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Pappa, A., & Paio, A. (2022, June). Commoning (in) the neighbourhood, righting the city. nature for innovative and inclusive urban regeneration [Conference paper]. Nature for Innovative and Inclusive Urban Regeneration (NATiURB), Milan.

Posted on 17-06-2022

The advent of the urban commons as a response to the commodification of urban life (Foster & Iaione, 2016) and its excluding impact on the urban populations has consolidated a network of social actions, namely acts of commoning (Linebaugh, 2008) that produce and transform the city (Stavrides, 2016). While most of the commons-oriented initiatives largely depend upon horizontal relationships and values shared among active citizens, municipalities and public authorities also play a catalytic role in the level of citizen engagement with the commons through offering the appropriate institutional frameworks.


One such instrument of public policy is the program “Bairros e Zonas de Intervenção Prioritária” (BIP/ZIP), which focuses on priority intervention areas and fosters partnerships among different stakeholders to promote quality of life and territorial cohesion. Being the first participatory budget implemented at municipal level in Europe, BIP/ZIP has funded 426 projects since its 2011 edition addressing multiple urban issues and including diverse actors and activities.


In the example of BIP/ZIP, the study seeks to unravel the network of institutionally-supported commoning activities that are performed in the neighbourhood scale in an initial step to portray the Right-to-the-City. This is examined through the funded applications which are seen as the dialogue between grassroot commoning and institutional decision-making and together define the Right-to-the-City in the local context.


Towards this goal, the research initially conceives a framework to classify commoning practices based on their socio-spatial focus. The underlying themes that have emerged constitute commoning activities that 1. prioritise the most disadvantaged, 2. promote social development, 3. have a strong spatial character, 4. practice togetherness and solidarity, and 5. enhance the value of the neighbourhood and 6. expand the boundaries. In parallel, the case study of BIP/ZIP is examined through the successful applications that correspond to the funded projects. These are seen as the dialogue between the grassroot commoning and institutional decision-making and hence define the negotiated right to the city in the local context. A data-driven approach is employed to firstly map the projects and compose an index that includes information on their attributes such as themes, objectives and activities and secondly organise them using qualitative coding (Saldana, 2021) into the six commoning categories. The produced taxonomy contributes to the conceptualisation of the BIP/ZIP projects as urban commons, identifying patterns and drawing meaningful conclusions on the definition of the Right-to-the-city for the city of Lisbon.




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

Linebaugh, P. (2008). The Magna Carta Manifesto, Liberties and Commons for All. University of California Press.

Saldana, J. (2021). The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers (4th ed.). SAGE Publications.

Stavrides, S. (2016). Common Space: The City as Commons. Zed Books London.

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Urban commons

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

Author: A.Pappa (ESR13)



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The wave of participation: bottom-up and top-down

Posted on 28-07-2022

Last month I had the chance to participate at the conference 'Nature for inclusive Urban Regeneration' organised by URBINAT in Milan. I was very pleased to present my working paper ‘Commoning (in) the Neighbourhood, Righting the City’ and discuss a definition of the Right to the City (R2C) through commoning and the role of the state in this discourse, looking at the case of Lisbon.   The first formulation of R2C dates back to 1960’s Henry Lefebvre (1996), but since then it has been a highly discussed topic and one of the main ideas reclaimed by emancipatory practices and practitioners, including the urban commoners. So, while the definition of the R2C through bottom-up commoning activities in the neighbourhoods clearly entails representations of collective struggles of communities to reclaim the urban value (Borch & Kornberger, 2015), there is a debate among theorists on the role of the state in these negotiations. In other words, the question that emerges is: Can the R2C and commoning be seen in terms of existing state and market principals? Possibly oversimplifying Huron’s (2018) analysis of two antithetical positions by anticapitalists on the one hand and institutionalists on the other, the response would be ‘no’ and ‘yes’ respectively.   Yet, exploring what lies between binary responses, I would argue, can also reveal radical alternatives. This consideration arose in my research explorations already since our RE-DWELL very first training activity back in September 2021, namely the Lisbon Workshop. There, during a highly engaging open discussion on participatory processes among Early-Stage Researchers, supervisors and representatives from our non-academic partners, Miguel Brito from the Municipality of Lisbon illustrated the notions of bottom-up and top-down initiated participatory processes as a wave. I spent days reflecting on the strength of this expressive image. What does it offer to conceptualise top-down and bottom-up initiated participation, or in extrapolation other emancipatory practices, such as commoning and the R2C, as a wave and what does this meeting serve?   The urgency for this encounter relates to the transformation of knowledge from static, siloed and self-referential that contributes to the preservation of the existing power structures, to dynamic flow between grassroots informal urbanisation and top-down formal urbanisation that can produce new strategies in research and practice. In this way, as Melanie Dodd (2019) explains, in one direction we must consider the ways in which urban activism can transform institutional structures and produce new kinds of institutions; on the other direction, ways that institutional resources can reach disadvantaged sites and transform unhealthy norms ingraining creative intelligence in informal dynamics.   Arguably, these knowledge flows need to be curated until the two notions reach a balance, in which communities remain committed to practicing their R2C and formal urban planning allows for real synergies and transformations to emerge. Until then, a great challenge remains. How to facilitate such dialogues without abandoning one’s radical values or serving unintentionally co-optation agendas?     References   Borch, C., & Kornberger, M. (2015). Urban commons: Rethinking the city. Routledge.    Dodd, M. (2019). Spatial practices: Modes of action and engagement with the city. Taylor & Francis.   Huron, A. (2018). Carving Out the Commons: Tenant Organizing and Housing Cooperatives in Washington, D.C. 1 edn. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press.   Lefebvre, H. (1996). The Right to the City. In E. Lebas, Elizabeth, Kofman (Ed.), Writings on Cities (Vol. 53, Issue 2, p. 260). Mass, USA Blackwell Publishers.

Author: A.Pappa (ESR13)

Conferences, Reflections, Workshops


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