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Urban inhabitants' common rooftop gardens and meeting spaces in Rotterdam..

Commons are collectively owned resources, collaboratively managed by their co-users under formal or informal governance systems. They form management institutions that are finely attuned to the specifics of place and closely link ecological, social and cultural realities. For this reason, traditional commons are a crucial ingredient in all documented cases where human groups self-organise to achieve sustainability and/or resilience. In addition, many social movements concerned with sustainability, justice and related matters are dedicated to the creation of new commons, creating new institutional forms that transcend the limitations of state and market.

Commons based governance

Well-governed commons are resilient, self-limiting, adaptive entities that promote regeneration of landscapes and social systems. Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom’s research on commons identified five requirements for adaptive governance. These effectively translate into a set of baseline social conditions for successful adaptation to climate change. They are:

  • Access of users to accurate and relevant information;
  • Social technologies to enforce user responsibility and compliance with management rules;
  • Effective mechanisms for conflict transformation;
  • Flexible infrastructure for both internal operations and external links; and
  • Encouraging adaptation in the face of changing external circumstances.

Two good examples of commons based governance are Centre for Ecologial Learning Luxembourg (CELL) and Biovilla.

Commons in permaculture

The new commons created as part of permaculture are diverse in nature and form. Much agrodiversity is maintained and circulated through informal projects and networks for propagating and exchanging plants. Popular education creates knowledge commons through which concepts such as permaculture principles and design methods, and theories around economic localisation and energy descent are developed, tested and refined. Knowledge commons around social technologies and tools for personal resilience are created, refined and shared through their use in meetings, workshops, events, training exercises, courses, and other forms of group work. Many permaculture projects own and manage their physical base as some form of commons through legal structures such as trusts, cooperatives and community interest companies that support inclusive decision-making processes.

Institutional Diversity

  • Ostrom (2005) on institutional diversity
  • Triangle of State, Market, Commons [1]
  • Connected Autonomy

Main theories of Commons

  • Resource and political commons (Holemans 2021); Traditional and political commons (Henfrey & Kenrick 2017)
  • Traditional/resource commons (Ostrom, Berkes etc.)
  • Commons and resilience
    • Commons and social-ecological resilience (Berkes & Folke 1998)
    • Commons, cooperativism and regional transitions (Lewis & Conaty 2013)
    • Linking traditional and political commons (Henfrey & Kenrick 2017)

Commons and Structural Coupling

  • Commons and Capital (de Angelis)
  • Public-civic partnerships [1]
    • Example (summary and link): Ghent [2]
    • Example: Bologna [2]
    • State Support for RE communities (PROSEU)

Commons Ecologies

  • (Henfrey et al 2019; Esteves et al 2021)

Urban Commons

Knowledge Commons

  • Overview (recycle from UrbanA D3.3)
  • Examples

Commons movements and networks

  • Major networks and organisations
  • Crossover with other movements (commons in all but name)


  1. 1.0 1.1 Holemans, Dirk. 2016. ‘Institutional Diversity for Resilient Societies’. Green European Journal 14:14–19.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Holemans, Dirk. 2017. ‘The City Taking the Commons to Heart’. Green European Journal 16:76–81.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Holemans, Dirk, and Kati Van de Velde. 2019. Creating Social-Ecological Societies through Urban Commons Transitions. Final framing paper of the Green European Foundation transnational project 2018. Brussels: Green European Foundation.