The Civic Economy: An Economy of Resilience


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The privatization of resources has led to a concentrated market economy where access to services and the degree of its quality highly depends on individual’s purchasing power. Today, the management and distribution of the majority of resources and services, such as energy, water, food, education, and health, is controlled by a few large corporations who exploit it for their own profit. Besides creating a division between providers and consumers this concentration of power contributes to an unsustainable economy that drives overexploitation of resources.

Currently, a new economy is arising along with adaptations on the governance structure of different cities (such as Bologna, Amsterdam, NY, Barcelona, and Milan, to mention a few) where polycentric governance is being established and citizens gradually become directly involved in community and urban development; some define it as the civic economy, others call it the social economy. This new economy is essentially concerned with social development and addresses economic issues through a holistic approach, mindful of both the scarcity of resources and the complexity of social issues.

The civic economy is collaborative and aligned with social innovation. It invites sharing to replace competition and supports communities in becoming co-investors and co-producers instead of just consumers, meaning active communities collectively addressing local and globally interconnected issues. This supports individuals and communities in becoming more resilient and less vulnerable to economic fluctuations, depending less on the open market and on the welfare state. “Though locally driven, their initiatives are deeply rooted in global social, cultural and technological trends that originated well before the recent economic shocks.” [1]

The civic economy identifies and enhances the potential of local resources for development – resources not always obvious at first and that can be as varied as waste, places, skills, and social exchanges. It emerges in different ways and through different structures (with social entrepreneurs, co-operatives or companies aiming for social innovation), resisting the power of large corporations through sustainable and context-tailored provision. That said, the civic economy aims for a closed-loop system, with resources being reused for holistic development and sustainable provision of services. It also triggers social capital through reinvented social exchanges that play a key role in supporting management and ownership of given resources.

A successful example of a civic economy structure driven by a co-operative legal framework is the project Food-Coop, a food store started in 1973 in Park Slope, Brooklyn (New York City) to provide healthy products at an affordable price. Those who shop at Food-Coop are mutually its co-investors and commit to around 4 hours/month of work to maintain the co-operative, performing tasks that vary from cashier to food-packaging, cleaning, organizing shelves, dealing with food providers, etc. There are currently 17 thousand co-investors who perform 75% of the management roles. This structure allows diminishing the management costs and creates ownership and engagement possibilities that, in turn, build a community of shoppers that enhances social capital in the neighborhood. [2] The success of this food store model influenced its replication in Paris, under the name of La Louve, and in Belgium as Bees Coop, with one more soon to be inaugurated in Bologna. [3]

Another example of how co-operatives can support sustainability and access to quality services is FL Solar United Neighbours (SUN) [4]. SUN is a USA based network of co-operatives supporting wider implementation of solar energy systems in communities, allowing buyers to save up to 20% of the supposed investment through bulk-buying. “This cooperative network targets homeowners, helping them increase the cost-saving tied to installing solar panels” [5]. Affordability of sustainable energy strongly influences community resilience.

The civic economy can also emerge through processes not reliant on the co-operative model. An example is Baisikeli, a Copenhagen based social innovation enterprise that legally collects old bicycles scrapped on streets to give them new meaning. Part of these bicycles is repaired at Baisikeli workshop to be sold or rented and provides a funding source. The other part of the bicycles is sent to Africa and is repaired and adapted by African Baisikeli workers who are given training by Danish Baisikeli workers, who spend a few months of the year in Africa sharing their skills.

To influence the betterment of the transport system in the Africa a micro-finance scheme was set to allow locals to purchase the restructured bikes, with small installments coming out of their paychecks. “As well as low-cost mobility, Baisikeli also provides an even more important long-term benefit: the transfer of knowledge and skills in fields such as bike mechanics, logistics, and administration.” [6] The final goal of the project is to spark the bicycle industry in Africa for potential exportation and local economic development. Baisikeli thus sets a closed-loop system influencing holistic development (social, environmental, and economic) by sparking dormant resources and establishing global skill-exchange networks. [7]

These three case studies show how the civic economy can drive community and globally networked development. It is important to emphasize that the civic it does not place wealth as the foremost element of its structure; namely, it seizes holistic development that the market economy and the welfare estate cannot deliver alone. Mindful of the relationship between systems, the civic economy establishes closed-loop processes that support regeneration and resilience in the long-term.

The publication A Compendium for the Civic Economy features numerous case studies of how the civic economy can look like, including edible public spaces, peer-to-peer initiatives and social entrepreneurship, defining it as “a trend that goes beyond traditional divides between the public, private and third sectors; an attitude that questions all aspects of supply chains and makes them more equitable; an approach that enables citizens to be co-producers and investors instead of just consumers; and an opportunity to unlock and share the resources we have more effectively.” [1]

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As long as social innovation keeps evolving, the civic economy will reinvent itself over and over again, finding creative means to drive closed-loop and resilient development. Identifying resources, in people or places, and reorganizing systems and social exchanges is crucial for its development, proven that collaboration certainly leads to enriching possibilities.


Recentemente si sta realizzando una nuova economia, tramite adattamenti nella struttura di governance di diverse città (come Bologna, Amsterdam, New York, Barcelona, e Milano, tramite altre) dove la governance policentrica si stabilisce e i cittadini diventano direttamente coinvolti con lo sviluppo delle loro comunità e della città; alcuni la definiscono economia civica, altri la chiamano economia sociale. Questa nuova economia riguarda soprattutto lo sviluppo sociale e affronta le questioni di matrice economica da una prospettiva olistica, tenendo presente la scarsità di risorse e la complessità di questioni sociali.

L’economia civica è collaborativa e in linea con l’innovazione sociale. Invita alla condivisione in luogo della competizione e stimola le comunità a diventare co-investitori e co-produttori piuttosto che essere esclusivamente consumatori, influenzando comunità attive collettivamente affrontando questioni locali e globalmente interconnesse.



[1] Architecture 00 (2011) Compendium for the Civic Economy. (p.9) Available at:





[6] Architecture 00 (2011) Compendium for the Civic Economy. (p.25) Available at: