From squatting to urban commons

Squats as urban commons

There are many cases in Europe of collective self-management of resources, spaces and services that are part of the so-called "common goods". Among these spaces, the itinerary “Reclaiming community spaces” collects experiences of the squatting of public or private properties that revived collective spaces, thus generating a significant social, political and cultural impact upon local communities. This led administrations to formally recognize and legitimize them through forms of management agreements, which have allowed them to stabilize as real "urban commons".

Spaces become formally and legally recognized

All the selected cases are the result of acts of re-appropriation, unauthorized use and squatting of abandoned spaces or areas saved from abandonment and speculation, to be returned to the community with the intent to give concrete solutions to social, cultural and environmental problems.
The path that leads these experiences to become formally and legally recognized spaces often includes moments of open conflict with the institutions: demonstrations and public awareness campaigns to obtain popular support, acts of sabotage and resistance to evictions, clashes and intense negotiations with the authorities and the property owners.
Unlike in cases where the spaces have continued to operate illegally, at a certain point in their journey these selected spaces have initiated dialogues with the local administration, at times confrontational, but which have led to agreements being made to guarantee the stability and continuation of the activity. The process leading to the agreement has not always been painless, sometimes generating a strong internal debate and undermining some of the identifying original features of the common.

Collective creation of alternative models for society

Another common denominator is represented by the motivations behind the occupations: they are practices of opposition and resistance against social injustice, the lack of policies for access to housing or community services and, more generally, against policies that embrace or support the capitalist model. However, these are not only experiences that fight the system, but actions that reclaim spaces for active politics and collective creation of alternative models for society, based on principles like mutualism, informality, equality, and self-management and that are designed to enhance and share the opportunities and social impact produced by a recovered common.

Public institutions adopt innovative tools and policies

Finally, the value of these experiences is not limited to the benefits they bring to their communities or cities: these are emblematic cases because, in different ways and in close relation to the context, they have stimulated public institutions to adopt innovative tools and policies in terms of shared administration and management of common goods, such as the unique or sometimes first-of-their-kind agreements and regulations identified in Barcelona, Naples and Bologna.


Focus: Barcelona

Municipalism and co-management of commons: what's going on in Barcelona?

The process of democratic transformation that has occurred in Spain over the last few years has shown how the inclusion of local movements within institutions can empower grassroots organizations, putting administrations at the service of social change.

Ateneu Populars as a response to the lack of formal educational infrastructure for the working classes

There are many experiences of citizen aggregation designed to respond to social problems: initiatives of solidarity and cooperation that develop without being determined by market logic or that of the public administration.
This is exemplified by Ateneu Populars, which were created between the 1880s and the years of the Second Spanish Republic in response to the lack of official educational infrastructure for the working class. After the Francoist regime, these entities started to pop up again, especially in Catalonia, Valencia and Madrid, becoming centers of social and cultural promotion that actively confronted the social problems present in the different neighborhoods. Around the 1980s, some of them established a connection with the rising youth movements, specifically the squatter movement also present in the city of Barcelona.

A long tradition of community management

Barcelona, in particular, has a long tradition of community management and use of the commons: often united in associations, citizens have demanded and fought to reclaim and manage these spaces themselves.
As a result of the escalation of these processes and their facilitation by the administration, Barcelona has become, in recent years, an open-air laboratory of democracy capable of providing tools for the education and empowerment of the communities involved.

Bottom-up participation in the management of public services and facilities

The Patrimoni ciutadà (Citizen Heritage Programme for Community Use and Management), a legislative framework that seeks to promote, increase and consolidate experiences of participation and community management of urban commons, is definitely an innovative policy in this sense. Promoted in 2015 by the council of mayor Ada Colau, this measure has allowed the city to equip itself with a series of useful tools to support citizens in the administration of self-managed spaces, giving them the possibility to take action for direct democracy and, at the same time, guaranteeing their legal protection.
Thanks to this type of policy in Barcelona, entities, groups of people and associations of citizens can exercise powers of the municipality or participate, on behalf of the City Council, in the management of services or facilities owned by the public administration.

Explore the commons



Hamburg | Germany

Hotel Pasteur

Rennes | France


Brussels | Belgium


Bologna | Italy

Scugnizzo Liberato

Napoli | Italy

Ateneu la Flor de Maig

Barcelona | Spain

Recommend an urban common!


Do you know any common that fits the concept of this itinerary?
You can report it to make gE.CO museum wider throught gE.CO - FirstLife platform.

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