Atelier de l’Observatoire in Morocco

Atelier de l’Observatoire in Morocco

Atelier Observatoire is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2012 purposely as a place for art and research. The intent is to develop participative projects and support the creation of the Moroccan population. The idea is to bring artists, students, researchers, and inhabitants involved and engage in these participatory projects. Activities are involved on the geographical fringes of Morocco, from suburbs to rural areas and marginalized territories, targeting the most vulnerable communities.


The programs developed involve numerous partners, enrich the visions, ideas, and knowledge of the communities involved, and these are long-term programs that include:

The Collective Museum: is a citizen museum for the collective memory of cities in Morocco and several recovery actions are led by activists for this purpose.

Madrassa is a regional research, meeting, and training program for contemporary curatorial practices.

La Ruche is a program for the production and support of emerging Moroccan artists.

Les Invisibles is a research program that aims to trace the history of the lives of societies.

L’Aquarium is a collective reflection for future new activations of public, educational, and heritage places in Casablanca.

La Serre is a temporary, shared place that takes place in public places, suburbs, and rural areas to encourage the emergence of new ideas, breaking with traditional constraints and visions.


The areas in which L’Atelier de l’Observatoire is developed are the office and residence for artists in Casablanca (Maarif) as well as the space for creation, research, and archiving in Laassilat. The project was born in Morocco from the significant political fragmentation of the territory and the strong weakness of local governance, which caused disparate alliances between a poor and slow local development and a development of projects with a strong centrality of the State, which has always maintained control over local issues and projects.


Since 2015, the adoption of advanced regionalization has aimed to break this traditional governance model by giving local representatives more prerogatives in their local areas and promoting citizen participation in the management of local affairs. Despite its achievements, the project is still far from being completed. The main challenge for territorial development in Moroccan cities remains the transfer of powers to local elected representatives and the lack of clear and established governance. This counts as a major obstacle to the development of collaborative cities in Morocco.


Three design principles of the Co-Cities methodology characterize L’Atelier de l’Observatoire:

First is the collective governance principle. This principle is identified as strong as all actors are united together around the Atelier de l’Observatoire. For instance, in 2016, the Casablanca Aquarium, part of the city’s historical heritage, closed since 1980, reopened to the public at the initiative of the artist Mohamed Fariji for an ephemeral project dedicated to a collective utopian reflection on the future of the place. The Atelier de l’Observatoire played a substantial role here, with various partners such as foundations, the support of the municipality, and the artists’ collective. The project involves:

1) Active citizens, ordinary citizens, social innovators, city makers, and local communities.

2) Public authorities.

3) Private actors.

4) Civil society organizations and NGOs.

5) Knowledge institutions.


The enabling state principle seems to be weak. L’Atelier de l’Observatoire has the support of the Minister of Culture, which means a lot in the top-down approach of power in Morocco. The main reason why the enabling state is weak id due to a lack of collaboration at the public level; indeed, L’Atelier de l’Observatoire denounces the lack of institutional structures and policies in the cities. The aim of the project, however, is not to denounce the failures of public policies or governments, but to introduce the notion of civil society; to set aside the usual dichotomy that defines the state and capital as the only holders of power in our contemporary societies, and to support and empower civil society agency through art.


Thanks to the Atelier de l’Observatoire, a large network of artists has been created, making social and economic pooling a strong principle. In fact, several actors in the neighborhood create an economy of aggregation around cultural and social issues. The Collective Museum, for example, is the result of the research, collection, reflection, and creation of groups of artists, activists, students, children, and residents acting in their neighborhoods to bring out unknown stories, thus dedicated to the collective memory of the city and the suburbs of Casablanca.


L’Atelier de l’Observatoire has other innovative projects, that enable a whole community to access cultural heritage through various approaches, such as meetings, surveys, exhibitions, educational programs, conservation projects, production of works, and publications. Madrassa is a program of residencies, meetings, and pieces of training in contemporary curatorial practices for the North Africa and Middle East region. It is the first of its kind and has been successful in the Mediterranean region, with other initiatives active in several countries. This curatorial program is indeed a good example of experimentalism, that has been spread in different places. The pilot Madrassa session took place in October 2015 in Casablanca, bringing together 15 participants from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, and Cameroon and more than 12 international instructors, with the support of the Arab Fund for Art and Culture, the Goethe Institut Maroc, the Institut Français and Art Moves Africa. It enabled them to work directly with the European Union and apply for funds through the Med Culture program.


Finally, we can say that the potential of digital infrastructures and access to technology to facilitate collaboration does not seem to be considered in the various Atelier de l’Observatoire projects. However, there is an awareness of this weakness and a willingness to improve this dimension.


In conclusion, this case study of the Atelier de l’Observatoire shows us how it could be relevant to adopt in the state of Morocco, a co-city perspective, in order to identify that the weakness of local governance constitutes a major obstacle to the development of the territory. This analyzed model has a collaborative artistic structure, based on strong local action, to bring about a general renewal in Casablanca and from a more national perspective: it creates new ways of approaching collaboration, from the bottom up in the cultural sphere and new methods of interaction between people. The Atelier de l’Observatoire is currently negotiating with the public authorities to launch its project. It would be in the government’s interest to use this initiative to continue advanced regionalization, creating new possibilities for urban life.

One-on-one conversation with Professor Sheila Foster about the Co-Cities book

One-on-one conversation with Professor Sheila Foster about the Co-Cities book

Welcome to our CO-Cities book blog, readers. 


This post features a one-on-one conversation with Professor Sheila Foster, co-author of the Co-Cities book and co-director of LabGov, a scientific and applied research laboratory in multiple cities.

Let’s get started.


  1. What inspired you to write this book about co-cities? 

Foster stated that the inspiration to write Co-cities arose from working with Professor Christian Iaione, co-director of LabGov, as they investigated the idea of the city as a “shared infrastructure” or a commons. She stated: “Working with LabGov in Bologna, seeing how they regulated and developed the city, inspired me. We then went on to host a gathering in Bologna and later in Bellagio at the Rockefeller Foundation. In Bellagio, we invited various representatives from cities across America and Europe to workshop the co-city framework. Clearly, this framework could be effectively used to motivate other cities. I then was inspired to bring it to the U.S.”


  1. How do you balance being a mother, a mentor, a researcher, and a writer?

When asked how she copes and balances her life being a lecturer, a mother, a researcher, a writer, a community builder, and a mentor to many, she smiled and happily responded that service is something that she enjoys doing. She also explained that she is currently involved in applying the co-city framework in Baton Rouge, Louisiana:

“As part of a co-city project in Baton Rouge in the U.S. South, I’m usually not on the ground but meet with the local actors on Zoom. We have a project manager that travels to Baton Rouge and is on the ground. I make time for travel, conferences, research, papers, articles, and writing during breaks because we do not teach all year round. As well as being a member of the New York City Mayor panel on Climate Change, I also advise and support grassroots community groups.” She stresses that the co-city model is highly practical and poses the question of how to assist vulnerable communities with becoming net-zero and making a successful transition. This framework provides a pathway towards climate neutrality, sustainability, and just transitions, as well as reducing energy costs. She says that no institution alone can make this happen, yet it is possible by implementing larger policies from higher levels of government. For example, the US’s Inflation Reduction Act means incentives are available at an individual and household level, as well as at the community, local, and state government levels. It is necessary to consider how to facilitate these funds reaching those who need them most – through solar panel installation, creative community solar projects, or networked microgrids.


  1. How does the co-city paradigm differ from traditional conceptions of cities (give me an example)?

Urban theorists have come up with various models and frameworks to guide cities in the desired direction. The Co-city book discusses “Creative Cities”, “Smart Cities”, and “Right to the City” approaches, among others. Foster elaborates on Richard Florida’s model wherein cities should be a hub for educated and innovative minds in the tech, knowledge, and healthcare domains; an idea that is similar to what former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said, “capital follows talent”. Urban Agglomeration is one result of people’s movement into cities as per economic theory which entails the concentration of knowledge actors learning from each other. The book also discusses the Smart City concept which sees the city as a platform for the greatest technologies meant to improve every area of city functioning. The Co-city paradigm takes it further by focusing on “The Right to the City” idea – redirecting these innovations to help disadvantaged regions/communities become empowered.

The co-city concept is also rooted more in the “right to the city” and Owen Hatherley’s “Rebel City”. These concepts have grown in popularity in Latin America and Europe. In this framework, everyone has a right to physically participate in the governance of their city—especially those who are usually left out. The difference between the two stages of the conceptualization is that the “right to the city” has been challenged in its implementation in Latin America, in particular, due to rising land prices. The co-city, on the contrary, offers responsive prototypes and tools like community land trusts, limited equity cooperatives, and wireless energy networks that can create an environment allowing residents to co-govern their neighborhoods while attending to rising land values. It is this practicality that distinguishes it from other conceptualizations.


  1. Can you give me some examples of co-cities in action? 

Foster mentioned Baton Rouge as the second largest metropolitan area in the state of Louisiana- a racially and economically stratified city populated by blacks, Latinos, and many living in poverty. The area of the city LabGov is working in is predominantly black and poor and is an “infrastructure desert”, lacking good sidewalks, traffic lights, green space, adequate housing, and small businesses. It is filled with vacant lots. At the same time, it is near “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana, a stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge with a heavy concentration of petrochemical facilities.  Foster was invited into Baton Rouge to apply the co-city model to bring together, and pool resources, from a wide network of stakeholders such as local redevelopment authorities, local innovators and entrepreneurs, civic groups, private industries, foundations, both local and national, and others. “Co-City Baton Rouge” (CCBR) is focused on a 4-mile area of the city which, as described above, is in dire need of innovative approaches to urban revitalization. JPMorgan Chase Bank has provided funding to CCBR, which is part of a larger collaborative working in the area, including the local redevelopment agency, community and civic organizations, and community development financial institutions. CCBR has co-designed and is implementing prototypes that will provide goods and services—such as entrepreneurial spaces, high-speed internet, green space, and housing— tailored specifically for that community. A notable prototype is an eco-park that could address flooding issues while providing green space. It was co-designed with local authorities, residents, and a design studio at a local university.  The park, using vacant lots, will provide residents with safe spaces to recreate, a place to put a new bus stop, and offers a green infrastructure to ensure climate resiliency. The eco-park will be managed and paid for by the city’s park agency but will be held by the Community Land Bank and Trust (CLBT) which Foster created for the project and which will hold properties until they are redeveloped. Eventually, the CLBT will contain a food incubator cooperative helping people from food trucks create sustainable businesses as well. A number of other projects have been launched in other parts of the world, including Hong Kong, Sao Paolo, and Costa Rica. Understanding the context is crucial if the co-city framework is to function in a city, as it isn’t a cut-and-paste operation, and what worked in one city might not work in the other due to a variety of factors including location, culture, and governance model.


  1. What can be done to adapt co-city models to different cultures and contexts? 

In her opinion, the co-city model must be tailored to the place, the politics, and the culture of the area. The principles of the co-cities have been designed to allow actors to come together, map out resources, and prototype. Only democratic cultures and governance systems may be able to implement the co-city model, which is experimental and adaptive.


  1. Which lessons can be learned from successful cases or examples around the world? 

In an answer to this question, Foster proposed that much can be learned from specific applications of the co-city approach. These examples require local residents, officials, and different sectors to contemplate how the approach can be rooted in a specific place and context. One of the things that Foster and LabGov researchers and practitioners are exploring now is whether the co-city approach can help promote energy democracy, energy justice, or even climate justice in places like the U.S., Sub-Saharan Africa, or Latin America. Further research needs to be conducted to determine its suitability for various cities. It will be a great advantage if some cities begin employing the co-city governance model ensuring consistency. This can act as a learning experience and enable experimental-based exploration by everyone involved.


  1. What elements of the Co-cities book did you think received more attention for you to win the Prose 2023 award? 

Foster believes that the Co-cities book’s nomination for the 2023 Prose Award was a result of its combination of theoretical background, practical illustrations, and empirical research. She revealed that it took 550 examples from 200 cities to create their co-city survey, believing that it is a novel approach within academic literature. Another aspect contributing to its practicality was the collaborations and dialogues of various players involved. She expressed great joy with the number of positive reactions she has been receiving, highlighting how the process was a long yet affectionate endeavour.



Author: Benedicta Quarcoo

Foster & Iaione Probe Commoning in the City

Foster & Iaione Probe Commoning in the City

Sheila R. Foster and Christian Iaione have been recently guests of David Bollier on his podcast “Frontiers of Commoning” (episode 37). The interview was an opportunity to present their last publication, “Co-Cities: Innovative Transitions Toward Just and Self-Sustaining Communities”, discussing the recent developments of their studies and remembering previous achievements. In this regard, it was very interesting to hear about the “Bologna Regulation for the Care and Regeneration of Urban Commons”, a formal legal and bureaucratic system for coordinating citizen collaboration with the city government, developed by professor Iaione.

Leveraging citizen energies coordinating it in an horizontal relationship with governments, civic and private players and knowledge institutions is also the core principle of  “LabGov  – the Laboratory for the Governance of the City as a Commons, which in Bollier’s opinion represents a virtuous example of a new form of civic collaboration.

Different urban settings lead to different possible ways to build urban commons, this was the following topic discussed, this meaning that taking into account the specific uniqueness of every urban context is the only way to create a socially balanced and inclusive contest. A larger conceptual able to embrace different histories and personalities, which Foster and Iaione call “co-city protocol”:  knowing, mapping, practicing, prototyping, testing, and modelling are its elements.

Iaione particularly stressed out the point of testing affirming that despite failure is always behind the corner in this type of projects, it doesn’t have to be a brake but an incentive. In fact, failure in the end has led to the “neighborhood-based energy co-ops” in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, giving communities a crucial role in the decision making process about energy production and distribution.


At this link you can find the podcast conversation:

And here you can find a blog on the conversation, by David Bollier:

Professor Christian Iaione’s interview for Euractiv

Professor Christian Iaione’s interview for Euractiv

“Co-management city assets to improve the quality of democracy” – included within the report “A look at democratic experiments across Europe.”

Luiss professor Iaione calls “administrative collaborative democracy” the idea to establish civic collaborations with local communities, governments, businesses, academics and NGOs.

European cities and their residents are increasingly using collaborative tools which allow inhabitants to participate in the design and management of city assets, a practice which, according to experts, can create more democratic societies and markets.

The aim is to involve residents in the decision-making process and management of city assets or urban commons: “it’s not about just participating in local governments, but it’s about sharing the management of  and co-owning the services and assets with city inhabitants.”

Turin’s Bee Ozanam, once a factory, has been turned into a multi-purpose building, comprising also a temporary house for migrants, a restaurant run by disadvantaged workers and a rooftop community garden. This example is the result of community initiatives aiming to regenerate the place. The regeneration process was funded through the ” Co-City” project, under the EU Urban Innovative Action programme.

The aim of the project was to promote collaboration between the local administration and citizens for the shared management and regeneration of urban commons.


We want to thank Silvia Ellena of Euractive for the interview.

Below is the link to read the full article:

Co-managing city assets to improve the quality of democracy

Urban sustainable development and innovation partnerships

Urban sustainable development and innovation partnerships

This article discusses the concept of Urban Sustainable Development and Innovation Partnerships (USDIPs) as a tool for designing and managing policy experiments in cities to accelerate technological and ecological transitions while ensuring accountability and equality among stakeholders. The article examines inclusive and innovative forms of public-private partnerships, urban co-governance, and citizen science in the context of global and European policy initiatives. The EU Urban Innovative Actions Initiative and the “UIA Co-City Turin” project are used as a case study to demonstrate the effectiveness of USDIPs in promoting sustainable development.

The article identifies four key tools that are instrumental in creating USDIPs:

  • innovation procurement;
  • social and sustainable finance planning;
  • digital tools for multistakeholder cooperation;
  • investment in capacity building

The article calls for concrete policy action at the EU level to use USDIPs to bridge the gap between different policy agendas related to sustainable development in cities.


Click on the links below to read more about this article.

Urban sustainable development and innovation partnerships