, each community is unique and requires an approach that is adapted for its specific challenges and needs. Service designers have demonstrated that those with the most direct experience of a problem often have the best insights into how to address it. For example, if you would like to understand the ecosystem of soup kitchens in a city, the best person to ask would be a homeless person. Yet, involving the users who are most affected by a problem requires that those making the investment appreciate that the process used to arrive at the solution is just as valuable as the process itself. 

As companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook seek to operationalize toward their new collective intent, they will likely be rewarded for their attention to how, not just what, they seek to address. In cities, where many of these investments will likely originate, a collaborative process focused on intentional innovation and community involvement is likely to deliver the greatest return. 


The 2019 Future Innovation Forum:  Towards the Urban Commons of Conviviality

The 2019 Future Innovation Forum: Towards the Urban Commons of Conviviality

There are no alternatives to neoliberalism and capital?

With this question Mayor Park Won Soon opened the 2019 Future Innovation Forum in Seoul on Tuesday October 1st, underlying that we actually have thousands of alternatives which, of course, require courage.

Mayor Park’s Opening Speech

The Forum was organized by the The Center for Asian Urban Societies (CAUS) together with FOREXCOM Inc. and hosted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government at the Social Innovation Park, an emblematic space of the city.

Seoul, indeed, under the Park’s mandate, focused on social innovation and sharing economy with the goal to favour a paradigm shift, a transition towards an innovation-led Sharing City. A city that can really be a place of freedom and conviviality of diverse and different individuals. Social innovation is considered a tool to realize this transition and transform urban space in an a more equal, free and fair space that allow citizens to own the city together and become the subject of conviviality. “It transforms the life of self-development for competition and consumption into a life of friendship and hospitality for freedom, dignity, and symbiosis, and enables us to imagine and create a more free and dignified life-cycle”.

Today the Seoul Metropolitan Government in its goal to build “the City for All” proposes to take the results of the Sharing City Seoul project, launched in 2012, and go further, transforming the city in “a distributed and resilient” urban system in which expand democracy in its participative version. That means develop Seoul into a “City as a Commons”. This crucial transition will proceed on three trajectories that will allow to create and enjoy the commonwealth and the common rule that is “urban commons”:

  1. The Economic transition for sustainable circulation of resources for production and consumption
  2. The Ecological transition that pursues inclusive growth with the recovery of the social-disadvantaged
  3. The Social transition that makes social value accepted as core principles of social operation.

To deepen the reflection about this transition, the Forum gathered many experts that framed the Commons universe. The plenary morning session, saw the involvement of LabGov, that intervened with a presentation of professor Christian Iaione. He talked of the meaning of making a civil regulation on commons for the future of the “Sharing Seoul” and for the city’s new task, presenting the Co-city methodological approach and the co-governance project run by LabGov, bringing insights also from the Bologna Regulation on collaboration between citizens and the city for the care and regeneration of urban commons“ (here to explore the Co-City protocol and here to download the Co-Cities full open book).

Christian Iaione, LabGov co-founder, presenting at the Future Innovation Forum

On the main stage also Michel Bauwens that introduce a model of poly-governance for the creation of a partner city based on meta-regulation. “The poly-governance mechanisms and institutions discovered by Elinor Ostrom (1990) as the hallmark of the management of commons resources becomes the new normal in institutional design. Poly-governance structures, possibly matched by appropriate property mechanisms, consists at least of the three levels (commons, state and market) but can be even more fine-grained, as the work of Foster & Iaione (2016) has suggested” ( see here for more information).

The following open discussion with Iaione and Bauwens involved Mayor’s Park, professor Ezio Manzini (Politecnico) and professor Lee Kwang-Suk (Seoul National Universty of Science and Technology) focusing on the meaning of transitioning from a sharing city to a commoning city and the importance to prevent neoliberal capitalism from coopting commons.

The Forum was also the occasion for the Mayor to meet the INTERNATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE.

The inspiring morning was followed by four sessions in the afternoon:

  • Urban commons and co-creation: how to build the commoning platforms in Cities?
  • Urban commons and democracy: who owns the urban nature? Urban commons against inequality
  • Tech-Knowledge as Urban Commons for resilient community and
  • Commoning Public Land 

Every session saw the participation of many experts, practitioners, scholars, from USA as Neal Gorenflo – executive director and co-founder of Shareable, from Europe as Mayo Fuster – director of Dimmons Research Group at Open University of Catalunia, and several presenters from South Korea, coming from various sectors, in order to deepen both economical, ecological and social aspects around the topic of the commons.

The Forum gathered also a C.I.T.I.E.S delegation with representatives from Montreal and Barcelona. The Case of Barcelona with its sharing ecosystem, the experience around the topic of commons,  and the birth of the Sharing Cities Action, was also presented on the stage by Mayo Fuster during the first afternoon session as best practice in the field.

The day closed with the message from the Forum Director, professor Seoung-won Lee (Seoul National University) and from the Head of the Social Innovation Division inside the Seoul Metropolitan Government. They both stressed the relevance of this crucial paradigm shift, the importance to incorporate and let thrive the commons to really build a city for all and the relevance of connecting experiences among cities.