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Property Rights, Inequality and Commons

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
4th July 2015

Private property

I recently spoke at a conference, “Property and Inequality in the 21st Century,” hosted by The Common Core of European Private Law, an annual gathering of legal scholars, mostly from Europe.  They had asked me how the commons might be a force for reducing inequality.  Below are my remarks, “The Commons as a Tool for Sharing the Wealth.”  The conference was held at the University of Göteborg, Sweden, on June 12-13, 2015.


Thank you for inviting me to speak today about the relationship between property law and inequality – a topic that receives far too little attention.  This should not be surprising.  Now that free-market ideology has become the default worldview and political consensus around the world, private property is seen as synonymous with freedom, economic growth and human progress.

Oh yes, there is this nasty side issue known as inequality.  Malcontents like the Occupy movement and renegade economists like Thomas Pikketty have brought this problem to the fore after years of neglect.  Their success has been quite an achievement because for years the very existence of inequality has been portrayed as an accident, an aberration, a mysterious and shadowy guest at the grand banquet of human progress.

I wish to argue that hunger, poverty, inadequate education and medical care, and assaults on human dignity and human rights, are not bugs in the system.  They are features. Indeed, market ideologues often argue that such deprivations are a necessary incentive to human enterprise and economic growth; poverty is supposedly needed to spur people to escape through the work ethic and entrepreneurialism.

Property rights lie at the heart of this dynamic because they are a vital tool for defining and patrolling the boundaries of private wealth, and for justifying the inevitably unequal outcomes.  So it’s important that we focus on the role of property rights in producing social inequality – without ignoring the many other forces, including social practice, culture and politics, that also play important roles.

I’d like to focus on the obsession in modern industrial societies to propertize everything, including life itself, and to use law as a tool to impose a social order of markets and private property as expansively as possible.  This cultural reflex is known as the enclosure of the commons.  The term describes how property owners assert sweeping rights – often with the active complicity of governments – as a way to appropriate collectively owned resources for private gain.

We can see this dynamic in the international land grab now underway, the incessant attempts to privatize groundwater and municipal water systems, the grotesque expansion of copyright and patent law to privatize scientific knowledge and cultural works, and the use of the Earth’s atmosphere as a free waste dump by polluters.  The mania for privatizing the world has reached such an extreme stage that even intangible wealth as public spaces, microorganisms, genetically created mammals, artificially created nanomatter and human consciousness itself are claimed as objects of private property rights.

Unfortunately, traditional property law is based on a woefully obsolete worldview and antiquated economic premises about human beings and social and ecological realities. It sees all of these expansions of property law as a form of wealth creation – when in fact it often amounts to wealth destruction (monetizing nature), redistribution from the have-nots to the haves, or a transformation of the intrinsic use-value of something into exchange-value (price).  It presumes that value is only created by individuals trucking and bartering in the marketplace, and the Invisible Hand does its magic.

Property law does not generally acknowledge the actual value generated by social collaborations, by complex natural systems and by inherited knowledge and culture.  It is blind to non-economic relationships such as gift economies, informal relationships, social communities and care work.  You could say that property law generally simply does not recognize the commons and its significant role in generating value.

What exactly do I mean by the commons?  Well, the term has been so poisoned by conservative ideologues and economists over the pasts two generations that the first idea that leaps to mind when you mention the word “commons” is the tragedy of the commons. Let me quickly dispense with this annoying distraction.

The tragedy parable, as I call it, was launched by biologist Garrett Hardin in his famous article in the journal Sciencein 1968.  Hardin said:  Imagine a pasture that can be used by anyone, and in which no individual farmer has a rational incentive to hold back his use of it.  Hardin declared without any empirical evidence that every individual farmer will of course put as many sheep on the pasture as possible.  This will inevitably result in the over-exploitation and destruction of the pasture and produce a tragedy of the commons.

The “tragedy parable” is regarded as such an economic truism that it has become a cultural cliché – an idea drummed into the heads of every undergraduate.  Champions of “free markets” have invoke the tragedy meme to celebrate private property rights and so-called free markets — and to fight government regulation and any collectivist alternatives.

The only problem is, Hardin was not describing a commons.  He was describing an open-access regime that has no rules, boundaries or indeed no community.  This is not a commons.  It is a free-for-all.  A commons is a social system for managing resources that has a bounded community, specific rules for accessing the resource, mechanisms to monitor that usage and punish free riders, and so on.  In fact, the situation Hardin was describing – in which free riders can appropriate or damage resources as they wish — is more accurately a description of unfettered markets.  You might say Hardin was describing the tragedy of the market.

The late Professor Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University powerfully rebutted the whole tragedy of the commons fable in her landmark 1990 book, Governing the Commons:  The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action.  Her fieldwork and creative theorizing shows that it is entirely possible for communities tomanage natural resources as commons without over-exploiting them.

So the commons can actually work and work well.  How can that be possible?  Contrary to the Hardin parable and its many prisoner’s dilemma offshoots, people in real life tend to actually talk to each other.  They negotiate rules to protect community interests.  They build systems to identify and punish free riders.  They cultivate powerful cultural values and norms.  And so on.

The commons is in fact a flourishing system of self-provisioning around the world, mostly operating outside of the market and state.  Here’s an amazing fact:  An estimated two billion people depend on various natural resource commons for their everyday survival– farmland, fisheries, forests, irrigation water, wild game.  This role of the commons is largely ignored by economists, however, because the self-provisioning of the commons takes place outside of conventional markets and is therefore considered without value.  No money is changing hands; there is no boost of GDP.  How could anything worthwhile be taking place within these commons?

Professor Ostrom — an Indiana University political scientist who spend her career studying the dynamics of effective cooperation in managing resources – won the Nobel Prize in Economics for her work in 2009.  She was the first woman to win the award.  I don’t think this was incidental.  Unlike her (male) economist colleagues who treat property as an inventory of objects to be shuffled around, Ostrom opened up the discussion by exploring the rich potential of social relationships and collaboration in meeting needs.

But here’s where the story starts to get interesting.  In recent years, independent of the Ostrom-inspired academic scholars, a burgeoning international movement of commoners have arisen to build their own commons – and to challenge attempted enclosures of their shared wealth.  This eclectic, sprawling movement goes way beyond the small natural resource commons in the global South that Ostrom studied.  This movement consists of food activists trying to rebuild local agriculture through such means as permaculture, community-support agriculture, Slow Food and cooperatives.  It includes techies writing free and open source software programs that are now standard elements of most commercial software.  It includes universities and scientists and academic disciplines that are committed to sharing their research and data on open digital platforms, often with Creative Commons licenses.

The commons can be seen among seed-sharing farmers in India who wish to avoid GMO crops and practice a kind of open-source agriculture.  You see the commons in the explosion of open design and manufacturing – which is product design that is globally shared but locally manufactured and inexpensive, modular and accessible to anyone, in the style of open source software.  This movement has produced the Wikispeed car that gets 100 miles per gallon of fuel….the Farm Hack community that has produced dozens of pieces of affordable farm equipment…. and the scores of hackerspaces and Fablabs of the Maker movement.

The commons can be seen in new projects to build “shareable cities” in which urban residents play significant roles in managing parks and water systems, kindergartens and urban planning.  The commons is at work in cities that host participatory budgeting processes that let ordinary people deliberate about budgets.  It’s also at work in alternative currencies, such as the Bangla-Pesa in Kenya, which has made it possible for poor people in slum neighborhoods to exchange value with each other.

What unites these highly diverse communities?  They are all asserting a different universe of value.  They all share a basic commitment to production for use, not market exchange.  They are asserting the right of communities to participate in making the rules that govern themselves.  They want fairness and transparency in governance.  And as commoners, they are asserting a responsibility to act as long-term stewards of resources.  The commons also consists of a certain ethic – a commitment to protect everything that we inherit or create together, so that it can be passed on, undiminished, to future generations.

Far from a “tragedy, the commons should be understood as a vibrant social and political system for managing shared wealth.  It is a system of self-governance that emphasizes inclusion, fairness and sustainability.  It empowers ordinary people while avoiding crippling dependencies on the market or state.  We know how the market, by contrast – at least in its globally integrated, highly concentrated and socially disconnected and amoral forms – tends to transform customers into dependent vassals.

Now, historically, most commons have not needed nor sought formal protections of law.  Their self-organized customs and relative isolation from outside capital and markets, were enough to sustain them.  This has changed dramatically over the past thirty or forty years, however, as global commerce technology and conventional property law have expanded relentlessly, superimposing the logic and values of markets on nearly every corner of nature and social life.

Our common wealth is vulnerable because typically the state has no formal, clear property rights protecting them.  Indeed, the state has little interest in granting or clarifying collective property interests because it would prefer to collude with investors and corporations to privatize this collective wealth.  As usual, invoking the tragedy parable, the state presumes that only the private appropriation and monetization of common wealth can produce prosperity and human progress.  Expansive private property rights are crucial instruments in advancing this process.  And inequality, Pikketty and others have documented, is an inevitable result.

I wish to suggest, therefore, that – apart from some of the redistributionist strategies mentioned yesterday – the commons is a vital tool for assuring a more equitablepredistibution of wealth for all.  By that, the commons provides the most durable, structurally effective way to ensure that people’s basic needs are met – and this in turn will foster greater political equality.  Citizens must have legally guaranteed access to and use of the resources that they require for their survival, dignity and cultural identity.

If we truly wish to address inequality, then we must find ways to reclaim the commons and reinvent the Law of the Commons.  (Re)inventing the Law of the Commons may sound way ambitious, but consider this:  People in the thirteenth century arguably had stronger legal rights to subsistence and survival than people do today.  Thanks to Magna Carta and its companion document, the Charter of the Forest, people had guaranteed legal access to the forest to gather firewood, water for drinking and planting, acorns for their pigs, the right to hunt wild game and collect fruit, and much else.

Commoners had legal access to the means of production and subsistence – which is more than contemporary markets and many states are willing to guarantee today.  If you ain’t got the do re mi, as Woody Guthrie put it, you’re out of luck.

How would access to the commons ameliorate inequality?  For starters, it would help people extricate themselves from a dependency on predatory markets by helping them de-commodify their everyday existence.  We can see this among many contemporary commons:

·      Users of Linuxdon’t have to pay tribute to Microsoft, but can control their own software infrastructure and escape the proprietary tax of forced upgrades.

·      Locavoresdon’t have to suffer the costs and risks of GMO foods and industrialized, processed food.

·      People who live in housing owned by community land trusts can avoid the high rents and speculative prices of the open housing market.

·      Students and scholars who use open textbooks and open access scholarly journalscan avoid the exorbitant prices of commercial journals, expensive website paywalls and the surrender of copyright control.

·      Users of cooperative finance and alternative currenciescan mutualize their shared wealth and avoid the predatory practices of commercial banks and privately created fiat money.

·      City dwellers who rely upon municipally owned utilities or commons-based water systemscan escape the costly dependency on investor-owned utility monopolies, and develop more ecological alternatives.

The basic conclusion that I am making here is this:  The commons provides assured structural access to vital resources and services, outside of the market and state.  And in so doing, commons help assure greater equality in societies.  Commons help people reduce their costs, fortify their economic independence, and strengthen their political sovereignty.

To be sure, participating in a commons also entails certain responsibilities and initiative – both personal and social – to protect shared wealth.  But this, too, is a good thing – because it is an emancipation from the whole scheme of producer/consumer relationships that tend to alienate people from each other, promote consumerism and inflict nasty “market externalities” on to the environment.  As stewards of shared wealth, commoners tend to manage resources with a more holistic, long-term and collective perspective.  Commons offer a credible escape from the pathologies of the unsustainable growth economy.

But here is a key question:  What role should property law play in all of this?  If the commons is a richly generative system for meeting people’s needs, then surely property law ought to take account of this fact.  Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, traditional property law simply does not recognize the actual value of commons.

I am happy to report, however, that there is a massive amount of legal innovation already underway to protect the commons, using property rights and other forms of law.  Our ambitious challenge, I would argue, is to invent a new amalgamated field of inquiry that I call the Law of the Commons. 

This is a complicated challenge, mostly because the modern liberal polity and conventional law are philosophically hostile to the commons.  A system of law focused on individual rights, private property and economic growth, is not especially receptive to the paradigm of the commons.  Most commons-based legal innovations that I’ve encountered amount to hacks – i.e., they are  ingenious subterfuges and creative workarounds to the standard forms of state law.

This is exactly what Richard Stallman and the free software movement did in inventing the General Public License, of GPL, which provided a critical legal foundation for the evolution of free and open source software.  It’s what Larry Lessig and his colleagues did in inventing the Creative Commons licenses, another copyright-based license that turns copyright law inside out to make creative works automatically shareable rather than automatically private property.

Let me quickly review some of the more significant forms of commons-based law that commoners are putting forward these days.

In the global South, in order to subsistence commons, some indigenous peoples have been rallying around a legal instrument known as “biocultural protocols,” which the South African group Natural Justice developed.  The protocols are seen as a way to protect indigenous peoples from the market enclosures that would otherwise be sanctioned by international trade treaties, by declaring agro-ecological and cultural practices off-limits to markets and trade.

In India, ever since its Supreme Court formally recognized commons in a landmark 2012 ruling, Indians have been attempting to work out the legal and political implications of managing all sorts of commons such as forests, farmland and water.  There are also fascinating legal innovations such as the Potato Park in Peru, which gives indigenous peoples near Cusco the right to manage their “agroecological heritage landscape.”

Stakeholder trustsare a new frontier of legal innovation, especially in the US. These are state-chartered trusts to collect, manage and distribute revenues from natural resources such as oil, water, minerals and forests.  The great precedent for this is the Alaska Permanent Fund, which generates about US$1,000 a year for every resident of Alaska – a rare source of non-wage income for ordinary people.  Commons scholar Peter Barnes has expanded this idea to apply to many other common assets, in his book, Liberty and Dividends for All in an attempt to deal concretely, and with direct cash payments, to address in inequality.

New sorts of legal frameworks for digital commonsare a robust field of innovation as well.  There is now an attempt to move beyond copyright based licenses on open platforms, such as the GPL and Creative Commons licenses, to enable digital communities to retain for themselves the surplus value that they create.  Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation has proposed commons-based reciprocity licenses – of what he calls CopyFair – to ensure that digital communities can reap any monetization of their content from commercial users, while allowing non-commercial users to continue to use the work for free.  In a similar fashion, there are now efforts afoot to develop seed-sharing licenses so that farmers can protect their seeds from third parties who might appropriate and patent them.

The blockchain ledger,as pioneered by Bitcoin, may be one of the most revolutionary innovations in the Law of the Commons.  This technology is significant because it allows digital identity authentication and secure transfers of assets without third-party guarantors like banks or governments.  Although Bitcoin has used the blockchain ledger for standard libertarian, capitalist purposes, especially speculation, the technology can be used to facilitate social cooperation in radically new ways – in effect, moving law from the oral and written to digital media.

One important offshoot that many “computational lawyers” are working on is smart contracts, algorithm-based technologies that would new sorts of network-based contracts that could be negotiated on the fly, online, without the standard written contracts and lethargic court system.  This, too, is an important realm of new types of commons-based law.

Co-operative lawis another form of commons-based law that is reviving many little-used historical models while developing new types of governance.  For example, there are manymultistakeholder co-operatives in Italy and Quebec that go beyond worker and consumer co-op models, to empower third-parties to participate in such things as eldercare and social services.

The Sustainable Economies Law Center in Oakland, California, is exploring new forms of co-operative governance to empower members.  Old forms like community land trusts and “garden cities” – in which the city owns the water systems, land and other infrastructure, which it mutualizes for everyone’s benefit – are experiencing a revival.

There are many important experiments inurban commons underway, many of which require legal innovation.  One of the most significant is the Bologna Regulation in Bologna, Italy, which is remaking local government by inviting ordinary citizens and neighborhoods to self-organize their own projects – urban agriculture, care of public spaces, parent-run kindergartens, “social street” programs – which the city then helps.  The city now has more than 90 “pacts of cooperation” with self-nominated groups in three thematic areas – “living together, growing together and making together.”

Along the same lines, a San Francisco-based group called Shareable has developed a series of papers outlining “Shareable Cities” policies, which are aimed at helping city governments work with residents to develop “sharing projects” ranging from car-sharing to tool-sharing to neighborhood services.  A number of cities such as Linz, Austria, are pioneering open digital platforms for urban renewal by making all sorts of information available online for free.

I have not yet mentioned the many new legal initiatives attempting to strengthen local self-determination, mostly through community ordinances and so-called community charters.  There are also new organizational forms such as “omni-commons,” which provide administrative, fiscal and legal assistance to help incubate small enterprises with a commons orientation.

At an even larger level, there are many legal initiatives underway attempting to re-imagine governance according to commons principles.  Some of these look to the public trust doctrine in environmental law to uphold the interests of commoners, as in a series of lawsuits seeking to force governments to deal with climate change.  Others, such as a project by some Italian jurists, are trying to establish a human right of people to access and use common assets, protecting them from market enclosure.  Just a few months ago, French legal scholars held a conference on European juridicial strategies for the commons.

We are seeing a remarkable burst of creativity to find new structures of law – in contract law, trusts, co-operative law, municipal government, copyright and patents, organizational charters, and more – to protect the social practices of commoning and the values it stands for.

What is this all about, ultimately?  It’s about honoring the sovereignty of people to devise their own forms of governance to meet their needs and local context.  It’s about the importance of bottom-up initiatives and participation, and of transparency and accountability.  It’s about meeting people’s needs without relying on the dysfunctional formalities of bureaucracy, the market/state duopoly of power, or the social inequities associated with markets.

Given the explosion of legal creativity in creating, maintaining and protecting commons, old and new, I have high hopes that this new field of legal inquiry, the Law of the Commons, will help move us beyond the limits of conventional law, governance and bureaucracy.  At bottom, the Law of the Commons is about nurturing the social norms, policy structuresandinstitutional practices that can help human beings flourish.  There is a great deal of research, creative theorizing and activist experimentation that must proceed, but I believe that commoning, as enabled by a reinvented Law of the Commons, will help address some of the most urgent ecological, social and political problems of our time.


Posted in Commons, Commons Transition, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Original Content, P2P Governance, P2P Theory, Peer Property, Politics | No Comments »

Trailer: The Altruism Revolution

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
4th July 2015

A very promising documentary on the history of cooperation and its vital function for the survival of humanity:

“In our materialist society where it seems that cynicism and profit reign supreme, one idea is shaking up conventional thinking: Altruism has existed since the dawn of time, it’s an essential factor of social living… and we can prove it scientifically. We are able to cultivate it, to promote a better society based on cooperation in order to face up to the challenges of our turbulent world. A diverse group of researchers are betting on it : primatologists, economists, neuroscientists, psychologists, doctors and… a geneticist who became a Buddhist monk.”


Posted in P2P Collaboration, P2P Spirituality, P2P Subjectivity, Videos | No Comments »

A Introduction to the Basic P2P Ideas; Part 4: CopyFair Licenses

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
2nd July 2015

Over the last ten years, the P2P Foundation has produced a sizeable body of material, both original and curated, but none of it is specifically designed as an introduction for newcomers and people who are not so familiar with the P2P approach. Hence Irma Wilson‘s proposal, during a trip which FutureSharp helped organize in South Africa in the two first weeks of June 2015, to produce a number of short videos. With Irma’s assistance, and the help of filmmaker Michel Taljaard, we produced four videos which are being serialised here in the P2P Foundation Blog and which will be compiled in a forthcoming Commons Transition Article.

This fourth highlights the legal and policy suggestions with some emphasis on the CopyFair license


Posted in Commons, Commons Transition, Cooperatives, Copyright/IP, Economy and Business, Ethical Economy, Featured Video, Open Content, Original Content, P2P Action Items, P2P Collaboration, P2P Foundation, P2P Governance, P2P Movements, P2P Theory, Videos | No Comments »

Here’s What a Commons-Based Economy Looks Like

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
2nd July 2015

David Bollier writes:

So what might a commons-based economy actually look like in its broadest dimensions, and how might we achieve it?  My colleague Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation offers a remarkably thoughtful and detailed explanation in a just-released YouTube talk, produced by FutureSharp. It’s not really a video – just Michel’s voiceover and a simple schematic chart – but the 20-minute talk does a great job of sketching the big-picture strategies that must be pursued if we are going to invent a new type of post-capitalist economy.

Michel focuses on the importance of three specific realms that are crucial to this new vision – ecological sustainability, open knowledge and social solidarity. Each is critical as a field of action for overturning the existing logic of market capitalism.

Fortunately, there are many promising developments in each of these realms. Many parts of the environmental movement seek to go beyond the standard “market-oriented solutions.” There is a growing body of open source-inspired projects for software code, information, design and physical production, which is now spawning new types of global sharing of information with distributed local production. And there are many advocates and initiatives for social justice and fairness in the economy, such as cooperatives and the solidarity economy movement.

The problem, says Bauwens, is that these movements do not generally connect with each other or coordinate internationally. He therefore sees the need for “meta-economic networks” to bridge these fields of action. So, for example, we need “open cooperativism” enterprises to bridge open knowledge systems and cooperatives, so that open-licensed systems are not simply dominated by large corporations in the way that Google, Uber and Airbnb have done. We also need to develop an “open source circular economy” to bridge the worlds of eco-sustainability and open knowledge.  We will never address major environmental problems if the technological and product solutions are based on proprietary knowledge; open circulation of knowledge can change that.

Bauwens also sketches a compelling scenario by which commons-based projects can begin to develop a new politics through such vehicles as a new “ethical entrepreneurial coalition,” a “Chamber of Commons,” and “Commons Assemblies.”  He calls for new types of cooperative finance that can support sustainable production (based on the idea of sufficiency shared by all) as well as the mutualizing of knowledge (vs. its privatization via patents and copyright) and social solidarity (to ensure just and fair distribution of any surplus value created).

While the overall vision may strike skeptics as utopian, the truth is that many of the ideas in Bauwen’s scenario are already underway, if not well-developed.  What’s mostly missing is a wider orientation and commitment to a coherent, shared vision such as this one.  There is also a need for new bridges of social practice and coordination among the three key fields of action.

You can also check out several short short videos introducing the basic concepts of peer production here.

Anyone who is especially interested in this topic should know that the P2P Foundation plans to host a three-day summer school on “The Art of Commoning,” from August 25-27, in Cloughjordan ecovillage in Tipperary, Ireland.  Details here and here.

Originally published at Bollier.org


Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Commons Transition, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Ethical Economy, Featured Video, Original Content, P2P Action Items, P2P Collaboration, P2P Development, P2P Foundation, P2P Theory, Peer Property, Politics, Videos | No Comments »

DiDIY. An interview with Marco Fioretti

photo of Øyvind Holmstad

Øyvind Holmstad
2nd July 2015

By Stefano Serafini. Original post here.

Our friend Marco Fioretti is a former electronic engineer with much more interest in the ethical implications of Free Software than in coding. He focuses on the impact that open digital standards and Free Software have and may have on both society and environmental issues since the 90’s, and his mantra is: “Your civil rights and the quality of your life depend on how software is used around you”. Among other things, he is a board member of the Free Knowledge Institute, which is currently running an EU Horizon 2020 research project along with six other organizations from Italy, United Kingdom, and Greece on the spread of bottom-up digital knowledge and skills – the DiDIY Project.

Marco, what is the DiDIY Project?

DiDIY stands for “Digital Do-It-Yourself”. The DiDIY Project is an international Research Project in the Horizon 2020 programme, led by an international Consortium of seven partners. I participate as a member of the Free Knowledge Institute.

What does Digital DIY mean?

Don’t ask me for a complete definition of Digital DIY, please. Not now anyway. That is a really hard question to answer, and in fact arriving to such a definition is one of the goals of our project.

By now we can say that digital DIY has to do at the same time with digital devices supporting the convergence of physical and informational components, and with the accessibility of the related knowledge and data through open online communities. It is a phenomenon that brings together new mindsets and activities.

Come on… are you talking about the hipsters’ Holy Grail, the 3D-printers?

Much more. 3D printing is great, really, but yes, you are right, it’s being a bit hyped by mass media, and it steals too much the scene. Other Digital DIY technologies based on the same principles and practices in all fields, from carpentry to knitting, may be much more relevant for many people.

Isn’t digital DIY a merely technical issues?

Not at all! Of course, digital DIY involves and relies on digital and other advanced technologies. But we start from the assumption that digital DIY is above all a social and cultural phenomenon. It is leading to the emergence of new scenarios in the roles and relations among individuals, organizations, and society. If you look at it that way, digital DIY should be addressed, driven, and shaped by social and cultural strategies, not by technology.

This is why our project is financed by the Horizon 2020 programme for a “Human-Centric digital age”. Our objectives include production of information, models, and guidelines to support both education and policy making on digital DIY for every sector of society.

Give us an example, please. How digital DIY is relevant for the urban issues we care about?

The way I see it, biourbanism is about making the places we inhabit worth living thanks to sustainable, small-scale and self-organized actions (urban acupunture, right?); and those actions take into accounts all sides of human life. If that is the case, sooner or later most biourbanists should end up adopting many important components and practices of digital DIY, from Free Software to community mapping, Open Hardware, Repair Culture, and Tool Libraries, to name just a few. They won’t be able to avoid them even if they would like to.

Besides, the guidelines that we aim to produce should also include practical recommendations on how to minimize legal and bureaucratic obstacles to digital DIY. Those are big barriers for any adopter of digital DIY nowadays. Especially if those adopters are potential users of biourbanism, i.e. local public administrators, NGOs, and Small/Medium Enterprises. I recently elaborated on this in another interview.

Are you to evangelize biourbanists about digital DIY…?

I have the feeling that more than a few people who practice biourbanism today do it very well, but don’t know yet all the potential of digital DIY. I also wonder if they know about the opportunity of DIY at all. I may be very wrong, though, and it would be great! Biourbanists who already use digital DIY are warmly invited to let us know about their experience through our DiDIY resource form. Of course, we are at your disposal for more discussion on these topics, and to present both digital DIY and our own results, as we go along with the Project.

Thank you Marco. As you know self-building, p2p urbanism, and third generation cities are among the topics of our research since the beginning, and we share with you a critical approach to tech-centered recipes. You will be surely happy to get in touch with our team working on Smart cities and E-democracy under the direction of Prof. M.T. Vinod Kumar.

I will for sure. Technology is never the answer, but an ethical response to technology implies riding it, and riding it for the well. This is, as far as I am concerned, the main value of the DiDIY project. I expect relevant results from it, maybe not in terms of showy output, but of cultural and social activism seeds.


Posted in Guest Post, P2P Architecture and Urbanism | No Comments »

A small experiment in monetary commoning in the Los Angeles’ Union Station

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
1st July 2015

Wonderful, watch it here:


Posted in Commons, P2P Money, P2P Subjectivity, Sharing | No Comments »

A Introduction to the Basic P2P Ideas; Part 3: P2P Economics.

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
30th June 2015

Over the last ten years, the P2P Foundation has produced a sizeable body of material, both original and curated, but none of it is specifically designed as an introduction for newcomers and people who are not so familiar with the P2P approach. Hence Irma Wilson‘s proposal, during a trip which FutureSharp helped organize in South Africa in the two first weeks of June 2015, to produce a number of short videos. With Irma’s assistance, and the help of filmmaker Michel Taljaard, we produced four videos which are being serialised here in the P2P Foundation Blog and which will be compiled in a forthcoming Commons Transition Article.

This third video answers the question, what are peer to peer economics?


Posted in Commons, Commons Transition, Cooperatives, Economy and Business, Ethical Economy, Featured Video, Open Content, Original Content, P2P Business Models, P2P Foundation, P2P Governance, P2P Theory, Videos | 1 Comment »

Common Libraries’ National Library Science Experiment Concludes

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
30th June 2015

An update from our good friend Annemarie Naylor on Common Libraries recent activities working with library authorities around the country. Originally published at the Common Libraries Website

The Common Libraries initiative was established to ‘prototype the library of the future – today’ – to explore, develop and test new ways of working with library users, to support innovation and the evolution of library services, and expand our knowledge or information commons. Accordingly, we conducted a ‘National Library Science Experiment’ and supported x5 ‘Hack the Library’ days to better understand the potential for Common Libraries to enhance the appeal, resilience and sustainability of libraries in future, before presenting our work at two national events for further discussion, with funding from Arts Council England. Today, we’re delighted to publish the findings from our recent activities working with library authorities around the country.


Our ‘National Library Science Experiment’ successfully demonstrated the resonance of the Common Libraries message with a cohort of public library personnel – with 20% of library authorities in England expressing initial interest and 10% actively participating. Maker Instruction Set loans proved of interest in places as diverse as Newcastle, Northamptonshire and the City of London. And, we were particularly pleased to learn that, in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, staff opted to use the Baking Macaroons Instruction Set in a group setting and, as a result, a library user stepped forward and now runs a fortnightly ‘We Can Make Club’; so far, those involved have made lava lamps, planted seeds and, even, made a bird house!

We’d hoped to see better sales figures for those Maker Kits that were ‘Made in the Waiting Room’. But, we were heartened to learn that staff in South Tyneside prototyped 7 Maker Kits of their own (Keith Dickenson’s Sand Garden, Susan Inskip’s Greetings Card, Angela Boyack’s Beading, Cheryl Bradley’s Salt Dough -‘Singing Hinnies’, and Tracey Watson’s Bath Bomb), sold x5 at their South Tyneside – Hack the Library Day, and plan to work with Tyneside & Northumberland MIND to develop more to improve mental health outcomes for library users in future.

hack the library poster - Mersea LibraryIn supporting x5 programme participants to organise a ‘Hack the Library’ day, we sought to test interest in each locale in establishing Common Libraries, as well as the effectiveness of different approaches to brokering relationships between libraries, hackers, makers and creative communities. We worked with them to deploy Resources developed during Phase I and, in particular, to adapt the Maker Thursday event format successfully deployed at the Waiting Room in Colchester. The events underlined the significant scope for libraries to anchor ‘skills sharing’ opportunities in future. They also pointed toward the potential for staff and user-generated content to flow from programmes of structured events and group activities over time, which when cross-referenced with the findings of our ‘National Library Science Experiment’, would appear to indicate that Common Libraries could be established and grow around the country in future.

However, we believe a greater emphasis upon engaging a core group of people with whom to co-produce makerspace facilities and Common Libraries is needed in future, as per the work of Cultural Community Solutions to support the establishment of Creative Workspaces in London, if libraries are to move beyond event management for existing library users towards an approach which truly integrates hacking and making, knowledge/skills sharing and community publishing.

We organised two national events to introduce Common Libraries to library leaders around the country. Here’s what Kate Smyth (Library Development Officer, Oldham Libraries) had to say about our Newcastle event, shortly before the launch of Hack Oldham: “The Maker Space event in Newcastle was really useful for Oldham Library Service. We are establishing a maker space within our Central Library and are partners with Hack Oldham, the local hack space. Visiting the Newcastle MakerSpace and finding out more about The Waiting Room was great and has certainly informed our plans. Oldham has embraced the Common Libraries project and are building our own instruction sets provided by the local community. The Common Libraries project, coupled with our maker space plans, will see Oldham Libraries adapt and evolve. The ideas have proved popular with our community and fit in with our corporate values of working with a resident focus.”

Hack Oldham Launch - June 2015

In total, 50 people registered to attend our national events, and a series of vox pops captures participants’ learning from the day, together with their thoughts about possible next steps – as per this short film featuring Joanne Moulton (Library Service Development Manager, LB Lewisham):


You can also watch an overview of the ideas that were discussed at the events which highlights understanding of as well as interest in the scope for libraries to encourage contributions of knowledge and know-how from library users going forward:


So, what’s next? We’ve summarised the key findings from our recent work with library authorities in the Common Libraries: Phase II – Project Report, and made recommendations based upon the lessons learned and feedback received (for which – thank you – everyone!).



We are eager to extend our prototyping activities. In particular, we are proactively seeking to explore, develop and/or test new services underpinned by emergent technologies with library services across the UK. As such, we hope interested parties will contact us to discuss how they might become one of our trailblazers. We also want libraries to become more self-sustaining so that they are capable of adapting and innovating in the face of declining revenue budgets. Accordingly, any project library service providers opt to pursue with us will build upon the work, to date, of the Common Libraries initiative, and seek to evolve library services through greater involvement of library users in service provision, as well as modernising the way in which local people interact with their local libraries. Crucially, we believe these changes will help mitigate against projected budget reductions by growing appeal amongst new audiences. Ultimately, our aim is to establish Common Libraries as an independent social enterprise in which local authorities and other relevant bodies have a formal governance stake. That way, all concerned will benefit from closer working to nurture innovation, replication and agile iteration, and be well-placed to attract funds and social investment to further support the evolution of public libraries in future.

Download the Common Libraries: Phase II – Project Report:

Common Libraries: Phase II – Project Report (low res)

Common Libraries: Phase II – Project Report (hi res)


Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Commons Transition, Culture & Ideas, Featured Movement, Free Software, Open Content, Open Models, P2P Art and Culture, P2P Books, P2P Collaboration, P2P Education, P2P Movements, P2P Public Policy, Sharing | No Comments »

Michel Bauwens: The Transition Will Not Be Smooth Sailing

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
29th June 2015


We present an English translation of the original interview in French conducted by Arthur de Grave. Cross-posted from OuiShare. Translation by Clement Defontaine. Originally published at Shareable Magazine

Michel Bauwens is one of the pioneers of the peer-to-peer movement. Theoretician, activist, and public speaker, he founded the P2P Foundation in 2005. His work, both rich and complex, is built around the concepts of networks and commons, and lays the conceptual foundations of a production system that would serve as an alternative to industrial capitalism. I had the opportunity to meet him at the French release of his latest book, Saving the World: Towards a Post-Capitalist Society with Peer-to-Peer (published by “Les Liens qui Libèrent”).

Michel, Save the World, your last book, is the translation of a series of talks with Jean Lievens published two years ago. What happened between then? Do you have the impression that the transition you talk about has accelerated?

In this regard, one should make haste slowly. It is clear that the transition to a post-capitalist, sustainable economy will not happen overnight, or even in a few years. It is a long process. Some projects which seemed to work well according to a peer-to-peer logic one or two years ago have since become purely capitalistic. This enables them to grow faster. It contrasts with other more open and truly collaborative projects that have chosen to grow more slowly.

When one has no money, one takes on “solidarity dynamics”. So yes, it can give an impression of a relative stagnation, but I do not worry too much. For this is a major crisis, ecological, social and economic, looming on the horizon. The challenge is to be ready when it breaks out, probably around 2030. FairCoop, WikiSpeed… These kinds of projects are still small and yes, too few. In the coming years, those who are still only the seeds of this transition will have to develop a stable ecosystem, in order to initiate a real movement.

In an interview with us in 2013, you stated that capitalism and peer-to-peer were still interdependent. Isn’t that the real problem? Is this a stable relationship?

No, of course not, how could it be? The value generated by the Commons is still largely captured by capital: by adopting extractive models, large platforms of the sharing economy are engaged in a form of parasitic commercial activity. In the old days, capitalism was a way of allocating resources in a situation of scarcity, but now it is an engineered scarcity system. Our system is completely mad: we pretend that natural resources are endless, and we set artificial barriers around what is abundant in nature, i.e.: creativity and human intelligence. This is a profound moral issue.

In her book Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution, Marjorie Kelly aptly defines the challenge that awaits us: moving from extractive capital to generative capital. The good news is that this process has already started. First of all, because it is impossible to hide the fact that civil society has now become a value creator. This is an important point, as civil society was mostly absent from the “classic” capitalist equation. In addition, we are beginning to witness a change in market structures: commercial spheres of a new kind are developing around the Commons. Enspiral [a collaborative network of social entrepreneurs], in New Zealand, is the perfect example of this type of entrepreneurial coalition.

In your opinion, how could the peer-to-peer model free itself from capitalism in practical terms?

For a start, we should choose the right strategy. I think that despite all the good intentions, projects that aspire to compete head-to-head with Google or Facebook are doomed to fail. I believe much more in targeted approaches like Loomio [an online tool for collaborative decision-making, editor’s note]. The transition will be a sum of such small victories that will connect with each other.

This also requires the creation of new legal tools. We have completely forgotten the tradition of Commons and this is really obvious in our legal tradition. We must make room for legal innovation. In this regard, a principle like the copyleft, or the opposite, the copysol [a license that prohibits any interaction with the traditional commercial market, editor’s note] are interesting but imperfect as they are too radical (in their implications). I want to find a third way, one that would provide a balance between the commercial sphere and the Commons. This is the goal of the work we began around the notion of Peer Production License, which balances out contribution to the Commons and use of these.

Will that be enough? Those in the hands of which capital is concentrated today have no interest in the emergence of a distributed and fair model…

No revolution ever happened without a fraction of the ruling elite take the side of progress! This means that a cultural shift is needed. Today, Joe Justice [founder of the Wikispeed community] struggles to raise funds, including from ethical finance funds, as Wikispeed does not file patents. The world of responsible finance can not continue to support models that create artificial scarcity.

As I was saying earlier, when one lacks resources, one works with other people. For initiatives of the Commons economy, building a network is an absolute necessity. To get an idea of what this kind of ecosystem might look like, go to Madison, Wisconsin: there, food cooperatives, cooperative credit systems between companies, time banks, etc. gathered to create the Mutual Aid Network. In Madison, the alternative economy can be seen and felt in the streets and took less than two years to happen! The same kind of ambition drove an initiative like Faircoop in Spain.

For now, the main transformative ideas that are penetrating the economy – open economy, solidarity economy and ecology – are applied independently from each other. But when these ideas converge, we will witness the birth of an open source and circular economy. This concept of Open Source Circular Economy is at the heart of the debate we are conducting within the P2P Foundation.

I have the feeling that, by focusing on economy and leaving aside the political processes, we have given in to the calls of technological solutionism criticized by Evgeny Morozov. What do you think? Should we relearn to do politics?

Yes, in some ways, but what matters is that politics ended up re-imposing itself through collective learning. The Commons Transition Platform in which I am very involved, gathers and details the political transformation plans necessary for the implementation of a post-capitalist society. This is also the idea of the approach we applied with the FLOK project in Ecuador. The devised political transition plan which included civil society at the centre of public-value creation, a market sphere integrating external factors and a State that serves as a facilitator. FLOK was a partial failure, due to a lack of political will and lack of social base on which to lean for support, however, the political vision we have outlined is making its way to Europe (some proposals have been included within the economic program of Syriza in Greece).

Occupy Wall Street and the Indignados eventually lost momentum. The Arab Spring was, for the most part, led astray. In Spain, Podemos movement attempts to maintain a balance between bottom-up and vertical power, but at the expense of permanent tensions. How can one overcome the contradiction between the institutional logic intertwined with political practices and horizontality, a concept cherished by social movements?

To transfer a concept in real-life conditions on the long term following a pure horizontal logic is very complicated, if not downright impossible. At one time or another, a collective entity has to intervene to transcend individual interests. This also forms part of the collective learning of politics that we had to do. This is also the goal of Podemos’ experience in Spain. A fully horizontal organization system causes too much energy loss; conversely, the vertical system should be confined to areas where it guarantees a greater degree of autonomy for everyone. A bit like the Domain Name System when Internet appeared.

Are the Commons a left-wing idea?

Politically, the P2P Foundation is a pluralistic organization, simply because the logic underlying the Commons spans the entire political spectrum. Solidarity also exists within right-wing parties, some ideas in the ideology of the Front National (French extreme right-wing party, translator’s note) could even be considered as more socialist than what the Parti Socialiste (French socialist party, translator’s note) offers today. But the real question is: who benefits from this solidarity? Right-wing parties only show real solidarity with their supporters! So it’s on the issue of inclusion that the real fault line between right and left comes to light.

It is on the issue of inclusion that the real fault line between right and left comes to light.

Personally, I have left-wing ideas, and I think that the transition to a Commons economy has to benefit to everyone. The real challenge is to go beyond the progressivism inherited from the world of work of the last century. In this context, it is not surprising that European socialism is going through a profound identity crisis.

It is true that none of the partisan parties really seized this idea of Commons. Was it a mistake? Can we really make this a political topic? The concept of Commons remains somewhat abstruse.

The jargon of the Commons may at first seem technical and hard to digest, which is true. But in the mid-2000s, when I created the P2P Foundation, I decided to completely give up the old political lexicon of the left. At that time, the public did not really know what was hidden behind the concept of peer-to-peer. But as social and cultural practices started evolving, as networks started being used on a daily basis, more and more people adopted this new language. The same will most likely happen with the terminology of the Commons.

All will depend on the social movements that will defend this original conceptual arsenal. However, I find you rather pessimistic: the Pirate Party, the European Greens, Podemos, or Syriza have largely embraced this concept of Commons. It is indeed at the core of a new progressive thinking.

Politicizing the Commons, is researching their roots and genealogy. If the law leaves so little room for the Commons today, it is because we forgot where they came from. Yet, this type of organization and management of resources existed long before modern industrial capitalism practices. We must reconnect with this tradition and rewrite this forgotten chapter in our economic history. Politicizing the Commons is also researching their roots and genealogy. It’s the condition to lay the foundation of a new narrative on progress. Changing the world for the better will require considerable efforts on the part of everyone, but I think that peer-to-peer is a vision of society that is worth the sacrifice.


Posted in Activism, Commons, Commons Transition, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Open Models, Original Content, P2P Labor, P2P Subjectivity, Politics | No Comments »

Bologna Celebrates One Year of a Bold Experiment in Urban Commoning

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
28th June 2015

Colori di Bolonia

Reposted from Shareable Magazine, Neal Gorenflo describes the one year anniversary of The Bologna Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of the Urban Commons, a unique city policy that has turned “no you can’t” into “yes we can together.”

It all began with park benches.

In 2011, a group of women in Bologna, Italy wanted to donate benches to their neighborhood park, Piazza Carducci. There was nowhere to sit in their park. So they called the city government to get permission to put in benches. They called one department, which referred them to another, which sent them on again. No one in the city could help them. This dilemma highlighted an important civic lacuna — there simply was no way for citizens to contribute improvements to the city. In fact, it was illegal.

Fast forward to May 16, 2015. The mayor, city councilors, community leaders, journalists, and hundreds of others gathered at the awe-inspiring MAST Gallery for the opening ceremony of Bologna’s Civic Collaboration Fest celebrating the one year anniversary of the Bologna Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of the Urban Commons, a history-making institutional innovation that enables Bologna to operate as a collaborative commons. Now Bologna’s citizens have a legal way to contribute to the city. Since the regulation passed one year ago, more than 100 projects have signed “collaboration pacts” with the city under the regulation to contribute urban improvements with 100 more in the pipeline.

It was an impressive event filled with ceremony, emotion, historical significance all in a context of tough political realities.

The MAST Gallery in Bologna

The MAST Gallery in Bologna

City Councilor Luca Rizzo Nervo opened the ceremony with a rousing speech. He said a new day was dawning where “no you can’t” was turning into “yes we can together,” where citizens are self-determining, and where a new, empowering relationship between citizens and city had begun. He said he was tired of the old, pessimistic rhetoric and that the regulation opened up a new, hopeful development path that takes “active citizenship” to the next level. He ended with a vision of Bologna as an entire city powered by sharing and collaboration as part of a global network of other cities on the same path.

Administrator Donato Di Memmo, the urban commons project leader, spoke to the importance of the urban commons for urban art, digital innovation and social cohesion and the need for improvement in the application of the regulation. He said that relationships are the starting point and that with training and more visibility the regulation could meet the high expectations for it.

We heard from the leaders of three projects that had signed pacts. Michela Bassi spoke of the impact of her Social Streets project, which has moved from a network of neighborhood Facebook groups to a nonprofit with a set of tangible projects including an outdoor ad turned into a neighborhood bulletin board. Veronica Veronesi introduced Reuse With Love, a group of 50 neighbors who joined forces to fight waste and improve the lives of children and the poor. Annarita Ciaruffoli of Dentro Al Nido (Inside the Nest) spoke of how the regulation was helping to restore schools.

Stefano Brugnara, president of Arci Bologna and spokesperson for the Bologna Third Sector Forum, an association of local nonprofits, spoke of the durable role of nonprofits under the new regulation; that they don’t get subsumed by it, but rather can be strengthened by it, especially if there’s transparency in its application. His comments hinted at a concern that nonprofits would be weakened by the regulation.

Giovanni Ginocchini of Bologna’s Urban Center commented on urban transformation from a physical standpoint including fighting graffiti, renovation of the city’s famous arcades, green lighting in public spaces, and better social housing.

While the proceedings included a diverse set of stakeholders, Mayor Virginio Merola was clearly the headliner. He gave an engaging speech filled with emotion and historical reflection. His main point, which was a reminder of Bologna’s long history of civic innovation, was that Bologna’s people and their cooperative culture are the city’s most important assets, the things that set it apart. He said the regulation was taking this tradition to the next level.

Bologna's Mayor Merola about to give civic collaborators keys to the city at the recent Civic Collaboration Fest

Bologna’s Mayor Merola about to give civic collaborators keys to the city at the recent Civic Collaboration Fest

He got emotional at points in his speech, pausing to hold back tears. This stirred the audience. He connected. He spoke of the need for citizens to love each other and to have the freedom to do the best for oneself and others. He said it’s easy to get depressed by the daily news, but that the DNA of Bologna is the ability of citizens to fulfill their dreams. He spoke about the increasing diversity of the city – only 30% of residents are Bologna born – and the need to focus on commonalities, common assets, human rights, and equality. He urged the audience to create an intelligent city – one based on great relationships – as opposed to a merely smart city. He concluded that while there’s a need for much more citizen action, that this doesn’t mean the end of hierarchy. The city still needs dedicated civil servants.

The mayor has been criticized as “the mayor who cries” and for not having a vision. I got word after the ceremony that the mayor said the urban commons is now his vision. I was blown away how aligned his and Luca Rizzo Nervo’s vision is with Shareable’s and our Sharing Cities Network. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that our vision is aligned with theirs as Bologna has a thousand year history of civic innovation that includes the first university in the Western world, self-rule as a independent city-state during the Middle Ages, and more recently the rise of the region’s famously large cooperative sector. One conclusion of Robert Putnam’s influential book about Italy, Making Democracy Work, was that Northern Italians were richer than their southern cousins because they were civic, not the reverse as he had previously thought. The mayor’s speech about the cooperative spirit of Bologna was not hot air. It had the weight of history behind it. It spoke to a necessary and feasible revival of it.

Mayor Merola giving a citizen a key to the city. Said citizen beams with pride.

Mayor Merola giving a citizen a key to the city. Said citizen beams with pride.

After the mayor spoke, and on the invitation of our host, Christian Iaione of LUISS LabGov, Fordham University professor Sheila Foster, commons activist David Bollier (who also posted about the event here), and I gave short talks about the urban commons. Sheila focused on the potential of the urban commons to foster human development. David spoke about commons-based economic development, and Bologna’s potential to inspire other cities.  And I spoke about the how living day-to-day in the commons builds citizenship.

The ceremony was concluded in the most fitting way possible. All the leaders of projects operating under the regulation were invited on stage. The mayor gave each a USB key to the city with a copy of regulation on the drive. The USB key was the brainchild of Christian Iaione and Michele d’Alena, the civic collaboration fest project leader. What a great idea. It created a joyful moment that symbolized a shift in power from elected leaders to citizens.

One of the many keys that Mayor Merola passed out at the Civic Collaboration Festival

One of the many keys that Mayor Merola passed out at the Civic Collaboration Festival

The next day Christian Iaione and Elena De Nictolis, Alessandra Feola and Elia Lofranco of LUISS LabGov gave a delegation including Sheila Foster and I a tour of projects that were active that day. Our first stop was one of seven citizen groups painting buildings in the city’s historic center. Painting is a big deal because of an abundance of graffiti and the need to maintain the ancient buildings, which is crucial for quality of life not to mention the tourist trade.

A group of volunteers from nonprofit Lawyers at Work painting under one of the many arcades in Bologna's historic city center

A group of volunteers from nonprofit Lawyers at Work painting under one of the many arcades in Bologna’s historic city center

There I saw the regulation’s multistakeholder collaboration in action. The painting crew was a nonprofit, Lawyers at Work. The municipal waste management company Hera had dropped off the painting kit earlier in the day. It included paint that met the city’s historical code, brushes, smocks to protect clothing, cones to mark off the work area, and more.  Hera had also cleared the painting project with the building owner and city. The city hosted an online map that showed all the projects active that day and their location. Citizens could track and join projects online or do it spontaneously. A neighbor had joined Lawyers at Work when they happened by the worksite, something that happens regularly with Bologna’s urban commons projects. Neighbors also share project activity on social media which can spark more activity and civic pride.

A screen shot of a real-time map developed by the city to track urban commons project activity

A screen shot of a real-time map developed by the city to track urban commons project activity

My idea of placemaking was radically upgraded by witnessing the regulation in action.  Here the making part of placemaking was brought to life in a vivid and dynamic way. No longer was placemaking for urban design experts who plan everything out in advance, but rather it was for everyone in a real-time multistakeholder dance that included both planned and spontaneous elements. I began to see the possibilities of an entirely new way to live in a city that was even more creative, enlivening, and social than what cities already offer.

In between stops in what turned out to be a long, vigorous walk, I had the chance to chat with Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione who had just co-authored a soon-to-be published paper conceptualizing the city as commons from an administrative law standpoint. Two points stood out in our conversation. First, that a new era was dawning where citizens are active co-managers of the resources they use in cities instead of passive recipients of services. Secondly, that the old idea of commons needed an upgrade in the urban context. Most academic studies of commons revolve around relatively isolated natural resource commons like forests, fisheries, and pastures. Urban commons must by necessity be embedded in a dense weave of institutions. They can’t be as independent of the market and government as the natural resource commons that Elinor Ostrom was famous for studying. Room must be made for urban commons in a city’s administrative law and processes. In addition, they must be productively linked to other sectors of with a city. This arguably makes urban commons more complex to set up, but could provide more protection for them than what’s typical for natural resource commons, which are prone to closure. This highlighted the importance of Bologna’s urban commons regulation. It has opened space for the urban commons to flourish in Bologna and is already leading the way for other cities in Italy and beyond.

After a couple of other stops, we ended our tour at Piazza Carducci. I wanted to see where Bologna’s urban commons began. I got my wish. The park was ordinary, and that’s just the point. The most extraordinary social innovations can begin in ordinary places with a simple wish. This was such a place, and it was beautiful to me for that reason. All of us gathered on one of the benches for a picture to commemorate the pioneers of Bologna’s urban commons, the women of Piazza Carducci.

Sheila Foster, Christian Iaione, the LabGov team, and myself on a bench in Piazza Carducci

Sheila Foster, Christian Iaione, the LabGov team, and myself on a bench in Piazza Carducci

Originally published on Shareable
Lead image by Martina. Article images by Neal Gorenflo


Posted in Activism, Commons, Commons Transition, Cooperatives, Culture & Ideas, Guest Post, Open Government, Open Models, P2P Architecture and Urbanism, P2P Movements, P2P Public Policy | No Comments »