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Archive for 'Culture & Ideas'

Critique of political economy of water and the collaborative alternative

photo of Vasilis Kostakis

Vasilis Kostakis
27th August 2014


Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 11.10.27

An thought-provoking critique on the political economy of water  along with a collaborative, Commons-oriented proposal have been published at the European Water Movement website, by Kostas Nikolaou, member of the initiative K136. Kostas begins his article criticizing the current practices regarding the water management and the recent efforts to privatize another Commons so to maximize capital accumulation. Then he deals with two critical questions: i) “who made and who makes the privatization of water everywhere in the world?” and ii) “saying no to privatization and ultimately preventing the privatization, say yes to what?”. Through the case of the collaborative alternative from Thessaloniki, Greece, i.e., the initiative K136, and other historical successes of the movement, Kostas makes concrete proposals for a cooperative alternative. If you are interested in the Commons (since you are here, certainly you are!), you should definitely read the essay in full here.


Posted in Activism, Commons, Cooperatives, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Featured Essay, Open Models, P2P Collaboration, Peer Property, Politics, Sharing | No Comments »

Where chaos and innovation meet

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
26th August 2014

Peers and lightbulbs

« Peer production has been around as long as human beings have been around »

More quality content from Open Thought’s 2014 issue asking the question, “How many peers does it take to change a light bulb? The following video contribution from software developer and author Allison Randal ties in with the P2P Foundation’s often overlooked neo-traditionalist appreciation of Peer Production.

Were ancient human settlements already applying peer production without being aware of it? Have we abandoned this cooperative way of making goods? In this videopost, Randal reflects on what changed with the industrial revolution and on both the advantages and downsides of free software developing. Her contribution was possible thanks to the collaboration of the MiniDebConf 2014 and the University of Barcelona.


Posted in Collective Intelligence, Commons, Culture & Ideas, P2P Collaboration | No Comments »

How Tech-Savvy Podemos Became One of Spain’s Most Popular Parties in 100 Days

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
25th August 2014

The Podemos banner asks, “When is the last time you voted with hope?” (Podemos Uvieu/flickr)

Originally published in Techpresident, this recent report by Carola Friedani details the unstoppable rise of Podemos and the participatory tools that have enabled it. We’re especially happy to see our friends at Loomio mentioned as one of Podemos’ go-to tools.

It has been called “a radical left sensation”; a “fledgling party” born out of the ashes of the Indignados (“the outraged”) or 15-M movement; and “the new-kid-on-the-block” whose success is yet another example of modern technopolitics or, as some experts have put it, “the power of the connected multitudes.”

Podemos (“We Can”), a new Spanish party established in March 2014, disrupted their nation’s political scene when it swept up five seats out of 54 and 1.2 million votes (8% of the total) in the European elections in May even though it was only 100-days-old. With 704,585 likes on Facebookand 321,000 followers on Twitter, it has more online fans than any other Spanish political party.

Founded by left-wing academics, and led by a 35-year-old political science lecturer, Pablo Iglesias, Podemos’ platform strongly advocates for anti-corruption and transparency measures, is supportive of participatory democracy and critical of the two main parties – the PP (the center-right People’s Party) and the PSOE (the Socialist Party) – as well as the government’s austerity measures. As Iglesias told the Guardian, Podemos is about “citizens doing politics.”

Iñigo Errejón, a researcher at the Complutense University of Madrid, and the coordinator of Podemos’ electoral campaign, tells techPresident, “The rise of Podemos is about their new way of reading and articulating widespread citizen discontent, which had previously surfaced within the 15-M movement.”

Podemos is considered an offshoot of 15-M, a tech-savvy group that from 2011 to 2012 protested against the country’s political inefficacy, high unemployment and other political and economic woes.According to Cristina Flesher Fominay, founder and co-chair of the Council for European Studies Social Movement and a professor at the University of Aberdeen, Podemos’ popularity was made possible in part by its roots in 15-M as well as the charismatic and media-savvy leadership of Iglesias and the party’s ability to mobilize the youth, unemployed and voters that tend to abstain.

The party’s success also came from deep changes to the way politics has been done, says Errejón, a combination of bold reforms and use of technology to make the decision-making process as inclusive and transparent as possible.


Compared to a standard campaign, which in Spain can cost more than 2 million euros per party, Podemos succeeded with hardly any money, initially raising 100,000 euros (US$133,650) through crowdfunding.

Podemos’ charismatic leader Pablo Iglesias speaks at a rally (credit: CyberFrancis/flickr)

“Since the beginning, we believed that we needed to be financially independent from banks and corporations, and for this reason we asked for citizen funding,” Eric Labuske, 26, and Miguel Ardanuy, 23, who are members of Podemos, wrote in a joint e-mail to techPresident. “We have used crowdfunding for specific projects, such as building servers for our web platforms and materials for our political campaigns. We also use a monthly donation system to cover all our expenses.” Labuske coordinates citizen participation activities within the party and Ardanuy is part of a working group that is organizing Podemos’ Constituent Assembly (Asamblea Ciudadana) in October 2014 when members will debate and vote on proposals for an agenda, as well as the future trajectory of the party.

Not only is crowdfunding important in distancing themselves from the sway of corporate funding, according to Labuske and Ardanuy, it also enables citizens to get involved politically and, as a result, forces the party to be as transparent as possible. “As our funding depends on small donations from citizens, we have the obligation of being accountable and transparent, by publishing our accounts and balances online,” they explain. Podemos also documents its crowdsourcing process online.

Even now, crowdfunding is Podemos’ main source of funding, making up more than half of all its resources with the rest coming from regular donations. The party has collected more than 150,000 euros (US$200,450) since March 2014 through more than 10,000 funders.

Some of the money is used for specific projects; for example, when the PP accused Iglesias of associations with the Basque terrorist group, ETA, Podemos raised more than 16,000 euros(US$21,380) in three hours to defend themselves against libelous attacks.

Podemos also met their 23,000 euros (US$30,735) goal for organizing its Constituent Assembly. Any member can participate and anyone can become a member by filling out an online form.

Podemos’ lean crowdfunding model is also reflected in their bold reforms for public spending. It aims to set MEP salaries at 1,930 euros (US$2,580), or triple the national minimum wage, as opposed to the standard 8,000 euros (US$10,690) a month, and use the extra income towards building the party or towards a particular cause. Podemos also hopes to set a minimum guaranteed income and reform financial regulation.

Online voting and decision making

A large part of Podemos’ digital strategy is turning decision-making into an inclusive, citizen-driven process. It used an online platform, Agora Voting, to select their Euro-MPs during the primaries, attracting 33,000 voters who were verified through SMS. While those votes only account for 3 percent of their actual voter base, Podemos was the only party aside from Partido X, a 15-M spin-off founded over a year before them, that used open primaries, which allowed any voter regardless of party affiliation to throw in their support. Podemos also used Agora to select their executive coordination team, a group of 26 in charge of organizing the Constituent Party Assembly.

So far the platform has been used to vote directly for candidates, but in the long run Podemos may use some of the other voting models supported by the platform, such as liquid delegation. This form of voting allows a participant to delegate his or her vote to someone else they feel has more expertise, but the delegation can also be revoked. Agora also supports single transferable voting, a system that seeks to create proportional representation through the ranking of candidates in order of preference on a ballot.

Currently, Podemos is working on an even more ambitious project. LaboDemo (Laboratorio Democrático), a techno-political consulting and researching organization that is focused on how to use Internet tools to optimize democratic processes, began to collaborate with Podemos in June on testing new apps that would allow for instant mass polling.

“We started to test a number of tools after a national meeting of all the ‘Circulos’ on 14th June,” Yago Bermejo Abati, the coordinator of LaboDemo, tells techPresident. The ‘Circulos’ or Circles are local, offline places for citizen participation that are open to all, launched by Podemos in order to fulfil its ambition of being a real citizens’ party. The Circulos have been one of the key factors of Podemos’ success. Today there are around 800 Circles scattered throughout the country. During meetings, members discuss policy issues, such as debating the proposals that will be brought to Podemos’ National Party Assembly. They often use Titanpad, a tool that allows many people to edit one document. “That means that everyone can take part in the building of Podemos. This is democracy,”says a post on one of the local Circulos’ Facebook page.

A screenshot of Podemos’ Circulos map

Podemos also uses the Circulos as a place to test new apps. “Appgree was first tested at the national meeting,” says Bermejo Abati. Appgree is a mobile app that filters proposals by type and can quickly poll thousands of people simultaneously. More than 9,000 participated during the national Circulos meeting in June and more than 5,000 were on the app simultaneously. A number of questions were proposed, for example, like suggesting a collective tweet to the president of Spain.

“We think Appgree will be useful in the future to allow very fast feedback regarding proposals or polls,” explains Bermejo Abati.

Another online platform Podemos just began to use in order to maximise participation is Reddit. “We believe that everyone needs to be part of the construction of Podemos,” say Labuske and Ardanay. “And unlike the other political parties in Spain, we want to use [Reddit] to enforce democracy in our country. We think that transparency and direct contact between politicians and citizens are vital to reach the level of democracy we want.” After LaboDemo suggested it, Podemos decided to use Reddit’s “ask me anything” feature to enable the party’s political candidates to debate with citizens.

“We wanted to create a massive national debate. We have chosen Reddit as our platform and we call it Plaza Podemos,” adds Bermejo Abati.

Plaza Podemos received more than 80,000 unique visits and more than 400,000 page visits since its launch about one month ago. During this time the party also hosted four Reddit interviews with Podemos Euro-MPs Pablo Echenique, Lola SànchezCarlos Jiménez and Teresa Rodrìguez, each of them answering hundreds of questions posed by users.

“We conceive Plaza Podemos as a virtual square to deliberate, discuss and visualize all the issues that concern Podemos’ followers,” says Bermejo Abati. “Since these interviews are done directly by the people, they produce truly interesting questions. It is also a great way for the MPs to explain some of their actions in the European Parliament.” Plaza Podemos is also enabling the offline Circulos to connect to each other virtually.

Podemos intends to utilize Reddit to debate the ethical, political and organizational principles that are going to be voted on at their National Citizen Assembly in October. The Reddit debates provide a new way of interacting with a political party and Bermejo Abati believes it will develop into a “new kind of politics.”

Another participatory platform that Podemos is currently experimenting with is Loomio, a collaborative and open source decision-making platform that allows groups of people to discuss issues, propose actions, gauge group opinion and are given a set deadline to vote. It aims to encourage consensus-making rather than the polarization of an issue.

“After Podemos adopted our platform, several thousand Podemos folk have now started 396 groups within the last month,” Ben Knight, co-founder of Loomio, tells techPresident. Some of them are local groups, like Podemos Toledo. Others are thematic, like Podemos Economistas, which as its name suggests, debates the party’s economic policy. “[Loomio’s] user-base and total activity have almost doubled as a result,” adds Knight.

A screenshot of Plaza Podemos on Reddit.

The problem with “e-democracy”

Despite Podemos’ success, it is not without its critics, especially those who pursue similar goals of using online participation to create a more inclusive democratic process.

“[The party] has been very efficient on social networks,” Simona Levi, a prominent former 15-M activist and a co-founder of Partido X, says to techPresident. “However it still hasn’t addressed some problems, such as the risk of clicktivism, of implementing a fallacious idea of participation.” She wonders how Podemos will prevent decisions being made primarily by those with the time to participate or whether people who vote online are really informed before they cast their ballot, especially when it comes to complicated policy issues like political or economic reform.

Levi explains that Partido X tried to address these problems with their own version of online political participation based on the idea that online participation by itself is not enough and that people don’t need to express an opinion on everything, especially if they are not informed enough.

“Our methodology seeks to go beyond clicktivism, introducing the idea of responsibility, competence and scalability in the participatory decision-making process,” she says. For instance, Partido X tried to implement a decision-making process based less on majority voting and more on consensus, less on opinion and more on expertise.

However noble Partido X’s attempt at creating a more meaningful platform for political engagement, it was less effective at communicating its vision to the public. While Partido X was often considered the main heir to 15-M, it was unable to win any seats in the last election while Podemos has become the fourth largest national political force and the third largest in many regions, including Madrid.

Podemos’ founders do realize its methods are far from perfect. “We are always looking to improve our participation systems and looking to find new ones,” say Labuske and Ardanuy. “Improving democracy is one of our main objectives, and we believe that technology is very important in reaching that goal.” And despite its flaws, Podemos is leading the way in online politics in Spain.

Carola Frediani is an Italian journalist and co-founder of the media agency, Effecinque.org. She writes on new technology, digital culture and hacking for a variety of Italian publications, including L’Espresso, Wired.it, Corriere della Sera, Sky.it. She is the author of Inside Anonymous: A Journey into the World of Cyberactivism.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident’s WeGov section.


Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Commons, Culture & Ideas, Featured Content, Featured Essay, Networks, Open Government, Open Models, P2P Collaboration, P2P Public Policy, Politics | No Comments »

Book of the Day: Against the Smart City

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25th August 2014

Against the smart city (The city is here for you to use). Andrew Greenfield


“From the smartphones in our pockets and the cameras on the lampposts to sensors in the sewers, the sidewalks and the bike-sharing stations, the contemporary city is permeated with networked information technology.

As promoted by enterprises like IBM, Siemens and Cisco Systems, the vision of the “smart city” proposes that this technology can be harnessed by municipal administrators to achieve unprecedented levels of efficiency,security, convenience and sustainability. But a closer look at what this body of ideas actually consists of suggests that such a city will not, and cannot, serve the interests of the people who live in it.

In this pamphlet, Everyware author Adam Greenfield explores the ways in which this discourse treats the city as an abstraction, misunderstands (or even undermines) the processes that truly do generate meaning and value — and winds up making many of the same blunders that doomed the High Modernist urban planning of the twentieth century. “Against the smart city” provides an intellectual toolkit for those of us interested in resisting this sterile and unappealing vision, and lays important groundwork for the far more fruitful alternatives to come.”


Posted in Activism, Featured Book, P2P Architecture and Urbanism | No Comments »

Peering through the Crowdfunding Window: Sustainable Food, Sharing Economies and the Ethos of Legal Infrastructure

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
24th August 2014


Bronwen Morgan, a researcher and expert in regulation and rights related to social activism and claims for social and economic human rights, recently approached us to share the following article. It deals with sustainable food systems, the sharing economy, and the ethos of legal infrastructure by using  the recent crowdfunding campaigns of Open Food Network (Australia) and FarmDrop (UK) as a window onto these issues.

At the end of the first week of August 2014, two different crowdfunding pitches closed almost simultaneously.  FarmDrop, based in the UK, had raised three quarters of a million pounds, which was not far from double their original goal, from 359 investors. Open Food Network, based in Australia, had raised Aus$35,877 from 398 investors. Peering through the windows opened up by these two initiatives gives a clear view of rather different trajectories of the burgeoning ‘sharing economy’.

Crowdfunding’s heady mix of creative expression, cultivating an audience of potential investors, media-savvy PR pitch, and technical provision of ‘due diligence’ information about business plans and risk seems appropriate to the somewhat contradictory ethos surrounding the spread and growth of the sharing economy. As William Deresiewicz argued in the New York Times in 2011 in ‘Generation Sell’:

Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business…. The small business is the idealized social form of our time. Our culture hero is not the artist or reformer, not the saint or scientist, but the entrepreneur. Autonomy, adventure, imagination: entrepreneurship comprehends all this and more for us. The characteristic art form of our age may be the business plan. 

The prism of the crowdfunding ‘pitch’ refracts diverse imaginaries of scale, and of ownership and control. Yet in the pitches for these two projects, scale is highly visible while questions of ownership and control are mostly shrouded or implicit. But both are important foundations of  the particular ethos of the practices that might spring up in their wake – and ethos, elusive as it is, is a vital facet of the kind of world that such projects aspire to create.

Both FarmDrop and Open Food Network aim to create and grow sustainable local food systems. Both stress the desire to create positive social change of a systemic kind, one that will disrupt the existing dominance of supermarket provision of food. They have not dissimilar structures – both provide a web-based platform that allows individual consumers to source food from local farmers, and to cut out or curtail the power of the ‘middleman’. Both emphasise the enlarged share of the final purchase price that will go to farmers as a key plank of their commitment to positive social change.

Their visions of the way in which they will grow, however, are quite different, a difference perhaps mirrored in the fact that FarmDrop’s largest investment was GBP100,000 while Open Food Network’s was Aus2500  -  as well as the sheer scale of difference in the total sums raised. FarmDrop aspires to establish a standardised model that will ‘scale up’ to a mass level, citing a quantified market share target of current UK supermarket sale volumes, and envisioning an ‘exit strategy’ of a public stockmarket sale where its potential valuation is compared to AirBnB, the ubiquitous sharing economy behemoth.  Open Food Network, by contrast, conveys  a hope of growing by variable replication, primarily through sharing the code of its web-based platform and fostering partnerships with small community-based ventures. It has already begun such partnerships with existing local food projects in Scotland and the South-West of England.

This difference is closely linked to the design of ownership and control in the two projects. Although there is much less overt discussion of this in the two crowdfunding pitches, one important feature stands out clearly – the open source nature of Open Food Network’s software platform. FarmDrop says nothing directly about this aspect of its pitch, but the exit strategy implies a closed intellectual  property model, as does the fact that Crowdcube, the funding platform, allows the sourcing of equity-based finance from venture capital as well as from so-called ‘mom and pop’ investors. Crowdcube also imposes a standard set of Articles of Association (not publicly available) upon funded projects, and FarmDrop is a private proprietary company controlled by its founders.

Interestingly, Open Food Network’s company structure is not made visible through the pitch (it’s a non-profit and registered charity) – but the pitch does communicate an important plank of ‘ownership and control’ very differently from FarmDrop – that of control over the sharing of surplus. FarmDrop proudly foregrounds a specific measureable – and very high -  proportion that will go to farmers – 80p in the pound – with 10p to the ‘Keeper’ who coordinates the local pickup, and 10p to FarmDrop itself.  Open Food Network, meanwhile, gives no specific proportions but leaves it up to the farmer to set the price. While FarmDrop’s ‘pitch’ thus seems markedly redistributive (at least, compared to supermarkets) , the more important – and less obvious – point is that Open Food Network delegates control over prices to farmers, while FarmDrop retains it. Given that FarmDrop is a private proprietary company, its promised generosity in terms of distributed proportions to farmers could change in the future. Nothing is built into the legal model of private proprietary companies to prevent this, and FarmDrop’s tagline – “The simple principle of missing out the middleman powers everything we do” -  sidesteps the issue that the platform is a middleman – and potentially a massively powerful one.

Of course, Open Food Network’s pitch is partially silent on ownership and control, at least in terms of the technicalities of legal models. But its commitments to open-source software and delegated price control communicate an ethos that extends what is shared, and on whose terms, more widely than the FarmDrop pitch. Open Food Network’s approach not so much cuts out middlemen as supports multiple small locally empowered networks that subscribe to the transparency of the platform.

photo (1)Debates over the political and social implications of the sharing economy would be energised and clarified by the combination of a greater appreciation of ethos on the one hand, and more overt, transparent discussion about the legal models that will give structure to the visions glimpsed through the window of crowdfunding. These are linked issues. In a whimsical but provocative reflection on the foundations of sustainable practices, Ivan Illich argues that modern discussions of scale are blind to issues of proportionality and balance that cannot be captured by numbers or quantitative measurement. He remarks: “In his treatise on statecraft Plato remarks that the bad politician is he who confuses measurements with proportionality. Such a person would not recognize what is appropriate to a particular ethos, a word that originally implied a dwelling place, later something like “popular character.”

In the context of this quote, it is perhaps fitting that FarmDrop chooses to highlight a numerical measure of farmer income, while Open Food Network delegate the general power of setting prices. More broadly, the general ethos of the Open Food Network project leaves much more room for the ‘particular ethos’ of different configurations of growers and customers to evolve, particularly on questions of ownership and control. The ethos of FarmDrop could be interpreted as one that to preserve the comfort and convenience of the shopping relationship while personalising it and at least appearing to shrink its scale.  Yet when the ‘back-systems’, particularly the financing, ownership and control and legal governance of projects are designed as FarmDrop’s seem implicitly to be, such projects become potentially very similar to the mass-scale commodification the project appears to reject. All the same, the extent to which none of this is up front and centre in the crowdfunding pitches suggests there is more debate to be had here.

As experience has shown, growth and success down the line bring issues of underlying legal infrastructure painfully into contentious view. When CouchSurfing, once the more ‘open’ and ‘truly sharing’ version of AirBnB, went through some contentious governance change, angry couch-providers directly raised the importance of such issues as ‘asset locks’ within corporate governance structures. This is more than just a technical question, and more even than a political one, though it is certainly that. As important is the ethos of how particular models, or any modern ‘template’ structure, is embedded in practice. To quote Illich again,  “To consider what is appropriate or fitting in a certain place  – this is “a delicate task” requiring that we “retrieve something like a lost ear, an abandoned sensibility”.

What would our lost ear hear, our sensibilities regain, if sustainable local food projects matched the design of ownership and control to the sense of fit and appropriateness of each place the project were implemented? What kinds of models would encourage such a sense of appropriate fit – cooperatives, community interest companies, benefit corporations? Illich views “a certain sensitivity to the appropriate as the necessary condition of friendship”.  As we peer through the window of crowdfunding pitches, which of the models offered us will make possible a relationship of friendship – that infinitely variable shared good, capable of expansive deepening but never of being ‘scaled up’ – to the earth? Ethos matters, and the legal infrastructure of ownership and control of sharing economy projects is a too-little-discussed facet of the sharing economy.


Posted in Commons, Ethical Economy, Food and Agriculture, Guest Post, Open Models, P2P Ecology, P2P Foundation, Sharing | No Comments »

Video: a short intro to the ‘moneyless’ Trade Schools in London and New York

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
23rd August 2014

The Collaborative Cities project interviews co-founder Caroline Woolard and attends a class in London (Hub Westminster).

Trade Schools are ‘barter for education’ communities.

Watch the video here:


Posted in P2P Education, Sharing, Videos | No Comments »

Direct Democracy Festival

photo of Vasilis Kostakis

Vasilis Kostakis
23rd August 2014

Screen Shot 2014-08-23 at 9.17.08 AM

The “Direct Democracy Festival” is taking place in Thessaloniki, Greece on September the 3th, 4th and 5th.  It includes speeches, workshops, concerts, activities for children, theatrical performances, films projections and direct marketing of products. This time the festival has a clear international orientation with speakers such as Nozomi Hayase and Jerome Roos from ROAR magazine, TOP from Berlin, Zon A Defendre from France and others. If you are interested in joining, you may visit the official English webpage of the festival.



Posted in Culture & Ideas, Events | No Comments »

Book of the Day: Metropolitan Revolution

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23rd August 2014

The Metropolitan Revolution by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley. Brookings Institution Press, 2013.

URL = http://www.amazon.com/The-Metropolitan-Revolution-Politics-Brookings/dp/081572151X

How the structure of civic relationships shapes economic trajectories; weak link networks are better for urban regeneration than those with strong links.


Jessica Conrad:

“In the face of “federal gridlock, economic stagnation and fiscal turmoil,” cities and metropolitan areas across the country are tackling the pressing problems that Washington won’t, says Jennifer Bradley, a fellow at the Brookings Institute Metropolitan Policy Program. Her new book The Metropolitan Revolution (with Brookings colleague Bruce Katz) is about cities that are instigating change from the ground up in partnership with nonprofits, foundations, and citizens.

Their practical and oftentimes ad hoc solutions come from what Bradley describes as a profound behavioral change: “People are staring to ask, ‘What can we do together that we can’t do by ourselves?’” Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s the same ethos behind the sharing economy, an economic trend that Bradley believes emerged from the Great Recession.” (http://www.shareable.net/blog/the-metropolitan-revolution-cities-on-the-rise-out-of-necessity)



Interview of Jennifer Bradley conducted by Jessica Conrad:

* Jessica Conrad: In your new book The Metropolitan Revolution, you describe how power is shifting away from federal and state governments to cities and metropolitan areas. What does this shift mean for the average citizen?

Jennifer Bradley: The shift means that there are more opportunities to engage networks of power than there have been in the past. If Washington drives change, and you’re just one of however many voters in your state, the decisions made in Washington might seem very distant and arcane.

But if metropolitan areas drive decisions about the shape of their economies instead, citizens can intervene in a lot of different ways. They have access to elected officials, for example, and university officials, philanthropy leaders, and leaders of civic institutions—any number of entrepreneurial community members that are involved in making decisions and making change. And one of the really exciting things is that these networks of power span jurisdictional boundaries.

* Jessica Conrad: Why is this power shift happening now?

Jennifer Bradley: I think the Great Recession forced people to think differently, and two things happened. After the initial and vitally important infusion of federal funds from the Recovery Act, the federal government stopped being a source of policy innovation. There was a debate about whether the Recovery Act was too big or not big enough, and then there was a kind of partisan lockdown. That’s not to say that the federal government totally checked out, but there still isn’t a lot of intellectual energy in Washington devoted to thinking about the economic model that got us into the recession or about how to get into a different and more sustainable economic growth pattern.

Even so, we know the growth model that led to the recession was based largely on consumption. It was about housing. It was about retail. It was about building new subdivisions and then building the retail infrastructure to fill those new houses with a lot of stuff. It was not focused on production or on the tradable sectors where goods are produced and sold to people across borders. As we know from thinkers like Jane Jacobs and economists like Paul Krugman, the tradable sector is what drives economic growth.

We need to get back to basics and think about what we produce and trade. But the federal government isn’t leading the way, and states are becoming increasingly partisan and struggling with their own budget deficits. As a result, metropolitan areas are starting to say to themselves, “We’re it! We are where innovation happens.” From patents to STEM programs to universities, cities have the key ingredients for an export- and innovation-oriented economy—and they know they have to make change for themselves.

People across the U.S. have told me over and over again that collaboration and networking made a difference. It’s the same ethos behind the sharing economy. People are starting to ask, “What can we do together that we can’t do by ourselves?”

* Jessica Conrad: Why didn’t cities collaborate this way in the past?

Jennifer Bradley: The original model for cities and suburbs was based on competition and developed by an economic theorist named Charles Tiebout. Called the Pure Theory of Local Expenditures, the idea was that there would be high tax, high service jurisdictions and low tax, low service jurisdictions and whichever ones more people liked would win. People would sort themselves based on their preferences and everybody would get the kind of local government they really wanted. But the theory assumed that people had perfect information and perfect mobility and that jurisdictions wouldn’t implement things like exclusionary zoning or tax giveaways.

But again, I think we’ve started to overcome this model at the municipal level to some extent. For example, Washington D.C. and two big suburban counties in Maryland have agreed to raise their minimum wage over the next three years. Previously, local governments would have wanted to compete very aggressively on wages. If a neighboring jurisdiction raised its minimum wage, you’d think hot dog because big companies that thrive on low-wage workforces would flock to your jurisdiction instead. But in this case, all three jurisdictions are saying “No, we aren’t going to let big companies pit us against each other.”

We’re no longer locked in a struggle where one jurisdiction’s gain is another jurisdiction’s loss. Of course this shift toward collaboration isn’t ubiquitous, but there are signs that local governments are beginning to think in new ways.” (http://www.shareable.net/blog/the-metropolitan-revolution-cities-on-the-rise-out-of-necessity)


The Post-Hero Economy, http://nextcity.org/forefront/view/the-post-hero-economy


Posted in Featured Book, P2P Architecture and Urbanism, P2P Movements | No Comments »

Recognizing a Human Right to the Commons

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
21st August 2014

Dutch legal scholar Femke Wijdekop of the Institute for Environmental Security has tackled an urgent question for anyone concerned with planetary environment.  She writes:

How can we construct a right to a healthy and clean environment that is enforceable in today’s complex international legal order? What legal construct would be visionary and ambitious enough to meet the urgent need for environmental justice and protection and at the same time be enforceable in court rather than fall into the category of ‘soft law’?

Femke Wijdekop

Wijdekop answers these questions in an essay, “A Human Right to Commons- and Rights-based Ecological Governance:  the key to a healthy and clean environment?” The legal analysis was published by the Earth Law Alliance, a group of lawyers organized by British lawyer Lisa Mead who advocate an eco-centric approach to law.

Wijdekop’s piece draws upon some of the ideas in my book with Burns Weston, Green Governance in arguing for “procedural environmental rights to establish, maintain, participate in, be informed about and seek redress for ecological commons.”  She has presented these ideas to international lawyers and constitutional scholars in The Hague, and is now reaching out to environmentally minded lawyers.

Here is the case for the commons as a new system of governance to protect the environment:

[The commons is] a dynamic governance system that leverages cooperation, bottom-up energies and local knowledge in service to the preservation and sustainable allocation of Earth’s natural resources. The distributed, flexible system of commons governance can more closely track the dynamic, complex realities of natural ecosystems than top-down bureaucratic systems typically do. Top down systems are more rigid and unable to adapt to the evolving circumstances of an ecosystem. They also tend to marginalize or override local knowledge and participation and bolder the interests of political elites who dominate the governance process. Commons governance on the contrary uses the creativity, energy and knowledge of the locals, channeling them into a supportive structure for synergy and innovation.

Wijdekop agrees that a procedural right to common – to access to the resources vital to one’s survival through a working commons – would offer an attractive alternative to the performance failures of nation-states and international treaty organizations.  She concludes that varieties of commons “would be rooted in a well-established social practice that is currently going through a resurgence all over the world. It has a rich legal tradition dating back to Roman times, yet is visionary and futuristic enough to accommodate emerging environmental harms and the legal responses needed to counter those harms. It would not only protect living commoners, but future generations and the rights of Earth herself as well. Because of its flexible and organic nature, the right to commons-and rights-based ecological governance could be tailor-cut to work for local commons and global commons such as the sky, the oceans or the atmosphere alike.”

Needless to say, I’m thrilled to Wijdekop has taken up the commons as a way to assert an “an ‘expansive’ human right to the environment that is resilient and enforceable.”


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The Teatro Valle Occupation Ends — and a New Theater Commons Begins

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
19th August 2014

Occupiers of Rome’s Teatro Valle want to move Italy’s cultural policies in the direction of the commons.

The proposed privatization of the grand public theater in Rome, Teatro Valle, has been defeated – but perhaps more importantly, the historic three-year occupation of the building has succeeded in achieving many of its primary goals, including the recognition of its demands to establish a new theater commons, after weeks of contentious negotiations.

The struggle was noteworthy because it pitted municipal authorities in Rome, whose austerity policies had resulted in severe cutbacks at the theater, against self-identified commoners who want to run the historic theater in far more open, participatory and innovative ways.  At stake was not just the continuance of performances at Teatro Valle, but the governance, management practices, purpose and character of the theater.  Shall it be a “public good” managed by the city government, often to the detriment of the public interest, or a commons in which ordinary people can instigate their own ideas and propose their own rules?

Beset by budgetary problems, the mayor of Rome had proposed privatizing the management of Teatro Valle.  But protesters who had occupied the building in 2011 adamantly resisted such plans.  Their protests inspired an outcry not just among many Romans and Italians, but among an international network of commoners, human rights advocates, political figures, scholars and cultural leaders.

In July, the city government threatened to evict occupiers and issued an ultimatum with a July 31 deadline.  Thus began a series of negotiations.  Commoners were represented by Fondazione Teatro valle Bene Comune, which entered into talks with the city government and Teatro di Roma, the public entity that runs the systems of the theaters in Rome.

The municipality and Teatro di Roma balked at the idea of letting the Fondazione manage Teatro Valle, but they did seem to accept the idea of it running a “special project” of participatory, experimental theater, with details of governance to be worked out.  But the municipal government wanted to close the theater for at least ten months to allow the refurbishing of the facility.  Apparently many commoners, including the Fondazione, were wary of this idea lest it be used as a subterfuge to get the occupiers out of the building without offering any enforceable political promises.  The Fondazione proposed instead a shared program of refurbishment while keeping the theater open.

The resulting impasse led to many large public assemblies hosted by the Fondazione.  A measure of the significance of the entire controversy can be seen in the support given to the Fondazione by Italy’s former Deputy Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, the former Minister of Cultural Affairs, and prominent art historians.  As the July 31 deadline approaches, law scholar/commons activist Ugo Mattei pressed for an extension in order to find an acceptable solution.

Last night (August 10), I learned that Teatro Valle would be abandoned by the occupants.  My source reported:  “Only a permanent presidium will be kept open in front of it until things clear up a little more. There will be a night sleepover with all the citizenship in the street and tomorrow at 11 am during a press conference the theater will be transferred from the occupants to the City of Rome and from the City to the Teatro di Roma .”

The Fondazione issued the following press release:

“The Valle Theater ends the state of occupation to begin a new phase in the mobilization  and in the Foundation. The members of the Foundation, together with all the population will build a roadmap to face the new phase reached by the negotiation, a phase in which to develop a genuine dialogue with institutions on the new models of participated governance of the commons to decide together the future of the Theater.”

Ugo Mattei noted, “This is an important sign of the political maturity of the commons movement in Italy,” adding that the agreement provides “some much-needed democracy in a phase in which Italy is going down a dangerous authoritarian road.”

All sides agreed to the following three points:

1) That the city government will recognize the “political, artisticand organizational experience” of the occupation and the role of Fondazione Teatro Valle Bene Comune;

2) That the Fondazione will be entrusted with the autonomy to initiate an experimental project of participatory theater, and to manage the theater space in cooperation with the artistic director of the Theater of Rome; and

3) That the theater will be kept open throughout the year and all day, even outside of show times, and that the space will be acessible to commoning and other citizens’ initiatives.

An attempt to get a special contractual regime for the theater’s workers was only partially successful because that issue is not within the jurisdiction of the City of Rome government.  The idea was to eliminate precarious temporary employment, reinvest profits from theater operations and provide special ticket prices to enhance wide public access to performances.

A final demand to let the Fondazione be housed at Teatro Valle was rejected.

The president of Teatro di Roma Marino Sinibaldi said that this deal would be honored only if occupiers left the theater by midnight, August 10 – which apparently happened.

A statement by the Fondazione reads:  “Teatro Valle ends the state of occupation to begin a new phase in the mobilization and in the Foundation. The members of the Foundation, together with all the population, will build a roadmap to face the new phase reached by the negotiation, a phase in which to develop a genuine dialogue with institutions on the new models of participated governance of the commons to decide together the future of the Theater.”

We will be watching closely to see how this bold new experiment in commoning unfolds.  It has the promise of pioneering new models of collaboration between city governments and commoners, in the management of public facilities, and in the political mobilization of commoners to achieve such ends.

Originally posted at bollier.org


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