The commons transition: it’s all about pooling resources


Publication date

July 26, 2017

Interview with Michel Bauwens, President of the Foundation for P2P Alternatives

Mr Bauwens, since March 2017, you have been assisting the city of Ghent, Belgium, with a “commons transition” project. At a time when European towns and cities are working on their roadmaps towards a desirable future by 2050, what can you tell us about this specific project? How does it interact with existing approaches such as energy transition and climate plans?

The question underpinning the energy and climate transition is: to what extent is the necessary change compatible with the prevailing structures and the supremacy of a form of market that can be viewed as too extractive given the natural resources and environmental issues? One possible answer is that we must increasingly encourage the pooling of resources, what we call “commons”. Pooling resources is of vital importance to reduce the use of materials and energy in our societies and has been the solution used by civilisations throughout history in times of crises.

Commons are shared resources managed in a participatory way by communities of users according to their own standards. The dynamic, therefore, comes neither from the state nor the market. Commons are gaining momentum everywhere, especially in the immaterial world through the pooling of knowledge, and also increasingly with respect to urban goods. One example of this is the regulations on the commons in Bologna and already 140 Italian cities where citizens can make proposals for using urban resources with the consent and support of local governments.

The Ghent project involves mapping the city’s commons (according to a study by the Think Tank Oikos, the number of initiatives has increased tenfold over the last ten years), identifying shared resources, asking citizens what kind of support they expect from urban policies and finally, an important issue given the current context, whether it is possible to relocate food and industrial production in or around the city.

According to the testimony of a number of Energy Cities’ member cities, one of the essential factors for a fair energy transition and for achieving 100% renewable energy supply lies to a large extent in the solidarity mechanisms between rural and urban areas. What would you recommend to cities engaged in this type of approach ?

We are currently facing a double crisis where the state and market alone are unable to achieve the necessary energy and ecological transition. The city is closer to citizens and an increasing number of them are engaged in community transition initiatives. In my opinion, “sustainable development emancipation platforms” should be set up for the production of all essential goods, i.e. food, housing, mobility, etc.
These platforms must bring together all transition stakeholders to help transform extractive techniques into generative approaches and they must advise cities on their transition policies. But doing all this alone would be absurd; this is why transnational and trans-urban structures have to be created to ensure “global mobilisation, local experimentation and viral dissemination”!

Cities must collaborate with each other to support the construction of these new, shared and open infrastructures. This approach is evident in the Fab City project and the Barcelona Pledge, by which 16 local authorities have pledged to relocate 50% of food and industrial production in the city. The new motto is neither Trump protectionism nor destructive neoliberalism but is based on the following rule: “what is light is global and what is heavy is local”. We call it cosmo-localisation or the “subsidiarity of material production”.

Michel Bauwens is the founder of the Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives and works in collaboration with a global group of researchers in the exploration of peer production, governance, and property.

© photo: P2P Foundation