There has been a surge of new interest in the city as a commons in recent months – new books, public events and on-the-ground projects. Each effort takes a somewhat different inflection, but they all seek to redefine the priorities and logic of urban governance towards the principles of commoning.
I am especially impressed by a new scholarly essay in theYale Law and Policy Review, “The City as a Commons, by Fordham Law School professor Sheila R. Foster and Italian legal scholar Christian Iaione. The piece is a landmark synthesis of this burgeoning field of inquiry and activism. The 68-page article lays out the major philosophical and political challenges in conceptualizing the city as a commons, providing copious documentation in 271 footnotes.
Foster and Iaione are frankly interested in “the potential for the commons [as] a framework and set of tools to open up the possibility of more inclusive and equitable forms of ‘city-making’. The commons has the potential to highlight the question of how cities govern or manage resources to which city inhabitants can lay claim to as common goods, without privatizing them or exercising monopolistic public regulatory control over them.”
They proceed to explore the history and current status of commons resources in the city and the rise of alternative modes of governance such as park conservancies, community land trusts, and limited equity cooperative housing. While Foster and Iaione write about the “tragedy of the urban commons” (more accurately, the over-exploitation of finite resources because a commons is not simply a resource), they break new ground in talking about “the production of the commons” in urban settings. They understand that the core issue is not just ownership of property, but how to foster active cooperation and relationships among people.