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Urban Change Talk: “Bologna – a Laboratory for Urban Commons?”

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In Bologna, a commons-friendly public administration is trying to do things differently and encourages the participatory and sustainable shaping of city spaces. How to include different sectors of society in joint projects and how to overcome obstacles in the process – these were some of the questions open for discussion during the “Urban Change Talk: Bologna – a Laboratory for Urban Commons?” which took place in January 2017 at Tazcafé Berlin.*

An event summary by Dr. Martin Schwegmann (MitOst /Actors of Urban Change)
Photos by Marcus Müller-Witte
Prof. Christian Iaione (LabGov – LABoratorio per la GOVernance dei beni comuni, Rome)
Giovanni Ginocchini (Director of the URBAN CENTER BOLOGNA)
Marco Clausen (Prinzessinnengarten/Nachbarschaftsakademie, Berlin)
Dr. Mary Dellenbaugh (Urban Research Group “Urban Commons,” Humboldt Universität Berlin)

16403270_1324750350919250_1951207982672048696_oRemoving administrative barriers and involving different stakeholders
Christian Iaione, professor for public law in Rome, explained the background of the new Bologna legislation, mentioning the story of three ladies who wanted to install a bench in a park near their house, but were hindered by an unforeseeable administrative odyssey.
The new legislation allows for an easier process with only one form to fill in and one person to talk to in the administration. Around the legislation a framework called “Collaborare è Bologna” has been established, including a broader set of activities such as an online platform where citizens’ projects are open to comments, a series of information events as well as an interactive map of civic projects in the city. According to Iaione, at the core of successful Urban Commons activities has to be something he calls “the quintuple helix” – a true collaboration of ideally five stakeholders: administration, academia, businesses, civic bodies and the city’s inhabitants.

Bologna’s tradition in civic engagement
Giovanni Ginocchini, implementing the legislation, stated that “Collaborare è Bologna” is also possible because of a long tradition of civic engagement and a high level of civil society organisation in the city. At the same time, the programme addresses also single and non-formalised groups of inhabitants. Important is the non-commercial character directed towards a common good, Ginocchini pointed out. Dr. Martin Schwegmann asked if conflicts occur between different groups or the city administration and active citizens. “We live in a contradiction,” Ginocchini honestly reveals, describing the sometimes complex governance reality in his city.

16423059_1324759857584966_767230481468597427_oFighting for the common good and rediscovering tools
Marco Clausen stressed the underlying political and economic power structures of the governance of ressources in cities. Urban Commons will only play a role beyond being a laboratory for the co-development of cities if there are people or initiatives that articulate their claim of „a right to the city”.
To collectively and democratically organise urban ressources such as green areas, public spaces or buildings beyond classical state and market logics, means sharing real power between the public and urban inhabitants. They have to push local administrations and other stakeholders to act for a common good, overcoming the neoliberal paradigm that transfers more and more public goods and services into pure and short termed market logics. At the same time active citizens have to rediscover and reinvent tools, procedures and forms of organisation assuming that the achievements of the old welfare state need partly reform and partly profound reinvention in order to meet the needs and ideas of today’s societies.

16402716_1324752417585710_779305725737858285_oUrban commoning as demand-driven participation in urban development
Dr. Mary Dellenbaugh pointed out that urban commoning has the potential to become a central practice of both collective, and thus potentially more democratic, resource use and bottom-up urban development. Urban commons projects often identify and fill a demand which is not being served by top-down city planning or public policy and have a range of benefits, such as increases in social capital, empowerment and access to limited resources for a larger number of people. At the same time, urban commons are affected by a number of outside influences, such as new regulations and public policy measures, which may or may not be aware of them, and thus may limit or even systematically undermine them. Dr. Dellenbaugh argued that the visionary state or the visionary administration must recognise that urban commons present a new, demand-driven form of participation in urban development. Bottom-up participation in the form of commoning can synergistically complement existing administrative processes to create a more equitable city.

16835748_1341620412565577_7868503527140951426_oBeing visionary: soon at the “office for civic imaganation”
At the end of the talk, Christian Iaione pointed out that there can be no utopia of rules. In fact, a regulation without a vision cannot sustain. “What makes the human kind different is its potential of imagination.” Therefore the city of Bologna is currently installing an office for civic imagination.

*The event was hosted by Actors of Urban Change, a programme of Robert Bosch Stiftung in cooperation with MitOst, and the Urban Research group “Urban Commons” at Georg Simmel Center for Metropolitan Studies (Humboldt Universität Berlin).

Learn more about the Actors of Urban Change programme in its latest newspaper on “DIY/DIT Urbanism.


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