“It has become fashionable to talk about the “urban commons”, and it’s clear why. What we traditionally conceive of as “the public” is in retreat: public services are at the mercy of austerity policies, public housing is being sold off and public space is increasingly no such thing. In a relentlessly neoliberal climate, the commons seems to offer an alternative to the battle between public and private. The idea of land or services that are commonly owned and managed speaks to a 21st-century sensibility of, to use some jargon, participative citizenship and peer-to-peer production. In theory, at least, the commons is full of radical potential.
“Why is it, then, that every time the urban commons is mentioned it is in reference to a community garden? How is it that the pioneers of a new urban politics are always planting kale and rhubarb? Can commoning be scaled up to influence the workings of a metropolis – able to tackle questions of housing, energy use, food distribution and clean air? In other words, can the city be reimagined as commons, or is commoning the realm of tiny acts of autarchy and resistance?”
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Photograph: ‘A bottom-up strategy of resilient regeneration’: the Agrocité project in the suburbs of Paris. Courtesy: Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée