Sub-theme 2. Commons towards urban transformation
Commons Towards Urban Transformation of Open Space and Informal Economy
Open spaces in sub-Saharan cities are occupied by informal sector workers who contribute to over 30 percent of the GDP of countries and are a metonym of the African economy. Yet, they are often the target of exclusion in attempts to enhance the urban infrastructural capacities for economic development. City governments’ policy implementation through recommendations by international organisations results in infrastructure growth and urban space redevelopment through partnerships with multinational corporations by targeting the so-called informal settlement areas and designated open spaces. The informal workers, primarily women, depend on these spaces for their livelihood. Still, they are excluded from national labour laws and regulations and displaced or forcefully evicted. Even so, they find various pathways to remain in cities. By discussing open spaces or so-called forms of common pool resource towards sustainable development. This panel proposes an interdisciplinary approach to studying open spaces. We invite theoretical and empirical papers from all social science disciplines to respond to but not limit the discussion to the following questions:
1. Is there a sustainable approach to transforming Africa’s urban common open spaces?
2. How and why does common open spaces’ governance affect sustainable development?
3. What are the social, political, and economic outcomes of governing common open spaces for city development?
4. What constitutes and informs policy implementation in the governance of common open spaces?
5. What does the governance of common open spaces in African cities mean for gender, work, and well-being?
1. Negotiating power, access, and property rights of informal workers in public spaces
University of Bern, Switzerland
Public spaces in global south cities are undergoing physical infrastructure transformation and redevelopment as public policy objectives. These infrastructure transformations result from recommendations of global multinational organisations. The redevelopment of public spaces, characterised by the relocation, demolishing, and eviction of informal economy workers in cities results in conflicts and contestation among various actors over power play in the management, access rights to these spaces and their right to benefit from these spaces. Moreover, in most sub-Saharan African cities, the concept of communal property through traditional and communal norms have persisted despite the introduction of constitutional laws creating a blurred and complex system of governance of public spaces. This study seeks to analyse how actors in global south cities negotiate power, demand access, and establish their property rights in global south cities by resorting to the different institutions to make their claims. The study seeks to analyse which, why and how actors resort to certain institutions and how the interplay of various institutions and actors affect the management of common pool resources such as public spaces. The study adopts two cities in Ghana with high incidence of informality to explore the effect of institutional dynamics and actors’ conflict on the informal economy and how this in turn affects sustainability of the commons and their uses through a political ecology approach.
2. Fractal Communalism — social experiments, anarchist futures in the present
District Commons, USA
The US communes are an old phenomenon, many of the earliest being religious in nature, and the most recent wave being the hippie communes of the late twentieth century. The goals and impact of the communes has not always been consistent, however, on studying the communes as a distributed experimental ecosystem, a different perspective begins to emerge. Communes and intentional communities constitute experimental societies, where humans gather to explore new ways of making decisions, collective organizing and alternative forms of governance. Famous examples include Oroville, Arcosanti, Damanhur all of which have demonstrated different ways of living. Here I describe both digital and analogue examples of ecosystems of mostly urban communal experiments, which beyond their individual physical spaces and national borders to demonstrate diverse examples of humans potentiality and sociality, in deeply collaborative networks.
These decentralized networks of urban communes explore ways of bringing future possibilities into the present, living and manifesting their ‘prefigurative politics’. The vision that emerges is a rhizomatic like structure with no center or top down control, that provides mutually assured alternatives to the dominant economy, and to the state. These urban projects are discussed in terms of Walter Benjamin’s general strike (“a means of disengagement and avoidance of violence”), and Eugene Holland‘s slow-motion general-strike as non-violent means to getting beyond our dominant systems of control. Commoning is considered in the context of the autonomist approach of self-valorization to describe the production of goods and services for their mutual use, rather than for the purpose of profiteering.
3. Planned Beautification of Ecological Commons and Environmental Subjectivities: Observations from Bada Talab in Ranchi, India
Central University of South Bihar, India
Beautification policies have been growing popular with Urban Local Bodies to facelift the image of the city to project the city as a prominent location for activities that are driven by neoliberal economic principles. At the same time, planned beautification has also been adopted as part of environmental governance and management aiming for the sustainability of ecological commons. In this research, I attempt to understand more specifically how planned beautification projects may enable individuals’ subject formation in relation to the broader environmental discourse. Environmental subjectivities address the formation process of how individuals construct and reconstruct a set of discursive relationships with nature. This study will help to understand the new prospects of subjectivities that appear when people’s livelihoods and lifestyles are changed in the context of modern practices driven by the beautification of ecological commons. Drawn on the fieldwork of Bada Talab in Ranchi, India, the study will use the theoretical framework of environmental imaginaries in urban political ecology to examine the ways individuals relate themselves to nature, through a process of negotiation and exchange with actors engaged in beautification activities.
Keywords: Planned Beautification, Environmental Subjectivity, Environmental Imaginaries, Urban Political Ecology