The 35st National congress of urban planning agencies on the common good in urbanism

Conference report via the ‘Revue Urbanisme’:

“What is at stake when goods don’t belong to anyone but still have a great role for communities ? That is the issue we have been discussing about during the 35e National congress of urban planning agencies. Violaine Hacker (president of the Common Good Forum) describes common goods as resources – material or not – above a public/private discrepancy.

We can find examples all over History, from the Middle-Ages until now, especially Commons in Great Britain. This reassessment of a public/private opposition is still very accurate, especially with social movements denying to private stakeholders owning some main resources such as water. Common good is a way to see the world and to figure how the individual melts into the community. From Aristote to Christian philosophers (St Augustin, St Thomas d’Aquin or closer from nowadays, Maritain and Mounier), common good is based on a spiritual way.

Moreover, Violaine Hacker reminds that the first woman who got the Nobel Prize of Economy, in 2009, Elinor Ostrom, pleaded that communities manage common good with a shared regulation.

Pierre Calame deals with the renewal of the common good concept. It’s about creating a welfare community for all, within the limits of natural resources. “It makes us creating another territorial oeconomy /1 ”. Moreover, common good is not only in the public sector’s hands. Indeed, common good stands at the crossroad between the market and the public sector. Pierre Calame presents a theory between four kinds of goods. First, those that disappear by using them endlessly (ecosystems), those that do not disappear but that remain in a very few quantity (natural resources) ; those that can be shared but whose numbers depend directly from human work. They can be sold if human rights are respected. And finally, the fourth kind : good that increase while sharing. “These are the one that we need to develop”.

Pierre Calame urges urban planning agencies to identify commons in their territory, and then, to think about a fitted governance. The identity of a territory, what makes it as it is, is one of the main common good for the area. Clearly identify a territory’s grounds is the only way to deal with new challenges. “This immaterial capital has been too much underrated in the past.” At last, “common good in a territory is its ability to build up from other experiences, especially at the international level”.

Then, the President of Rennes Metropolis, Emmanuel Couet, wonders about how citizens really feel about common goods and what are the main commons for them. To him, it seems that natural resources and water, rank first for people. The 1 st January 2015, Rennes became a metropolis (as defined by the French law) and since, Rennes rules water and sanitation issues. “Until January, there were 13 different bodies dealing with water policies. We decided to merge them into one, which is now producing and delivering water and sanitation for 60 cities.” Emmanuel Couet speaks with the same strength about public spaces. It has to remain “a shared area that belongs to everyone. As elected representatives, we have to guarantee that the city remains open and reachable to all. We have to fight against a kind of comfort to privatize some areas”. Finally, another really important common good is knowledge. With the Internet, open data etc., we can reach awareness all the time. Even thought we have to prevent our societies with data protections.
Pierre Veltz, Manager of Paris-Saclay public institution explains that we have been organized around the idea that there is on one side, the private market and on the other side, public administration and State. But we are discovering goods that are neither private nor public and thought the question is how to deal with them. There is an increasing skepticism towards public and private ability to resolve nowadays issues. Common good is the third way between participatory democracy (bottom up philosophy) and representative democracy (top down philosophy).

Pierre Veltz and Pierre Calame both insist on the way a community builds a core knowledge. “Generally, we all feel that market takes over everything. But, it can not develop without knowledge, without collective capacity nor human networks. Only financial markets are transactional, real economy lies on interconnection and links. Heritage is our ability to understand the world together”.