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Civic uses and new policy tools for the community
Naples / Italy
Size of city: 
972 222 inhabitants


Nicola Masella
Coordinator of the Unit “URBACT Projects and Networks on Integrated Urban Policies”
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The good practice proposed by the Naples city council (IT) aims at guaranteeing the collective enjoyment of common goods such as water, public services, schools, knowledge, cultural and natural heritage, and their preservation for the benefit of future generations through a public government that allows fair use.
The core of these policy instruments is the democratic use of public assets. The city of Naples has recognised the "Urban Civic Use Regulation" of common goods in the city itself.
Thanks to the good practice's governance model, more than 250 projects came to life, breaking down the production costs by using free and shared spaces, resources, knowledge and skills.

The solutions offered by the good practice

By revisiting the outmoded institution of civic use, the good practice aims at making spontaneous bottom-up initiatives recognisable and institutionalised, ensuring the autonomy of both parties involved, the proactive citizens and the institutions.
The first good to be recognised as common, and therefore proposed as a good practice, is the Ex-Asilo Filangeri, a building that by resolution n.400 (2012) was already identified by the city of Naples as a “place with a complex use in the cultural field, and whose spaces are used to experiment in participative democracy”. At that time, it had been occupied by a group of art and culture professionals protesting against the restoration and new abandonment of the premises. With the following decision, n.893/2015, the city of Naples recognised the “Urban Civic Use Regulation” of the good, a declaration produced in an autonomous way by the community that benefits from the good, and that puts self-management as the main principle of its administration.
By acknowledging this regulation, the public administration assumes the burden of ensuring the usability of the place, while the right to make use of it is free and guaranteed to all but accompanied by a participatory model that is founded on open assemblies and thematic roundtable talks.
The latest resolution, n.446/2016, recognised seven more public properties as “relevant civic spaces to be ascribed to the category of common goods”.

Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

The designed good practice’s process guarantees a strong integrated approach, both vertical and horizontal. The integration is first and foremost assured through an ad-hoc municipal department, the “social enhancement of municipally owned spaces and common goods”, and with a political coordination in charge of the Urban Planning councillor. This department (technical level) and the above-mentioned councillor (political level) are in charge of promoting the collaboration with other departments and councillors of the municipality, or other institutions.
Furthermore, the city waives completely the role of top-down manager and, with a horizontal subsidiarity mechanism, acts like a guarantor and takes its own burdens and responsibilities related to the operation of the good, while recognising the autonomy of the management system adopted by the users.
The horizontal integration lies also in the basic principles that are stated in the Urban Civic Use Regulation, produced in an autonomous way by the community, and recognised by the Naples city council. The Civic Use of the Ex-Asilo is based on the principles of self-management, cooperation and mutualism, and tends to strengthen individual and collective responsibility. Empowerment is established by cooperation, in which each member of the community, whether guest or so-called inhabitant, contributes to the community's activities and management.

Based on a participatory approach

The open and inclusive management model is plain by the data registered since March 2012. Every week, an open meeting is convened (more than 190 since the projects' beginning), as well as several working groups for the implementation of activities (more than 830, with about 18,000 attendances). Besides ensuring transparency, this has established a strong bond between the inhabitants of the city, and narrowed the gap between artists, academics and citizens.
Main numbers since March 2012:
• 18,000 people took part in the direct management of the Ex-Asilo through roundtable talks and public management assemblies;
• 150 public management assemblies for the self-government of the Ex-Asilo;
• 830 days of public working groups ("tables"), to deepen the projects and proposals. Topics are: "armeria" (visual arts), performing arts, self-government, library, cinema, "tavolo sociale", social, and urban gardening;
• 2,000 creatives including arts, culture and entertainment professionals, workers, artists, scholars, researchers, academics, associations, institutions, and citizens that have used Ex-Asilo spaces and resources, and/or organised activities.

What difference has it made?

Thanks to the good practice, more than 250 projects came to life, breaking down the production costs by using free and shared spaces, resources, knowledge and skills. All this has generated, for the arts and culture professionals involved, immeasurable forms of indirect income, not to mention the free training offered and the many students who have studied at practically no cost.
The number of activities and active artists, monitored since March 2012 with the help of the so-called inhabitants, clearly shows that there is no reference group that uses the space in an exclusive manner. The overall activity is the result of a myriad of individual desires that flow into one stream:
• 200,000 users took part in the activities;
• 5,800 activities (1,300 days of theatre, dance and music rehearsals that have contributed to the production of more than 250 art projects);
• 1,500 days of training in over 200 laboratories, workshops and training sessions;
• 300 debates, seminars and public meetings;
• 300 musical groups and individual musicians in rehearsals and concerts;
• 300 companies, groups and individual theatre/dance artists involved in rehearsals and performances;
• 200 exhibitions, installations, visual/digital art and photography meetings;
• 150 projects and artistic/cultural initiatives for children;
• 90 book and magazine presentations and poetry readings.

Why should other European cities use it?

The good practice is highly engaging for cities that are challenging the traditional top-down approach, experimenting with new paths for urban regeneration that may surpass the traditional concession model, based on a dichotomous view of the public-private partnership, by building up a community's relationship with the public assets.
The process supports the logic of the direct participation of citizens in the management of public spaces, and thus encourages the spread of new so-called peoples' houses, i.e. places of great sociability, creative thinking, intergenerational solidarity and deep local rooting. Bottom-up initiatives are made recognisable and institutionalised, ensuring the autonomy of both parties involved: on the one hand, the citizens engaged in the reuse of common goods, and on the other hand, the public institutions.