Sub-theme 2. Commons towards urban transformation
Advocating for Policy Change in Urban Commons
Urban commons are important sites for contestation and transformation. They are a site for civic expression and collective identity on the one hand, and for an overarching authority to coordinate and formalize decisions on the other hand. The formal and informal institutions at play in urban commons can constrain or expand this tension. In this panel, we seek papers that examine the political mechanisms that people use to contest and transform urban commons through local governance processes. While much research on the commons focuses on how social movements and/or local community-based organizations form, our goal is to understand how these movements and organizations interact with broader political and governance structures to shape socio-environmental outcomes. In doing so, we also aim to understand the variable forms of advocacy within urban commons. Other key actors often ignored in the commons literature, such as government officials or business groups may play crucial roles in shaping urban commons. Finally, we seek to understand the topics and approaches that different groups prioritize to advocate for change.
Panel 2.5. A
1. Developing a New Paradigm: Linking Knowledge, Values, and Beliefs to Equitable Distribution of Ecosystem Services in Urban Stream Corridors
1University of Georgia, USA 2North Carolina A&T, USA, 3Spelman College, USA
When a diversity of governance stakeholders use collaborative approaches to reimagine urban streams, what unique knowledge, values, and beliefs do they bring to the process? Also, in what ways do these attributes shape decision processes and outputs that promote equitable delivery of ecosystem services? In the United States, urban streams–and the corridors in which they are situated–seldom generate desired ecosystem services. These issues are rooted in a historical perspective that urban streams were once considered an impediment to development, and only a conduit to dispose of waste. Since the introduction of the country’s Clean Water Act, more corridors have begun to improve, especially as more people return to cities that subsequently redevelop urban waterways. However, many locations still require work. Issues that these areas continue to face include flooding, aesthetic disamenities, and build up of sedimentation, nutrients, pollutants, and trash that moves to rural and coastal landscapes. Thus, transitioning from a traditional stormwater engineering approach requires a new paradigm. This study examines 16 metropolitan areas across the United States to identify the knowledge, values, and beliefs of urban stream governance stakeholders, the dynamics of their decision-making processes, and the water plans they have produced. We use a combination of survey data, text data, and biophysical data to inform the development of a new paradigm for decision-making that improves equity in the distribution of ecosystem services.
2. How do formal institutions shape civic engagement in local urban nature governance?
Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program, University of Minnesota, USA
Formal institutions play a critical role in defining how urban nature is governed. Yet, in a democratic system, this governance is dynamic and affected by public input and the mechanisms that enable or constrain that input. While public input can be beneficial (e.g., allows for integration of context-specific knowledge), highly variable success in urban nature governance may signal limitations of current civic engagement mechanisms. A rich literature examines the role and mechanisms of civic engagement in governance, but there is less attention to civic engagement in shaping formal institutions on urban nature. In this paper, we examine the mechanisms of engagement in formal institutions across types of nature (soil, vegetation, water, wildlife) using the ordinance text from fifteen municipalities within the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. We find that formal institutions on vegetation and water focus on expert advice, while there is no pattern of engagement across soil and wildlife. Overall, we find a stronger pattern of civic engagement mechanisms across municipalities, suggesting that local governance, rather than the type of nature, may determine whether and how the public can participate in the management of urban nature. Future work may analyze barriers to developing and changing formal institutions to understand why municipalities adopt different civic engagement mechanisms, and ultimately, which mechanisms lead to better or worse socio-environmental outcomes.
3. The limits of citizen advocacy for improving the sustainability of local governance
Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program, University of Minnesota, USA
Especially in the commons research tradition, local governments are often seen as key actors in encouraging sustainability and well-being due to their closeness to citizens and ability to act authoritative as citizens “think globally and act locally.” In order to understand how citizens influence local government sustainability initiatives, we conducted detailed case studies of citizen engagement in four smaller suburban cities within the Minneapolis-Saint Paul (“Twin Cities”) Metropolitan area in the USA. The Twin Cities are known as one of the most economically prosperous and civically engaged metropolitan areas in the USA, and also have a reputation for taking leadership on environmental and sustainability issues. In this context we expected to find innovative local activists demanding environmental improvements from their local governments. To our surprise, we found that citizen engagement around environmental issues in these cities was limited and tended to focus on reactions to near-term crises rather than long-term planning or anticipatory action, and civic advocacy organizations largely seem to ignore city governments. At the same time, cities have robust requirements for civic engagement and are taking some anticipatory actions on environmental issues, however these are often in response to state mandates or the interests of professional staff committed to environmental improvement. We conclude that local governments and local civic advocacy may be a less promising route to sustainability than often posited, yet at the same time, that local governments can play a role within a broader system of cross-scale accountability.
4. Let’s make it official: antagonisms and contradictions in public policies for urban community gardens in Brazil
Federal University of ABC, Brazil
Studies on urban commons tend to look either at claiming or at maintaining commons over time. It is important to observe both phenomena to understand their cycles and dynamics. In this sense, we can observe interactions between agencies in communities, and changes in relationships with strategic actors. Commons are a dialectical process of crystallization and rupture of relationships, which deform power geometries and promote new arrangements. They are also experiences of looking back, reflecting, and elaborating on future connections between people and territories. However, are these practices capable of triggering other logics of non-hierarchical arrangements and non-sovereign autonomies, and changing territorialities from homogenization, control, and use, to value diversity, care, and shelter? To what extent do these experiments influence other actors and scales, and effectively change policies on public areas, and how does this influence back urban practices and spaces? We may look at community gardens in Brazil, in which different experiences of public officialization are explored. The regulation of these gardens may confer communities and spaces legitimacy, but establish new hierarchies and impose norms of occupation and access that are hardly questioned. There are also cases of spatial emptying and political disempowerment, although groups remain united, based on values and repertoires that are replicated in other claims. I aim to shed light on the antagonisms and contradictions comprised in urban commons’ dynamics. I also hope to contribute to thinking about the potential of so-called informal practices and how city planning and management can be informed by these practices.
5. Environmental justice, firms, and the state: Actors and advocacy strategies in Peru and Ecuador
Josef Korbel School, University of Denver, USA
Communities facing environmental injustices in their territories do not passively accept the destruction and dispossession of their natural and cultural resources. On the contrary, they respond in diverse ways and at various scales. The suite of strategies implemented by firms, governments, and their networks, (henceforth “pro-strategies”) have been documented in multiple case studies. Similarly, the resistance strategies deployed by environmental justice communities and organizations (henceforth “counter-strategies”) is receiving increasing attention. Systematic examinations of the social networks, the pro and counter strategies deployed by various groups involved in environmental justice conflicts, and how they co-evolve throughout and across conflicts, is needed. This paper addresses this gap by examining who is engaged, how are they organized, and what strategies do environmental justice, firms, and state actors use to promote and oppose environmental (in)justice cases.
Panel 2.5. B
1. Managing the Commons: Exploring Intercoalitional Differences in the Infrastructural Development vs. Environmental Conservation Debate in the Campaign to conserve Vetal Hill in Pune, India
FLAME University, Pune, India
Urban green spaces provide diverse advantages ranging from environmental benefits to positive health impacts and socio-economic benefits. However, urban green spaces have been increasingly under contention from potential land development activities due to rapid urbanization and increasing migration from rural to urban areas. This paper examines one such urban green space called Vetal Hill located in Pune, India’s seventh most populous city with a population of 7.4 million people and growing. In recent years, there have been multiple proposals from the local municipal corporation to construct a road and/or tunnel that will cut across the hill to help ease traffic congestion in the city, but these proposals have often been shelved in the face of opposition from civil society and environmental organizations. Using the Narrative Policy Framework, we analyze policy narratives in social media of groups (1) fighting to protect this urban common and (2) groups advocating for the necessity of infrastructural development to understand intercoalitional differences in the use of narrative elements and strategies across opposing coalitions. Findings reveal critical differences among coalitions in their communication strategies and provide insight into the role of stakeholder communication in the infrastructural development vs. environmental conservation debate.
2. The role of urban commons in a transitioning urban making?
Institute of geography and sustainability (IGD), University of Lausanne, Switzerland
The city has its own agenda, generally influenced by big urban projects, local contexts and changing policies. Those urban projects are often designed and conducted over a long period of time. They are filling the city, on the one hand, and leaving gaps on the other. They are implemented by private or public stakeholders. Sometimes, they are contradictory with existing uses, divergent representations and perceptions of space, or even concrete initiatives rooted in the territories and driven by different ideologies. Every now and then, a movement is set in motion and communities mobilise to safeguard spaces in the city that have a special significance or value to them. The communities develop diverse strategies to preserve the practices created on those spaces and adapt to the local contexts, stakeholders, and policies.
Through the two case studies of Bordeaux and Marseille (France), I will question the place of the urban commons in the “making of the city”: why and where do they emerge? What is the trajectory of those initiatives and how does it change overtime? How do they interact with public and private stakeholders in urban context? How do they make the lines of urban planning change? What impacts can these changes have in the city? How do they adapt to specific territorial contexts, and sometimes use it to their advantage? And what is driving them to fight for more sustainable models?
3. The relation between technical and political through the lens of urban commons.
1University of Salerno, Italy, 2University of Naples Federico II, Italy
The challenge of democratising democracy through participatory tools shows its limits after years of enthusiasm. Multiple mechanisms for capturing and exploiting community-based processes have emerged. Urban commoning faces this challenge. A strategy can be to turn the relationship between technical and politics that is today hegemonised by neo-liberal culture. The power of the bureaucracy is changed in neoliberal governmentality. In many political systems, expertise has assumed a substitute role for politics rather than its support; moreover some Academies increase their opaque role in the decision-making and in the steering and evaluation funds management. Therefore, democratising democracy must succeed in creating new forms and methodologies of knowledge production – and new criteria for the identification of ‘experts’ – that urban commons have been producing to advocate the dialogue/challenge with local institutions. We will present some lessons, successes and failures learned in Italy, starting from the civic and collective urban use (adopted for the so-called ’emerging commons’ in Naples), the shared administration (such as cooperation agreements started in Bologna), and others. We will also discuss how general intellect-expertise from grassroots can creates new technical bodies (such as in Naples with the Permanent Observatory on Commons and the Council of Audit on Public Debt and Resources). Furthermore, we will question if and how urban planning and co-design models can be hacked with a political-technical commoning-based knowledge, even when large amounts of funds arrive to renovate the public real estate and/or areas in the city claimed as commons (such in the case of the renovation of two emerging commons: OPG Je so Pazz and Scugnizzo Liberato)