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City as Commons Stavros Stavrides Mathias Heyden


Content 6 Urban Commoning = The ‘School’ of we! Mathias Heyden 14 Common Space: The City as Commons An Introduction Stavros Stavrides 55 Image Credits


Urban Commoning = The ‘School’ of we! Mathias Heyden

“Comunalidad defines both a collection of practices formed as creative adaptations of old traditions to resist old and new colonialisms, and a mental space, a horizon of intelligibility: how you see and experience the world as a We.”1 This quote, from the Mexican philosopher and activist Gustavo Esteva, reflects a central motif of Stavros Stavrides’ text in this volume. An Athens-based architect, engaging in research, teaching, and activism, Stavrides counts among the few practitioners dealing with those spatial resources that should be neither public nor private, and should belong to everyone and to no one. It was on this basis that he was invited to lecture on the City as Commons on September 17, 2016, within the framework 1

Gustavo Esteva, “Hope from the Margins,” in The Wealth of the Commons: A World beyond Market & State, eds. David Bollier and Silke Helfrich (Amherst: Levellers Press, 2012).


of the project Ene Mene Muh und welche Stadt willst Du? Contributions to the Berlin state election 2016 at neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst (nGbK) 2, and it is in the 2

The exhibition and accompanying event series, a project by the initiators of the Berlin Journals— On the History and Present State of the City, in collaboration with Mathias Heyden, took place between September 10 and October 3, 2016, at nGbK. Ene Mene Muh und welche Stadt willst Du? addressed the theory and practice of participation. Using Sherry Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation (1969) as a starting point, interviews were conducted with members of the initiatives Stadt von Unten, 100% Tempelhofer Feld and Kotti & Co. Arnstein’s text, which was first published in the Journal of the American Institute of Planners, describes a very simplified structure of citizen participation, but with a provocative claim: Real participation in political and planning-related decision-making processes implies power for the citizens. Arnstein distinguishes between eight categories that—like the rungs of a ladder—range from manipulation and therapy, via informing, consultation and placation, to partnership, delegated power and citizen control. Each level marks a higher degree of civic power. What role can the models used in the 1960s and 70s play today? What desires impel the protagonists, and what kind of participation do their forms of resistance, demands and negotiations with politics aim for? What are the possible paths to a socially just city development from below? The conversations with Robert Burghardt, Anna Heilgemeir, Enrico Schönberg, Kerstin Meyer, Ulrike Hamann and Sandy Kaltenborn resulted in four terms defined by colored lines marking fields in the exhibition space: empowerment, eye level, control of politics (by the general population) and self-management. Within or between these fields one could find a subjective selection and arrangement of historical and contemporary events, projects and initiatives, shown in photographs and videos, and contextualized by texts on the wall. A range of publications and three documentary films accompanied the spatial diagram, meant to spark discussion, serving additionally as a reference system for the event series of Ene Mene Muh und welche Stadt willst Du?: radio readings, lectures and talks on


interest of reaching a wider audience that his lecture3 is published here in a reworked version. Conceptualized as a spatial diagram, the exhibition and accompanying event series challenged institutionalized forms of citizen participation and countered such mainstreaming of participatory processes with the urgent demand for actually taking part in city development. The terms structuring the exhibition space—empowerment, eye level, control of politics (by the general public), and self-management—emphasized that co-determination must be followed by co-decision. In other words, if the increasing calls for the renewal of democracy are meant seriously, then the unobstructed access to power must be guaranteed to all people. This means, in turn, the equal access of all people to societal value creation. The urgent demand for actually taking part in city development goes hand in hand with the debates and struggles for the socialization of material and immaterial goods, since, ultimately, the city belongs to everyone involved in its daily (re)production! In this sense, Stavrides’ contribution to the field of urban commons and urban commoning is fundamental. He does not advocate for the reform of the existing; unlike much of the recent work in this field, his is marked by the refusal to plead for a bit more citizen participation here and a bit more direct democracy there. Instead, he asserts that the prevailing global societal, political and economic relations lead to a permanent state of crisis. It is against this backdrop that Stavrides identifies and analyzes particular strategies of spatial appropriation


the topics of right to the city, urban commons, public property, housing policies, community organizing and direct democracy. The title of the lecture, Common Space: The City as Commons (In Common), was based on Stavrides’ book of the same name, published in 2016 in the series In Common by Zed Books in London. The subsequent discussion was moderated by Ulrike Hamann and Mathias Heyden.


in order to emphasize their emancipatory potential: the collective and solidarity-driven, self-empowered, selforganized, and self-managed production and reproduction of urban commons. In the reading that follows, neither procedures nor instructions are to be found on how to end these relations of domination or, for example, how to prevent speculative real estate projects. Stavrides seeks instead to investigate the principles of spatial commons within social practices— for the creation of common spaces, thereby advocating for the city as commons. Understood in this way, Stavrides’ text can be interpreted as a challenging invitation to a visionary journey, toward a conscious reading of how the world as a shared space might be a place for everyone who is acting in it. Nevertheless, he offers concrete inspiration for agency in the form of activist-procedural movements along the way toward an egalitarian, and therefore just societal framework. Stavrides’ precise rendering of urban commoning—which not only defends the existing urban commons but also brings forth new ones, both developing and maintaining them—makes tangible a radical (re)imagining and (re)shaping of society, reaching down to its very roots. The corresponding feeling, thinking, and doing goes hand in hand with processes of both committing to and understanding world-views, beliefs and values, knowledge and experience—including profound processes of exchange about what one finds right or wrong, where one comes from and where one is going. This is the only way to co-determine and co-decide the why, where, when, and how of sharing what should be neither public nor private, and should belong to everyone and no one. More specifically, Stavrides’ text demands clear-cut positioning within societal debates and struggles. He maps out institutions of commoning and states that these must always exclude the accumulation of power, while remaining permanently open to newcomers. His theses on public space are also a plea for a permanent openness. Public

Spaces of commoning – neither private nor public


Next I will discuss various socio-spatial examples to support my approach to commoning: what does it really mean to talk about spaces of commoning? Common space must be distinguished from what we call public space, in that common spaces are developed as a common ground, as areas of negotiation or of collective endeavors created out of necessity. In contrast, public space has always been connected to the governing body that authorizes its use. Depending on the characteristics of such authorities in different historical periods, established rules of use can range from autocratic to those generally based on democratic values. Nevertheless, public space always describes areas that are supervised, surveilled or controlled—by whatever authority regulates their use. Common space, however, is created through participatory processes by establishing relations of comparison and translation, as described above, while limiting possibilities for the accumulation of power. A common space is a space that can always be in the making; emerging as people collectively develop their relations. This is why I tend to think of common space as a kind of threshold or in-between space.

Common space – threshold space – in-between space: social artifact As I have argued, common space should not and cannot be theorized as being defined by a specific perimeter. If it is to remain open and thus permanently inviting newcomers, common space is always in the making. If common space is circumscribed by conditions that define exclusive owners or users, then it will, in the best case, devolve into a limited public space or will be contained


and privatized within an exclusionary community. I would maintain that the threshold character of common space is a necessary quality, allowing common space to remain distinct from both privatizing enclosures and from public space as we know it. Threshold spatiality sustains the character of common space as commons, as a form or condition through which people constantly negotiate their relations and subsequently develop rules, uses, etc. Common space is a social artifact created collectively. Rather than being a place for the preservation of a common group identity, it is a set of spatial relations that supports sharing in different forms. Common space becomes not only something to be shared but a factor shaping sharing itself. It can exist as long as people continue to (re)produce the various forms through which historically-specific institutions of commoning articulate social space and time.

Rise of urban commoning? Can we speak of a rise of urban commoning? Can we locate emerging experiences of common space as characteristic of our time? Or is common space simply a reinvention of communal space? I believe that we are experiencing a period of proliferation of the spatial practices of commoning. People do not necessarily refer to such spaces as common spaces, but they are creating common spaces—not simply appropriating public or private spaces for other uses. In my view, this is happening because we are witnessing a period of socioeconomic crisis, deeply affecting urban life. In those cities and regions where this crisis is most devastating to existing social relations, the results are even more visible. The deterioration or destruction of the welfare state and the imposition of autocratic regimes (in many cases to maintain harsh policies of socioeconomic inequality) have dramatically reduced the possibilities for

Berlin Journals—On the History and Present State of the City #4 City as Commons Mathias Heyden (ed.) Produced on the occasion of the project Ene Mene Muh und welche Stadt willst Du? Contributions to the Berlin state election 2016 neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst, Berlin, 2016/17,

May 2018 Text: Stavros Stavrides, Mathias Heyden Editorial coordination: Valeria Fahrenkrog, Florian Wüst Copyediting: Florian Wüst Translation, proofreading: Anita Di Bianco Image processing: Gabi Rada Design: Ana Halina Ringleb, Simon Schindele E-book production: Janine Sack Cover photo: View of the former Berlin wall border strip towards Berlin-Gropiusstadt (Detail), 2012, photo: Ines Schaber    Published by: EECLECTIC ,, Berliner Hefte zu Geschichte und Gegenwart der Stadt (Valeria Fahrenkrog, Joerg Franzbecker, Erik Göngrich, Heimo Lattner, Katja Reichard, Ines Schaber, Florian Wüst),,   © The author, editor, Berliner Hefte zu Geschichte und Gegenwart der Stadt e.V., neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst e.V. and EECLECTIC   ISBN 978-3-947295-05-0 (e-pub) ISBN 978-3-947295-11-1 (pdf) German version: Gemeingut Stadt ISBN 978-3-947295-04-3 (epub) ISBN 978-3-947295-10-4 (pdf) ISBN 978-3-946674-03-0 (print) Distribution printed version (in German only): Books People Places, Kulmer Straße 20a, D-10783 Berlin, +49-30-23633447,, The editor would like to heartily thank all those involved, in particular Valeria Fahrenkrog, Joerg Franzbecker, Ana Halina Ringleb, Simon Schindele, Stavros Stavrides and Florian Wüst, as well as Sandra Bartoli, Ulrike Hamann and Ines Schaber.   The nGbK would like to thank the Senate Department for Culture and Europe for its support, and the LOTTO-Stiftung Berlin for financial sponsorship.  

“Commons is not something that just exists out there, nor is it something that is objectively present in certain resources or things. It is a relation of people with the conditions they describe as essential for their existence, collectively,� writes Stavros Stavrides, architect, activist, and author of Common Space: The City as Commons. Stavrides understands the creation, development, and maintenance of commons as a social practice that radically challenges capitalist values and hierarchical forms of social organization. Constructed in this way, urban spaces differ both from private enclosures and from public space as we know it: common spaces are permanently inviting and continually in the making, spaces which are not simply shared but through which sharing itself is shaped. This book, edited by Mathias Heyden, provides an introduction to Stavrides’ thinking about the City as Commons. Occupied squares, self-managed facilities and autonomous neighborhoods in Greece and Latin America exemplify his theory of urban commoning, which, within the context of the global debates and struggles for social and economic justice, points in the direction of a truly emancipated society.

Erhältlich als E-Book bei: EECLECTIC Digital Publishing for Visual Culture oder als Buch bei: Books People Places

Mehr Informationen: BerlinerHefte zu Geschichte und Gegenwart der Stadt

City as Commons  

Stavros Stavrides, Mathias Heyden Berlin Journals—On the History and Present State of the City #4. Thoughts about urban commoning

City as Commons  

Stavros Stavrides, Mathias Heyden Berlin Journals—On the History and Present State of the City #4. Thoughts about urban commoning