Mapping Tool Aims to Keep Public Spaces Public – Next City

Kathleen Webster lived on Forsyth Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the late 1970s, when her neighbors started organizing around Sara D. Roosevelt Park. Everything around it was boarded up and closed.

Source: Mapping Tool Aims to Keep Public Spaces Public – Next City

“This community got on bicycles, did a whistle campaign. They organized themselves to take the park back from pimps and drug dealers,” she says.

The police, and eventually the parks department, were more than happy to work closely with the community, Webster remembers. “At the time, they were happy actually to have anybody take it on, because nobody else wanted to be here,” she says. “As one person told me, a parks employee threw the keys at him for a back gate, and said ‘do you want to take care of this?’”

Take care of it they did, Webster and her neighbors. They focused their initial energies on one section of the narrow but long park and transformed it into the BRC Senior Center, which is now surrounded by the Elizabeth Hubbard Memorial Garden (named for one of the original volunteers). The site became the anchor to gradually wrest the park back to healthy, productive community use. Webster, who still lives in the neighborhood, became president of the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Community Coalition, which continues to organize around the park.

But times have changed. The Lower East Side is now one of the hottest real estate markets in Manhattan. Public assets, including parks, park buildings, former schools, library buildings whether they’re in use or not, community gardens and city-owned vacant lots are suddenly in the crosshairs of developers who once wouldn’t touch the neighborhood. Now the volunteers who worked to make the area safe are left wondering: How can they get the attention of public officials when people with deep pockets are drawing up plans and proposing shiny designs for repurposing public assets that seem otherwise underutilized?

“If you think of development as a race, with a starting line and a finish line, in too many communities, government starts at or slightly ahead of the starting line, the developer’s usually way down the road, and the communities aren’t even at the starting line,” says Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, the state chapter of the national civic engagement and government accountability organization.

Common Cause New York has been collaborating with the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center and 596 Acres on the NYCommons initiative to build a modern set of organizing tools to help grassroots groups compete with private real estate developers when it comes to determining the future of publicly owned assets across the city. One of those tools is a new online map and database of all the public assets that, while hard to define, essentially provide some type of potential real estate development opportunity — something a city agency could potentially sell or lease to someone else.

“The baseline thing we need to do is figure out what the set of things is that we’re trying to include in this conversation,” says attorney Paula Segal, founder of 596 Acres, which supports grassroots organizing around vacant publicly owned lots in NYC. “The truth is, we’re in a city, most of our infrastructure and our assets are shared — the subways, the roads, the sidewalks, the water, something like 30, 40 percent of all housing in the city is some form of cooperatively owned. The list goes on and on to the point where privately owned property can start to seem like the real outlier.”

Residents like Webster and her neighbors have long been organizing around many of these assets. About three or four years ago, Lerner says, Common Cause and the other NYCommons partners started to see a pattern in the organizing against a proposed soccer stadium taking away public park space in Queens, around the Midtown Library in Manhattan, and around the future of the main Brooklyn Public Library Branch and other public assets.

“It seemed as if each one of these particular issues was being attacked as if it was a free-standing issue, and the people working on it were thinking of it as ‘this is a parks issue, this is a libraries issue,’” Lerner says. “We started thinking about the fact that all of these separate challenges had similar underlying policy issues that have to do with how does government think about commonly owned, shared assets.”

Residents were spending huge amounts of time and energy, often to no avail for some of these larger proposals and projects involving public assets.

Meanwhile, when it came to vacant lots, over nearly the same two-year period, grassroots groups in four of the five boroughs successfully organized around 36 former publicly owned vacant lots, which were officially declared permanent public parks at the end of 2015. 596 Acres supported 17 of those grassroots groups.

“We were able to get new parks created by getting people involved very early on before anybody talked about flipping anything in vacant, publicly owned real estate assets in their own neighborhoods, transforming them into community resources that maybe weren’t recognized as permanent when they were created, but they became permanent,” says Segal.

596 Acres has developed a number of tools and found or created resources specifically around city-owned vacant land, including its own online map and database, Living Lots NYC, that provides a useful platform for organizers to connect and maintain records of organizing activity around each lot. NYCommons hopes to create an expanded tool set to serve grassroots organizing around the broader universe of public assets in NYC.

They started by asking. NYCommons went to 10 neighborhoods over the spring and summer where they knew people were organizing. Lerner says they found “a tremendous amount of energy in all five boroughs” for sharing best practices and connecting with others doing similar work.

NYCommons picked three neighborhoods for pilots, and provided them documentation, workshop facilitation and other resources to begin developing a tool kit. Many resources already existed, thanks to groups like the Center for Urban Pedagogy or New Yorkers for Parks. The Sara D. Roosevelt Park Community Coalition was one of the pilot sites.

“Movement happens in funny ways, but the NYCommons materials were very helpful as a draft basis from which to go,” says Webster.

The coalition’s current focus is a former recreation center, currently used as a systemwide parks storage facility, smack dab in the middle of a well-used area of the park. “We’ve been having a conversation about this building since 1994,” says Webster.

The group had already successfully lobbied local Council Member Margaret Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer to earmark $1 million for renovations to the building, but the parks department has yet to propose a new purpose for the building. Webster credits NYCommons for helping get through this most recent round of community visioning for the site. Chin testified at a recent hearing that she supported one of the coalition’s ideas to turn the facility into a daytime drop-in center for the homeless.

Efforts by Webster and the other pilot sites around the city will continue to shape the final NYCommons tool kit and the online platform. Many sites already have data from recent years’ organizing efforts that need to be uploaded. The organizing track records themselves provide vital talking points for future hearings and op-eds and community meetings.

“There’s a real hunger for this in neighborhoods of all different backgrounds,” says Lerner. “Hopefully NYCommons can provide an entrée into a fairly sophisticated, experienced, citywide network of groups who are all thinking along the same lines, putting pressure on government to be responsive, with a similar vocabulary and set of expectations about public assets serving the public.”

Oscar is a Next City 2015-2016 equitable cities fellow. A New York City-based journalist with a background in global development and social enterprise, he has written about impact investing, microfinance, fair trade, entrepreneurship and more for publications such as Fast Company and He has a B.A. in Economics from Villanova University.

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Common space for exchange: cities in transition and citizen struggles | P2P Foundation

How has activism in Spain produced new political platforms that are victorious in municipal elections? Are there stories, lessons, methods or tools that can be shared or translated to other contexts? How might these support the growing movement in France?

Source: Common space for exchange: cities in transition and citizen struggles | P2P Foundation

CommonsPolis — a civil society initiative to create dialogue between progressive municipalist movements and city governments, and European citizens — held an encounter described as “a common space for exchange; cities in transition and citizen struggles” in Paris on November 24, 2016, at the offices of the Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation (FPH) and with the collaboration of the Utopia Movement. Spanish activists from a variety of regions were invited to share with their French counterparts their recent experiences of entering the municipal public administrations, and their efforts to make the political process more participatory and inclusive for citizens. The event was held in Spanish (Castellano) and French, with simultaneous interpretation. I went along with Stacco Troncoso as observers from the P2P Foundation. We were invited to attend, listen, and share our P2P/Commons perspective about the coming political landscape.

The Spanish context was outlined in a handout offered at the event, which described the most significant breakthroughs of the last two years (2015-16). In May 2015, the new citizens’ coalitions which had emerged from the street-level movements were successful in a number of large municipal elections. The path of these citizens’ coalitions traces back to reactions against the failures of Spain’s post-Transition bipartisanism, and their victories indicate a shift in mindset, culture, and power. These new, municipalist “non-parties” are outgrowths of the 15Mindignado movement and “las mareas” (tides), citizens’ initiatives around housing, health, education, culture and urban ecology. They build on prior political traditions of self-management and governance, while also drawing influences from the de-growth, ecology and free/libre movements and applying mindful use of technology and media.

The event began with a brief introduction by Vladimir Ugarte, who described Commonspolis as a mixture of personal and professional developments. Sergi Escribano, originally from Spain, was living in France and observing the tremendous changes shaking up Spanish civil, and political, society. Meanwhile Vlad, originally from Uruguay, brought a Latin American perspective on the political environmental and cultural crisis worldwide. As they witnessed the local governance initiatives taking shape under a municipalist ethic in Spain, they decided to do something about it — but instead of writing a grand manifesto, they would first proceed by listening. This event was created in support of that intention, and to explore the question of how such a shift would scale or transfer to another context – how can the municipal experiences of Spanish activists help inform the next steps elsewhere, in France for example?

From bipartisanism to municipalism: Spain’s Political Landscape

We spent the day together in a clean, modern room with light wooden paneling and lots of windows facing an interior courtyard at the FPH offices. The atmosphere was friendly and familiar, and a number of people had either previously met or corresponded, so the morning started with upbeat conversation and coffee. The organizers called us to sit in a circle to begin, and for the next several hours, the story of the municipal victories in Spain unfolded.

Members ofBarcelona en Comú, Marea Atlántica and València en Comústarted by sharing their perspectives on what provoked the crisis and its reactions in Spain, and the relationships and patterns that they see emerging among the resulting different movements and parties.

A brief look at Spain’s most recent forty years set the context for the stories that would follow. The post-Franco years were marked by the rise and fall of Spanish bipartisanism. The power structures of the dictatorship were largely preserved in one of the two dominant political parties, Partido Popular or the People’s Party (PP), supported by old-guard power players and the Catholic church. Meanwhile, the more moderate and steadily center-leaning Partido Socialista Obrera Español (PSOE), the Socialist Worker’s Party, swiftly abandoned Marxism in the late 70s. In the early 2000s, Spain adopted the Euro with great expectations but, after a decade of speculative action, the quality of day to day life began to deteriorate. Prices went up, but salaries stayed flat. While neither party was solely to blame, neither was innocent. Corruption became more prevalent and obvious. Unprecedented construction speculation culminated in the devastating housing bubble, triggering “the crisis” marked by rising incidences of mortgage foreclosure and eviction, and rampant unemployment.

As we know, this political/economic crisis provoked a widespread activist reaction in Spain, beginning in 2011 with the eruption of the 15-M movement. Five years later, a large part of this activism has since moved indoors from the streets and squares to government posts, but this did not come easily. Power and influence struggles persist, both internally among activists with different missions, and as a by-product of the constraints felt in being a minority power. A relatively low number of seats in parliament poses an obvious disadvantage for those activists now working within government. Progress is often hamstrung by the institutional rigidity of government structures, not to say the baroque quality of Spanish law.

So, how did these activists manage to grab the power needed to break the bipartisan stranglehold? In 2014, 5 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) fromPodemoswere elected, evidence of a strong resistance to bipartisanism. The kind of changes Podemos triggered started on a local scale with municipal platforms, creating networks for every city to work for local change. These platforms are the “how”, but not the “who”, of change; it’s important to remember that any one party, Podemos included, is a part of the platform, and not the whole.

L-R: Vladimir Ugarte (Empodera), Laura Roth (BCN en Comú), Rafa Juan (València en Comú), Sergi Escribano (Empodera), Neus Fàbregas (València en Comú), Daniel Rodríguez (Marea Atlántica), Marcelo Expósito (BCN en Comú), Diego Jimenez (Marea Atlántica). See all participants here.

On the practical level, many people who felt indignation in response to the crisis indeed becameindignadas, activists not just in their own lives but also in electoral politics.“Las Mareas”, or the “tides”, are citizen-activist groups formed throughout Spain after 15M, each acting in a specific sector and often identified by color (green for education, white for health, etc.). Mainly, they help create or safeguard access to different public services hit by austerity policies. La Marea Atlántica, formed in 2014 in A Coruña, Galicia, was formed with another goal in sight. Building on a long tradition of local leftist politics, La Marea Atlántica intended to develop a participative municipal administration. They collected 2,500 signatures towards presenting candidates for city council and also mayor, the latter of which they won in the 2015 elections. There is a special cultural significance in this win: the mayor, Xulio Ferreiro, is the first in office who speaks the local language (Gallego).

As they describe themselves, La Marea Atlántica has several currents. They incorporate the ideals of 15M, but for the platform to be successful, they stress that everyone involved must work together. For example, the platform should not be considered as a projection of Podemos in particular, there are a number of parties represented. It’s a political space where many come together, what they call a “political proposal”.

Marea Atlántica’s online instruments have been created to enable all types of citizens’ participation. “Mareas abiertas” (open tides) is a key element: there are no party-imposed quotas, any individual can participate. The campaigns are completely self-financed. And they continue to develop more participatory, inclusive projects, such asCo-Lab. The website describes Co-Lab as “a recent social innovation project with a mission to improve quality of life for people and have a more egalitarian citizenship, through mechanisms of collaborative, open and re-usable knowledge production.”

But the truth is, they sometimes have difficulties in keeping it all up. The daily management is hard work, and it doesn’t sustain itself without a lot of input. Maintaining a high level of interest and engagement in people sometimes becomes challenging in the flow of action between activism and institutions, even when the processes are open and participatory.

Why have a such wide range and high number of people in Spain have turned to activism? Not long ago, many people were working hard just to pay the mortgage, only to see their job security and financial stability slip away. People started going “underwater” on their mortgages, and the ugly spectacle of police-enforced home evictions proved to be too much to bear without resistance by those affected and their friends, neighbors and communities. 2009 saw the beginning of thePlataforma de Afectados por la Hipotecaor (PAH) — Platform for People Affected by Mortgages — in Barcelona. Through civil disobedience and direct action, people take part in opposing evictions, often putting themselves physically between law enforcement and homeowners— the banks take the property, but the cops take the people.

PAH has successfully prevented well over one thousand such evictions. One of their founding members, Ada Colau, became a spokesperson ofBarcelona en Comú, and more recently was elected the mayor of Barcelona. Where 15M once had people in the streets and squares chanting “no nos representa”—  “they don’t represent us” —  now, in Ada Colau, they have a mayor who emerged from the movement itself. The “en Comú” movements in other cities including València are municipal platforms that have gathered a good deal of public interest and support. From the en comú movements in these two cities, Barcelona and Valencia, many reflections and indeed, even warnings were shared.

En Comú in València is a platform of the streets, now in the transition to electoral politics and campaigns. With its roots in street assemblies, food sovereignty campaigns and the student and housing movements, en Comú identified a shift: people moved toward thinking in terms of “ours”, rather than “mine”. They’ve also crowdfunded their own “improvised” campaign and gained 33 seats in the local parliament. But being in the minority, like La Marea, they’ve got a vertiginous climb ahead.  With the political will to survive, the members of VEC stress that it’s worth the trouble of persisting. Although the process is full of problems, they’re committed to keeping on, moving forward, not losing hope. This is the moment for reality checks but also going back to the roots of the organization, to recuperate what people have in common while also confronting an administration that mainly seeks to take care of itself.

Barcelona en Comú are often asked to tell their story, and they do so “warts and all”, with all of the problems and challenges along with the successes. Yes,they did win in the Barcelona elections, but with 11 seats (out of 41) in city assembly, it’s clearly not enough to govern a city; the change is local and limited, for the moment. While they may form part of the government, the ongoing question is how to be part of a government that doesn’t want you to make changes. So, within the small space between simple legislation and doing nothing at all, BeC is attempting to do something differentwith the many limits and problems at the government level.

Through their organization’s creation and continued evolution, they have come to understand that the change in political discourse has taken place on both the right and the left. Extensive changes are occurring in traditional politics. The left, however, seems to communicate in abstracts, which creates rather than solves problems at the local level. People do not want abstract terms, they wantconcrete solutions.  This must be discussed, but not in the accepted, unquestioned, persistent ways. Results should come by treating concrete problems, being realistic, and going through phases at the local level, growing real participation among people. The PAH platform, for example, has been built step by step, acknowledging every little victory that adds up to something (previously) unimaginable. And finding the appreciation for the small steps is part of the change.

Keenly aware of the masculine style of typical political discourse, along with its implications, the movements in Spain have been working to feminize the discourse and encourage more and better participation. Bringing others into the platforms depends on something mentioned multiple times: an ethical code, designed for open participation and the encouragement of real politics with people creating their own platforms – implementing radical democracy. Participatory conversation creates political change, and the feminization of politics is not only about the political work itself, it also means a change of style.

But these municipal platforms are not solely designed for local citizens; it was made clear, they must be part of a multi-level structure capable of operating at the national, and even transnational, levels. To make this happen, the municipal platforms must coordinate among themselves and beyond. They need to present viable political alternatives that channel the rising resistance to recent right-populist political developments such as Brexit and the election of Trump.

Crucially, each of these new municipalist coalitions has based their work on their“codigo etico”, the ethical codewhichshapes everything they do in the platforms, participation in institutions. This ethical code is developed from existing experiences, and acts as both the glue and the attractor for participants. Its main principles are:

  • No revolving doors (no cycling through public/private positions)
  • Salary cuts
  • Participative program
  • Open primaries — no party quotas, and open to anyone
  • Voluntary/citizen self-financing, and rejection of institutional or bank financing

Caveats and cautions were offered about the problems found in making municipal change. Hard limits, even something like a “glass ceiling”, were described. Some of this is surely due to the experimental nature of this new institutional style grating against the very durable, quintessentially neoliberal, crisis produced by the established political powers. Opposition is not easy, and neither have been these first moves from the streets into municipal chambers. They said it again and again: for all the progress made in Spain, there’s no formula for entering these institutions.

Winning is not the same as gaining power; to gain effective power takes a very empowered citizenship, and citizens are starved of power. Broadening citizen participation is obviously important, but this must be done within the local context, and will create something different in each location — so, again, “recipes” are impossible. While it’s true that the regime crisis has led to a growth in political and urban “lab” environments, making the leap into the municipal government is not simple, and successful attempts at change are slow and hard won. Even the new methodologies employed can cause problems.

Because of all this, thecodigo etico — code of ethics — was described as indispensable. New government is, as has been learned, not always an effective government, and political organizations can be prone to inter-faction disputes. Think inclusively — how might a single, immigrant mother of several children, for example, be encouraged or enabled to participate, and why? For a positive reception to some kind of marea social, or citizens’ tide movement, there must be real solutions and a clear path to participation or there will be no way out of the crisis.

With so much of what’s familiar and concrete being constructs of neoliberalism — business, management, government — the path towards reconstruction from the bottom is difficult, and more so with a repressive legislative architecture. On top of it all, there’s another difficulty. This hard, neoliberal Europe has also produced a rapidly rising, bottom-up, citizen-level force from the right which must be watched and considered closely.

But, what do the movements find when they ask the people what they want? The people are still outraged and anxious. They want assurances of security, to finally get out of the economic crisis. What happens when those who’ve moved into municipal government want rupture, but what the people want is restoration? People say they want to “go back to the way things were”, but not only is that impossible, things were not really so good — but memories are short. This is the key of the extreme right, this ideological message. What’s needed is more empathy.

In conclusion, those presenting from the various movements in Spain all shared that their processes have been a qualified nightmare at times, and that navigating through the crisis has been very hard. But at the heart there remains a source of hope and motivation– sí se puede.

Widening the Conversation

In several small, multi-lingual groups, we had some animated discussions about the enthusiasm, curiosity and doubts in reaction to the initial expositions. What clearly came across were ideas about promoting self-management, the need for exercising caution with the existing paternalism in society, and providing more visibility to self-management practices. People discussed encouraging social empowerment to correct, rather than tolerate, constant institutional blockages, as well as how to promote more social income and participatory budgeting.

Even with some notable differences in the French context, there is a clear need for municipal learning and “unlearning” within concrete, multi-scale, autonomous movements; a need to find ways to resolve the eventual failures, and to put forth proposals that people can use. Strengthening bottom-up narratives and nurturing inclusivity in political practices are fundamentals. Without this shift towards change that remains in service of the community, people will eventually lose confidence.

Instability fomented the change in the Spanish territory, and that original energy continued to provoke changes in the context of the social movements. A strong focus emerged, along with a greatly increased local participation. Investigations into the crisis — what caused it, how to address it — provided a springboard from which people began thinking and working collectively, always keeping those ethical codes in sight.

The trajectory of personal transformation can lead into a political one, and ideas turn to politics. But how would those in the French context follow the work done in the Spanish municipal arena? By introducing the virus of change into the institutions. Study the length of time before elections, and find a way to anticipate what will be needed, and communicate it. Work to avoid power struggles, and work to make those personal transformations integrate into the platforms. This includes feminization to induce noticeable differences in governance — it’s important to dismantle patriarchal constructs, i.e. the tendency for the loudest to be heard, and for the longest time. Oh, and another thing — resolve the tension between just talking to people about problems, and changing things so that communication becomes empowerment.

But what about the fact that people have long adopted completely neoliberal behaviour patterns, right from primary school — how is it possible to address these limitations?At this point,how many people outside of these specialized groups really know how to work in a participatory style anymore? The dialogue has been long lost, and must be recovered, including a change in values. The tension between power and counterpower has to be acknowledged, and differences between “collective” and “commons”, where the commons is a search for construction among people.

Later in the day, some more clues and tools came through from the activists from Spain in an additional round of group work, some more conceptual and some more concrete. Keeping up a good level of critique was cited as a key component, and to avoid forming “bubbles”. Sustainability, in the material sense, can mean using local and complementary currencies, or instigating more activities, rather than just talks — having more action take place in the communities (eg. garden cultivation and instructions).  As far as inclusion, we need more work on “feminization”: get more women to participate, and change the grand-scale masculine logics and ideas for something more feminine, closer. Be inclusive of groups with fewer resources (eg, youth groups) and reach out to those former- or non-activists who feel excluded, cynical or disinterested. Make it all more open to the “others”, and work to maintain that level of inclusion.

Feminization, as it was described, can be a difficult, slow process of experimentation. Knowing this, it’s a good practice to create a protected environment for experimentation, and foster something slower but deeper. Create other forms of organization that are participatory from within the institutions: introduce techniques like speaking in turn, or request participants to give just one sentence, in quick rounds – things that encourage better participation. The goal is to break the usual tendencies for certain people to dominate and certain people to remain silent – time to shake up the comfort zone.

What about all the people who are used to just voting and dropping all the responsibility on the elected officials? And the question of enabling people’s capacities in the spirit of commons – how can this be done? With education, making every action more visible and creating spaces for discussion – actual, physical spaces.  De-localize the decision-making within the platforms. Make proposals to the people, show them the ways to co-create communities using participatory principles, including codes of ethics. Someone could lead by example and propose a work group with specific rules and context, so everyone knows how to participate. Debate questions openly, eg. how to define the urban commons? Technical questions come up, and questions of tech, which is the means through which a large dominion of civic and political information is controlled. Think about how to make the technical solutions compatible with the political ones.

In the final afternoon discussions, there were several proposals following on the earlier dialogues. Why not hold the next European Commons Assembly in a “rebel” city, one undergoing commons-friendly changes, to see more potentially concrete changes and proposals in action. And with the EU elections coming in 2019, more work needs to be done within the commons political network, focusing on “free, fair, sustainable” principles with visible alliances around the different commons – knowledge, social justice, ecology, etc. It’s time to open some common spaces for action where people can learn to make, do and live differently, and discover how to exchange experiences around common development and management (“gestion en común”).

Change-making in France: a reaction

The question that was opened for exploration at the end of the day: exactly what aspects of the citizens’ platforms in Spain might be portable to France? Although it’s understood that the process and results are still in flux, there is ample space for change anda strong desire to experiment with what can be replicated at different scales. So, how to mobilize now – what kinds of tips and tricks might be viable in the French sociopolitical landscape?

In 2014, Spanish activists said “let’s take the city” – a seemingly impossible challenge. One year later, municipal elections were won by Ahora Madrid, and en Comú in Barcelona and València – and although these new parties and representatives may face hostility from inside, the spirit of“sí se puede”has been successfully validated and propagated. With a strong commons culture in France, the possibilities are wide open. How to organize and mobilize? The advice offered was: organize for what already exists, don’t over-politicize, keep to the needs of people in the communities, and work up from small steps.

While there are apparent cultural differences in the French and Spanish contexts, some form of “viral” idea sharing could promote a cultural change towards more widespread citizen engagement, particularly in municipal politics. In Spain, people organized in and from the public squares, where in France this kind of expanded organization may not yet have taken root fully — althoughNuit de bot certainly offers us a good view on how it could develop —  but, that said, it was acknowledged that a movement has beenborn in France with roots in an economic crisis, even if different from that in Spain. For a young person, joining Uber is a lot cheaper and faster than obtaining a taxi license, but this easy entry could have a high cost in eventual precarity.

Conclusions. Where do we go from here?

All the municipalist players from the Spanish territory are working multi-scale (local, national, regional, and now in international dialogues). The coalitions are non-partisan, though inclusive of established political parties. They all want to end the isolation presently perceived at the city level, merging more towards an ideal of the “networked rebel cities”. Overall, the key point made for the French activists was the need to create and implement a common ethical code for participation. Meetings such as this one should obviously evolve to be more diverse and representative of the public at large, as the movements themselves are. As the meeting drew to a close, it was noted pretty bluntly– if we don’t get our shit together, the far right will, in terms of gathering massive support by addressing the concrete needs of people.

As commoners and activists concerned about caring for our neighbours and the environments which sustain us, the responsibility falls on all of us, beyond Spain, beyond France. We are the stewards of change, and this change needs to go beyond boundaries to engage real needs with viable, common-sense solutions. The community empowerment, network logics and feminization of politics displayed by municipalist platforms such as València en Comú, Marea Atlántica and Barcelona en Comú could inspire new bottom-up electoral coalitions in surprisingly different contexts. Let’s spread the word and show the world what happens when concerned citizens decide to take the power back.


“Common space for exchange; cities in transition and citizen struggles”

Event held in Paris on November 24, 2016

Sponsored by – FPH, Utopia Movement,

Lead image by Anna Guzzo. Event images by Jose Luis Iniesta/Empodera Consultures. See the full album below:

#CommonsPolis, Villes en transition y luchas ciudadanas


Why the municipal movement must be internationalist – Medium

The municipalist movements of the Spanish state can’t ignore the global crisis of neoliberalism. It’s up to us to stand up and defend our idea of bottom up, feminist and radically democratic change.

Article by Kate Shea Baird, Enric Bárcena, Xavi Ferrer and Laura Roth, originally published in Spanish in Pú on 21/12/16.

The ‘municipal assault’ that’s been launched in many cities in the Spanish state over the past two years has been dizzying. Neighbourhood assemblies. Electoral programmes. Codes of ethics. Party negotiations. Crowdfunding. Electoral campaigns. Coalition deals. Offices. The streets. Administration. Achievements. Contradictions. Mistakes. Lessons learned. It would be easy to get absorbed in the daily victories and defeats if it weren’t for the turbulent global context in which we live. The Umbrella Revolution. Oxi. Refuggees. Nuit Debout. Brexit. Dilma Rousseff. The peace deal in Colombia. Trump. Le Pen. As urgent as the everyday tasks in our neighbourhoods may be, the municipal movement has the responsibility to reflect on our role beyond our cities and the borders of the state.

More at the Source: Why the municipal movement must be internationalist – Medium

Gov. Jerry Brown: California could ‘launch its own damn satellite’ – Business Insider

Source: Gov. Jerry Brown: California could ‘launch its own damn satellite’ – Business Insider

The governor of California, Jerry Brown, gave a fiery speech at a meeting of scientists Wednesday, promising to fight back against attacks on climate science.

Read More:  Gov. Jerry Brown: California could ‘launch its own damn satellite’ – Business Insider.

Rural Areas Lose People But Not Power

Source: Rural Areas Lose People But Not Power

This story is part of a special series on America’s rural/urban divide.

Jim Wheeler represents Gardnerville, a little town of 5,600 people about a half-hour east of Lake Tahoe, in the Nevada Assembly. Last fall, he gained instant national notoriety when a video surfaced in which he said he would vote to support slavery if that’s what his constituents wanted. He was roundly criticized by media outlets both national and local, as well as leaders of his own party. Wheeler soon apologized.

But some of his other remarks on the tape triggered nearly as great a reaction, at least in Nevada. He suggested that Clark County in the southeast corner of the state—home to Las Vegas and 73 percent of Nevada’s entire population—should be split off from the state. “This is the biggest divide in the state, North and South,” Wheeler said. “Las Vegas wants everything, and they don’t care about the rurals.”

Ever since, legislators from southern Nevada have vowed to take revenge, strategizing about how they can get a larger share of state resources. It should be a snap. “Southern Nevada has had a majority of the legislators and now has a supermajority,” says Jon Ralston, a prominent commentator on Nevada politics. “If the delegation [could] stick together, they could get anything they want.”

Read more: Rural Areas Lose People But Not Power

Global Network of Mayors Join Forces to Combat Climate Change and Inequality – Shareable

Source: Global Network of Mayors Join Forces to Combat Climate Change and Inequality – Shareable

Cities around the world face the effects of climate change and wealth inequality. To address these pressing, global issues many mayors are stepping up as powerful, and vital, voices for creating low carbon, healthy cities that address climate as well as social issues.

At the recent C40 Mayor’s Summit in Ciudad de México, which was the largest group of local leaders fighting climate change since COP21 in Paris, mayors gathered to advance a shared agenda, share knowledge, and increase the visibility of climate solutions in cities.

More here: Global Network of Mayors Join Forces to Combat Climate Change and Inequality – Shareable.


Mayors WorldWide Will Act on Climate, Whatever Trump Does – Scientific American

Source: Mayors WorldWide Will Act on Climate, Whatever Trump Does – Scientific American

Mayors WorldWide Will Act on Climate, Whatever Trump Does – Scientific American.

Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago, from left, speaks while Wong Kam-Sing, secretory of the environment for Hong Kong, and Gregor Robertson, mayor of Vancouver, listen during a press conference at the C40 Mayors Summit in Mexico City, Mexico, on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016.

Leaders from 90 world “megacities” meeting in Mexico City this week are sending a message that they plan to act on climate change—whatever national leaders do.

The sixth C40 Mayors Summit is occurring one year after the landmark conference in Paris, at which nearly 200 countries agreed to take steps to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels. But it is also taking place in the shadow of last month’s election of President-elect Donald Trump, who has promised to “cancel” U.S. participation in the agreement.

In a call with reporters ahead of the conference Monday, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg acknowledged that the world has “a lot of concern” about the track Trump is likely to take on warming.

“But mayors, as we know, have never waited for Washington to act here in the United States,” said Bloomberg, who is also the United Nations’ special envoy for cities and climate change. “They’ve never waited for an international treaty to take steps to protect their citizens and improve public health. And whatever happens, mayors will continue leading by example.”

Bloomberg and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who is the incoming chairwoman of the group, released a report this week showing that the world’s large cities would need to peak emissions by 2020 and then nearly halve carbon emissions for every citizen in a decade to avoid the worst impacts of warming. This compares with a business-as-usual trajectory of a 35 percent increase in emissions over the next four years.

The so-called Deadline 2020 analysis proposes that city governments focus on placing key sectors in building, transportation and urban development on a low-carbon pathway. It estimated a price tag of $375 billion over the next four years for new climate-friendly infrastructure in C40’s 90 cities.

It also set ambitious reduction targets for urban centers. While cities would take the same steps over the next 14 years to achieve either the 2 C target or Paris’ more aspirational goal of containing warming to 1.5 C, the difference between the two goals becomes more pronounced after 2030. The report found that the tighter goal would require cities to zero out their emissions on a net basis by midcentury and make them negative in the second half of the century.

Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation and Realdania offered a joint pledge of $40 million toward supporting actions in cities. It’s part of a recent trend in private-sector support for initiatives on research, phasing out chemicals and other climate issues. But Bloomberg sidestepped a question about whether private dollars might replace some or all of the public commitments the Obama administration made to the Green Climate Fund if Trump withdraws U.S. support.

“Since we haven’t been getting a lot from the federal government, it’s hard to argue that they can cut back a lot,” he said.

“But in all fairness to Trump, we don’t know what he’s going to want to do,” Bloomberg added. The president-elect repeatedly said on the campaign trail that he would rescind all funding for climate programs, signaling out U.N. funds in particular as something he would eliminate.

‘Get on with it’

Today at the summit, Hidalgo will launch an initiative aimed at fostering female leadership on climate issues at the city level. Mayors, including Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C., will participate in the rollout of the Women4Climate initiative, which will provide a platform for climate leaders to mentor younger women and provide networking and capacity-building opportunities.

Research has shown that women in low- and moderate-income countries are more at risk than men of suffering from natural disasters or water and food shortages linked to climate change. But data on how warming might affect women in urban environments are scarcer, and Hidalgo’s initiative will support research into that.

Hidalgo, who is the daughter of Spanish immigrants to France and became Paris’ mayor in 2014, has frequently discussed climate change as a social justice issue with gender implications. She’s not alone. The bench of female climate leaders is very deep, including U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change chief Patricia Espinosa and her predecessor, Christiana Figueres; national leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel; and a number of mayors.

“Women are a very determined lot,” said Lord Mayor Clover Moore of Sydney, Australia, who will participate in the rollout. “I think we hang in there, notwithstanding misogyny and notwithstanding, as I have received, attacks from right-wing media in our city. And we do that because we believe that action is critical, and if we don’t take the action, the future could be disastrous.”

Moore offered her city as an example of how municipal governments can continue to make strides on climate action even as the federal government goes a different way. Australia repealed its carbon tax two years ago and has often been seen as a laggard in the international climate process, though it has ratified the Paris deal. Moore noted that Sydney has made climate action a priority.

With 80 percent of world emissions emanating from urban areas, action at the city level can add up to significant reductions, she said.

“I think the message to U.S. cities is that it’s more incumbent than ever that you get on with it, because it’s up to you, notwithstanding your federal leadership,” she said.

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at

The Global Parliament of Mayors can lead the devolution revolution | Citiscope

Source: The Global Parliament of Mayors can lead the devolution revolution | Citiscope

As the European Union unravels around the recent “Brexit” vote and right-wing populist nationalism, and the United States engages in a presidential primary that seems as much about whether the republic will have a future as about who will occupy the White House, the challenge to citizens is whether they can survive this daunting new interdependent world.

It is a world of terrorism without borders, climate change without frontiers, immigration without documentation and inequality without precedent — and given that the 400-year-old idea of the nation state is in trouble, the challenge is daunting indeed. For with its stubborn commitment to an archaic idea of sovereign independence rooted in zero-sum international relations, the nation state has become increasingly dysfunctional.

In my 2014 book “If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities”, I proposed that cities may be to the future what nations were to the past — efficient and pragmatic problem-solving governance bodies that can address sustainability and security without surrendering liberty or equality. If, that is, they can work together across the old and obsolete national borders. And if they can assume some of the prerogatives of sovereignty necessary to collaboration.

In fact, cities are doing just this. A few years ago, the United Nations announced that a majority of the world’s population lives in cities, while economists recognize that 80 percent or more of global gross domestic product is being produced in cities. From the United Kingdom and China to the United States and Italy, authority is being devolved to cities.

[See: The New Urban Agenda needs to recognize a future of city-to-city networks and trade]

Out of these developments has come the call for a Global Parliament of Mayors, a new body by, for and of cities to address the crisis in democratic governance. As I suggested in the book, it’s time to think about cities rather than nations, mayors rather than prime ministers. After all, their pragmatic capacity to solve problems and their inclination to transactional cooperation across borders makes cities more successful politically than any other extant political body. And their defining diversity makes them far more like the world to which they belong than the mono-cultural states through which they are governed.

To be blunt, cities are emerging as the de facto sovereigns of the 21st century.

The enduring vitality of the metropolis, now fully restored, is hardly surprising. After all, cities are much older than the nation states to which they belong, and much more open and multicultural — and hence more transactional and tolerant — than mono-cultural states, as well.

Moreover, citizens tend to view the city as the primary source of their identity; it is in the neighbourhood that many of our deepest attachments are rooted. States are in their origin abstract and contrived — more “imagined” than given. Cities are where we are born, grow up, go to school, marry; where we play, pray, create and work (thus “the creative city” in Richard Florida’s phrase); where we retire, cultivate our grandchildren, get old and die.

[See: Cities on the world stage: Players or spectators?]

Little wonder, then, that a devolution revolution is underway. As Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City has said, “When national governments fail to act on crucial issues like climate, cities have to do so.”

Civic trust

Cities have of course been cooperating for millennia, from the ancient Mediterranean League of Cities to the Hansa League of the 10th century (now reborn as the New Hansa). Today, climate and sea-level rise have become particular concerns of cities, 90 percent of which are built on water — on rivers, lakes, oceans and seas.

“On average, only a third of citizens around the world say they trust their national governments, while two-thirds or more trust mayors and other local officials.”

In December, the COP 21 meetings in Paris finally achieved a modest general agreement, calling for nations to prevent temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius over average temperatures in the preindustrial era. Still, it appears that real implementation of this cautious and (scientists say) insufficient goal will depend on cities, where 80 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions are generated and the political will is present to act more forcefully than nations are likely to do.

[See: Habitat III must make climate change a top priority]

Indeed, with the work of such networks as ICLEI and the C40 Cities, cities will be a key to the success or failure of the Paris Agreement. Climate change is thus one of the three leading issues the new Global Parliament of Mayors will take up this week in its inaugural session.

And there is no time to lose: Unless COP 21’s modest goals are exceeded by the hard cooperative work of cities, humanity will face a devastating sea-level rise of up to six metres by the end of the century, inundating many great coastal cities around the world. As always, the wealthy will move while women and children, and the poor more generally, will be forced to stay in place and suffer the consequences. Trust in democracy will continue to wither.

Yet polls show that civic trust is city government remains high. On average, only a third of citizens around the world say they trust their national governments, while two-thirds or more trust mayors and other local officials.

No wonder cities are not only cooperating within nations through national municipal associations but also are collaborating across borders in successful global urban networks such as United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), Eurocities, Metropolis and the Compact of Mayors, as well as the United Nations’ Habitat programme, which will convene its third world meeting of cities next month at Habitat III. All of these go far beyond the beguiling but modest “sister cities” programme, proving not just that cities can collaborate — but that they are doing so.

[See: Habitat III should bolster city-to-city cooperation and learning]

Building on this foundation, mayors from around the world will convene this week in The Hague for the Global Parliament of Mayors, which aspires to become a capstone governing body in the broad arch of urban networks. Hague Mayor Jozias van Aartsen will host more than 70 cities large and small, from the Global North and Global South, developed and developing, seaside and land-locked. They will be joined by 30 urban networks and municipal NGOs committed to urban cooperation.

Glocal self-government

The Global Parliament of Mayors will make real the heady idea of empowering cities to speak in a common global voice and develop a platform for common global action. It will aim at common action on crucial global challenges that manifest themselves as urban crises.

“The Global Parliament of Mayors arises from the fundamental impulse to secure a “glocal” (global and local) means of effective self-government, and hence to empower cities and their citizens to act forcefully, consensually and in unison.”

The parliament will focus on two issues in particular. First, it will seek to address the crisis of climate change. Here, cities need to help realize the modest goals of the Paris climate agreement by acting as the engines and enablers of national states whose divisive ideological politics can stand in the way of climate action.

Second, the gathering will focus on the crisis of refugees — economic refugees seeking jobs and political refugees fleeing war and oppression. As with so many other issues, it has been cities that have borne the real burden of the movements of millions of people seeking sustainability and survival.

[See: Habitat III can help migration drive city development]

The Global Parliament of Mayors arises from the fundamental impulse to secure a “glocal” (global and local) means of effective self-government, and hence to empower cities and their citizens to act forcefully, consensually and in unison.

Its aim is neither to compete with nor to encroach upon sovereign nations. On the contrary, it aspires to cooperate with them and with the United Nations in solving common global problems that traditional governing bodies have found difficult to address. At the same time, however, the parliament will insist that cities have not just a responsibility but a right to act on behalf of their citizens, who represent a growing majority of the world’s population and more than 80 percent of its wealth generation.

The Global Parliament of Mayors cannot pretend to represent everyone. But it will manifest the ultimate right of urban majorities across the globe to take action together, beyond the confines of the borders of the states to which they belong — above all, in domains where the global agenda has been stalled or thwarted.

[See: Citizens are telling cities and national governments to cooperate]

After all, the social contract entails an agreement between individuals and a popularly empowered government in which individuals consent to obey the sovereign in return for the sovereign’s guarantee to secure life, liberty and property for those individuals. When a sovereign can no longer assure the ends for which government is established — when, in modern terms, sustainability and security are at risk — that sovereignty is in default.

In such a context, citizens have a right to reassume their natural rights and shift their obedience to such governing bodies as can assure sustainability along with life and liberty.

Municipal sovereignty

We are a long ways from having to embark on a municipal revolution. But the empowerment of cities today and the claim of the Global Parliament of Mayors to legitimacy ultimately do rest on a logic of rights: the right to life and liberty.

[See: The United Nations risks stifling its own progress on sustainable urbanization]

It is unlikely that this logic will need to be invoked to undertake the common urban work both states and cities are likely to welcome. Yet in the face of a sovereign default by nations, there is a new legitimacy for cities to act rooted in a version of municipal sovereignty. Cities acquire the right to govern by virtue of their capacity to do so, whether they act (ideally) in harmony with nations and international bodies like the U. N., or act despite resistance from such bodies.

Ultimately then, the founding of the Global Parliament of Mayors this week will be an experiment in democratic global governance by cities that will depend on the vision, prudence and courage of its founding mayors and those who come to join them in The Hague. This innovative cross-border exercise in democracy and responsibility — rooted in the leadership of visionary mayors and their engaged citizens, and founded on the right of citizens everywhere to sustainable and free lives — represents a historic and constructive moment in unruly and destructive times.

The Global Parliament of Mayors can lead the devolution revolution | Citiscope.

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Can mayors actually rule the world? | Citiscope

Source: Can mayors actually rule the world? | Citiscope

Increasingly in recent years, we have seen growing calls by city governments for more autonomy and new international forms of collaboration. Make no mistake: In so doing, local authorities are seeking to restructure the areas in which they operate in ways that could fundamentally shift longstanding forms of global governance dominated by nation-states.

The movement toward an expanded international role for cities has been enshrined in documents that resulted from the recent Habitat III conference on urbanization. It also has been replicated in multiple new collaborative organizations and activities — the Global Parliament of Mayors in September, the C40 Mayors Summit that took place last week and more.

[See: Cities clamour for a seat at the table of the U. N. countries club]

This is a natural response to trends of globalization and participatory governance, as well as to the fact that some of the most pressing problems of our times are occurring at the urban scale. However, it would be naive to think that national governments will sit by idly as cities and mayors seek to enter and guide global conversations on their own terms. What can we learn from past historical experiences as we forge ahead?

Globalization, while weakening national boundaries, has helped reinforce the importance of the local scale. Lower barriers for cross-border investment, communication and collaboration have allowed cities to make a de facto entrance onto the international stage. Economic globalization has empowered firms and foreign investors to select particular cities for investment in activities that drive both local and national economic growth, such as real estate, finance and services. This means that cities are increasingly becoming the stage upon which the economic future of a nation is set.

[See: The New Urban Agenda needs to recognize a future of city-to-city networks and trade]

National governance structures often have proven unwieldy when dealing with the localized effects of such global problems as climate change, the flow of migrants and refugees, and informal urbanization. Further, trends in technology and the embrace of decentralization have facilitated the emergence of fine-grained, highly participatory governance strategies that are most easily applied at smaller scales.

Against this backdrop, city governments are on the right track in seeking to carve out spaces to outline a more context-specific urban agenda for dealing with today’s global problems. And far from being ghettoized as the site for society’s most pressing social problems — as was the case not that long ago — cities are now identified as key areas of investment opportunity and innovation.

Global mayoral elite

However, any shift toward city-level responsibilities must be accompanied by a corresponding expansion of the governance capacities of local governments, particularly with respect to fiscal and political resources.

“Should cities be empowered to govern themselves as globalized city-states while the nations in which they sit struggle with rural poverty and sprawling peripheries disenfranchised by the urban core?”

Proponents of stronger, more autonomous authority at the local scale advocate an international governance system that shifts decision-making to effective, nimble and highly democratic local governments while also promoting international cooperation and collaboration. On the one hand, doing so brings problem-solving down to the local level, where knowledge of what will and won’t work in that context may be greatest. On the other hand, such efforts allow more direct knowledge transfer across cities.

[See: The Global Parliament of Mayors can lead the devolution revolution]

Decades ago the scholar Janice Perlman started such “co-learning” efforts with her 1987 creation of the MegaCities Project, an experiment that helped create an international conversation about what was working best in cities around the globe. One might even see the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Initiative or Deutsche Bank’s Urban Age project as continuing this storied tradition. (The Rockefeller Foundation supports Citiscope.)

And it would be foolhardy not to link the globetrotting successes of high-profile mayors such as Bogotá’s Enrique Peñalosa to these precedents and to the ever-expanding awareness that city-level innovation can help advance dialogue about pressing global issues. Currently, several events showcasing the activities of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg are drawing global attention from the United Nations and the larger world of climate diplomacy.

But any institutionalized devolution of agenda-setting or convening power away from national governments and toward mayors or other local authorities is bound to be highly controversial. In particular, pushback from national-level actors who want to preserve their authority should be considered before celebrating the rush toward what could be called “global city governance”. We also must recognize the possibility that such activities could merely reproduce a global elite of mayors who are divorced from the urban problems of “ordinary” cities and their citizens.

If we don’t reflect carefully on the obstacles and potential fallout from cities asserting their governance agenda on both the national and the global stages, we could ultimately see new political conflicts over who has the right to govern urban territories.

Decentralization dangers

Decentralization may seem to be a relatively new path towards strengthening urban governance, but in fact cycles of decentralization and centralization have long been with us.

Before the advent of the contemporary nation-state, city-states such as the Hanseatic League as well as medieval and pre-modern cities grew and developed through networked trade routes, largely independent of national-level governance. One consequence was the emergence of “urban communities” with autonomous rules and laws, city-level forms of association and local governance institutions.

[See: The only sustainable city is one co-created by all of us]

Often, however, this form of local governance failed to survive conflict with other potential sovereigns. The reasons for this may be useful for us to understand today.

The nation-state emerged as the dominant form of sovereignty and governance in modern times because it was better equipped than city-states or empires to marshal financial resources, armed support and political legitimacy to prevail in war. Whether the nation-state will prove a historic aberration or whether violent suppression of would-be city-states is possible, now that technological prowess has replaced standing armies as the determining factor of military might, remains to be seen.

Even so, the battles that raged leading up to the consolidation of the nation-state as the dominant form of territoriality are worth remembering. The complex eddies around globalization — such as the return of toxic nationalism in the United States and Europe or the breakdown of supra-national governance systems such as the European Union or the Latin American grouping Mercosul — illustrate their continuing relevance today.

[See: What effect could President Trump have on U. S. cities’ climate action?]

Even if nation-states do devolve significant autonomy to their cities, it is not clear that local governance will be a panacea. Problems with indefinite borders, after all, pose challenges to any established borders of governance — including cities. While local governments may offer more space for experimentation in governance styles and strategies by virtue of their size and number, there is no guarantee that cities will be more successful or innovative.

Moreover, if cities remain at the forefront of national economic growth, national authorities will continue to want to “capture” those gains. Independent of the political conflicts this may produce, any such disassociation of cities from their host nations could have significant negative effects on rural areas, which would increasingly rely on national authorities to redistribute urban gains. Without this response, the future of the nation-state would be threatened.

Some would argue that such challenges can be positive, if only because the cadre of “global mayors” speaking for cities on the world stage so far has had a progressive agenda. But decentralization is neither necessarily innovative nor inherently progressive.

[See: A cautionary note for Habitat III: Decentralization can lead to centralization]

For example, the “decentralization revolution” over the past several decades in the developing world began to shift state power to the local level. Yet in the case of several neoliberal regimes in Latin America, this devolution — undertaken due to economic necessity as much as political ideology, and generally unsupported by national funding — had mixed results at best. In some cases, such as in the satellite cities ringing Argentina’s capital, this process has led to increased polarization and inequality.

We also cannot necessarily equate a more “horizontal” governance model with better and more egalitarian democracy, especially if cities’ administrative borders no longer correspond with their physical footprints. Should cities be empowered to govern themselves as globalized city-states while the nations in which they sit struggle with rural poverty and sprawling peripheries disenfranchised by the urban core?

Reinterpreting territoriality

The problems that lead to demands for territorial change are not fixable with a one-size-fits-all solution of expanded urban autonomy. Rather, the territoriality of urban governance is likely to shift in unpredictable ways, perhaps even producing new experiments with forms of governance that are more flexible, virtual, demand-driven or sector-based.

Different sectors may require different scales of governance, such that services might be fairer and more efficient if multiple territories opt in. Transportation could be a good example of this. Likewise, some territorial boundaries, such as those determining citizenship or perhaps even action on climate change, might be counter-productive if their definitions are linked too closely to territory.

[See: Habitat III and metropolitan governance: Time to act]

Others boundaries, however, such as those imposed for taxation, may allow for more discussion of inequality — although with regard to equitable redistribution of gains, revenue-sharing across territories can serve the same function.

These sorts of inventive interpretations of urban territoriality have arisen throughout history. New York City’s Catskills watershed reserve area is an early example of a city expanding its resources footprint beyond its administrative borders. More recently, São Paulo has made strides toward metropolitan governance, seeking to improve transit integration between the city centre and periphery beyond municipal boundaries.

Any exploration of creative territoriality for the modern context will require a nuanced, adaptive and context-based approach that may include — but should not be limited to — increasing the autonomous power of cities and the visibility of mayors on a global stage. The latter also may call attention to the opportunities at hand. But this should be recognized as only the first step in inching towards new sovereignties that enable us to better address the contemporary problems of our times.

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Can mayors actually rule the world? | Citiscope.

How Urban Governments Are Promoting Worker Co-ops | P2P Foundation

Source: How Urban Governments Are Promoting Worker Co-ops | P2P Foundation

How Urban Governments Are Promoting Worker Co-ops | P2P Foundation.

Here is an important report on pro-coop policies in 10 cities. The full report is available to download through this link. Highlighting some of the most the important findings, the article we’re sharing below was written by and originally published at Grassroots Economic Organizing.

10 Cities Investing in Healthy, Sustainable & Equitable Growth

City governments are shaping up as key actors accelerating worker co-op development. It started in 2009 when the City of Cleveland accessed a federal guaranteed loan to help finance the Evergreen Cooperatives. Since then, nine more city governments have moved to promote worker cooperatives through municipal projects, initiatives, or policies because they want to reach people and communities often left out of mainstream economic development. Other city governments including Philadelphia are considering it now.

Getting worker cooperatives to the scale of being a real market alternative will take time, energy, and the sort of experimentation we are seeing from these ten cities. A recent Imagined Economy Project report, Cities Developing Worker Co-ops: Efforts in Ten Cities, explores how city governments are thinking about their strengths in making worker co-ops structural features of local markets.


Traditional economic development, said Madison, Wisconsin’s Ruth Rohlich in the report, “isn’t helpful in creating really healthy communities, financially strong communities, in an equitable way.” Worker ownership may be a way forward, and city experiences right now will help municipalities decide how worker co-ops may become long-term features of their economic development agendas. To commit to worker cooperative development long term, the cities will need to see modest growth in jobs and business ventures resulting from their current efforts and may benefit from input and insights from worker cooperatives as they continue to adjust their sense of best practices.

Cleveland and New York Leading the Way through Distinct Approaches to Worker Co-op Development

The City of Cleveland ventured into worker co-op development in response to a Cleveland Foundation initiative to set up a network of worker cooperatives connected under a corporate umbrella that planned to supply needed goods or services to hospitals, universities, or other anchor institutions. “I heard about it just in passing,” said Cleveland’s Economic Development Director Tracey Nichols quoted in the report, and the word of mouth led to the first instance of a city getting involved in worker cooperatives in a big way.

The main way the City of Cleveland assisted the initiative was by accessing millions of dollars in federal guaranteed loans and some federal grant funds as startup capital for the Evergreen Cooperatives. In so doing, the city produced the contours of one municipal approach to worker co-op development, termed the anchor approach in the report, whereby the city government role is mainly to finance startups and resolve underwriting risks in what are considered unconventional projects. In Cleveland, Nichols used tax increment financing and set aside the non-school portion of payments in lieu of taxes as a debt reserve for loan repayment to minimize risks to the city.

New York City is the nation’s second large scale municipal effort to bolster worker cooperative development locally. Instead of helping build worker cooperatives as part of anchor institution supply chains, New York is one of five cities taking an ecosystem development approach in the vein of the Democracy at Work Institute (DAWI). A worker cooperative ecosystem, according to a Democracy At Work Institute and Project Equity report, is a series of interacting elements including but not limited to cultural/entrepreneurial familiarity with worker co-ops, supportive laws, customers, capital, technical assistance, and professional service providers that help worker cooperatives emerge and survive.  As part of its Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative, New York committed to funding a collaborative of cooperatives — there were eleven funded in 2015 and fourteen in 2016 — to spread general awareness of the worker cooperative business form, incubate new or converted worker co-ops, and support existing worker co-ops with matters like drafting by-laws, accounting, Board development, and employee participation strategies. The City itself also became part of the ecosystem when it began offering a “10 Steps to Starting a Worker Cooperative” course through its Small Business Services Solution Centers.


The separate approaches have produced modest results, with the three Evergreen Cooperatives for-profit startups employing 113 people (38% member-owners) over several years and New York’s initiative leading to 21 new worker cooperatives involving 141 worker- owners in its first year. While the wage and earnings statistics specific to the co-ops developed through these municipal efforts are unavailable, a Sustainable Economy Research Project report found that worker co-ops in New York pay an average of $25.00/hour but apparently offer less than full time opportunities; the average annual income earned in New York’s worker cooperatives is $18,000.00 according to that report, mostly involving women of color. Current wages and earnings in the Evergreen Cooperatives are also unknown, but 98% of those employed by the three ventures are Clevelanders, 100% are racial or ethnic minorities, and 47% are returning citizens, Evergreen Cooperatives’ CEO John McMicken offered in an email.

Both municipal approaches have been inspirational to other cities. Rochester, New York and Richmond, Virginia are at various stages of planning for municipally-supported anchor-linked worker cooperative projects as part of broader poverty-reduction efforts, while Richmond, California, Madison, Wisconsin, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Austin, Texas are working to bolster and expand worker co-op ecosystems in their cities.

Spread to New Cities Leads to Evolution in the Approaches

The ten city governments are attracted to worker cooperatives as sources of quality jobs, as well as ways to build wealth for individuals and divested communities. Accomplishing those goals will be a matter of “adaptive management,” assessed Berkeley’s Brandi Campbell, as they know they have much to learn. Ultimately, cities want sustained growth of individual co-op businesses as well as multiplier effects in the local economy to result from their investments in worker co-op development. These may be tall orders for geographically-dispersed cities with very different experiences with worker cooperative or broader social enterprise cultures, and the city governments are aware that they will need to readjust their approaches and planning as they learn how to develop worker co-ops by doing it.

Part of learning by doing involves learning from each other. The city governments are motivated to apply lessons from other city experiences as well as from the broader cooperative or co-op developer community. Most of the ten cities active in worker cooperatives are connected with expert consultancies that are playing key roles in helping inform municipal efforts and also bringing insights from other local projects or initiatives with them as they help additional city governments develop their desired approaches to worker co-op development. Certainly, ideas about how municipalities can be most effective in worker co-op development are cross-pollinating, and this has resulted in some evolution of what can be called the Cleveland and New York models of worker co-op development as additional city governments work through the place-based opportunities and challenges related to emulation in their own local areas.

Evolution in the Anchor Approach — from Cleveland to Rochester

The city role in the anchor-linked approach to worker co-op development started in Cleveland as primarily financial, but the newer cities are taking on expanded roles. In both Richmond, Virginia and Rochester, city governments have initiated anchor-linked worker co-op projects from City Hall, so their roles have evolved to include finance but also conceptualization, planning, and active participation in setting performance targets.

Rochester is further along than Richmond in its planning, already having completed a feasibility study in consultation with the Democracy Collaborative or the main architect of Cleveland’s Evergreen Cooperatives. Working with the Democracy Collaborative, Rochester has been able to build upon the lessons from the Cleveland experience. Certain alterations have been built into Rochester’s anchor approach that, ultimately, may help minimize financial risk and potentially allow for quicker growth of the supportive infrastructure built through the corporate umbrella.

First, the City of Rochester is acting to influence the business mix. Said Henry Fitts, Director of Innovation for the City of Rochester, “A lesson learned from the Evergreen experience has been that high-capital startup businesses are a lot more difficult to accomplish through this model.” Rochester is interested in focusing more of its business starts on lower-capital, service-based businesses. For instance, only one of Rochester’s five potential worker cooperatives is a multi-million dollar venture, compared to all three of the Evergreen Cooperatives startups, according to a 2016 planning document released by the Democracy Collaborative. Additionally, the worker co-ops proposed in Rochester are planned to satisfy unmet consumer or anchor institution demands, instead of entering markets already served by existing vendors. Fitts believes this will minimize risk, as well as prevent duplication and competition within the local supply chain.

Second, the anchor approach in Rochester is conceived to build alliances with independently-forming worker cooperatives or conversions as a way of accelerating growth in the cooperative sector. Rochester’s planned nonprofit umbrella corporation — the equivalent of the Evergreen Cooperatives Corporation — plans to offer business services and back office support to other cooperatives. Potentially, this will facilitate profit pooling across a wider universe of co-ops that can be used to finance additional worker co-op starts. Speedy growth in the number and size of anchor-linked worker cooperatives is the best way to benefit worker co-op members, while also lighting a spark in the divested communities where they locate. The concept in Rochester builds a new avenue for growth into the approach.

The Ecosystem Approach in Motion in Madison and Richmond, California

New York’s effort to promote worker cooperative development happened by a collaborative of nonprofit co-op developers that provide technical assistance. As more cities have emulated New York, the ecosystem approach has shaped up, as cities think about the DAWI-inspired ecosystem concept in the context of the particular resources, strengths, and challenges in their cities. In New York, the collaborative of co-op developers organized itself, but this has not been the experience in every city. How to activate a community of worker co-ops or co-op developers is a challenge to overcome in certain places, and trajectories in two cities lead to different answers.

Richmond, California had a difficult experience getting worker cooperatives established through an education-focused program it funded for one year in 2011/12, finding that cooperative entrepreneurs needed more business and social supports than were available. Learning from those challenges, City Councilperson Gayle McLaughlin is helping the nonprofit Richmond Worker Cooperative Revolving Loan Fund, spun off from her time as Mayor, establish a worker cooperative incubator. The planning is funded by the California Endowment and, if established, will provide heavier business supports than the initial City of Richmond endeavor. Incubators have not figured prominently in municipal understandings of how to promote worker cooperatives, but it may be useful in areas like Richmond without much local worker cooperative experience arising organically.

The path forward in Madison is different. Madison enjoys a comparatively rich cooperative history and business culture, but worker co-op development organizations did not join together to lobby for municipal funding as they did in New York. Instead, the Mayor initiated the plan to fund cooperative development through personal interest and more casual interactions with some of the city’s cooperatives. In the absence of a co-op developer collaborative like New York’s, the City of Madison is setting out to organize one itself. After approving budget allocations of $600,000 for each of the next five years, Madison has been encouraging a variety of existing local cooperatives, organizations, and lending institutions to come together to discuss how they can proceed in setting up worker co-op development capacity as well as loan funds.

The city is convening the local organizations, cooperatives, and lenders to decide together how best to divide responsibilities and, said Madison’s Ruth Rohlich in an interview, the group “may have to create new organizations to manage the program as opposed to just adding it to already existing programming.” While the participants have leeway in imagining how they can best make use of Madison’s investment in worker cooperatives, the city government has used its Request for Proposal to place some parameters on the planning process. For instance, Madison expects any organizations contracted for this initiative to work with University of Wisconsin’s Center for Cooperatives (a university-based research center), Shared Capital Cooperative (a cooperative lender), and to include labor unions in planning and implementation processes. Like New York, it will also require reporting so that the city can help troubleshoot if necessary.

Another element introduced in Madison is to make finance capacity an explicit focus for ecosystem building. Madison is devoting half of the funding allocated, or $300,000 per year for five years, for the development of a worker cooperative loan fund. The City of Madison expects whatever fund managers it contracts to be capable of growing the loan fund beyond the city’s contribution, mainly through fundraising plans, matching dollar requirements, or getting financial institutions to set aside percentages of loan capital.

Berkeley and Oakland Join the Wave with a Third Approach to Worker Co-op Development

A third approach aimed at incentivizing worker cooperatives through preference bidding is taking shape in Oakland and Berkeley in consultation with the Sustainable Economies Law Center. Both cities passed resolutions to establish bidding preferences earlier in 2016 for implementation in the coming months or year. Oakland just sent a follow-up ordinance for City Council consideration in October 2016.

While the details are still being worked out for eventual implementation, the resolutions or planned ordinances in Berkeley and Oakland involve worker co-op certification protocols intended to make sure preferences go to truly worker-owned and managed businesses; informational materials to be displayed by the city to incentivize worker co-op starts; and discounts or points for worker cooperatives competing for city bids. Additionally, Berkeley’s ordinance includes some tax and registration exemptions or reductions, as well as expedited land use review.

As preference bidding proceeds, city governments are likely to adjust their approaches. Said Oakland Councilperson Annie Campbell Washington in an interview, “There will be a limited number of worker cooperatives right now who will be able to take advantage of (bidding preferences).” Getting worker co-ops to form in the areas of city purchasing and contracting may prove to be the main puzzle to be solved in growing the worker co-op sector through bid preferences and, ultimately, a focus for experimentation as the approach unfolds over time.

Making Worker Cooperatives a Permanent Urban Economic Development Focus?

In her book The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public Vs. Private Sector Myths, Mariana Mazzucato made the case that government spending is often implicated in cases of transformative innovation, such as that motivating the advocates of worker cooperatives as engines of market change. The spreading municipal commitment to worker cooperatives is notable, not only for the resources city governments bring but also for the connections they can make between worker cooperatives and business, financial, and nonprofit communities as well as other scales of government. Institutionalization or making the city commitment long term or permanent could help produce the sort of sustained attention, effort, and patience needed to scale-up worker co-op sectors.

At this time, the ten city governments have not taken steps to make support of worker cooperatives routine. Rochester’s Fitts expressed in the report a sentiment common among the cities. In Rochester, ongoing municipal commitment will depend on showing, he said, “that this is a feasible and effective method of capturing some of the economic energy, that it can be replicated, and that it can continue to grow businesses of this kind.” New York City has decided to fund year by year, although it could decide to make multi-year commitments in the future.

Worker cooperatives may have additional ideas for measuring and enhancing performance of these municipal cooperative development efforts, as well as deciding collaboratively how city governments can improve their support. But, assuming worker cooperatives perform as desired, city governments cited additional challenges to asses before deciding whether or how worker cooperatives will fit into their economic development plans. First is duplication or displacement of existing small businesses. Oakland’s Campbell Washington relayed a sense that city officials like herself are to “advocate for local independent businesses at the same time I am advocating for worker cooperatives.” Displacement of existing local businesses and the jobs they support are risks in all types of economic development, but innovative cities want to see net growth of opportunity, especially for people at the bottom of the wage hierarchy. Advocates of worker cooperatives can allay some of this challenge by focusing on growing or emerging market sectors when possible, or in areas of unmet demand.

A second challenge to routinizing city commitments to worker development concerns resources. City governments cannot always count on slack budgets and reported needing to make hard choices at times between competing projects. Cities have been important allies to worker cooperatives, but the federal government role could be bolstered, helping cities access an adequate resource base from which to co-create innovations with community.

Finally, some cities are curious to see how well worker cooperatives balance social and business purposes. There is possible tension between getting to social inclusion and remaining competitive in the market, noted Minneapolis’ Daniel Bonilla. Cities want to see outcomes in both areas and, if both can be accommodated, worker cooperatives may become more permanent features of city economic or small business development planning.

[Editor’s note: attempts were made by the author to elicit feedback on the various policies discussed in this article from co-op worker-owners, but none have so far responded.  However, as our mission at GEO is to amplify the voices of worker-owners specifically, we are asking again for feedback from practicioners on these municipal policies. It would be especially helpful to hear from worker-owners in the cities discused about their experience of the programs so far.  We encourage everyone, but especially worker-owners, to respond in the comments section.]

Photo by smata2