Professor Christian Iaione, LabGov’s co-founder and coordinator, was invited to take part in a conference organized in Israel by The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies and Bat Yam Urban Center, within the framework of the major project “Israel Sustainability Outlook 2030 ”. During this conference the Professor discussed Urban Sustainability and introduced the Co-City project and the idea of the collaborative city itself.
A video of its speech and a brief introduction are available on the website of the Jerusalem institute for Israel Studies, in the section dedicated to the Urban Sustainability project (here).
While in Israel Professor Christian Iaione was interviewed by Ben Yishai Danieli, from the Israeli Environmental News Agency – named Zavit. The interview was published on the Agency’s website and can be found here in its original version (in Hebrew).
Hereafter is an english translation of the conversation between Professor Christian Iaione and Ben Yishai Danieli.
Q. How do you define yourself?
A. I am a legal scholar and public policy expert in sharing economy, commons and social innovation.
Q: Could you clarify what you mean when you speak about the collaborative commons?
A. The focus of my research is on the collaborative commons, which can also be referred to as constructive, urban and cultural commons. To define them as collaborative is fundamental, as it implies that their care needs more than an agreement between people on a management regime allowing for the renewability of the resource. This might be enough in a purely environmental context, in which resources can regenerate themselves, but when we move to an urban context a different approach involving collaboration is required. What we are trying to do is to develop a methodological protocol that will allow us to bring the study and the practices of the commons in the city. This means updating the design principles, the protocols and methodologies that you need to use in order to implement the collective, collaborative, cooperative, polycentric governance of the commons.
Q. So, what I understand from your work is that the most important element needed to start such a process in a city would be the cooperation between people themselves. How do you facilitate that?
A. I think that the first step consists in mapping all the resources within a city, on one side in terms of the capabilities on one side and of the material and immaterial resources that can be of use to those who want to collaborate and use those capabilities for the city on the other side. Afterwards it is necessary to start mapping also the possible institutions, regulations and governance schemes that are within the city. Then we need to bring these three elements together, as we rarely find them already joint, and to begin experimenting and practicing together. From the experiments and the practice we will then extract some guidelines allowing us to design new urban governance schemes that will be sharing, collaborative, cooperative and polycentric. Thus here it is what we call the co-city protocol: mapping, experimenting, and prototyping.
Q. Could you give an example of one of these processes on which you have been working in Italy?
A. Yes, just few examples are the cities of Bologna, Mantua, Battipaglia and Roma, where we started experimenting with the urban commons, such as public spaces, abandoned buildings, parks and gardens. We began by mapping these resources and these elements and then we were able to run experimentations that allowed us to see and understand how people could collaborate and share these resources in the city. Generally we tried different kinds of governance devices, for instance in Bologna we worked on a regulation (Regulation on collaboration between citizens and the city for the care and regeneration of urban commons) and later a local agency of development, based on the partnership a between public, private and the community, was selected to take care of one specific neighborhood, the Pilastro neighborhood. In Mantua instead we experimented with the concept of culture as a common and we generated a governance pact through which cultural activities and cultural heritage are thought about as commons and managed accordingly. It is also as a consequence of this process and thanks to of the kind of knowledge that we built that Mantua was able to win the title of “heritage capital” of Italy. In Battipaglia we worked on an urban plan based on food, agriculture and environment as commons. As it can be seen on the website, we started by cleaning the beach from garbage, and together we arrived at the creation of four guidelines, public Battipaglia, creative Battipaglia, regenerated Battipaglia and ecological Battipaglia. Each of this four guidelines focuses on one typology of commons, be it public space, creative space, regenerated space or ecological commons. We then suggested that the urban plan would be based on governance devices centered on the idea of collaboration. In Rome we are currently working in the outskirts of the city and, as Rome is a giant city, we chose to focus on two specific neighborhoods, Torpignattara and Centocelle. These are areas with a high concentration of immigrants, and this creates a lot of tensions in the neighborhood, so because we are trying to help the local associations. In Torpignattara we work with an association that is beginning to create in a public green space, Parco Sangalli, a community value project similar to the ones running in the United Kingdom (asset of community value). While in Centocelle we are working to transform another city park, Parco di Centocelle, which is also an archeological site. Our idea is to redesign the park as a participatory governance archeological area, so we will work on a particular governance scheme to run an archeological site as a commons.
Q. What you said about the neighborhood with a high concentration of immigrants is interesting, because also in southern Tel Aviv there is a large population of immigrants from Africa, and the original inhabitants of the neighborhood are protesting because they do not want the immigrants to be there as they see them as a source of crime and violence. So when you deal with the public a very big question is how you define the public and how do you pay attention to its different voices. In particular in a place where you have different populations living together, how do you set these frictions?
A. Usually we try to involve them in the experimentations as much as possible. We have to begin from the premise that this is not an emergency that will soon be solved, but rather it is a trend and it is going to become more and more a systemic factor. This movement from the South to the North of the world and, within the South, from the rural areas towards the urban areas, happens for specific reasons. First of all, they are urged by climate change and by the worsening of their living conditions to leave and go looking for happiness, a better future or simply for survival. The second element is that they come from areas characterized by political and military conflicts, so they run away from war. A further issue is land grabbing, because we shall not forget that the deterioration of their living conditions is strongly linked to the acquisition of rural lands by corporations from developed and developing countries, like the BRICS, who go to Africa and buy land in order to use it to produce raw materials and to sustain their economy and standards of living. These three factors make it a non-exceptional and comprehensible phenomenon, and if we do not understand this we will not frame the issue in the right way. This migration trend is going to create a strong pressure in the urban areas within the global South, and in the North too. As we are dealing with a systemic phenomenon we need to get organized and to drastically change our approach. Until now we have often been treating migrants with a logistic and “accommodation” approach, focusing on how to give them food and shelter while behaving with them as if they were goods who need to be delivered somewhere. But the truth is that we need them, we need fresh energies in our economies, and we need the capabilities and talents that these people bring with them and their intelligence through which they could contribute to the growth of humankind. We need not to forget, and here I speak as an Italian coming from a nation with a long history of migrations, that there has been a time where our grandfathers were the ones leaving their country in search for better opportunities. The same opportunities that our families had should not be denied today to these new migrants.
Therefore, it is important to understand that we need these energies, talents and capabilities, we should give value to them and treasure them, not only because this is what they deserve as human beings, but also because by nurturing and cultivating themselves they could contribute to the improvement of our knowledge and our economies. So, what we are trying to do now in Bologna is to involve the migrants in the care and regeneration of the city, and to initiate an exchange of capabilities, so to understand which capabilities they have and what capabilities we can give them, as we can also transfer some skills. For instance, in one of the outskirts of Bologna called Croce del Biacco we are creating a sharing economy district, where there is the main FabLab, and the idea is to work with them to understand what kind of capabilities they can develop, also in terms of collaborative economy.
Q. You are to take part in a conference with a focus on urban sustainability. As I understand it, your idea is that a sustainable city is first and foremost the people, as they are the building stones and assets, rather than the transportations, infrastructures or green areas.
A. As I wrote in my last paper, collaborative governance is composed by different layers. Urban co-governance, which is a commons collaborative and cooperative governance of the city, is important also in terms of sustainability, in fact I started studying the commons by looking at the networks and at the infrastructure. It is true that I posit a lot of attention on individuals, because a city becomes more sustainable when we manage to change individual behavior. I give you an example, if we shift from a transport behavior based on the use of private transportation towards a collaborative, sharing, public, sustainable transportation mode, such as biking, then we can reduce pollution, car accidents, health expenses and traffic congestions, which reduce the speed of an economy, as people stuck in traffic cannot work nor enjoy life, and this is important also to produce more and better.
Q. A clarifying question: you are running a Lab (LabGov), which means that most of the time you engage in conversation and meet people. Is most of your work discussing and meeting or does it have to do more with going to the field and see what is happening.
A. I spend most of the time on the ground, working with local communities, associations and activists, and also with institutions and local entrepreneurs. The other part of the time is dedicated to the creation of the institutional conditions to make this public policies applicable, and then of course to write about it in scientific terms
Q. And which conditions can make collaboration between local government and the authorities possible, what is it that makes them accept this new model?
A. The drive for them is their search for innovation in public policy, and this is the most promising pattern of innovation for local public policy. As a matter of fact one of the three elements of the Open Government initiative that Obama started at the White House many years ago is collaboration, and nobody knew what it was about. We now know that it is about crowd sourcing, citizen’s science and nudging people towards a more commons-friendly approach. Collaboration is going to be the main driver for innovation, it is a way to also counteract the public finance crisis, to generate new ideas and new development paradigms and, most importantly, to change democracy and therefore to change and redesign the State in the 21rst century.
Q. Do you believe it could be possible to implement this model in other countries apart from Italy, in Israel for instance?
A. Yes, I deeply desire to start a co-city project in Israel, to understand what the conditions are here and to apply these models to another context. Particularly in Israel we know that the actual situation is complex, with the tensions that are already existing and the pressure the new migrations are adding. I would be really interested in starting to work in this country with a university and to start a co-city project in one of the cities. I believe in the need for researchers, scholars and practitioners to act like bees who move from place to place and cross-fertilize. Furthermore, the co-city protocol needs to be tested in other cities and in other countries in order to become a universal protocol and methodology. We are aware of institutional diversity and of the need to design different institutions for different cities and for different commons, so the Bologna regulation cannot be applied in Rome or Tel Aviv, but we believe in the possibility to come up in the future years with a universal methodology to establish the commons in the city.