ITALY OF THE COMMONSA collection of essays on the Commons, edited by Gregorio Arena and Christian Iaione 

Air, water, environment, urban spaces, legality: commons. The public debate about these resources neither public nor private is increasingly more alive in Italy. Citizens, above all in this moment of crisis, re-think their way of living together democracy. We are talking about citizens that, in their everyday life, devote time and competences to the entire community and take care of all these collective resources, cooperating to the better quality of life for all.  We are talking about active citizens.

The activities of daily commitment of these individuals received new impetus from the Constitutional Reform of the Title V of the Italian Constitution.

The introduction of the principle of horizontal subsidiarity in the Constitutions provides that the Republic “shall promote the autonomous initiatives of citizens, both as individuals and as members of associations, in carrying out activities of general interest, on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity”. Active citizens have not waited over. As highlighted the two editorsin the Introduction of the book: “the explosion of civic energy to support and protect the commons is an important novelty in the Italian scene, at least for the dimension of the phenomenon in the last years. […] However the element of innovation is that during the last years has become a mass phenomenon […]”.

The editors and supporters of the project.

The publication of the book “Italy of the Commons” edited by Gregorio Arena and Christian Iaione aims to testify the development of this innovative process. The volume, edited by Carocci with the contribution of Roma Third Sector Foundation, aims to make an overview of the situation of the commons in Italy. The two editors are respectively, President and Director of Labsus: Laboratory for the subsidiarity. Labsus was born as a magazine online and scientific journal and progressively became a cultural and political point of reference for the thousands of those active citizens and several administrations that are involved daily in the shared care of the commons. From 2006 the creators of the project are committed to spread the idea of the necessity that more citizens become responsible and interested in the matter, following the experience of all those active citizens that longtime are engaged in improving the care and maintenance of an important common good such as their Country.

Moreover Labsus acts as resonance box for experiences of participation: wherever there is a shared garden, an initiative of civic agriculture, the promotion of way of life respectful of the commons or a group of citizens that are organized for adopting and maintaining squares, streets, parks of our cities, in every of these situations Labsus is there to testify.

Labsus is a factory where are experimented new paradigms for life in society. The Book “Italy of the Commons” highlights as a main purpose the activities of study and documentation about the several facets of the term “commons”. For a real understanding of the change taking place in the society it is necessary to clarify the issues of the commons. The dynamics that bring people to cooperate for the protection of the commons must be identified. In particular potentials and implications for the safeguard of these resources from institutions and citizens must be understood.

The various contributions

The essay authored by Carlo Donolo introduces to the concept of common good and to the role of “basis for social life” which it covers.  According to Carlo Donolo the commons are hidden everywhere, they are numerous and of different kind: the climate is a natural common good; instead the networks are an artificial common good, finally security is a good that can be found also within private goods such as houses. Trust, knowledge and subsidiarity are commons of which all citizens are provided. From the point of view of the author what is interesting is the possibility to consider the subsidiarity both as an organizational principle and as capabilities-building practices. The subsidiarity allows citizens to discover the role of the commons and the public goods contributing to their propagation. Maurizio Franzini follows a different approach looking at the commons from an economic perspective. The majority of economists do not deal with this subject. The author’s question is about the existence of a solution that on the one hand counteracts the excessive exploitation of common resources, by now a manifest phenomenon, on the other hand allows the common enjoyment without resorting to the privatization. A solution of this question can be found in the creation of institutions and procedures that promote the spread of cooperative behavior in society. Therefore citizens have to cooperate to contribute to the common social and economic wellbeing.  To protect the social wellbeing means to care about the maintenance of the welfare State and of democracy itself. Christian Iaione raises meaningful questions about the connection between commons and the quality of life of people: “where does a person go if she lives in a city, […] and feels the need to stay in a natural environment, to do jogging, to read a book on a lawn to breathe clean air? How can this person nourish its will of social relations and meet new people […]? Where this person can cultivate its sense of belonging to a community […]? What are the infrastructure and the services that allow a life worth living […]”.  All those questions have always the same answer: the urban spaces and services of common interest. Nowadays these space and services are in crisis. Why? The reasons are the lack of affection of the citizens and the cuts in the budget of local authorities. What is the result? Urban degradation. And what is the solution? Active citizens shall be empowered with the right to manage urban commons. To take care of our cities is in the interest of all citizens because there is an indissoluble nexus between the commons and the achievement of the individual and common wellbeing. The conditions that guarantee the welfare of an urban space have to be preserved and maintained by the citizens. This is the best solution for two reasons: first, local government can rely on the competences and abilities that citizens can offer for the care of the urban commons; secondly, citizens can develop new competences and capabilities by taking care of urban commons. According to Iaione the principle of horizontal subsidiarity has to be considered as the founding stone of a new system of  urban welfare. Labsus documents every day a lot of experiences of citizens that activate themselves for defending their city against urban degradation. It looms on the horizons of a new model of administration in which citizens are the main actor together with institutions, of the governance of the commons.

A further approach is given by Giuseppe Cotturri. The Author identifies a link between the citizens’ action for the protection of the commons and the development of the South of Italy. This is a current topic in this time of crisis. Precisely from the crisis and from the need to overcome it Gregorio Arena moves to develop its reflection about community welfare. In Italy there is a strong tradition of solidarity that has its roots in the Social Doctrine of the Church and that manifests itself through the principle of subsidiarity. In the encyclical Caritas in veritate is affirmed that the subsidiarity promoting “«freedom and participation as a means for the assumption of responsibility» encourages the development of free, active, responsible and united persons able to take care of the common good”. This principle could be the way out of the crisis because allows the realizations of an organizational model where the local government is the hub of a network composed by citizens and administrations that share the duty to protect the commons and thereby produce welfare for the entire community.


The reflection developed in this book represent a useful point of departure to continue in the study of this subject that emerges from the social, economic, legal and institutional dynamics. However, the theoretical reflections and the documentations of cases and experiences are not enough. In fact the editors highlight that in order to create a new model of administration it is necessary to begin a cultural action also in schools and institutions. Indeed Labsus is not only theory. With the support of Fondazione Roma Terzo Settore, Labsus started an educational project called “School of civic maintenance of the commons – Rock your school” ( The pilot project has been made in two high schools of Rome. The concepts and reflections about the commons have come to life in the hands of young and active citizens. Labsus has also been involved in a new project with the Fondazione del Monte di Bologna e Ravenna and the Municipality of Bologna that consist in the practical experimentation of the techniques of shared administration of the urban commons.