The Declaration of Urban Civic and Collective use, implemented by L’Asilo (Naples) is an example of how a grassroots organisation can make a creative use of the law (see tool 4) in partnership with public authorities, and create a legal tool for self-government.
The Declaration of Urban Civic and Collective Use was created by L’Asilo, a grassroots organisation and activist space. This document was created in a participatory way and played a fundamental role in securing a legal status for the organisation. In the Declaration, the activists of L’Asilo explain that the space is a cultural laboratory based on the principles of participatory democracy, self-government, impartiality and accessibility that is interdependent to the community of its users. This interdependence is connected to the concept of “public property strengthened by popular control”; the building remains property of the government, but it is managed by the community through participatory democratic practices. The Declaration can be seen as a form of partnership between the public and grassroots spheres; as explained by Capone, “The basic idea is that the management of Urban civic and collective use should be a shared management: the government should be the manager of the property, therefore providing maintenance and creating the conditions for a social and cultural environment where the community would be able to exercise its self-regulated collective rights in order to use the property which, in many cases, they contributed to bring back to public enjoyment” (2017, p. 140).
L’Asilo’s internal system of participatory governance includes a group of round tables that focus on different aspects of the management of the commons. One of these round tables focuses on self-government and led the participatory process of the writing of the Declaration of Urban Civic and Collective Use. In order to do so, a lot of effort went into researching the Italian legal system and liaising with the local council; more information about this process can be found in tool 4, creative use of the law. This was a lengthy and complex process; it needed “More than 146 public meetings for managing the Ex Asilo Filangieri’s self-governance. More than 580 days of public worktables for the detailed study of the projects and the proposals. More than 14000 attendances at the direct administration of the Ex Asilo Filangier’s self-governance through public meetings for its management” (Pascape`, 2017). The process that led to the completion of the Declaration, thus, encompassed a thorough study of the Italian legal system, a participatory process that took into account a range of different voices and an open dialogue with the city council. The resolution is rooted on a key principle of the Italian constitution: in article 43, which states: “For the purposes of the common good, the law may establish that an enterprise or a category thereof be, through compulsory purchase authority and subject to compensation, reserved to the Government, a public agency, a workers’ or users’ association, provided that such enterprise operates in the field of essential public services, energy sources or monopolies and is of general public interest” (Senato della Repubblica, 2018). The concept of common good is essential in the work of L’Asilo, which provides important public services to the community. Another important constitutional concept that was at the core of the declaration is “uso civico” (see tool NUMERO in Culture, commons and politics). In order to trace the steps that led to the recognition of the Declaration of Urban Civic and Collective Use, it is not only necessary to discuss the work carried out by the activists of L’Asilo, but also the various local policies that were used in the declaration to support L’Asilo’s case. This series of resolutions of the City council of Naples are testament to its engagement with the safeguard of the commons, and are also an example of the result of the successful dialogue between the activists and the local government. The resolutions will be presented here in chronological order. They are all accessible on the Municipality of Naple’s web page dedicated to the commons (see “Documentation). Resolution 740, 16 June 2011 This resolution asserts two fundamental statements: that water is a commons, and that not only experts, but also “active citizenship” organizations should be involved in consultations surrounding its management. This resolution introduces the concept of commons in the Neapolitan local government and acknowledges the role of participatory processes and active citizenship organisation, which also include activist groups. From a legal viewpoint, this is an important starting point for the creation of the Declaration. Resolution 24, 22 September 2011 This document contains an important amendment to Article 3 of the Statute of the Municipality of Naples, introducing a new paragraph that states that the Municipality acknowledges the commons and their interconnectedness to the individuals’ fundamental rights, ensuring their enjoyment within the municipal context. The role of this document is crucial in legitimizing the experiences of L’Asilo as a commons. Resolution 400, 24 May 2012 This document represents a turning point in the relationship between L’Asilo and the municipality, as it states that the building is a “space of complex use in the cultural field” that is open to the citizens and based on participatory practices. This is a de facto recognition of the role of the activists of L’Asilo in creating an experimental space for cultural practices that is open, accessible and has a participatory nature. Resolution 17, 18 January 2013 This resolution states that the Municipality of Naples implements the Regulation on the management of the commons and sets out to identify publicly owned assets that can be managed as a commons. This Resolution 521, 11 July 2013 The Municipality of Naples adopts the Charter of Public space, which states that the public space is a commons and proposes participatory forms of its co-management with local communities. This is a further step forwards in the recognition of the social importance of the commons and of the administration’s commitment in their safeguard. Resolution 258, 17 April 2014 This document contains a proposal for the creation of a procedure, in partnership with the local Observatory for the Commons, that can identify potential assets that can be managed by self-governing groups and / or committees of citizens. Furthermore, it addresses the recognition of existing activities related to the safeguard of the commons and that carry out socially valuable work with marginalised groups. Resolution 893, 29 December 2015 This resolution can be seen as the final step of the dialogue between the activists and the municipality; it was also an important milestone in the legal recognition of urban commons in the Italian legal system. It states that L’Asilo is officially part of a list of spaces that designed to have civic and collective use. It officialises the role of the administration in supporting the space, as the Municipality owns it, but it also recognizes its self-government of the community of L’Asilo. These resolutions were important tools in the development of the Declaration of Urban Civic and Collective Use. L’Asilo was able to both influence the creation of some of these resolutions, and to use them creatively (see “creative use of the law”) to shape its own legal tool.
As stated in tool 4, at the roots of the activities of L’Asilo there is a protest of cultural workers and activists who occupied the Complex of St Gregorio Armeno in 2012. After occupying the space, activists started running it as a cultural organisation, creating a wide range of cultural activities and engaging with the local community. It is possible to argue that the activists occupied not only a physical empty space, but also a symbolic one. With the progressive cuts to funding and de-regularization of work, the state had left an “empty space”: a space for cultural professionals to reclaim the dignity of their profession and to work independently. Another symbolic empty space left by the state was the social dimension of culture: with its strong focus on culture as “Italy’s oil”, something to be sold and exploited, the state has been overlooking issues of inclusion and accessibility to culture and the arts. Therefore, the activists decided to fill a gap left by the government by making access to culture as inclusive as possible and by experimenting with the creation of spaces for social interactions inside a cultural space. The Declaration of Urban Civic and Collective Use marks the occupation of another “empty space”, that is, a legal framework for a self-governed commons. A crucial aspect of the creation of this legal tool is that, unlike other similar regulations, it was directly the result of a participatory process that was carried out within the organisation. This is consistent with Ostrom’s principles of contingent commitment; according to Ostrom, the rules followed by community of “appropriators”, that is, the community that uses and manages a commons, “are designed, at least in part, by local appropriators (design principle 3)” (1990, p.85). However, Ostrom also argues that it is necessary that authorities, such as the State, acknowledge the rights of appropriators; for this reason, legal frameworks are needed. This does not imply a top-down legalisation of the commons; instead, it can be a participatory, grassroots process. The commons do not adapt to existing legal frameworks, but rather creatively interpret them to generate new tools. Starting from Article 43 of the Italian Constitution, which states that the law can expropriate and private enterprises and transfer them to a community of workers, if that is done for the sake of the common good, L’Asilo was able to bring about a process of creative use of the law (see tool 4). Indeed, Article 43 was originally thought as an instrument for nationalising private enterprises should they act against the common good, but the wording of the article was used in a creative way.
Capone, N. 2017. The Concrete Utopia of the Commons. The Right of Civic and Collective Use of Public (and Private) Goods. Philosophy Kitchen, issue 7, https://doi.org/10.13135/2385-1945/3871 Comune di Napoli. 2020. Beni Comuni. https://www.comune.napoli.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/IT/IDPagina/16783 Ostrom, E. 1990. Governing the commons: the evolution of institutions for collective action, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. Pascape`, F. 2017. Municipality of Naples: building a road to the commons, presented at Innovative City Development Meeting 2-3 March 2017 – Madrid,Spain. Available at https://www.academia.edu/36899590/Municipality_of_Naples_building_a_road_to_the_commons Senato della Repubblica. 2018. Costituzione Italiana - Edizione In Lingua Inglese. Available at https://www.comune.napoli.it/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/IT/IDPagina/16783