Back to Vocabulary

Public-civic Partnership

Area: Community participation

Public-civic partnerships (PCPs) or public-community collaborations, as discussed by Hopman et al., (2021), are forms of cooperation between the state and civil society. They involve transferring the ownership and control of urban resources to the hands of citizens. In this context, they can be viewed as commons-led institutional models, offering a ground of commoning the city. Consequently, they are also referred to as public commons partnerships (Milburn & Russell, 2019).

Public-civic partnerships offer alternatives to the traditional binary state and market dynamic seen in the public-private partnership (PPP) model, which gained prominence after 2000 as a new form of cooperation between the state and the private sector. PPPs are characterized by long-term arrangements in which private sector contractors take on design, construction, operational, and sometimes financial responsibilities, becoming providers of traditionally public services (European Commision, 2003). However, PPP models have faced criticism for privatizing public goods, services and spaces, often prioritising private investment over public interests (Horvat, 2019).  

On the contrary, PCPs propose an alternative approach. Instead of relying on private investors for the development of crucial urban infrastructure, public bodies collaborate with communities to design, produce and govern this infrastructure as commons. By doing so, PCPs drive systemic change,  offering innovative methods to democratize urban governance. They empower communities to transparently work with the public sector, determining the future of public assets such as food, care, water, energy, housing, and urban development (Heron, Milburn & Russell, 2021; Hopman et al., 2021).

In recent years, cities such as Barcelona, Bologna, Naples, Ghent and Amsterdam, among others, have been developing commons-oriented strategies and municipal networks that enable and promote PCPs. These initiatives are often facilitated through contracts or ‘collaboration pacts’ (Foster & Iaione, 2016) among different stakeholders, notably from the civic and social sectors.

The regulatory frameworks and operationalisation details, such as the legal form of the partnering entities, the duration of ownership transfers, and approved interventions in public spaces, vary from case to case (Bianchi, 2022). Experiences from the implementation of these policies show that several influential factors affect the development of PCPs. These are ideological, legal, political and economic in nature and include political will, existing laws, development strategies. material and funding sources, access to information, cooperation opportunities between the public and civic sectors, and further education of both realms on cooperation models (Cultural Creative Spaces & Cities, 2018).

Among the several types of resources shared through PCPs, many municipal strategies facilitate the sharing of public spaces, which has significant implications from a sustainable local development point of view. These strategies involve the temporary or long-term transfer of ownership of municipal spaces, including empty buildings and building parts, streets and open spaces, and industrial heritage sites, to citizens or various associations formed between them and other sectors. Through these partnerships, sites are regenerated, transformed, and used for the benefit of the neighbourhood, while the public sector retains a supportive role. Throughout this process, several places and services, such as communal gardens, neighbourhood parks, solidary kitchens, caregiving and solidarity services, as well as community, educational and cultural centres, are created locally, by and for the residents.




Bianchi, I. (2022) ‘The commonification of the public under new municipalism: Commons–state institutions in Naples and Barcelona’, Urban Studies, 1–17. doi: 10.1177/00420980221101460.

Cultural Creative Spaces & Cities (2018) Toolkit for Homes of Commons - Public-Civic Partnership. Available at:

European Commision (2003) EU Guidelines for Successful Public – Private Partnerships. Available at:

Foster, S. R. and Iaione, C. (2016) ‘The City as a Commons’, YALE LAW & POLICY REVIEW, 34(281), pp. 281–349.

Heron, K., Milburn, K. and Russell, B. (2021) ‘Public-Common Partnerships: Democratising ownership and urban development’.

Hopman, L. et al. (2021) Democratic and collective ownership of public goods and services. Exploring public-community collaborations. Amsterdam.

Horvat, V. (2019) Real Democracy in your town. Public-civic partnerships in action.

Milburn, K. and Russell, B. T. (2019) ‘Public-Common Partnerships: Building New Circuits of Collective Ownership’.


Created on 08-11-2023 | Update on 15-11-2023

Related definitions

Community Empowerment

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)

Area: Community participation

Community empowerment appears in the literature of participatory action research (Minkler, 2004), participatory planning (Jo & Nabatchi, 2018), and community development (Luttrell et al., 2009) as a key element of participatory practices, understanding it as a process that enables communities to take control of their lives and their environments (Rappaport, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000). Many argue that community participation becomes meaningless if it does not lead to, or pass through community empowerment. As the term is being used in diverse and ubiquitous ways, it runs the risk of ending up as an empty definition and a catch-all phrase (McLaughlin, 2015). It is therefore important to specify the perspective through which we will view the term and clarify the nuances.  Since its origins, empowerment has been used in two different ways. Firstly, top-down as the power that had been ‘granted’ by a higher authority, such as the state or a religious institution, and secondly, bottom-up, as a process by which groups or individuals come to develop the capacity to act and acquire power. Examples of the latter can be found in social groups such as feminists working in nongovernmental organizations throughout the global south in the 1970s, who found a way to address social issues and inequalities that enabled social transformation based on women’s self-organization (Biewener & Bacqué, 2015). The term was gradually appropriated by welfare, neoliberal, and social-neoliberal agendas whose priority was individual agency and choice. In neoliberal rationality, empowerment is related to efficiency, economic growth, business productivity, and individual rational choice to maximize profit in a competitive market economy. In social liberalism agendas, empowerment is understood as ‘effective agency’, where ‘agency’ is not an inherent attribute, but something that needs to be constructed through ‘consciousness-raising’ (McLaughlin, 2016). A broader definition sees empowerment as a social action process through which individuals, communities, and organizations take control of their lives in the context of changing the social and political environment to improve equity and quality of life (Rappaport, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000). Rowlands (1997), refers to four types of empowerment: power over, as the ability to influence and coerce; power to, to organize and change existing hierarchies; power with, as the power from the collective action and power within, as the power from the individual consciousness. Using this classification, Biewener & Bacqué (2015), adopting a feminist approach, understand empowerment as a multilevel construct with three interrelated dimensions: 1) an internal, psychological one, where ‘power within’ and ‘power to’ are developed, 2) an organizational, where ‘power with’ and ‘power over’ are strengthened and 3) a social or political level, where institutional and structural change is made possible through collective action. Thus, community empowerment links the individual level, which involves self-determination, growth of individual awareness, and self-esteem, to the collective level, relating critical consciousness and capacity building with the structural level, where collective engagement and transformative social action take place. This view of empowerment, which considers its goals and processes, has a social dimension that is lacking in other approaches that prioritize individual empowerment. Aside from the feminist movements, the philosophy and practices of community empowerment have been greatly influenced by the work of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and an advocate on critical pedagogy. Freire proposed a dialogic problem-solving process based on equality and mutual respect between students and teachers; that engaged them in a process of iterative listening-discussing-acting. Through structured dialogue, group participants shared their experiences, discussed common problems, and looked for root causes and the connections among “problems behind the problems as symptoms” (Freire, 1970). The term conscientization, that Freire proposed, refers to the consciousness that arises through the involvement of people in the social analysis of conditions and their role in changing them. This awareness enables groups to be reflexive and open spaces, to enact change or to understand those limited situations that may deter change (Barndt, 1989). Empowerment can be understood as both a process and an outcome (Jo & Nabatchi, 2018). As a process, it refers to “the development and implementation of mechanisms to enable individuals or groups to gain control, develop skills and test knowledge”(Harrison & Waite, 2015) and it entails the creation of new subjects who have developed a critical consciousness and the formation of groups with a ‘collective agency’ ‚ or ‘social collective identity’ (Biewener & Bacqué, 2015). Empowerment as an outcome refers to “an affective state in which the individual or group feels that they have increased control, greater understanding and are involved and active” (Harrison & Waite, 2015). This can lead to a transformation of the social conditions by challenging the structures and institutionalized forms that reproduce inequalities. The values and the significance of community empowerment can be further applied in the participatory and community-based approaches of the housing sector. Examples of such approaches in the housing provision are the housing cooperatives, and self-developed and self-managed housing groups. Housing cooperatives aim at promoting co-creation to engage future residents, professionals, and non-profit organizations in all the stages of a housing project: problem-framing, designing, developing, cohabiting, managing, and maintaining. Such organisational models stress the importance and pave the way for community empowerment by uniting individuals with similar interests and ideals, enabling them to have housing that responds to their needs, preferences, and values. The participation of the residents aims to strengthen their sense of ownership of the process, the democratic decision-making and management, and the social collective identity, making community empowerment an integral characteristic of cooperative housing initiatives. With this social perspective, residents can gain individual and collective benefits while contributing to fairer and more sustainable urban development on a larger scale (Viskovic Rojs et al., 2020).

Created on 03-06-2022 | Update on 03-06-2022

Social Sustainability

Author: A.Panagidis (ESR8)

Area: Community participation

From the three pillars of sustainable development, economic, environmental and social, the latter  involving social equity and the sustainability of communities, has  been especially neglected. Ongoing problems caused by conflicting economic, environmental and social goals with regard to the processes of urbanisation continue. underpinning economic growth that contradict principles of environmental and social justice (Boström, 2012; Cuthill, 2010; Winston, 2009). Research on sustainable development highlights the need for further investigation of social sustainability (Murphy, 2012; Vallance et al., 2011). Social sustainability has been interpreted as an umbrella term encompassing many other related concepts; “social equity and justice, social capital, social cohesion, social exclusion, environmental justice, quality of life, and urban liveability” (Shirazi & Keivani, 2019, p. 4). A vast number of studies have been dedicated to defining social sustainability by developing theoretical frameworks and indicators particularly relevant to urban development and housing discourse (Cuthill, 2010; Dempsey et al., 2011; Murphy, 2012; Woodcraft, 2012). However, with a lack of consensus on the way of utilising these frameworks in a practical way, especially when applied to planning, social sustainability has remained difficult to evaluate or measure. Consequently, planning experts, housing providers and inhabitants alike understand social sustainability as a normative concept, according to established social norms, and less as an opportunity to critically examine existing institutions. Vallance et al (2011) provide three categories to analyse social sustainability, development, bridge and maintenance sustainability: (a) social development improves conditions of poverty and inequity, from the provision of basic needs to the redistribution of power to influence existing development paradigms; (b) the conditions necessary to bridge social with ecological sustainability, overcoming currently disconnected social and ecological concerns; and (c) the social practices, cultural preferences as well as the environments which are maintained over time. Maintenance social sustainability particularly deals with how people interpret what is to be maintained and includes “new housing developments, the layout of streets, open spaces, residential densities, the location of services, an awareness of habitual movements in place, and how they connect with housing cultures, preferences, practices and values, particularly those for low-density, suburban lifestyles” (Vallance et al., 2011, p. 345). Therefore, the notion of maintenance is especially important in defining social sustainability by directly investigating the established institutions, or “sets of norms” that constitute the social practices and rules, that in turn, affect responsibilities for planning urban spaces. A conceptual framework that appears frequently in social sustainability literature is that of Dempsey et al. (2011)⁠ following Bramley et al. (2009), defining social sustainability according to the variables of social equity and sustainability of community and their relationship to urban form, significantly at the local scale of the neighbourhood. In terms of the built environment, social equity (used interchangeably with social justice) is understood as the accessibility and equal opportunities to frequently used services, facilities, decent and affordable housing, and good public transport. In this description of local, as opposed to regional services, proximity and accessibility are important. Equitable access to such local services effectively connects housing to key aspects of everyday life and to the wider urban infrastructures that support it. Sustainability of community is associated with the abilities of society to develop networks of collective organisation and action and is dependent on social interaction. The associated term social capital has also been used extensively to describe social norms and networks that can be witnessed particularly at the community level to facilitate collective action (Woolcock, 2001, p. 70). They might include a diversity of issues such as resident interaction, reciprocity, cooperation and trust expressed by common exchanges between residents, civic engagement, lower crime rates and other positive neighbourhood qualities that are dependent on sharing a commitment to place (Foster, 2006; Putnam, 1995; Temkin & Rohe, 1998). In fact, “the heightened sense of ownership and belonging to a locale” is considered to encourage the development of social relations (Hamiduddin & Adelfio, 2019, p. 188). However, the gap between theoretical discussions about social sustainability and their practical application has continued. For example, the emphasis of social sustainability as a target outcome rather than as a process has been prioritised in technocratic approaches to planning new housing developments and to measuring their success by factors which are tangible and easier to count and audit. Private housing developers that deal with urban regeneration make bold claims to social sustainability yet profound questions are raised regarding the effects of gentrification (Dixon, 2019). Accordingly, the attempted methods of public participation as planning tools for integrating the ‘social’ have been found to be less effective - their potential being undercut due to the reality that decision-making power has remained at the top (Eizenberg & Jabareen, 2017). Therefore, social sustainability is not a fixed concept, it is contingent on the interdependence of the procedural aspects (how to achieve social sustainability) and substantive aspects (what are the outcomes of social sustainability goals) (Boström, 2012). From this point of view, social sustainability reveals its process-oriented nature and the need to establish processes of practicing social sustainability that begin with the participation of citizens in decision-making processes in producing equitable (i.e. socially sustainable) development. As a dimension of sustainable development that is harder to quantify than the economic or environmental aspects, the operationalisation of social sustainability goals into spatial, actionable principles has remained a burgeoning area of research. In such research, methods for enhancing citizen participation are a particularly important concern in order to engage and empower people with “non-expert” knowledge to collaborate with academic researchers.

Created on 03-06-2022 | Update on 08-06-2022

Urban Commons

Author: A.Pappa (ESR13)

Area: Community participation

Urban commons are shared resources in the city that are managed by their users in a collaborative and non-profit-oriented way. The concept is based on the idea that urban resources and services that represent fundamental rights in the city should be accessible to and governed by the urban dwellers, to support the social capital and the sustainability of the urban communities. Hence, their value lies mostly in the social benefit produced during their use and they are therefore different from commodities that follow traditional market principles of profit maximisation and private ownership (Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2015). The concept of urban commons is an extrapolation in the urban context of the notion of commons which historically refers to natural resources available to all and not owned by any individual, such as air, water and land. The commons discourse became significantly popular thanks to the fundamental contribution of Elinor Ostrom (1990) and particularly after she was awarded the Nobel in Economics in 2009. Ostrom presented cases and design principals for the collective management of common resources by those that use and benefit from them, challenging the predominant negative connotations that had peaked with Garret Hardin’s (1968) Tragedy of the Commons where he analysed the impossible sustainability of common pool resources due to individual benefits. During the last fifteen years, a vast body of academic literature on urban commons has been produced, linking the notion to other urban theories, such as the right to the city (Harvey, 2008; Lefebvre, 1996), biopolitics (Angelis & Stavrides, 2009; Hardt & Negri, 2009; Linebaugh, 2008; Parr, 2015; Stavrides, 2015, 2016), peer-to-peer urbanism and sharing economy (Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2015; Iaione, 2015; Iaione et al., 2019; McLaren & Agyeman, 2015; Shareable, 2018). The notion of the urban commons encompasses resources, people and social practices (Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2015): Commons resources are urban assets of various types, characteristics and scales (Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2015). Examples of commons resources include physical spaces, such as community gardens, street furniture and playgrounds; intangible elements such as culture and public art; services such as safety; digital spaces, such as internet access. Urban commons literature and practices have attempted to determine several typological categorisations of the urban commons resources, the most notable being that of Hess (2008), who classified them as cultural, knowledge, markets, global, traditional, infrastructure, neighbourhood, medical and health commons. The commoners are the group that uses and manages the urban commons resources. It is a self-defined and organically formed group of individuals whose role is to collectively negotiate the boundaries and the rules of the management of the commons resources (Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2015). In a neighbourhood setting, for example, the commoners may be individual residents, or community groups, cooperatives, NGOs and local authorities. De Angelis and Stavrides (2010) points out that commoners might include diverse groups or communities that are not necessarily homogenous. Commoning refers to the collaborative participatory process of accessing, negotiating and governing the commons resources. The term was introduced by Peter Linebaugh (2008) and refers to the “social process that creates and reproduces the commons” (Angelis & Stavrides, 2010). Commoning is a form of public involvement for the public good (Lohmann, 2016). Commoning implies a commitment to solidarity and cooperation, to the creation of added value to the community, to democracy and inclusiveness and is connected to a hacking culture(Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2015). Hence, commoning practices can include various activities such as co-creation, capacity building and placemaking, support through learning, innovation, performing art, protest, urban gardening and commuting. In contemporary societies in crisis, the urban commons theory is often used as a counter-movement to the commodification of urban life and as a response to complex issues, proving essential for the well-being of marginalised communities and for the provision of affordable and sustainable housing. Urban commons management conveys the re-appropriation of urban values (Borch & Kornberger, 2015) breaking silos of expertise and knowledge by adopting a collaborative approach to defining and solving the problems at stake. The practice of urban commons helps to build values of openness, experimentation, creativity, trust, solidarity and commitment within stakeholder groups.

Created on 14-10-2022 | Update on 18-10-2022


Author: A.Pappa (ESR13)

Area: Community participation

Placemaking in the urban realm is a holistic approach that foments the collaborative transformation of public spaces into vibrant, inclusive and engaging places. The core objective of placemaking is reflected in David Engwicht’s analogy: “placemaking is like turning a house into a home” (Placemaking.Education, no date), that is, to transform a mere physical location or space into an emotionally resonant and socially connected place. Placemaking encompasses not only the planning and design of spaces but also their sustainable management (Project for Public Spaces, 2016). The placemaking theory has been developed on the principle that urban and architectural projects should prioritize people and their emotions over cars and shopping centres. This idea originated in groundbreaking work of intellectuals from the 1960s, such as Jane Jacobs[1] and William H. Whyte[2]. Building upon their work, the term ‘placemaking’ started being used in the 1970s by architects and planners to describe the process of transforming public spaces into enjoyable destinations. Since then, a number of placemaking organisations, most notably the pioneering Project for Public Spaces (PPS)[3], have played a pivotal role in guiding community leaders toward the value of reinvesting in existing communities instead of pursuing endless urban sprawl. These organisations have raised awareness that this approach is both economically and environmentally more sustainable (Ellery, Ellery and Borkowsky, 2021). Over the last few decades, placemaking has been extensively used to describe various approaches in urban development, ranging from community-driven emancipatory practices, such as reclaiming underused neighbourhood spaces, to top-down strategic plans for neighbourhood revitalisations. Theoretical discussions have attempted to categorize placemaking processes with regards to ignition, goal, scale, budget and involvement, among others (Courage et al., 2021). One widely adopted classification among placemaking scholars is Wyckoff’s (2014) distinction of four types:    Standard Placemaking (or simply placemaking) aims at creating quality places and reviving existing public spaces. This approach is pursued by the public, non-profit, or private sector, employing community participation into a variety of projects and activities. These projects are often incremental, such as street and façade improvements, residential rehabs, which may encompass public spaces and small-scale projects. Tactical Placemaking focuses on creating quality places using a deliberate approach to change, developed in phases that begin with quick, short-term commitments and realistic expectations. Over time, short-term activities and projects achieve gradual transformations in public spaces. Tactical placemaking can be initiated by local development strategies or from bottom-up. It includes activities such as parking space conversions, self-guided historic walks, outdoor music events, and temporary conversion of buildings. Creative Placemaking utilises arts and cultural activities to strategically shape the identity of a neighbourhood, city, or region. The processes include revitalisation of buildings, structures and streetscapes, often improving the local business viability and public safety. Strategic Placemaking is targeted at achieving specific goals, such as raising the economic, social and cultural prosperity of a community in addition to creating quality places. This can be achieved by interventions that attract talented workers in certain locations, such as mixed-use places that are pedestrian-oriented, bike-friendly, as well as supporting recreation, arts and housing options. Naturally, implementing placemaking processes come with their own risks. Similar to other forms of civic participation, placemaking can sometimes become a buzzword for urban renewal programmes, especially when used to drive economic development of an area through spatial upgrade. When the goal is to replace an existing place with one considered an improvement, it is likely that the affected people may experience negative effects, such as direct or indirect displacement. In this regard, as placemaking strategies, aimed at revitalising underutilised spaces into vibrant places, consequently enhancing the location’s attractiveness and value, are often criticised for potentially fuelling gentrification trends rather than alleviating them (Placemaking Europe, 2019).   [1] In her work, epitomised in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), Jacobs introduced the idea of “eyes on the street” that advocates for citizen ownership on the street. [2] Whyte’s groundbreaking work The social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980), summarises his extensive research on the Street Life Project in New York, in which he recorded the human behaviour in the urban setting, concluding to the essential elements for creating social life in public spaces. (see more at Projects for Public Spaces, William H. Whyte) [3] Organisation led by Fred Kent and consisted of an interdisciplinary team, has been advancing placemaking processes since 1975 originally in the US and recently globally. Developing roadmaps and toolboxes that place community participation at the centre of action they have engaged with more than 35000 communities in 52 countries (About — Project for Public Spaces, no date), while at the same time sharing their placemaking experiences and principles (see Project for Public Spaces Inc., 2015) through networking activities and courses.

Created on 08-11-2023 | Update on 15-11-2023


Related case studies

No entries

Related publications

Pappa, A., & Paio, A. (2023, October). The role of commons-oriented policies in the transformation of urban governance: The case of the participatory budget BIP/ZIP in Lisbon [Poster Presentation]. In 2nd PARTICIPATORY DESIGN CONFERENCE. Transforming the City: Public Space & Environment, Inequalities & Democracy. Athens, Greece

Posted on 23-06-2024



Relational graph

icon case study Case Study
icon case study Concept
icon case study Publication
icon case study Blogposts