The second chapter of the Co-city book is initiated by recalling Elinor Ostrom’s revolutionary studies of natural resource commons (Ostrom 1990), posing the question:

Are there groups of residents and/or resource users who are willing and able to organize themselves, work together to establish rules for sharing resources, and monitor themselves in the absence of external authority or externally imposed regulations?

The definite answer given by the authors of the Co-cities book is yes, considering the several empirical analysis and observations conducted in about 200 cities across the globe. This is reflected in many forms: from simple community mesh wireless networks to urban villages or parks. Usually, organized community groups or associations of users and or residents come together to manage and or co-create community resources.

The writers go ahead to apply Ostrom’s analytical framework to urban resources in cities. Ostrom’s design principles are seen to be most relevant in the management of many kinds of public and shared resources in a city but Foster and Iaione give evidence according to which these principles may not work in the exact same way outside the city.

Thus, chapter 2 offshoots Ostrom in the City.


This part exposes readers to how much Ostrom’s design principles and observations are either applicable, of limited utility, or need to be modified to the current urban context. Instances such as community size and cohesion, shared social norms, social capital, community homogeneity, the scale of resources, and the recognition and support of central authorities and external actors all play a significant role in a community’s capacity to manage a shared resource collectively and sustainably over time.

It is quite significant, for example, to not undermine or disregard the role of central authority in the creation and sustainability of the urban commons. Since the State cannot be disregarded in the management and regulation of urban resources, sometimes collective natural resources demand a certain level of legal and property modification. Thus, a larger group of urban residents, many of whom are on the social and economic periphery of expanding cities gain access to these services. The benefit of the State’s effort to bridge the gap between the marginalized and the elite is partly bridged.


Another example regards “Urban Green Commons”, whose management considers them as urban ecological resources, such as lakes or urban parks. They are meant to promote social integration and enhance social networks in crowded, diverse, and frequently socially stratified metropolitan contexts. As much as they are beneficial to residents, they tend to be vulnerable and one way to tackle it is through collective action.

For instance, quoting: “Ostrom’s framework for the study of the commons in cities has been applied by researchers who have looked at ecological resources like lakes, rivers, and forests that urban local communities use for traditional cultural and economic uses and/or recent urban migrants use for aesthetic and recreational purposes” (D’Souza and Nagendra 2011).


The following section focuses on all levels of support from the various actors and how their roles are significant to the management of urban commons. These kinds of cooperation take the legal or institutional form of agreements or partnerships between local government and the association of residents that have set up an asset, for instance, agreements like the one between the city of New York and the Central Park Conservancy serve to formalize the parameters of the conservancy’s responsibility for the day-to-day management of the park as well as to establish important norms regarding the limits of the group’s responsibility for the resource, such as reverse crowd-out protection that ensures public funds won’t be replaced by private donations.

Despite strong social links and cooperative activities, these efforts might not be successful or long-lasting if local, but also central, governments and their programs.

Other forms of enabling thus include partnerships between local businesses, property owners, and local governments established to manage the neighborhood commons, special institutions arrangements, hence, in most cases, public-private partnerships.


A top-down, institutionalized, state-enabled form of collective resource governance is initiated and comes into being only through government authority or action, especially in cases such as large park conservancies and BIDs. Yet for most urban commons, a bottom-up approach is used and as such needed, and these initiatives are made by locals or resource users who are driven to work together to create new goods and services that many urban areas lack or find inaccessible to overcome traditional collective action challenges. Citizens and community-led associations and groups identify opportunities within the community such as vacant land spaces, abandoned parks, and forest reserves. They then ensure that the local government’s attention is drawn to this. The bottom-up approach, fostering what is called public-private-community partnership, comes with challenges but is appropriate for the urban commons and encourages both collective action and an enabling State.


This part characterizes commoning as a bottom-up technique of cooperatively generating or constructing resources that can be shared with others and that satisfy precise user needs. Commoning patterns and practices vary naturally based on the resource, the type of user community, and the social or cultural context. Both a resource and a community are requisite in this case to co-manage, steward, and cater for assets and services over a longer period.


Indeed, the enterprise is not easy.

The cost and accessibility of urban land and infrastructure are noted as what precisely makes the development of new types of shared and jointly managed urban products hard. Legal and Property adaptation exposes how urban communities and “commoners” are striving to change the legal status of the land and structures they use and/or occupy to take ownership of them.  Alternative solutions are available, for example by using legal and property tools such as community land trusts (CLTs) or limited equity cooperatives (LECs).  CLTs are created to enable communities to self-govern and care for urban land and structures, keeping them accessible and affordable for future users. Gray, 2008 states that the essence of land trusts is to promote affordable home ownership and local control of the land. The International Community of Economics (ICE) describes CLTs as a private nonprofit corporation established to purchase and keep land for the benefit of a community and to provide community inhabitants with safe, affordable access to land and homes. CLTs can scale through networking with the support of local policies and public resources. The intent is to protect the community at a neighborhood level: nested urban commons.


This last portion of the second chapter is dedicated to numerous examples of community land trusts, how they work, when they were initiated, and the numerous benefits it has had on the residents in various parts of the US. This signifies that there are communities that have the capacity to organize, co-create, co-share, and co-produce assets and services that are beneficial to them. They also act as stewards to safeguard and protect these social amenities through the zeal of ownership. The bottom-up approach establishes the concept of the commons considering its participatory approach and collective action by all stakeholders. The legal factor is also upheld where necessary according to the context of the society or community. The pursuit of urban commons transcends theory.

Short References

Bunce, Mel. (2015). International news and the image of Africa: New storytellers, new narratives?

D’Souza R, Nagendra H. Changes in public commons as a consequence of urbanization: the Agara lake in Bangalore, India. Environ Manage. 2011 May;47(5):840-50. doi: 10.1007/s00267-011-9658-8. Epub 2011 Mar 23. PMID: 21431444.

Institute for Community Economics. (1982). The Community land trust handbook.

Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press


Gray, Karen. (2008). Community Land Trusts in the United States. Journal of Community Practice. 16. 65-78. 10.1080/10705420801977999.