The Italian Local Regulation on Commons and the Collaborative Pacts

Written by

Daniela Ciaffi
Member of the Board of Labsus – the Laboratory for Subsidiarity
and Researcher in Urban Sociology at the Palermo University (Italy)

“State, Regions, Metropolitan urban areas, Counties and Cities have to help the autonomous initiative driven by citizens, as individuals or associated, in order to carry on activities for the general interest, according to the principle of subsidiarity”(Constitution of the Italian Republic, art. 118, last subsection: 2001). Until the mid-2000s, this powerful constitutional principle continued to remain close to utopia. Gregorio Arena had then the idea to create Labsus: a laboratory on Subsidiarity in the form of an on-line journal. The goal was and is to make Subsidiarity real. In 2004 began to give visibility and networking to an ever growing number of spontaneous experiences driven by citizens all over Italy. They were all active taking care urban and territorial commons.

While the Italian Constitution (art.118, last subsection) recognizes the passage of citizens from the role of administered subjects to the active role of administrative allies, the same legislation enacted regional laws and local regulations which until the spring of 2014 continue to consider them as passive subjects. In 2012 Labsus started to play the role of consultant of the City of Bologna issuing the first Local Regulations for the Shared Administration. The principle of Subsidiarity was finally translated in an administrative routine for an Italian local administration via a simple technical and legal instrument.

After only one year, about six thousand Italians downloaded the Regulations on the Labsus website and very heterogeneous profiles of active citizens push their local administrations to follow the example from Bologna. A silent revolution is actually ongoing in more than 120 Italian cities. The example of Bologna is followed by metropolitan urban areas both in the North and in the South of the Country, such as Turin and Bari, medium and very small cities, together with rural zones and also groups of municipalities located around commons, i.e. the Bracciano lake near Rome.

These first pilot cities and territories accepted the challenge of try to practice the sharing administration of commons in various ways. The levels of awareness of the deep cultural evolution ongoing in the overall Western world – and not just in Italy – are of course very different. What is innovative is the unusual collaborative attitude to face the complexity of urban and spatial problems, the poverty of resources, the crisis effects.

Cities have gradually made some changes to the first version of the Regulations to make the basic text more appropriate to the different contexts, but three basic articles are still present:

  • article 1 which focuses on a revolutionary presupposition for a bipolar system (active administrators versus passive administered) and competitive culture as the one from which we all come: «Collaboration between citizens and the administration is expressed through the adoption of administrative acts of an egalitarian and non-authoritarian nature, and realizes shared administration»;
  • article 4 which gives a definition of active citizens by specifying that there is no need for « other titles of legitimacy to take care of the common property in a shared way because these actions are a concrete manifestation of the participation in community life and a tool for the full development of the human person; as such they are open to all». Citizens can remain informal for their collective and not adopt legal status;
  • article 5 of the Local Regulation for Shared Administration defines the Collaborative Pact «as the instrument by which the city council and the active citizens agree on all that is necessary for the implementation of care, regeneration and management interventions on commons». The Pacts can be proposed by the public administrators as well as by the citizens, by informal or formal associations of citizens. Pacts can be simple or complex. The first category includes the Pacts referred to the maintenance of local green space, the animation of the territory by small events and so on. The second category includes the Pacts which have as their object the regeneration of commons such as the reuse of places and buildings, or innovative forms of co-management, which are not manageable by traditional administrative procedures.

The core of the simple and complex Pacts is the recovery of citizens’ sovereignty, which releases their energies and demonstrates that being active often improves one’s own quality of life and that of all. Two examples we love, among the list of about five hundreds Collaborative Pacts that have been signed so far in Italy, and we selected as concluding examples are related to traditionally excluded subjects:

  • one of the first Pacts signed in Bologna is agreed among a group of inhabitants, “street dwellers” and the municipal council. It is about the service of opening and closing a public garden guaranteed by the homeless. They become formal contractors of the Pact. The inhabitants guarantee to them their roof to sleep in a public dormitory through a “community funding”;
  • a high symbolic value Collaborative Pact was signed by the Terni Town Council, a Catholic parish, a leftist association and the local system of protection for asylum seekers and refugees (Sprar): the object is the creation of a community of practice through the interaction in the maintenance of a green space that becomes a common good.

Another very interesting interpretation of the Pacts as new arrangements for shared administration exists when some existing projects have to build their own sustainability. This is the case for processes that have been supported by philanthropic organizations for a limited period of time, and are likely to disappear.

The question is: may these few pages of the Local Regulation for Sharing Administration be the missing device? Have we – as sociologists and urban planners – underestimated the administrative law perspective about our right to the city? Also if the goal of the Pacts may seem limited and episodic, it should be noted that each Pact represents a new source of law! The first hundred Italian cities that administer their own tangible and intangible resources in a shared way are therefore developing a new collaborative style of governance of the city and territory.

Pacts are of course changing the balance of local power and the reactions face to the shared administration are normally twofold: on the one hand, there are those who enthusiastically welcome the possibility of assuming a public role, of building new alliances and of expressing one’s creativity. On the other hand, there are those who reject this change because their own privileges and advantages seem to them to be threatened.

See also: Ciaffi D. (edited by), 2017, Rapporto Labsus 2016