The city as a commons: games, economic behaviors and new institutional frameworks for the governance of urban resources

Eleonora Gregori Ferri (Università degli Studi di Milano)


Identifying the city – and urban spaces and resources - as commons raises the question of how best to manage, control, and protect them. Ostrom’s work has put an accent on the empowerment of local communities. It has opened the possibility that subjects in a commons problem are not “inevitably caught in a trap from which they cannot escape” (Ostrom E., 1990).
This includes the possibility of entering a “social contract without the sword” (Ostrom E., 1992) that users undertake to set the rules of cooperation and distribution of benefits and burdens, to monitor compliance, and to self-impose sanctions.
In addition, the results of Ostrom’s studies have opened the way for a new investigation into the influence of the initial stage of discussion and bargaining over rules of cooperation and the subsequent behaviors of the parties and their attitude toward compliance (Sacconi et Ottone, 2015).
In this context, the pre-play communication can lead to an agreement between the participants on the distributive rules of costs and benefits deriving from the common resource management. This agreement can be construed as a form of ‘social contract,’ which also affects the participants’ beliefs regarding mutual conformity to the agreed rules of cooperation and creates reciprocal and symmetrical expectations.
Is it possible to apply the theorization above to reform spatial planning instruments?
An idea to be further explored is to use the pre-play stage to make representatives of public authorities, private companies, and local communities’ residents agree upon precise and concrete guidelines and principles concerning the development of city spaces. A different – and maybe more interesting - context of potential application is in the drafting procedure of local authorities’ standard formats of urban governance agreements.

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