Martina Trettel, Eurac Research
Regulations of Italian municipalities on the shared administration of public goods are for at least two reasons an important example for local participation. The first one concerns the way in which a prototype of this local regulation concerning common goods has been developed by researchers and made accessible to all Italian municipalities. The second one is the large number of municipalities that decided to adopt it and make extensive use of the possibilities that were made available. As a result, the regulation gave rise to many local practices that spread quickly all-around Italy (in both urban and local areas). Hence, this represents an interesting pathway with regard to citizens’ participation in Italian local entities that cannot be ignored.
In 2014 the Association Labsus (Laboratorio per la sussidiarietà) elaborated a prototype regulation on the collaboration between citizens and the public administration on activities aiming at the care for and regeneration of common goods. Labsus aimed at realizing in practice the so-called ‘principle of horizontal subsidiarity’ contained in Article 118(4) 4 of the Italian Constitution which states the following: ‘The State, regions, metropolitan cities, provinces and municipalities shall promote the autonomous initiatives of citizens, both as individuals and as members of associations, in carrying out activities of general interest, on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity’. This principle was introduced by the constitutional reform of 2001, recognizing that citizens can act for the common good and instructing institutions to actively support and encourage such efforts.
Labsus developed the ‘Regulation on the Shared Administration of Common Goods’ as an application of the principle of subsidiarity and foresees that public administrations should support citizens in the development of autonomous initiatives aiming towards the collective interest. The Regulation acts as a general framework in which citizens, individually or organized in groups, can submit project proposals (through a specific form available online) to be developed on a spontaneous basis with voluntary effort of the parties involved, making competences, resources and energy available to the collective good. Such projects are disciplined by the Regulation through a series of specific agreements, called Collaborations Pacts, in which both the citizens and the public administration agree on the terms of their cooperation. The commons in this regulation are intended as material spaces as public squares, green areas or schools, but also immaterial commons, such as education and social inclusion and digital commons like applications and digital alphabetization.
The value of this pioneering regulation has been to attempt to provide a legal framework for projects promoting the commons that were taking place spontaneously in the city, often outside if not even in contrast to the existing regulations. In fact, collective cleaning of public spaces, paintings of murals or creation of street furniture have become frequent valuable initiatives thanks to the legal clarity in which they can take place.
The regulation was adopted in 2014 by the City of Bologna as a first experiment. After the positive experience of this municipality, many others followed this example and adopted the regulation in order to create a framework in which citizens and local administrators can cooperate for the management of common goods. At the time of writing, 217 municipalities adopted the regulation. Furthermore, it has to be noted that many metropolitan cities adopted it (i.e.Torino, Bologna, Bari, Milan, Reggio Calabria). That makes this figure even more impressive, as in these big cities a high number of citizens can benefit. On the other hand, however, also smaller and rural municipalities have adopted the regulation. Examples are Ala and Lavis in the mountainous north of Italy, each with less than 10,000 inhabitants, or the island municipality Isola del Giglio with as few as 1,400 inhabitants.
Of course, as some observers highlight, the conceptualization of what actually is a common good is not so straightforward and definitions have in fact been quite different in different local contexts. But this challenge can arguably be turned into a strength by not trying to achieve one uniform definition and rather leaving the conceptualization of common goods to the local population. This is in line, more generally, with the adaptability of the framework regulation to the local needs, generating as many possibilities for citizens’ collaboration with the local administration as the number of cities that introduced the regulation in their local structure. Given the widespread circulation in the country, as well as its adaptability and actual adaptation to the needs and specific circumstances of many different local governments, both urban and rural, the regulation is widely seen as a success. Overall, this has enabled people in many different local contexts to engage in a co-design experiment creating solutions tailored to individual circumstances and, importantly, to do so without being represented in institutions or even associations.
Arena G, ‘Un regolamento per la cura condivisa dei beni comuni’ (labsus, 25 February 2014) <https://www.labsus.org/2014/02/beni-comuni-un-regolamento-cittadini-attivi-piu-forti/>
—— ‘All’Italia dei beni comuni piace il nostro regolamento’ (labsus, 8 April 2014) <https://www.labsus.org/2014/04/allitalia-dei-beni-comuni-piace-il-nostro-regolamento/>
Bombardelli M, ‘La cura dei beni comuni come via di uscita dalla crisi’ in Marco Bombardelli (ed), Nuove risorse e nuovi modelli di amministrazione (University of Trento 2016)
Cortese F, ‘What are Common Goods (beni comuni)? Pictures from the Italian Debate’ (2017) Revista da Faculdade de Direito 121
Patti D, ‘Regulating the Urban Commons – What We Can Learn from Italian Experiences’ (cooperative city magazine, 21 November 2017) <https://cooperativecity.org/2017/11/21/urban-commons-learning-from-italy/>
 Common goods are natural and cultural resources accessible to all members of a society. They are called this way because they are not owned privately but held in common. Some typical examples include community gardening, urban farms on rooftops and cultural spaces. See Marco Bombardelli, ‘La cura dei beni comuni come via di uscita dalla crisi’ in Marco Bombardelli (ed), Nuove risorse e nuovi modelli di amministrazione (University of Trento 2016); Fulvio Cortese, ‘What are Common Goods (beni comuni)? Pictures from the Italian Debate’ (2017) Revista da Faculdade de Direito 121.
 Daniela Patti, ‘Regulating the Urban Commons – What We Can Learn from Italian Experiences’ (cooperative city magazine, 21 November 2017) <https://cooperativecity.org/2017/11/21/urban-commons-learning-from-italy/>.
 Labsus, ‘I Regolamenti per l’amministrazione condivisa dei beni comuni’ (L’Amministrazione condivisa dei beni comuni, undated) <https://www.labsus.org/i-regolamenti-per-lamministrazione-condivisa-dei-beni-comuni/>.
 Interview with anonymous expert, Faculty of Law, University of Trento (29 June 2021).
 Interview with Fulvio Cortese, Director, Faculty of Law, University of Trento (23 June 2021).