New Review of the Co-Cities Book in the Journal of Design and Culture (Taylor & Francis) by Jacob DeGeal

New Review of the Co-Cities Book in the Journal of Design and Culture (Taylor & Francis) by Jacob DeGeal

Check out the review of the Co-Cities Book by Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione (The MIT Press) in the Journal of Design and Culture (Taylor & Francis) by Jacob DeGeal.

Click here:

https://acrobat.adobe.com/id/urn:aaid:sc:EU:8e42dd61-7c14-4cab-a9e7-a882579c92bb

While the authors do warn us of the effects of planet-destroying dystopias of late-stage capitalism and labyrinthian bureaucracies mired in their own processes, they do not fall prey to polemic narratives or bias. They remain hopeful, inspirational, and studious, acknowledging the necessary participation of these power-wielding institutions. By establishing the city as commons, monolithic power structures can be systemically reduced and balanced with the needs and wishes of community members. Co-Cities provides a realistic path forward for communities to apply human-focused collaborative action to their own neighborhoods, and optimize governmental buy-in.

The Tragicomedy of the Village Commons in China

The Tragicomedy of the Village Commons in China

This case study on village co-governance in China reveals a very interesting opposite co-governance typology by different village leaders concerning the management of village land use. Management of village land is one of the old if not the oldest practice of co-governance at the village level which was done through the use of social norms before the promulgation of legal rules. Conflict arises when long-term social practices are inconsistent with the laws which oftentimes results in tension between the two systems of control.

Based on the Chinese land reform regime, urban lands are said to be state-owned while rural lands are collectively owned. The development of rural lands and transfer even though collectively or privately owned needs approval from the government. This legal reform received widespread protest and condemnation, especially from Chinese farmers who considered the system as a government land grab or monopoly. As such, Chinese farmers began to construct illegal housing for rent to show their deviance from the system.

According to the Chinese Ministry of Land and Resources, by 2007, Chinese farmers had built over 6.6 billion square meters of houses in evasion of the legal prohibition on private rural land development and transfer, resulting in a huge market of illegal houses. The construction of these illegal houses in China later became known as the “small property houses” business which was very profitable at the time and became very popular among villagers. The management of the collectively owned rural lands is carried out by the village co-op members who are selected by the villagers to run the affairs of the villages and in particular manage the village land. These village co-op members serve as the middlemen between the central government and the villagers.

In essence, the case study talks about the village co-op members (W village) that use mafia-style leadership to manage the village land while the other village co-op (Z village) follows the law to manage the village land. A detailed discussion of these two village co-op management is given below with a concluding remark on the case study.

 

 

W village: The mafia-style small property business

W village used to be an example of a very good co-governance or commons system that paved the way for the establishment of village co-ops in other villages in Shenzhen. The village co-op board is a form of collective economic organization responsible for the management of collectively owned lands that are not allocated to individual households and for issuing dividends to villagers each year based on the profits generated from the management of the lands. They used this collectively owned land to build factories and rent them to outsider investors.

The small property business became booming and very profitable within a very short period hence it gave rise to the establishment of a mafia organization in W village and Shajing sub-district in general. This mafia organization became a partnership between corrupt government officials, village co-op leaders, and the mafia. The mafia organization was illegally buying the collectively owned lands from the village co-ops at low prices and reselling them at more expensive prices. The co-op boards in return relied on the mafia to deal with corrupt government officials and guarantee their re-election after every three-year mandate in office thus the mafia influences village elections and grassroots government operations.

As a consequence of the village co-op leadership style in W village, the payment of dividends to villagers came to a halt since the village co-op was no longer making a profit. Again, the village co-op would use the mafia to silence villagers from making any noise for failure to pay dividends through violence. Sadly, W village ended up in a chaotic situation and lost the opportunity for the village redevelopment project from the government because of too many squatters.

Z village: In the name of law

Just like the case in W village, Z village is also into the small property business in which villagers were building houses on their privately owned lands and renting to migrant workers. Before the government’s full prohibition, the village co-op also built several factories on the collectively owned lands and rented them to investors. However, the difference between the two is that W village was disobedient to the established laws for the management and transfer of collectively owned lands while Z village was obedient to the established laws by challenging the meaning and the interpretation of these laws to develop their land.

There is a lot of conflict among the laws in China for the management and development of lands, for instance, the Chinese Land Administration Law “Prohibits rural land transfer and development”, while the Chinese Constitution and Land Administration Law on land ownership states that “urban land is state-owned; rural land is collective-owned”. These conflicts between the laws coupled with the high cost and hefty procedures to follow to acquire approval from the government make it difficult for some village co-ops to follow the laws for the management and development of rural lands in China.

Fortunately, Z Village later came under the leadership of an ex-real estate guru who was committed to stopping the chaotic housing construction by his villagers and began to apply for legal rights from the government to redevelop Z Village. The first thing done by the new leadership was to build a park of 40,000 square meters. The village co-ops began to redirect their focus on the village environment rather than building more buildings following which house rents were increased and the annual dividends due to the villagers rose to an average yearly increment of 10%. Based on the foregoing, the new leadership was able to persuade villagers to give up on their illegally constructed houses and apply for a village redevelopment project from the government which was successful and villagers held legal rights on their individual properties.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, this case study tells a story of co-governance or management of commons at the village level which as a matter of fact can also be extended to the cities and urban settlements. Co-governance requires not focusing on short-term economic benefits driven by the resources of the commons but rather should be focused on sustainable practices to maintain and manage the resources accordingly.

In the first case, short-term economic benefit superseded the collective future interest of the village and as a result, ended up in a chaotic situation and the village became ungovernable.  The second case focuses on the long-term interest of all the villagers and maximizes the immediate economic benefit to create profit in the future for the village. Co-governance although considered as self-governance cannot be successful without the involvement of legal rules. It must follow established laid-down laws to achieve the goals of the common good and interest of all.

By

Ismaila Saidykhan

Energy Award Winner 2023 – Co-Cities Book awarded in the category of Best Book about the ‘Commons’

Energy Award Winner 2023 – Co-Cities Book awarded in the category of Best Book about the ‘Commons’

Each year, the The American Energy Society spotlights the most extraordinary contributions to energy and sustainability.

We are thrilled to announce that among the winners of the Energy Awards 2023 is the book “Co-Cities: Innovative Transitions toward Just and Self-Sustaining Communities” (The MIT Press), by Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione, awarded in the category of Best Book about the ‘Commons’.

Happy to share with you another achievement!

https://www.energysociety.org/

https://www.energysociety.org/
Car Next Door – Australia

Car Next Door – Australia

 

Born to help solve the issues associated with underused vehicles, Car Next Door was the first peer to-peer car share network in Australia. Carsharing is a way to solve problems related to mobility and traffic congestion, especially in large cities. In fact, the main Australian problem is high car dependency, so Car Next Door works well in the inner areas of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

CND’s community manager, Will Davies, was looking to start a new business that had a really positive impact on the environment: something that reduced the amount of greenhouse gas caused by human activities. Car Next Door offers people the “mobility-possibility” of having a car nearby when you need it, at a much lower cost than owning one.

Of course, there may be some problems with this mode of sharing, particularly related to the interaction between users. The company addresses the lack of trust and ease that would otherwise discourage people from sharing their cars with others by:
– providing an online forum where vehicle owners and borrowers are registered, vetted, and approved;
– providing a feedback system whereby vehicle condition and member behavior can be assessed and reported by other members;
– providing in-car technology that enables keyless access to the car and a web-based automated reservation platform;
– providing in-car GPS technology that tracks the location of the car, reducing the risk of theft and misuse of the vehicle;
– providing insurance that covers owners and borrowers; and – manage payments between owners and borrowers.

Analysis of design principles:

The Car Next Door project reflects one of the five design principles identified by the co-city methodology.

 

Collective Governance

We cannot define Car Next Door as an organization with a multistakeholder governance scheme because it has only active collaboration with some actors in the private sector, but we can think of some aspects:

Private actors: as Kate Trumbull confirms, the platform is owned by several shareholders, including the founders, Caltex and Hyundai. Car Next Door has signed a deal with the world’s fifth-largest carmaker, in which its app will be installed on all new Hyundai cars sold in Australia. Partnerships like this are really crucial to the long-term success of Car Next Door.

NGO: Car Next Door has a partnership with an Australian non-profit organization called “Greenfleet “: When someone borrows a car through Car Next Door, all the carbon emissions from driving are offset through indigenous reforestation projects throughout Australia.

Community groups: The community does not have decisional power inside the platform organization, but they are involved in the sense that they own and maintain the cars and borrow them. The community joins CND not only for economic reasons but also for civic care of the urban commons and a specific attention to the environment.

 

Enabling state

The state and local government in Australian cities in this case are far from embracing what Michele Finck and Sofia Ranchord (2016) call a horizontal approach with actors, still using a command-and-control approach.

Rather, the relationship with the state is quite mono-directional: from Car Next Door come the request to incentivise carsharing with reserved parking in the cities.

Under the City of Sydney’s car sharing policy, the city can list online the location of private vehicles participating in peer-to-peer car sharing, provided the peer-to-peer operator has entered into a written agreement with the city regarding vehicle availability and conditions and provides regular reports on usage.

 

Social and economic pooling

 

It completely represents the “pool” concept by avoiding exclusive ownership of cars and it perfectly embodies the “share” concept by sharing it with members of one’s community. People who share their cars participate in the pooling economy, particularly being part of a “collaborative economy” related to the promotion of a peer-to-peer approach that follows the transformation of customers/users into a community.

 

Experimentalism

 

They were the first to provide peer-to-peer car sharing services in Australia, so they are pioneers in this area. Their main innovation is in the way they provide unattended access to cars using the electronic lockbox, a product designed to resist theft and environmental conditions. Theoretically, the project could be absolutely scalable and replicable in every motorized community in the world. However, in practice, attempts have been made to adapt the project in a small regional city, Newcastle, but there has not been much take-up.

 

 

Technological justice

 

The digital platform enables collaboration among members of a community, using apps or web apps to match drivers to passengers and even cars. Using existing vehicles, they aim to increase mobility. However, they do not explore any solutions to bridge the digital divide. Access to the Car NextDoor service is provided to anyone with a smartphone and good connectivity.

 

Conclusions

 

Referring to the case study of CND, we can define it as a “sharing enterprise.” According to the definition provided by Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione (2016), it is an enterprise intending to contribute to the solution of social problems (such as economy, welfare, culture, environment, and traffic) through sharing practices.

 

Ultimately, CND is a sharing practice between the narrow definition of genuine sharing economy that excludes those primarily driven by profit.

The state, along with local governments, needs to explore how to facilitate these initiatives and how cities should rethink them to embrace beneficial sharing economy practices.

In this context, car sharing is an established transportation service that could combat car dependence, even in Australia, where the level of car dependence is high.

The Car Next Door is a community-based mobility service that, together with an increased supply of networked alternatives, could change the mobility paradigm to meet society’s current and future needs. The initiative grows community cohesion, solves the mobility problem, and helps the environment by optimizing how cars are used in the city.

 

Farmacia popular de Valparaiso – Chile

Farmacia popular de Valparaiso – Chile

The case study is about the city of Valparaiso, Chile (South America), which covers an area of 402 square kilometres and has approximately 253 580 residents (as of 2012).

Following the election of Jorge Sharp as mayor of the City in December 2016, a project started in 2017 for the creation of a ‘Red de Servicios Populares de Salud, a network of community pharmacies that provide services sold by the City’s health department at reduced prices (up to 70% less than the market price). The service is granted to members (together with their families) of citizens’ associations and labor unions and to all people who live, work or study in the city who only have to present the operators with a prescription and a valid ID card.

The project includes not only the creation of pharmacies, but also optics, a municipal health center, orthopedics, and in the future, the creation of a “popular laboratory”.

 

With the support of the Central Abastecimiento Nacional (CENABAST), the national entity for the distribution of medicines as a partner, the pharmacy wants to guarantee access to medicines to all the members of Valparaiso. Moreover, the Municipal Pharmacy is planning to create a User Association to co-manage the service, aiming to promote a network of medication distribution at the neighborhood level, arraigning the importations of high-cost medicines, and incorporating the Chilean Municipal Association.

 

The experiment is juxtaposed with Imbroscio’s idea of a ‘solidarity economy’, a concept that reflects the desire to fight poverty and invest in the stability and prosperity of communities. In fact, the research is based on the conception of urban resources and city space as common goods, affirming the existence of a common stake and interest in shared resources with other inhabitants, as a way of resisting the privatization and/or commodification of these resources.

 

 

Considering the urban institutional framework of the city of Valparaiso, we can say that Chile’s Constitution’s centralist approach does not permit much autonomy to City councils. Even today, most of the relevant issues, such as the control of financial resources and the authority over determinate areas of urban governance are still managed by the central State. With the establishment of the Valparaiso network of community pharmacies, there has been a call by the health department of Valparaiso City Council to create at the State level, a public health fund to help Cities that might want to invest in the creation of such institutions.

 

The five dimensions endogenous to our design principles that define a Co-City were assessed: Collective Governance; Enabling State; Poolism; Experimentalism; and Technological Justice. The design principles are analyzed to better understand whether it is possible to consider the city of Valparaiso a collaborative and inclusive space, and with what intensity each principle is present: weak; moderate or strong.

 

Collective governance (co-governance) refers to the presence or absence of a self-, shared, collaborative, or polycentric organization for the governance of the commons in cities and it is a strong variable in this case. The Network of Community Pharmacy of Valparaiso project is a multi-stakeholder collaboration providing low-cost healthcare for city residents. All the project actors of the quintuple helix system project are involved: active citizens and community groups, non-governmental organizations, and public authorities.

 

The Enabling State is present to a moderate extent. The State support to the project has been positive and a certain degree of autonomy has been conceded to the City and the citizens’ associations. However, the presence of non-standard, informal procedures for cooperation are still missing. It is the project principle that expresses the role of the State in the governance of the commons and identifies the characteristics of an enabling state that facilitates collective action for the commons and can be a key factor for the success of community projects on the urban commons.

 

 

Social and economic pooling is a strong design principle here, which aims to identify the presence of forms of pooling. The experience of the Valparaiso community pharmacy network seems to be ascribable to the ‘community economy’ subgroup of the pooling economy because it is essentially collectively owned and publicly managed; thanks to the involvement of the public (the City of Valparaiso and organs of the central State) and private (associations) entities; it also involves a transfer of resources from the private or public actor to the collective group and is aimed at realizing the goals of the right to the city, in particular universal access to public health services.

 

The project is not particularly innovative. However, it is very practical and replicable on a larger scale, and other cities in the world that do not yet guarantee the right to free access to health services; indeed the idea is based on a process that can be exported and adapted to different contexts and is replicable by following the same steps. Experimentalism is a moderate variable. Building a network of community pharmacies was an unprecedented case for Chile, but surely not for other Countries in South America or the world.

 

Technology may constitute the weaker element in the project. A strong technological innovation and a push towards reachability via the internet could have been a step forward in terms of the quality of the project both for efficiency and universality.

 

 

In conclusion, we can say that the Valparaiso network of community pharmacy is a laudable example of how the empowerment of local communities and a strong coordination, can lead to substantial and tangible improvements in the lives of citizens.

The Chilean National Statistical Institute predicts that by 2035, in 82% of cities, people over 65 will outnumber those under 15. This will lead to an increased demand for medical care and health services. Against this background, it is difficult to see how the older generation will manage to conserve their health without being able to afford the right medications.

The project might bring temporary alleviation from these problems and set an example for other cities in a similar situation. The project still needs to improve from a methodological point of view, especially about the Enabling State and Experimentalism variables, which are present to a moderate extent, and the Tech Justice variable, which is almost completely absent.

Either way, even though this case has still space for improvement, it certainly constitutes a full example of communities that work together for common well-being towards a common good dimension.