Thursday, September 9, 2010

Foster on Enabling Collective Management of the Urban Commons

Sheila Foster (Fordham) has posted Privatizing the City? Enabling Collective Management of the Urban Commons.  The abstract:

Collectively shared, open access urban resources are subject to the same rivalry and free-rider problems that Garrett Hardin wrote about in his Tragedy of the Commons tale. Like Hardin’s “pasture open to all,” the “urban commons” - local streets, parks, open public spaces, and various neighborhood amenities - can suffer from overuse and misuse if improperly managed or regulated. Tales abound in many cities of dirty and unsafe streets, parks, and vacant lots that were once thriving urban spaces but became overrun and degraded in a classic tragedy of the commons scenario. Proposed solutions to urban commons “tragedies” by legal scholars tend to vacillate between two prevailing governance approaches developed over time as a response to Hardin’s tale. They either propose a system of private property rights in the commons or a central government command or control regime. 

This Article highlights a third way, based on the work of Nobel prize winning economist Elinor Ostrom, in which common urban resources can be, and indeed are being, managed by groups of users in the absence of government coercion and without transferring ownership of the resources into private hands. Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), park conservancies, neighborhood foot patrols, and community gardeners are ubiquitous examples of urban commons management undertaken by private actors who overcome collective action problems to steward a local resource that has become rivalrous and degraded. In each of these instances, local governments play an important role in enabling users to overcome free-riding and coordination problems, create incentives and lend support private actors who cooperate with each other to manage the local resource. This type of enabling of cooperation among private actors to manage an open access, common resource is what I call “collective action enabling.” This enabling role of local governments is an important and unique one in this context, and has been largely neglected by legal scholars.

The Article delineates and develops the concept of collective action enabling, and compares and contrasts it with other policy mechanisms along the traditional public-private spectrum of approaches to urban commons management. By articulating the contours of collective action enabling, I hope to bring a theory to a widespread practice in cities across the country and to provoke a more sustained examination of the relationship between public and private actors in managing common urban resources.

Matt Festa

Local Government, Planning, Property Theory, Scholarship, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink

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