The Bartlett School of Planning


Daniel Fitzpatrick

Research subject

Thesis title: Urban commons: Collective ownership of urban assets

Primary supervisor: Nikos Karadimitriou 
Secondary supervisor: Yvonne Rydin 
Starting date: September 2009
Projected completion date: September 2013

The control by community groups of assets, such as land or buildings, has attracted attention in the last 20 years as a way of capturing and redistributing asset values to community groups, or more generally, for a local area. This is rooted in a long history from Garden Cities, through to squatters movements, cooperative housing, co-housing developments, community land trusts and development trusts – both grassroots and government led initiatives have formed part of this rich history of the urban commons.

In order to understand better the governance of community assets, they can be framed as a form of urban commons (Large 2010). The research will build on the work of the economist Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues in using diagnostic frameworks to analyse institutions developed to control community assets, as a form of common property regime (CPR) - a set of social rules and institutions.

If applied to land and built assets the framework can be used to understand the dynamics of community asset control. This research also explores the way that the 'common' is hidden between the legal concepts of 'private' and 'public' (Hardt and Negri 2004). Therefore, the research aims to develop an alternative conceptualisation of the governance of community assets and the evolution of institutions for managing them as urban commons.

The research will involve case studies drawn from a range of community ownership models - housing co-operatives, co-housing, community land trusts and development trusts. It will look specifically at the dynamics within groups to establish forms of collective governance and the way in which policy environment is shaped by institutions of support, such as umbrella organisations, planning systems and government.