The City as a Commons

| 2/19/2016 12:44:00 PM

The disaster with Flint, Michigan’s drinking water, incited by political leaders more devoted to fiscal austerity than the common good, illuminates why it’s important to think of our cities as commons — human creations that belong to all residents, not just the wealthy and politically well-connected.

The commons itself means all the many things we share together rather than own privately — a list that starts with air, water, parks and streets and expands to include more complex entities such as the Internet, civic organizations and entire communities.

Typically the commons evokes images of the countryside: sheep grazing on communally-tended pastures, people frolicking on a town green, untrammeled wilderness open to all. Even in the modern context, commons champion (and Nobel Prize winner) Elinor Ostrom is best known for research on the management of forests, fisheries and agricultural irrigation systems even though one of her important studies focused on police departments in metropolitan St. Louis.


Despite pastoral images of the commons, urban commons are much more widespread now.

Yet the recent resurgence of commons projects is happening in urban as well as rural areas, witnessed by the City as a Commons: Reconceiving Urban Space, Common Good and City Governance conference held last November in Bologna, Italy — a city taking big steps to integrate commons-based collaboration into its own policies and operations (more on this below).

2/25/2016 12:23:52 AM

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