The Rise of Urban Commons

Blogpost by Alessandra Quarta and Antonio Vercellone: “In the last ten years, the concept of the commons became popular in social studies and political activism and in some countries domestic lawyers have shared the interest for this notion. Even if an (existing or proposed) statutory definition of the commons is still very rare, lawyers get familiar with the concept of the commons through the filter of property law, where such a concept has been quite discredited. In fact, approaching property law, many students of different legal traditions learn the origins of property rights revolving on the “tragedy of the commons”, the “parable” made famous by Garrett Hardin in the late nineteen-sixties. According to this widespread narrative, the impossibility to avoid the over-exploitation of those resources managed through an open-access regime determines the necessity of allocating private property rights. In this classic argument, the commons appear in a negative light: they represent the impossibility for a community to manage shared resources without concentrating all the decision-making powers in the hand of a single owner or of a central government. Moreover, they represent the wasteful inefficiency of the Feudal World.

This vision has dominated social and economic studies until 1998, when Elinor Ostrom published her famous book Governing the commons, offering the results of her research on resources managed by communities in different parts of the world. Ostrom, awarded with the Nobel Prize in 2009, demonstrated that the commons are not necessarily a tragedy and a place of no-law. In fact, local communities generally define principles for their government and sharing in a resilient way avoiding the tragedy to occur. Moreover, Ostrom defined a set of principles for checking if the commons are managed efficiently and can compete with both private and public arrangements of resource management.

Later on, under an institutional perspective, the commons became the tool of contestation of political and economic mainstream dogmas, including the unquestionable efficiency of both the market and private property in the allocation of resources. The research of new tools for managing resources has been carried out in several experimentations that generally occurs at the local and urban level: scholars and practitioners define these experiences as ‘urban commons’….(More)”.