2018Zeitschriftenartikel DOI: 10.18452/19981
Commoning the city, from data to physical space
Evidence from two case-studies
This article describes the phenomenon of commoning the city. It is understood as the co-production of new resources and/or the process of reclaiming existing assets (public or private) as a commons. We report on two original case studies (in New York City and Berlin) where the constitution of a data commons has been the starting point of a wider process of commoning the urban physical space: vacant public land on the one hand, and public fruit trees and other urban edibles on the other hand. Commoning the city in the digital age is therefore described as a hybrid process spanning over from the digital to the physical urban space, online and onland. In contrast to the smart cities approach, it lays a more citizen-oriented narrative of the impact of digitalization on urban life. This article addresses the research questions: How does the hybrid commoning process of (1) data and the related (2) public space take place? What is the role of the grassroots providers of the collaborative mapping infrastructure? Methodologically, the case study analyses are structured following existing adaptations of the Institutional Analysis and Development to the specificities of knowledge/information commons by Frischmann, Madison et al. (2014). Results show that, beyond appearances, the commoning of data is mostly a means, attracting visibility and attention, for an end: the wider commoning of urban land. The true focus of the action arena resides around the self-governance of land and trees and the constitution of local communities. A trend in the evolution of the role of local authorities towards a more collaborative state is confirmed and seems partly explained by increasing financial austerity forcing local governments to rely more on local civic actors. Another reason is that data makes city government more porous to bottom-up action. However this requires good practice in opening urban data sets, the existence of local civic capacity, and active community organizing (much) beyond the digital world. We conclude by suggesting an analytical departure from the IAD framework and its naturalist conception that approaches the commons as a resource and, as a consequence, forces an artificial divide between the intangible and tangible dimensions of the commoning process. Subsequently, we recommend approaching the phenomenon we identified as ‘commoning the city’ as a living practice of collaboratively producing a shared experience of the place, where the intangible (data) and tangible (land), the human and non-human, are seen as a whole.
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