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The city is not a menschenpark: Rethinking the tragedy of the Urban commons beyond the human/ non-human divide



Urban commons is a concept that is currently ‘trending’ in the social sciences. Most of this presently emerging research more or less uncritically builds upon the influential theory of the commons presented by Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom, and generally focus upon issues regarding the production, maintenance and access to various forms of urban common goods. One thing that the interlocutors in the expanding academic debate on the urban commons appear to take for all but granted is that the subjects of the commons, the commoners, are presumably always ‘human’, and that the objects constituting the commons are presumably always non-human. I want to argue that this taken-for-granted ontological divide between subjects and objects, humans and non-humans, means and ends, resources and extractors, is far too self-assured and remains dangerously unquestioned in this emerging literature. In the light of a dawning understanding of the fundamental ecological entanglements of humanity we must learn to rethink previously taken-for-granted ontological categories such as culture/nature and human/non-human, destabilizing them to do away with destructive preconceptions that place humans on one side and non-humans on the other.
For publication in Borch, Barinaga, Kornberger (eds) Urban Commons: Organizing the City
Final (?) draft, 2013/09/27
The city is not a Menschenpark: rethinking the tragedy of the urban commons
beyond the human/non-human divide
Jonathan Metzger, Division of Urban and Regional Studies, KTH Royal Institute of Technology,
Stockholm, Sweden
… the possibility of belonging to the order of the city is entirely dependent on a radical exclusion of the ‘victim’ from the
benefits of membership.
Nick Lee and Paul Stenner, Who pays? Can we pay them back?
“we” no longer know who we are, nor of course where we are, we who had believed we were modern … End of
modernization. End of story. Time to start over.
Bruno Latour, An inquiry into modes of existence: an anthropology of the moderns
Urban commons is a concept that is currently ‘trending’ in the social sciences. Most of this presently
emerging research more or less uncritically builds upon the influential theory of the commons
presented by Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom, and generally focus upon issues regarding the
production, maintenance and access to various forms of urban common goods. One thing that the
interlocutors in the expanding academic debate on the urban commons appear to take for all but
granted is that the subjects of the commons, the commoners, are presumably always ‘human’, and
that the objects constituting the commons are presumably always non-human. I want to argue that
this taken-for-granted ontological divide between subjects and objects, humans and non-humans,
means and ends, resources and extractors, is far too self-assured and remains dangerously
unquestioned in this emerging literature. In the light of a dawning understanding of the fundamental
ecological entanglements of humanity we must learn to rethink previously taken-for-granted
ontological categories such as culture/nature and human/non-human, destabilizing them to do away
with destructive preconceptions that place humans on one side and non-humans on the other. We
for instance need to recognize that any neat separation of ‘commons’ on the one hand and
‘commoners’ on the other involves what philosopher Karen Barad calls anagentic cut, and as such
bears with it an undisavowable ethico-political burden of responsibility to attend to the effects of any
such enactment of ordering categories (Barad, 1998; see further Metzger, forthcoming).
In this chapter I will wrestle with these questions by way of an examination of the historical and
contemporary relations between humans and other-than-human animals in European cities, both as
concretized-concretizing ideals and living assemblages. The questions I will be asking is: how can we
understand the urban commons beyond a taken-for-granted ontological divide between humans and
For publication in Borch, Barinaga, Kornberger (eds) Urban Commons: Organizing the City
Final (?) draft, 2013/09/27
non-humans, nature and culture? How can we learn to recognize the deep entanglements in urban
areas between those things we normally categorize under these labels in the complex and constantly
evolving milieus we describe as ‘urban’? Admittedly, this to some degree pertains to a
deconstruction of the concept of the urban commons, although not in the form of an
undifferentiated critical gesture, but rather proceeding from Karen Barad’s (1998:104) insight that
“the political potential of deconstructive analysis lies not in the simple recognition of the inevitability
of exclusions, but in insisting upon accountability for the particular exclusions that are enacted and in
taking up responsibility to perpetually contest and rework the boundaries”.
The rest of the chapter is structured in the following way: I will first present a short empirical vignette
that will function as an opening into the wider issues discussed in the text. I will then proceed to
explicitate what I see as some of the trouble with dominant Western historical and contemporary
cultural preconceptions regarding ‘the urban’, which also frame much of the debate on urban
commons. In a generally sympathetic but also perhaps somewhat against-the-grain reading of
philosopher Peter Sloterdijk’s Rules for the human zoo, I argue that it is precisely as this an
exclusively human zoo that the city has been conceptualized in much of the western cultural
tradition. In the following section I will show how these preconceptions also underpin current and
previous debates about ‘the commons’ in general and so-calledurban commons’ in particular. I will
try destabilize these preconceptions through posing the question if we can ever easily demarcate
what constitutes ‘commoners’ and what constitute ‘commons’ in complex ecological entanglement,
ending up in asking with Bruno Latour: how can we relate to an urban ‘we’, a collectif of the urban
commons, in a responsible way in the Anthropocene?
Wolf in the city
On the night between the sixth and seventh of May 2001 a wolf passed through innermost
Stockholm, going south to north along the transport infrastructure originally planned for maximizing
human mobility, such as the towering Västerbron bridge across Riddarfjärden. This first recorded
wolf passage through Stockholm since the 18th century aroused more curiosity than fear and the wolf
soon turned out to be but a temporary visitor, a young male on a quest for a soul mate which we
know can carry humans as well as other animals on the most improbable of journeys. The wolf also
made his way duly and promptly to greener pastures quite literally. When tracked down en route
through the city, the wolf was given police escort through downtown to get him out as quickly as
possible, either by his own will and power or if necessary by force. After being tracked down, he
was constantly followed at close distance by a zoologist who kept the wolf on mark with a
tranquilizer gun if he was to show any aggressive tendencies or any tendencies towards wishing to
dwell for a more prolonged period of time in highly populated areas.
Since then, wolf sightings have become quite recurrent in the Stockholm area as a result of the
increase in the domestic wolf population during recent decades. In 2012 there were around a
hundred reported sightings in the greater Stockholm area, a handful of which were also positively
confirmed by authorities. Zoologists have argued that this can be seen as evidence of the recent
reactivation of a historical wolf’s north-south migratory route, as the straits on which the city is
located constitutes a natural passage-point across the extensive Läke Mälaren, which cuts through a
For publication in Borch, Barinaga, Kornberger (eds) Urban Commons: Organizing the City
Final (?) draft, 2013/09/27
large part of the geographical middle part of Sweden. The increased intensity of wolf sightings, and a
few wolf attacks, mostly on dogs, in the close vicinity of Stockholm have started to generate some
fears among urban dwellers of the growing national population of the large canine predator, which
otherwise has been subject to some romanticization among Swedish urbanites.
The established protocol of close police observation and escort of any wolf that strays into the
Stockholm area, to get it out of the city as quickly and smoothly as possible (but preferably without
the use of violence) and the associated feelings that even though wolves are great to have in the
countryside, they certainly don’t belong in the city are, although quite understandable reactions in
themselves, also clearly indicative of how wildlife and especially major predators are seen to be
completely anathema to the idea of the city, their mere presence there constituting a major
disruption or transgression (see also Hiedanpää, 2013). As noted by Philo & Wilbert (2000: 10), many
forms of human discourse “include a strong envisaging of both where animals are placed in the
abstract ‘scheme of things’ and where they should be found in the non-discursive spaces and places
of the world”. In the so-called Western world, most animals have at least for the past two-hundred
years or so generally been seen as disturbances, threats or hazards by those who have been vested
with the power and responsibility to govern urban spaceleading to an ever expanded project of
evacuating the presence of living animals out of cities.1 But further it could even be argued that also
before this, perhaps as far back as antiquity, the Western idea of the city has generally been
formulated as the ideally exclusive dwelling of humans, standing in direct contrast to the savage
nature imagined to exist on the outside of the city walls. Walls that both physically and symbolically
have been seen as generating a protective space in which the unique and supposedly superior traits
that have been thought to distinguish humans from animals could be cultivated and fostered.
Ecologizing the urban commons
Relating to the vignette above, it could be argued that there exist deeply engrained western cultural
preconception concerning the otherness of animals to urbanity. An idea that animals simply do not
belong in the cityreflecting deeply ingrained cultural preconceptions about the cultural
achievement of the human-populated city as being the opposite of the natural endowment of
animal-infested wilderness, and further positing that these are categories that are ontologically
mutually opposing and therefore should be kept apart and purified both conceptually and spatially.2
As urban historian Christopher Otter has noted, “civilized society… was measured by its distance
from nature, a distance as much material as moral or spiritual” (Otter, 2004: 46). Nevertheless, the
other-than-human animal was never completely successfully expelled from the city nor from the
human for that matter and in this paper I will argue that it neither can, nor should be.
1 To generalize it could be claimed that roughly from the mid-1800’s onwards, the presence of animals in urban
areas was in Western Europe only accepted in highly demarcated, contained and controlled designated nature-
zones such as city parks or botanical/zoological gardens, or in the form of highly domesticated house pets (but
see Holmberg, 2013 concerning the strong reactions when such house pets ‘step out of place’ in the city).
Swyngedouw & Kaïka (2008) make the argument that modernist planners tried to infuse “real nature” into the
city, but also from a highly dualistic preconception regarding the a priori separation and mutual ‘natural’
exclusivity of the terms ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, i.e. ‘wilderness’ and ‘city’.
2 See e.g. Philo (1995) who argues that many of the expulsions of animals, such as livestock, from the city have
in hindsight been argued as rational on hygienic and medical grounds, but were in their time more often
motivated by moral arguments rather than medical.
For publication in Borch, Barinaga, Kornberger (eds) Urban Commons: Organizing the City
Final (?) draft, 2013/09/27
Rather, in thinking about the city in general, and about urban commons in particular, we need to
learn to come to grips with how we can think of these phenomena in what we, with Sarah
Whatmore, can call a more-than-human way (Whatmore, 2002; Hinchliffe & Whatmore, 2006). Such
a new handle on ‘urban things’ could function as a foundation of a new general ecological sensibility
which could be argued to constitute a key component in a future survival strategy for our rapidly
urbanizing, but also currently highly self-destructive species. In relation to the concept of the urban
commons, this is particularly important, seeing that the dominant social scientific theories about
commonsmanagement that are currently being widely cast as solutions for our currently unfolding
multiple ecological crisis such as Elinor Ostrom’s celebrated theory of common pool resource
management still appears to lean up against a foundational ontology that posits humanity as being
primarily not of nature but rather over and above nature, thus imagining humans as superior world-
makers and the shepherding crown of creation. In this chapter I will try to make the argument that in
the approaching impasse facing our species such an ontological position is deeply problematic in
relation to our ideas about commons, urban or otherwise.
I will therefore try to do to Ostrom’s argument what Michel Serres did to the story of Sisyphus and
the rock (Serres, 1987:301f). Serres alerts us to how the retelling of this myth always puts the focus
on the human character Sisyphus, while barely no attention is paid to thinking about the rock. Just as
Serres wants to make the rock count and begin asking questions how we can care for the rock which
is so obviously repelled by the designs of men and gods, I want to ask the question about how we can
begin to really care for the fate of some of the things, many of which are living, which we imagine as
commonsand not just those we think of as the commoners. With Latour (1998) we may pose this as
a project that counteracts the thoroughly modern perspective on the commons offered by Elinor
Ostrom with the question: “how may the commons be ecologized?”
This question is, in our current times, particularly relevant in relation to questions of urbanity and
cities. Not only because since 2008, for the first time in history, the majority of the world’s human
population lives in towns and cities, with a steadily rising pace of global urbanization. But also
because cities are global zones of intense exchange or interaction. In the words of historian Fernand
Braudel, cities function as “electric transformers” that “increase tension, accelerate the rhythm of
exchange and ceaselessly stir up men's lives” in relation to not only commerce, but also the
circulation of cultural trends and ideas (Braudel, 1973:373). Or as aptly formulated by Barbara
Czarniawska (2002: 1), the city isa societal laboratory” and they have “traditionally been the
birthplaces of invention and innovation, but are also sites permitting intense imitation”. Cities are
thus places where new things and ideas emerge and may take root. Finally, and in the context of this
paper, importantly: cities have historically also always been sites of cohabitation in the face of
intense difference, thus generating philosophies and skills of conviviality among its inhabitants for
not only living with and sharing space with, but also in various ways capitalizing on and appreciating
difference as for instance noted in seminal studies by Georg Simmel, Louis Wirth and Jane Jacobs.
The city is thus a key space for anyone interested in suggesting new ways of living together across
difference, an ambition which this paper aligns itself with by making an alliance with the growing
number of scholars who argue for the necessity of a new more-than-human sensibility as well as the
development of political practices for urban multispecies conviviality (Hinchliffe & Whatmore, 2006).
I will explicitate the above line of argument through a reading of the Ostromian conceptualizaiton of
the urban commons that perhaps might to some degree amount to an operation similar to the telling
For publication in Borch, Barinaga, Kornberger (eds) Urban Commons: Organizing the City
Final (?) draft, 2013/09/27
description that philosopher Gilles Deleuze gave as to how he performed his readings of other
philosophers: the act of having intellectual intercourse with an author in a way that is banned in
many of the states of the USA and then giving the author a child that would be its own offspring, yet
monstrous to him or her. In this case, the ideosexual abuse is even worse since I am bringing a pack
of, perhaps just as unwilling, bedpartners with me and foremost among them perhaps philosophers
Donna Haraway and Peter Sloterdijk, as well as a host of (more-than-)human geographers.
The city: a human zoo?
In western philosophy there has ever since antiquity existed an interest in the role played by the built
environment, and in particular the city, for the development of humanity as evinced by the many
pivotal discussions on the polis in Greek classical philosophy. In more recent times, many architects
today allow themselves to be inspired by contemporary philosophy, and in the 1970’s there was a
wave of interest in the writings of Martin Heidegger, perhaps particularly the essay Building,
Dwelling, Thinking (reproduced in Heidegger, 1975), but many of these readings did not consider that
Heidegger most often used the built environment in metaphorical terms, for instance stating that the
house of being was language, and there were some quite sloppy readings.
A few decades later, as the more superficial reading of Heideggers work in architecture subsided and
the trendy starchitectsmoved on to appropriate philosophical buzzwords of more contemporary
origin, philosopher Peter Sloterdijk embarked on a seminal project to more thoroughly develop a
spatial philosophy inspired by, but also partially in response to, Heidegger in what he himself dubbed
the project of “Being and Space”, as complementary and opposed to “Being and Time” - culminating
culminating in the great trilogy of Sphereology (Sloterdijk 1998, 1999, 2004). But questions of
spatiality, and particularly architecture and the built environment, are also central to the essay Rules
for the Human Zoo (Sloterdijk, 2009). The text, originally entitled Regeln für den Menschenpark, and
also known as the Elmauer Rede, was first presented as a commentary at a small international
philosophy conference in Elmau in 1999 and later became the focal point of one of those great public
intellectual pitched battles that you only get in Germany. This is not the place to get into the details
of that streit (but see e.g. Varney Rorty, 2000, For love of the game), but suffice to say that on the
back of it I see Sloterdijk as a risky thinker, in the positive Stengersian notion of that term, and the
siren song of his work is in my ears functions as a navigation mark which helps me calibrate my
ethico-political compass, although not always necessarily along the same bearings that he points out
the direction to. So I will move on and see what possible use can be made in this context of some of
the ideas in the paper, keeping in mind that these are potentially explosive ideas that perhaps need
to be handled with some care and delicacy.
Proceeding from a discussion of Heidegger’s essay Letter on Humanism, Sloterdijk unfolds an
argument about the technologies of producing humanity, what it is to be a (good) human, and how
this is achieved by various means, such as liberal education but also opens the door towards other
techniques of cultivation of being-human, such as selective breeding and genetic engineering as a
contemporary powerful variant of this, arguing that these techniques are ancient and ever-present in
the history of becoming-human. The question for Sloterdijk thus becomes, not whether we should
cultivatei.e. purposely form a specific version of being humanby way of selection or not, but
For publication in Borch, Barinaga, Kornberger (eds) Urban Commons: Organizing the City
Final (?) draft, 2013/09/27
rather how we can open a public discussion on what traits we should collectively agree on
maximizing. Here Sloterdijk comments favorably on Nietzsche saying that “He wants to reveal, by
name and function, the people who until now have had a monopoly on the control of breeding the
priests and teachers who pretend to be friends of man and to initiate a modern, momentous public
battle between different breeders and breeding programs” (Sloterdijk, 2009:22).
What in the present context is interesting is how Sloterdijk discusses the role played by the built
environment in these cultivation programmes. He notes that for the classical humanist, as well as for
Heidegger, language is the house of being. But Sloterdijk, adds to this that “as soon as speaking men
gather into larger groups and not only connect themselves to linguistic houses but also build physical
houses, they enter the arena of domestication. They are now not only sheltered by their language,
but also tamed by their accomodations. In the Clearing, as its most obvious marks, appear the houses
of men” (Sloterdijk, 2009:21). Based on a reading of Nietszche, Sloterdijk further argues that the
design of the houses contributes to generating specific forms of humanity, that tame and
domesticate them in certain ways and in a particular direction, for good and for bad. To Sloterdijk
then, the city is a human zoo quite literally.
The Nietzschean contempt for the domesticated is well-known, and also reproduced by for instance
Deleuze & Guattari in their discussion on becoming-animal in A Thousand Plateaus (Deleuze &
Guattari, 1987)and has been rightfully castigated by Donna Haraway for its overt sexist
masculinism (Haraway, 2008:30). But Sloterdijk is very careful not to fall into this trap when he notes
that the question of anthropotechnics, techniques for cultivating particular human traits, is not a
question of domestication or not, but rather about domestication towards what ends and cultivation
to further what traits. Accordingly, Sloterdijk goes on to note that “Where there are houses, there
are also decisions about who shall live in them. In fact, and through this fact, it is determined what
type of community dwellers will be dominant. In the Clearing, it is revealed which enterprises are
worth fighting for, as soon as men emerge as beings who form societies and erect social hierarchies
(Sloterdijk, 2009: 21). The Heideggerian Clearing is in Sloterdijk’s reading thus by no means a blissful
location, but rather a very dangerous place and the question who and what is made present in the
light of the Clearing, or the expanse of the Agora in the Polis, is fundamental to the unfolding fate of
humanity. Are there only naked individual and autonomous men present there, or are there always-
already equipped and accompanied humans becoming-together with a myriad of others? This
becomes a fundamental Cosmopolitical question (cf. Stengers, 2005), a battle of the fate of humanity
as a species and her worlds.
Further, Sloterdijk notes: “Only in a few places is the veil of philosophical silence about man, the
house and animals as a biopolitical unity lifted. What one would hear on the other side of that veil
would be a whirlwind of references to problems that are so far too difficult for men” (Sloterdijk,
2009:21), a comment we will have reason to keep in mind for the argument that I will attempt to
unfold towards the end of this paper.
The urban commons: background and ‘state of the art’
The concept of ‘the commons’ made its grand entrance into the canon of social theory by way of
Garrett Hardin’s 1968 paper in Science, entitled The Tragedy of the Commons, which has up until
For publication in Borch, Barinaga, Kornberger (eds) Urban Commons: Organizing the City
Final (?) draft, 2013/09/27
this day been cited in close to a staggering twenty thousand other scholarly publications.
Considering how well cited it is, it is surprising to see how superficially it often appears to be read.
Hardin was a trained zoologist and biologist who later took up a professorship in human ecology, and
his primary concern in the paper was to point to the insolvability of global ecological challenges
under the then (and still) existing global institutional regime based on individual rights and sovereign
statehood. In the text he sets forth a lucid and challenging argument, stating that the preservation of
collective resources of a commons-type is a “no technical solution problem”, a game that can
paradoxically only be won by abandoning the game as intuitively understood, and that successful
management of crucial human life-supporting commons can only be achieved by radical institutional
rearrangements or, as he puts it, a “change in human values or ideas of morality” (Hardin, 1968).
To define the tragedy of the commons, Hardin borrows a definition of ‘tragedy’ from the philosopher
Alfred North Whitehead, the essence of the term here not being unhappiness but rather “the
remorseless working of things” and any type of commons will be remorselessly and avoidably
subject to degrading and collapse is the argument eloquently elucidated by Hardin in the paper.
Much of the paper is then a plea, not for privatizationas has later been claimed, but for
moralization, education and legislation for the protection of fragile commons and particularly
arguing that we need to impose strongly restrictive measures to curb human overpopulation of the
planet through “definite social arrangements” in the form of “mutual coercion mutually agreed
upon”, finally ending up in the argument that in untenable situations inaction and wait-and-see
options does not amount to doing nothing but rather to perpetuating and furthering impending
Considering Hardin’s far-right eugenicist political leanings, I’m sure I would not want to know the
exact onus of the ”mutually agreed upon” coercive policies Hardin particularly had in mind but
nevertheless, he makes a strong case for paying attention to what we today would perhaps call
emergent effects in complex ecological systems that of action that amount to an unintentional yet
globally devastating carelessness generated as unintended consequences of the established political,
social and economic mechanisms of Western democracies and the behaviors they produce. Writing
in direct response to Hardin and his self-styled disciples, institutional economistand later, Nobel
laureateElinor Ostrom developed an argument most cogently formulated in Governing the
Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action from 1990. Ostrom studied small and
medium-sized ostensibly self-organized, stable collective governance arrangements of natural
resource commons such as pastures, fisheries, water resources etc. She discussed a number of
prominent cases of such “common pool resource management”-arrangements and deduced eight so-
called “design principles” when such arrangements would be successful (Ostrom, 1990: 90):
1. Clearly defined geographical and social boundaries for the resource, delineating who has the
right to draw upon the resources as well as their extension;
2. Locally based rules concerning the appropriation and provision of the resources;
3. Collective-choice arrangements allowing the participation of the majority of resource
appropriators in the definition of the arrangements;
4. Ongoing monitoring and auditing performed by or accountable to the appropriators;
5. Graduated sanctions that are imposed on those resource appropriators who violate
community rules;
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Final (?) draft, 2013/09/27
6. Conflict-resolution mechanisms that are low-cost and local;
7. Recognition by higher-level authorities of the community’s right to self-organize;
8. More complex and extensive CPR-arrangements should be institutionalized as multiple layers
of nested enterprises, with smaller CPR units as the base.
To those of us who aren’t fully persuaded by the gospel, Ostrom’s solution may actually have a little
bit of the flavor of Leviathan meets the Prince in the formation of collective but very much state-like
institutions, and it can be more than a little bit difficult to discern how her suggested solution
actually radically diverges from Hardin’s propagation for “collectively agreed upon coercion” beyond
the focus on small or medium sized ostensibly self-organized human groups in contrast to Hardin’s
supposed (but nota benenever stated) focus on more centralized government.
This aspect of the argument that the successful and stable collective management regimes of
commons that she had studied were supposedly self-organized on the scale level of the collective of
users ,and hence did not involve coercive government imposition was actually crucial to her line of
reasoning, with its point directed towards Hardin. Many of Ostrom’s disciples also appear to have
extended her argument so as to claim that commons in all situations can be successfully managed in
this way. But, as pointed out by Notre Dame law professor Nicole Stelle Garnett, Ostrom’s optimism
is not unbounded. Not only are some of the cases she discussed, such as the special water districts
of southern California, actually special purpose local governments hence making Ostrom’s
characterization of them as cooperativesomewhat odd since they developed as a result of
litigation spanning more than a decade” (Garnett, 2012). But, even more comprehensively,
Ostrom takes great care to point out all the conditions under which her suggested solutions will
by no means have a chance to work which specifically relates to the types of situations that
Hardin is interested in in his original paper, such as global environmental issues (See Ostrom,
1990: 183).
Inspired by the impressive research literature on commonsmanagement that has followed in the
wake of Hardin’s and Ostroms work, there today exists an emerging multidisciplinary research front
relating to specifically urban commons. To give but a few examples:
- The body of literature that conceptualizes urban public space as commons-type collective
resources, where liberally inclined planning scholars such as Chris Webster and associates
(e.g. Lee and Webster, 2006) have mobilized Hardin’s paper in what could be called quite
‘traditional’ ways to make a strong argument for property rights and privatization of urban
public spaces. In response to this type of argumentation, law scholars such as Garnett (2012)
and Foster (e.g. 2006) have developed lines of argumentation that take a more ambivalent or
sanguine approach regarding the potential of collective management of urban public space;
- Ecologists such as Johan Colding (e.g. Colding, 2012) and Thomas Elmqvist at Stockholm
University (e.g. Borgström et al, 2006), who have built on Ostrom to make a counter-
argument about the potential ecological gains of collective management of urban green
spaces through for instance community gardens, allotments and other similar institutional
- Activism-inclined radical urban theorists who discuss urban commons in the form of more or
less formalized and extensive cooperative urban communes produced by active urban
communing that generates common resource pools (see e.g. Gibson-Graham, 2011).
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- Urban sociologists such as Parker & Johansson (2011), who in a recent interesting paper also
mention some of the more difficult-to-grasp urban amenities of a commons-like type
atmospheric properties which to different aspects are often in urban studies somewhat
feebly conceptualized as for instance ‘social capital’, ‘attractiveness’ and so-called ‘Jacobs’
externalities’ or ‘buzz’.
Parker & Johansson further make the interesting observation, worth keeping in mind for further on
that “an urban common is always an urban common for someone. An overgrown brownfield could
be seen as something worthless an urban wilderness but it could also be viewed as part of an
evolving urban green belt, which could supply ecosystem services and therefore should be, treated
as an urban common” (Parker & Johansson, 2011:7).
Mixed-up urban commons: cities as MORE-THAN-Human Zoo Ooz
But now its time to begin mixing things up, apples with oranges, men and beasts, commoners and
commons. For David Harvey has suggested that we need to reconceptualize the tragedy of the
commons if we are not to unwittingly fall captive to most-often unreflectedly taken-for-granted but
highly contingent assumptions concerning the mis- en-scène, the setup, so convincingly
choreographed by Hardin in his seminal paper. For instance, in a recent commentary in Radical
History Review (Harvey, 2011), David Harvey asks why do we not instead of focusing on the
untenability in the long term of the pasture as a common, rather focus on the detrimental effect of
individual ownership of cattle? Following Harvey’s cue to challenge the underlying assumptions of
the commons-metaphor, I will try to generate a similar move of détournement of Hardin’s and
Ostrom’s well-rehearsed storiesbut in a somewhat different direction.
In the introduction to her seminal book on commons-management Ostrom likens Common Pools
Resource Management to a type of ‘organism’, further spelling out that this organism is “a type of
human situation(Ostrom, 1990: 26, emphasis added) which may seem a somewhat odd statement
when considering concerning the central presence of all sorts of animals, organisms and things in the
stories she narrates in her book, which are central to her argument but in which all these non-
humans become lumped together under the passive label of “resources”. As noted in a paper by
Jonas Bylund and Fred Saunders, the operationalization of Ostromian common pool resource theory
in the form of Community-based natural resource management is also all about “human use of
natural resources” (Saunders & Bylund, 2010: 3). Humans on one side, everything else on the other
a strict ontological divide between human and non-human, commoner and common, agent and
structure, extractor and resource, culture and nature, subject and object, active user and passively
used. As Chris Philo (1995: 658) has written so cogently in a different context, for instance animals in
the urban commons literature generally figure “merely as entities to be trapped, counted, mapped,
and analysed; as beings whose lives are indelibly shaped by the uses that humans formulate for
them, but whose fate resulting from these taken-for-granted uses (along with the human rationales
behind these uses) are almost never subjected to critical scrutiny” (Philo, 1995: 658).
But if we allow ourselves to be inspired by scholars such as Bruno Latour and perhaps, particularly,
Donna Haraway to examine these seemingly neat and mutually exclusive categories a little closer, we
may begin to see that they are not so neatly separable and that any actual worldly occurrence always
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consists of complex entanglements of elements, phenomena and tendencies that on paper may
seem neatly separated from each other, but which as they occur in the world always turn up as
irrevocably entangled and therefore end up messing up all these seemingly neat categories. As Bruno
Latour (1993) has observed concerning the “modern Constitution”, the peculiar Western
programmatic ontological separation of ‘things Natural’ and ‘things Cultural’, this was only ever an
ostensive separation, for in practice links between these categories always proliferated covertly,
leading him to the conclusion that “[t]here are only natures-cultures, and these offer the only
possible basis for comparison” (Latour, 1993: 104).
This even goes to the heart of what it means to be human, the problematic bundle of tangled cultural
and biological relations that in various ways have come to be categorized as the essence of mankind.
Freud's famous dictum "the ego is not master in its own house", does take on entirely new meaning
when taking into account the fact that the human genome is found in no more than ten per cent of
the cells constituting a human body, while the remaining ninety per cent are made up of bacteria,
fungi, protists, etc. As Haraway says, this implies that humans are "vastly outnumbered" in relation to
their "tiny companions" (Haraway, 2008:2). Or perhaps more accurately, "to be one is always to
become with many", leading Anna Tsing to relate that "human nature is an interspecies relationship"
where the human psyche during a short period of time is a guest in, and a result of, the tangle of
relations between heterogeneous materials and organisms within and outside of our bodies, forming
what we chose to label "human beings" (Tsing quoted in Haraway, 2008:19). So not only have we,
with Latour, “never been Modern”, we have further “Never been human”, if we insist on defining
humanity as a mode of being hermetically sealed-off from and standing above other forms of life and
existence (Haraway, 2008: 305).
But in what direction would we be heading if we, skirting such a philosophy of human
exceptionalism, instead take as foundational the irrevocable intertwinedness of human and non-
human, the more-than-humanness of human existence and the fundamental human dependence on
things and beings other-than-human both on the tiniest micro-level, the intermediate environmental
level as well as the more recognized global macro-level to bear on the study of the city, and
specifically, urban commons? Where can we find a handle, a starting point, for such a more-than-
human conceptualization of urban areas and urban commons?
For starters, a more empirical and literally down-to-earth approach to ‘urbanity’ or ‘citiness’ might be
one place to start. Here we can for instance home in on and put into focus what can perhaps be
called the living city as a starting point for such a venture, rather than what could be called the
conceputal City. What I here mean by the City, capital C, is not only the discursive city-as-concept and
related webs of associations, with all the recurring connotations of exclusive humanness, culture,
etc., but also all the highly material/izing practices that have as their aim and function to discipline
unruly conurbations into something more closely resembling this imagined ideal City (see also
Deleuze & Guattari, 1987:431ff).
The ideas and ideals concerning what constitutes a proper Citythus, through concrete (in both
meanings of that word) practices, reverberate and act upon living cities, constantly in various ways
aiming at making cities more ‘City-like’ through producing and maintaining ‘Citiness’. Historically, and
to some extent up until this day, such City-making practices have had as their aim to generate the
City as the antithesis of countryside andnature’ – of purging nature from the spaces and materials it
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works on, they functioned to separate “nature from the city, both conceptually and materially
(Swyngedouw & Kaïka, 2008: 574). And as further observed by Wolch et al (1995:735) “[t]he ideals of
urbanization were based on a notion of progress rooted in the conquest of nature by culture”,
leading to a “splitting apart of the urban and the rural as distinctive entities conceptually associated
with particular human activities and attributes… the industrial and civilised city, the agricultural and
barbarian countryside” (Philo, 1995: 666 further referencing Williams, 1973).
Specifically in relation to animals in the city, for instance Philo (1995) with regards to Great Britain,
and Löfgren (1985) with regards to Sweden, have noted that in Western Europe, much of the
programmatic evacuation of animals from cities occurred in the 19th century as “urban and rural
worlds were increasingly segregated” (Löfgren, 1985: 199), a process described by Atkins (2012) as
“the Great Separation” of urbanity and rurality that was enforced in 19th century Western Europe.3
The City, as produced and reproduced by these practices, has thus through processes of separation
and cleansing been generated as the exclusive home of the human par excellance in dichotomous
contrast to, and hence evacuated of, animals and animality through practices that function to
produce urbanity in the image of the idealized greek polis, the philosophical image of the ideal
dwelling of rational men, and rational men [sic!] alone; truly a Menschenpark, an exclusively human
zoo, with the purpose of domesticating the human race.
But if we look beyond these practices for producing citiness, for producing cities-imagined-as-City-
should-be and projecting images of the ideal City onto material conurbations, and instead turn our
attention to the materials these practices work upon the unruly, sometimes chaotic messes we
may perhaps call the ‘really-existing’ living cities of the world, and these have always been and still
are brim-full of animals, both domesticated, feral and wild, a “shadow population of nonhumans
spanning the phylogenetic scale” (Wolch et al 1995: 736).
To give but a few haphazard examples:
- As has been noted by ecologist Thomas Elmqvist, 95% of the domestic species of the state of
Illinois live within the urban zoned areas of Chicago which means that when restoration
projects are initiated in former prairie areas of the state, the urban population of these
species is used as a source population to populate the prairielands (Elmqvist, 2010).
- In Sweden, 500 of the strictly protected species of flora and fauna on the red list of the
Swedish Artdatabanken, the Swedish Taxonomy Initiative, can be found in urban areas. As
stated by landscape ecologist Bo Eknert (2010), urban areas both in Sweden and
3 See also the papers in Atkins, 2012 for nuanced accounts of how this ’Great Separation’ was
enforced in some parts of Europe. In the context it is also important to keep in mind that in large
parts of the world outside Europe the ‘Great Separation’ in human/animal urban co-habitation has
never occurred, with much more allowing cultural attitudes towards e.g. urban human-fowl/livestock
co-habitation. Nevertheless, the contentiousness – at least in ‘Western’ eyes of such habits is well-
evinced by the constantly recurring warnings from epidemiologists (e.g. in connection with the
recent outbreaks of international viral epidemics such as SARS and H1N1) that such habits may
become sources for cross-species viral transmutations that can possibly lead to global pandemics,
and therefore must be outlawed.
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internationally have become refuge for many endangered species, and even though urban
milieus only comprise a measly few percent of Sweden’s surface there are just as many red-
listed species present there as in more geographically extensive types of milieus such as
- Not only that: many of these species are also rapidly becoming specialized by adapting to the
urban environment in what ecologists call “speciation”, for instance Hinchliffe & Whatmore
(2006) have discussed how urban water voles in Britain may have changed their behaviors
and begun to co-habitate with rats, which they have not been known to do previously.
Further, Urban Emanuelson (2010), professor at the Swedish Agricultural University, has
claimed that B-vitamin enriched bread fed to swans by enthusiasts around Stockholm helps
the species become more successful in their reproduction, and there even exists qualified
reports of urban-dwelling coyotes in the US learning to cross streets with the help of traffic
signals (Banks, 1993 quoted in Wolch et al, 1995).
So to recap: Practices for disciplining unruly living cities to become more like the ideal City, the
(Western) ideal of the perfect exclusively human polis have never succeeded completely. Living
cities, all over the world, have always been and are still full of animals. The production and
reproduction practices of the City, even if constantly attempting to otherthe animal have repeated
failed to perfectly cleanse the living cities from them. So even if ‘the animalis still not recognized as
a resident of ‘the City’ in the conceptual real of Western philosophy and culture, myriads of other-
than-human living things still have cities as their permanent homes. Not yet wolves in Sweden but
foxes in London, deer in Stockholm, boars in Berlin, raccoons all over the US, Possums in Australia,
Peregrine falcons in Birmingham and rats, rabbits, pigeons, geese, dogs, bats, insects, the list goes on
and on all over the world.
Urban animals: intruders… or commoners?
One of the great taken-for-granteds of both Hardin’s and Ostrom’s conceptualizations of the
commons, as well as that of their disciples, is their clear and stable differentiation of commons and
commoners, building upon a foundational view of the world in which humans are extractive actors
and everyone or everything else are only resources only acted upon. Writing in this tradition Johan
Colding (Colding, 2012 citing McKay, 2000), has claimed that the commoners of the past may be
gainfully reconceptualized as the stakeholders of tomorrow but then apparently taking it for
evident that these are human commoners that should rather be thought of as human stakeholders.
Leaving aside the thorny question of what defines a ‘stakeholder’ (but see further Metzger, 2013),
we may nevertheless with Tryggestad et al (2013) question the above assumption by asking: what if
the stakeholder is a frog?”, and with this begin to unsettle the taken-for-granted assumption that the
circle of stakeholders to be taken into account in any situation or context is exclusively composed of
humans. There are indeed some serious cosmopolitics played out in this question, and I would
therefore – with the help of Tryggestad and colleagues like to rephrase Coldings question and not
ask whether the commoners of the past are the stakeholders of tomorrow, but rather if the
commons of yesterday may be gainfully reconceptualized as the commoners of today, and thus bring
the animals of the living cities into the urban collectif (cf. Callon & Law, 1995 and also Latour, 2004)
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of the City. But nevertheless, for many, the question probably still remains: why would we want to
I have already hinted towards an answer to the above question in the brief discussion of Haraway’s
concept of becoming-together, but to spell this out ever more clearly: at the current impasse of
humanity’s development as a species, currently becoming known as the geological epoch of the
Anthropocene (Crutzen, 2002), the established illusion of humanity as standing outside of and above
nature, which is found in its most pronounced form in what Latour (1993) calls “the modern
Constitution”, has led up to the currently mounting global multidimensional ecological crisis (see e.g.
Rockström et al, 2009: Zalasiewicz et al, 2010), prompting influential ecologists such as James
Lovelock to call for humans to literally buy a gun and run for the hills (Lovelock, 2006).
In light of the above, Ostrom’s claim that “[m]uch of the world is dependent on resources that are
subject to the possibility of a tragedy of the commons” (Ostrom, 1990: 3), really appears as far too
modest. For with the recognized advent of the Anthropocene, it isn’t just “much of the world” that
appears to be subject to the possibility of a tragedy of the commons. Rather, facing radical
temperature increases from global warming that would in all probability throw the Earth’s whole
atmospheric system into a completely new state beyond all Holocenic stability parameters, what
appears to be at stake is the world as we know it and with that the fate of humanity as a species. In
her book, Ostrom unswervingly and clearly excludes the type of challenge posed by our diminishing
life-supporting global atmospheric commons from the range of challenges suitable for amendment
through her proposed CPRM solution. She obviously sees no hope in utilizing her generic recipe for
institutional design in such hard casesan intuition that is seemingly repeatedly proven correct by
the ongoing paralysis in negotiating an effective global climate protocol between nation-states. With
these bleak prospects in mind, we may ask ourselves is Lovelock’s proposed solution of
“sustainable retreat” then the only remaining viable option?
If we return to Hardin’s original text on the Tragedy of the commons we will see that what he
actually most strongly argues for as the necessary basis for any solution to a global tragedy of the
commons is not as often claimed the forced mass sterilization of the poor and wretched, and
neither is it extensive privatization of collectively owned resources, but rather a call for active effort
towards changing fundamental values and related behaviors. So if we are of the vain persuasion that
there may still be time, we should perhaps try to heed the call spelled out so clearly in the title of one
of Sloterdijk’s most recently English-translated books: Du musst dein Leben ändern: You must change
your life (Sloterdijk, 2013). But following Isabelle Stengers(2005) injunction to collectivize the
nagging but today generally individually and introvert asked question “what am I busy doing?” into a
collective open questioning of “what are we busy doing?”, this should not be formulated in the form
of the individual You, as implied in the title of Sloterdijk’s book, but rather as the English, collective
This would in the current context amount to attempts towards what Serres (2006) has called the
necessary mastery of mastery for humanity, a realization that goes well beyond what the socio-
ecological people call “ecological literacy”, and lying more in line with the fundamental insight of
Darwin that all life on earth may well be knitted together in an “inextricable web of affinities
(Darwin, 1859:434). As poignantly formulated by the late eco-feminist Val Plumwood, “[i]f our
species does not survive the ecological crisis, it will probably be due to our failure to imagine and
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work out new ways to live with the earth, to rework ourselves and our high energy, high
consumption, and hyper-instrumental societies adaptively… We will go onwards in a different mode
of humanity or not at all” (Plumwood 2007:1). Such an insight in turn leads us towards what Helga
Nowotny has called a politics of the “expansive present”, expanding the range of things and beings
we need and can take into account here and now, rather than succumbing to paralyzed fretting
about some distant, hazy future climate holocaust (Nowotny quoted in Marres, 2012:144ff.).
Towards a politics of conviviality in the urban commons: practical methods and troubling questions
Linking together the above intimations of Darwin, Serres, Plumwood and Nowotny and putting these
in relation to the concept of ‘the commons’ and then also further on to issues of urbanity, will
inevitably lead to the setting in motion of a slippage in perspectives. Suddenly, the classic objects of
the commons such as fish and sheep do not only appear as dependent upon humans, and their good
will and faith, for their continuing existence. ‘We’ humans, both as a species and as particular groups
of humans, both generally and specifically, also appear as dependent on ‘them’, systematically, for
our existence. As a consequence of this insight, there also arises the need to allow a further
correlated shift by which we move away from seeing all the creatures and entities peopling the
commons as mere passive objects to instead incorporate them as active fellow subjects in the global
commons with their own wishes and interests. Such a perspective would thus proceed from the
understanding that “[h]umans are always, and have always been, enmeshed in social relations with
animals to the extent that the latter, the animals, are undoubtedly constitutive of human societies in
all sorts of ways. Humans are ecologically dependent on animals” (Philo & Wilbert, 2000: 2). Deborah
Bird Rose (2012:109) points out that the scientific term for this foundational ecological inter-
dependence between species is symbiotic mutualism, and is ubiquitous to this planet on every
thinkable scale of interaction.
But if we do accept not only the merits, but also the urgency of adopting such a new ecological
sensibility which simultaneously takes life-engendering entanglements of local and planetary
symbiotic mutualism as its point of departure – how may we reassemble the tragic story of the
commons from such an angle, in the direction of a new trajectory towards the future? To begin with:
We might come to see that the tragedy of the commons is not an exclusively human affair. It is a
trope and/or mechanism that functions just as well in completely non-human situations: also
bacteria that infect a body experience a tragedy of the commons. Further, our here meaning
human induced and humanity-affecting global atmospheric tragedy of the commons is also a
tragedy affecting many others that are not in any way made visible as subjects in the ongoing
dispersed deliberations concerning this and related issues. Third, and more specifically related to the
particular subject of this essay and collection and further linking back to Sloterdijk’s remark on our
general ignorance of the “biopolitical unity” of human, house and animal, there are most probably
ever ongoing more-than-human urban tragedies of the commons that us humans today to a large
extent still even currently lack the technical apparatuses to detect that they are unfolding, and
further to a large extent lack proper concepts and tools to even begin to sensitize us to them. But as
Wolch (2002: 734) has noted, “once we abandon a strict human-animal boundary with human
subjects on one side and animal objects on the other, we seem to be obligated to figure them into
our ethical considerations and everyday practice”.
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To wrap up this paper I will now focus on the last point above and make an attempt to begin to
grapple a little bit with this challenge. An interesting effort towards this is Hinchliffe and Whatmore’s
(2006) thinking on trans-species urban conviviality, to quote: “a political project that is concerned
with a… broadly conceived accommodation of difference, better attuned to the comings and goings
of the multiplicity of more-than-human inhabitants that make themselves at home in the city than
conventional political accounts”. It is not just about learning about how humans and animals cope on
their own hand with “living in the city” but rather a program with a transformative ambition which
purports to reassemble both ecologies as urban and cities as ecological through the
conceptualization of urban inhabitants as always-already entangled and “more-than-human; more-
than-animal; more-than-plant… complex assemblages, mutually affecting and affected by their fields
of becoming”. This is about the messy business of living together, across difference, always
asymmetrically, but also always irrevocably entwined and also even partially co-dependent in various
ways with things we consider other-than-ourselves – and to attune to these conditions.
If we are serious about ideas such as these, we must not shy away from the paramount challenges
surrounding the development of methods to begin to tentatively practice this ethos, and we must
certainly not fall prey to the idea that this will somehow grow ‘naturally’ from ‘the inside’. Rather we
must begin to think how we can technologically, in the broadest sense, begin to produce apparatuses
of engagement that can help sensitize us to a more-than-human world of always asymmetric
relationships of mutual becoming steeped in difference. It is about generating assemblages of
enunciation (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987: 75ff) that do not fetishize human modes of subjectivity or the
medium of spoken language as the only form of understandable and effective/affective
communication. We need to begin to think with material semiotics and to read signals in other ways,
not taking for granted that ‘we can’t know what they want, and neither do they know it’. For as any
dog-owner or parent knows there are signals there to read if we only take the time and go through
the pain and effort to attempt time and again to read them. So we should perhaps no longer ask
ourselves the question, ‘if nature could speak, what would it tell us?’ and instead come to realize that
myriads of creatures and beings are speaking to us all the time if we just learn how to listen
properly. The name of the game thus seems to be about learning to be affected in new ways, as
argued by Emile Hache and Bruno Latour (2010).
Here, we can perhaps find inspiration in the affective innovations of art projects such as the
machines for urban trans-species communication and affectation in Natalie Jeremijenko’s Ooz or
Fritz Haeg’s Animal Estates 1.0, aiming at infusing new ecological sensibilities into the urban
environment. In the latter project, Haeg put on display animal dwellings in prominent places on
Manhattan, for instance a huge Bald Eagle nest on the roof over the entrance to the Whitney
Museum, making strikingly manifest the question of the life currently not in these places, but which
could be and raising the question of how humans can offer affordances to other species in their
environment in better ways than at present (cf. also Hinchliffe & Whatmore, 2006). By drawing upon
radical ethology and computer science, Natalie Jeremijenko takes her art far beyond
anthropocentrism. In the Ooz (Zoo spelt backwards) project, Jeremijenko has aimed at promoting
and developing urban animal populations through generating sites for human-animal interaction
based on mutual interest and curiosity, collective learning and reciprocity across the human/non-
human divide, based on questions such as “what is quality of life for animals? What are their
priorities when it comes to lifestyle choices?”, and attempting to learn about possible answers to
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these questions through experimental setups of physical infrastructure for non-humans.4 These have
for instance included Robotic Geese that enable humans to engage in conversation with geese using
known goose signals (both verbal and physical), and further generating affordances for the geese to
respond, if they so wish then storing the biological goose’s response in an annotated database so
as to enable an infrastructure for learning more about how goose communicate.
In relation to Jeremijenko’s reciprocal experimental setups, it is interesting to note that when
suggesting ways of tweaking Ostrom’s eight design principles for successful common pool resource
management design so that they also suit more contentious urban commons, urban sociologists
Parker & Johansson (2011) add that we add a zero-principle before the established eight which reads:
“Appropriators need sufficient knowledge to understand the value of the resource”. This is a case of
what Isabelle Stengers has called Cosmopolitics: the politics of what exists in the world and how it
should be taken into account and cared for, which is never self-evident or straightforward but if not
always contested, at least always contestable and the outcome of which will have radical political
or, as Bruno Latour has taught us, even almost meta-political effects (even though they should be
brought back into politics on a flat level, as argued by both Stengers, 2005 and Latour, 2004).
Further, and related, learning to be affected entails the engenderment of response-ability (Haraway,
2008). Geographer Lennart Tonell (2010) has for instance noted that the regionally endangered
Blåsippa or Anemone hepatica in Sweden has the legal right to a voice in urban development
processes according to national legislation but few listen to it or are swayed by it. So what we need
are not only mechanisms to decode but also to take into account, not only to produce ‘voice’, but to
concomitantly also engender ‘hearing’. This also includes a sensitization to the voices of things
virtual, that which-has-not-yet-arrived or which-might-be, and as Hinchliffe and Whatmore have
noted this further touches upon “the complex issue of whether the question of something’s being
present or not is as black and white as it seems”, and more boils down to the questions of what could
be there, or could arrive as we do when we demand the pre-emptive installation of equipment to
facilitate disability access to various public premises without knowing beforehand if any disabled
person at the present time has the need for these particular measures at that particular place. And as
has been noted by Feldman (2009:240) in relation to the work of Fritz Haeg, a highly visible nest or
even an empty animal dwelling in an urban area can function to “insinuate nonhuman life” into the
everyday existences of the constantly growing global cadre of human urban denizens. There also
exist attempts of generating this type of apparatuses of affectation on the grander of scales in for
instance the new constitutions of Ecuador and Bolivia. This is not the place to go into a deeper
analysis of these, but I have previously written about Ecuador’s granting of constitutional rights to
nature which in no way appears to be some kooky banana republic-whim, but rather a well though-
through attempt to seriously place humanity in a wider ecological framing which has proven to hold
up to serious legal testing (Metzger, 2012).
On the urban scale, those trusted with producing urban environments that provide for specific urban
amenities of a common-pool resource type, e.g. the public spaces particularly in focus in
contemporary normative urban planning ideologies such as new urbanism, still generally think of
these spaces from decidedly narrowly anthropocentric perspectives (Wolch et al, 1995). But there
are interesting signs of counter-currents developing against this narrow human focus in urban design
4 See further
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and planning, and a greater sensibility towards complex socio-ecological co-dependencies and the
need to generate conditions for multispecies life in cities (see e.g. Marcus et al, 2013). Thus,
meaningful interventions towards a politics of conviviality need not be grand and constitutional
(even though the potentials for such solutions should not be a priori dismissed either and for sure
make an enormous difference). Instead, there are immense possibilities for here-and-now efforts of
a more tinkering type, as sketched by Hinchliffe & Whatmore and also evinced in the writings of
urban ecologists such as Elmqvist and Colding, for instance encompassing more mundane
interventions such as urban gardening, the fitting of urban estates and buildings with the necessary
equipment to make them hospitable to various urban species. But to which? This tricky question I will
try to touch upon in my final concluding argument.
A carrying idea of this paper is that we’, human inhabitants of cities, need to begin to try to make
room for the hereto marginalized residents of cities also into the Cityto let the non-human urban
denizens entry into a urban hybrid collectif. So to say: to let the animals of the urban assemblage also
enter the urban assembly, to be consulted and have their voices heard (cf. Latour, 2004).
Nevertheless, I want as a final note to make clear that what I am arguing for here is in no way a
human submission under some mystical illusion of “deep nature” or its self-appointed spokespersons
(see also Latour, 2004). Neither do I advocate a crude vitalist fetishization of bare life at anya
philosophically easy stance to take, but practically not only untenable but also ethically at least as
challenging if not even more sothan a more situated ethics of care, nurturing and killing which
rests upon incessant considerations and constantly ongoing negotiations concerning the composition
and fate of an always already entangled more-than-human urban collectif. For here, Hardin the
staunchly rightist eugenicist, and Haraway the radical socialist feminist, appear to come together
from their extremely divergent positions in a call for a more situated ethics of becoming-together. As
Donna Haraway has so candidly stated: dying as well as killing are ubiquitous ever-presents of the
world, and sometimes killing might even be the responsible thing to do. But by whose decision and
assumption of responsibility? And in what ways? (Haraway, 2008: 79ff).
To make a loop back to the two quotations that opened up this paper, we should here remind
ourselves of Lee & Stenner’s insight that any form of order builds upon sacrifice of that which is
Othered. As a corollary of this insight we should never stop dwelling in the wicked and ultimately
undecidable but nevertheless foundational ethico-political questions: “Who pays? Can we pay them
back?” (Lee & Stenner, 1999; cf. also Watson, 2011) and a commitment to that “whatever those liens
are that you are drawing have to always be taken under erasure, even as, pragmatically, those lines
have to be drawn and are drawn all the time” (Wolfe cited in Broglio, 2013:181, emphasis in original).
Further, following Isabelle Stengers, we should demand that whatever existence is temporarily
excluded from within those liens, we are always prepared to look into the eyes and stand for our
decision without attempting to skirt any responsibility for the consequences of it (cf. Stengers, 2005).
And even more challenging, relating to the quote from Latour, we should with our emerging
understanding of how our planet is weaved into innumerable layers of scale-less ecological ‘webs of
affinities’ to such a degree that ‘we’ can no longer know for certain who ‘we’ are, ‘we’ must now be
cautious and aware that with every act of sacrifice of that which may at a glance seem alien and
other to us as humans we may actually be more or less directly endangering our own future as a
species, doing away with it cut by cut.
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Thus, what appears to be direly needed by humanity at this specific conjuncture in history is a new
type of humility towards the world, perhaps particularly cognizant in relation to Sloterdijk’s
“biopolitical unity” of “man, the house and animals” generally going under the name of ‘the City’. So
to round off in a Latourian/Sloterdijkian way we may then perhaps ask ourselves: who gains entrance
into the clearing of the urban commons, into the urban collective of things and beings, and who does
not and on what grounds? Who is a worthy urban commoner and who is merely a passive resource
or even a pest and a nuisance? And at what costs are these decisions made? Who pays the price, and
how are they taken into account in these decisions? These are the daunting questions of nurturing
and killing, about enabling and curbing in becoming-together across the human/non-human divide,
where the key question, asked by Nietzsche and echoed by Sloterdijk becomes: which are the
breeding programmes” being enforced here? Or to put this in more agreeable terms from a not-
exclusively human perspective, but rather with a view towards complex species interdependence and
always asymmetric more-than-human becomings as ubiquitous to humanity and the city: which are
the programs for becoming-City-together and becoming-together-in-cities across the human/non-
human divide? Who makes the decisions, in whose name, and for the gain of what and whom? Who
takes responsibility? In relation to the urban commons these are truly existential questions.
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... The present paper addresses the commons' self-organization models and their governance issues by combining different epistemological approaches. The main aim of the study was reflecting on performative implications of the urban commons and their relational ability within an inclusive governance model and policy design context through two interpretative keys: Ostrom's idea of sustainability and the recent hybrid neo-materialist urban and an organizational theoretical path grounded within the Metzger-Barad-Latour (M-B-L) approach [1][2][3]. ...
... Following these authors [21], an understanding of the emerging differences could offer important opportunities in dealing with commons' managerial challenges and in interpreting specific social "intra-actioning," as defined by Barad. The main reference for the inherent policy-design theoretical context is the hybridization of an urban planning and regional sustainable development model [1,22,23] with Latour's ideas about the definition of the urban governance field of action (the "we" of the governance field) [2,[24][25][26]. ...
... By sharing the need to bypass Ostrom's ontological divide between subject-object, commoner-commons, and human-nonhuman, further analyses on urban commons have claimed that-more than an alternative conceptual solution-there is a substantial need to deconstruct the commons notion. This deconstruction would be driven by the need to recognize that any neat separation of "commons" on one hand and "commoners" on the other involves what philosopher Karen Barad calls an "agentic cut," and as such, bears with it "an undisavowable ethico-political burden of responsibility to attend to the effects of any such enactment of ordering categories" [1] (p. 22). ...
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The main aim of the study was reflecting on performative implications of the urban commons and their relational ability (i.e., inter- and/or intra-actioning) within an inclusive governance model and policy design context through two interpretative keys: Ostrom’s idea of sustainability and the recent hybrid neo-materialist urban and organizational theoretical path grounded within the Metzger–Barad–Latour analyses. Firstly, we focused on defining the theoretical setting, background and selected codes. The resulting scheme was tested with a mixed methodology within the case study of the Lido Pola Commons in Naples, Southern Italy. Empirical analysis benefits from long-lasting research experience on the area and an action-research processes aimed at codesigning a living civic lab. The discussion illustrates the main pivots of the internal/external validation of the case study results, thus contributing to enhancing a participatory policy design by raising awareness regarding social intra/interactions.
... A niche branch of urban landscape architecture has kept such expanded notions of agency, embodiment, and spatio-temporality of plants at the forefront of their practices for many decades. 20 More recently, a growing number of urban social theorists (Metzger, 2015;Mubi Brighenti & Pavoni, 2020) and practitioners (Hauck & Weisser, 2015) have sought to include, and actively build for, animals in urban landscapes. Yet, as environmental sociologist Jens Lachmund (2004) observes, "[a]lthough increasingly backed by global discourses and policies, ecological planning has only been successfully implemented in a limited number of cities" (p.242). ...
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This paper addresses Jem Bendell’s concept of “deep adaptation” in the Anthropocene through the lens of everyday urban practices in contemporary Northern Europe. It proposes that this “deep adaptation” should be defined less in relation to a socio-ecological “collapse” and more through everyday occurrences in present-day urban environments. Entering into a critical conversation with Bendell’s conceptual “4 Rs” framework, the paper draws on primary data from several cities in Sweden and Germany to show how, in practice, resilience can be found in the “quiet activism” of leisure gardeners; how ingrained notions of restricted land use may be relinquished through “commoning” urban space; how novel constellations of co-living restores old ideas of intragenerational urban cohabitation; and, finally, how a path to reconciliation may be articulated through an ontological shift away from an anthropocentric urban planning, towards one that recognises other-than-human beings as legitimate dwellers in the urban landscape. Accounting for urbanities of enmeshed societal, ecological, and spatial trajectories, the paper reveals an inhibiting anthropocentrism in Bendell’s framework and ultimately points to how his “creatively constructed hope” for the future may be found, not in an impending global collapse, but in everyday adaptations and embodied acts that stretch far beyond the human.
... The demographic success and mobility of deer challenges the separation of the wild and the domestic in cities and the perception of cities and suburbs as human territories. While these imagined boundaries between humans and nature influence decisions about the organization of space with limited consideration of other life (Metzger, 2015;Wolch, 1996Wolch, , 2002, cities nevertheless represent hybrid spaces, where processes unfold through the coming together of both human and non-human actors (Whatmore, 2002). As is the case with the Blue Hills, the mobility of non-human species and humans across the bounds of residential and conservation areas links these spaces and their management. ...
This paper examines the implementation of a white-tailed deer management program in the Blue Hills Reservation outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Drawing on the concepts of biopolitics, we explore how white-tailed deer became an object of concern and ultimately targets of lethal management in this suburban park. Through interviews, document analysis, and observation of public meetings, we examine the changes in and controversy over the presence, perception, and management of deer in the park. We argue that the implementation of the deer management program is only partially explained by the growing numbers of white-tailed deer, and must also be understood in the context of concerns about human health and shifting imaginaries of urban green spaces and global biodiversity. The case illustrates the entanglements of harm and care in the management sub/urban ecosystems and highlights how differences in the ethical and ontological understandings of deer create tensions in efforts to advance multispecies urban planning. ARTICLE HISTORY
... By increasing awareness of these mutual dependencies and acting upon them through new modes of kinship (Haraway 2015, Hedva 2016, or processes of commoning (Harvey 2012, Metzger 2015, humanity might nurture new forms of human-non-human relationships built around care and interdependence, and in doing so make a more liveable world (Shotwell 2016). ...
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Urban agriculture is generating renewed interest in the Global North amongst a variety of actors (McClintock 2010), as a means to increase access to food, improve health and wellbeing, and bring communities together (Quayle n.d.). However, scholars have drawn attention to the neoliberal tendencies of some city-based growing projects (McClintock 2014), which may limit their potential to significantly alter the existing food system. Using an urban political ecology framework, this study seeks to identify approaches for expanding urban agriculture as a radical praxis, through an exploration of the concept of ‘nutrient sovereignty’ in community growing spaces in Cambridge, England. Nutrient sovereignty advocates for people’s right to cycle nutrients for the purposes of food cultivation (Tornaghi 2017), hence this project examines the ways in which growers manage soil and waste, and the relationship of these flows to wider public discourse about Cambridge. In the city’s community growing spaces, nutrient sovereignty often emerges from socially-embedded forms of commoning (De Angelis 2017) between different groups of humans and non-humans. These realms allow for experimentation with more equitable and collaborative ways of living. The research concludes that nutrient sovereignty should be supported through the increased visibility and assistance of community growing spaces in policy, as well as garnering more attention from activists working towards just urban landscapes and food sovereignty.
In landscape architecture, stewardship has become synonymous with a positive approach to managing and designing environments, which lacks historical and geographical context. While the practice has the possibility to increase human involvement in habitats and cultivate ecological relations, historically it suffers the socio-ecological separation of the human (subject) and non-human (object). Additionally, the majority of practice sits comfortably within private development, and reproduces inequalities rather than challenging them. This article traces an institutionalised European-centred notion of stewardship by focussing on three episodes from British woodlands: 8th century pre-enclosure woodlands and the original steward of pigs, 16th century park and forest enclosures and the steward of deer and 17th century national estates and the steward of oaks. In light of these findings, landscape architecture’s uncritical reliance on stewardship as an ethical stance, needs to be revised to better account for environmental and social justice within more-than-human relations.
Die vielschichtigen und wechselseitigen Zusammenhänge zwischen Stadt und Natur wurden lange ausgeblendet. Assemblagen-Theorien rücken diese Verflechtungen demgegenüber seit den 1990er-Jahren als temporäre Ergebnisse der (Um-) Bildung urbaner StadtNaturen in den Fokus. Während akteur-netzwerk-theoretische Perspektiven den Auf- und Abbau heterogener Assemblagen aus menschlichen und nicht-menschlichen Subjekten, Objekten, Räumen, Technologien und Materialitäten in den Mittelpunkt rücken, kritisiert die urban political ecology die mit diesen Transformationsprozessen verbundenen Ein- und Ausschlüsse in kapitalistischen Gesellschaften. Der Beitrag führt in beide Ansätze ein und richtet mit ihrer Hilfe den Blick auf urbane Stoffwechselprozesse, urbane Transformationen und Konflikte um Stadtnaturschutz und grüne Infrastrukturen.
This chapter places the evolving discourse of the commons in architecture and urbanism in relation to broader cosmopolitical questions concerning the agency and response-ability of design. It contends that more than a socially held or produced resource, the commons must be reconceived in a twofold manner: from a discrete locus (the commons) to a process (commoning, or the politics of connection), and in turn, from concerning primarily human decisions to explicitly involving a more-than-human ensemble. In this shift to a systems-relational approach, commoning becomes a cipher for rethinking our relation to relation. The first section of the chapter addresses the polemics of commons discourse and its reflections in architecture and urbanism. It follows several historical threads leading to the more recent re-conceptualization of commoning as the politicization of livelihood relations. The second part situates these trajectories within the feminist material-semiotics of care, positing it as a lens to refract current discussions of commoning in design. Incorporating contemporary examples, the chapter concludes with two postulations for drawing as a material-semiotic practice of commoning, building from the Latourian provocation of “drawing together.” Drawing-together those who have nothing in common involves representing the manifold entities assembled in, and affected by, design. And drawing, together, common-enough worlds entangles these heterogeneous agencies in new constellations beyond received roles and hierarchies, recasting design as a collective production. Both examples begin a renegotiation of the ways in which the designer’s place in webs of life and matter matter, and how we might act care-fully with(in) them.
The world was not well before the pandemic 2020/21. The knowledge society was being developed without social inclusion. Albeit some local efforts toward sustainability, the planet was being attacked in several dimensions with disastrous effects on the—but not limited to—the environment. Then came the terrible pandemic of 2020/21. What changed and what is likely to change in the near future in this new scenario? The meaning of an accelerated pace of change in the process of digital transformation is explained here. The chapter describes the city as a “Commons.” The main conclusion is that a more Humane and Sustainable Smart City (HSSC) approach to the development of our cities may spring up as a possible redeemer of our past mistakes.
This paper explores the work of a group of urban wildlife organizations (UWOs) involved in responding to human-wildlife encounters a Canadian city. Using Timothy Beatley’s proposal for the biophilic city as an interpretive lens, I focus on the ways in which these organizations view the complications of living in close proximity with urban wildlife. In particular, I attend to the organizational labor that is associated with expressions of affection for wild animals and with the unintended consequences of green planning initiatives. UWO’s interventionist niche complicates the ostensible simplicity of “connection to nature” and brings into sharper resolution the questions of who benefits from cities designed to attract nonhuman life, and at whose expense. Drawing on the evolving body academic work on the more-than-human city, I ask how a life-loving city might be re-imagined in the spirit of our complex emotional relations with other animals, and what role this interventionist infrastructure could play.
This essay traces how Ybor City’s feral chickens are rhetorically and materially situated in urban space, and how Tampa’s Ybor City emerges as a “sanctuary city” for feral creatures. More specifically, I map how chicken advocates and chickens take part in constructing what an urban space should look, smell, and sound like, and whose “voices” are included in shaping the neighborhood. Michel de Certeau helps guide me to consider how chickens and their advocates attempt to foster a feral republic of noise, a place in which chicken feet and rooster crows frustrate anthropocentric constructions of place. “Chicken rhetorics” interrupt desires to create and sustain clean boundaries between urban and rural, guest and host, chicken and human, purity and dirt, political actor and agricultural product. “Fowl” assemblages perform “pedestrian speech acts that remix what it means to dwell in a multi-species urban space.”
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One of the things a new animal geography seeks to do is to follow how animals have been socially defined, used as food, labelled as pets or pests, as useful or not, classed as sentient, as fish, as insect, or as irrational ‘others’ which are evidently not human, by differing peoples in differing periods and worldly contexts. It thereby endeavours to discern the many ways in which animals are ‘placed’ by human societies in their local material spaces (settlements, fields, farms, factories, and so on), as well as in a host of imaginary, literary, psychological and even virtual spaces. It is thus not only the physical presence of animals which is of importance here, since animals also exist in our human imaginings—in the spoken and written spaces of folklore, nursery rhymes, novels and treatises; in the virtual spaces of television or cinema, in cartoons and animation—while they are also used as symbols to sell a huge variety of commodities and products (Rowland 1973; Wilbert 1993). All such imaginings of animals, as bound up with human uses made of them, must be seen as affected deeply by the form of ‘animal—human mode of production’ underlying the specific society in question, whether it be huntergatherer, feudal, industrial, capitalist, post-industrial or whatever (Tapper 1994). Such an orientation, looking at how animals are imagined or represented in human societies, is only an element of a larger picture. If we concentrate solely on how animals are represented, the impression is that animals are merely passive surfaces on to which human groups inscribe imaginings and orderings of all kinds. In our view, it is also vital to give credence to the practices that are folded into the making of representations, and—at the core of the matter—to ask how animals themselves may figure in these practices. This question duly raises broader concerns about non-human agency, about the agency of animals, and the extent to which we can say that animals destabilise, transgress or even resist our human orderings, including spatial ones. Noske’s (1989:169) query, which she frames in terms of anthropology, can hence be paraphrased for geography: that is, can a ‘real’ geography of animals be developed, rather than an anthropocentric geography of humans in relation to animals? It is around precisely such themes that our collection of essays is composed,
This chapter is about a very old question that is thrown up again in discussion related to ANT. Do orders have necessary limits to what can belong to them? It is possible to read ANT as containing or demanding a moral commitment to the inclusion of the disenfranchised. It can often seem to be in the business of giving credit where credit is due, spreading recognition to even the most unexpected quarters. To sustain itself such a morality would depend on the possibility of infinite inclusion. By identifying this picture of ‘belonging-by-assemblage’ and its traditional counterpart ‘belonging-by-banishment’ and by finding both at play within ANT, the paper argues that ANT is an ethical rather than a moral enterprise, bringing the unanswered question of the nature of belonging to bear across domains, rather than approaching each domain with a ‘cookie-cutter’ moral formula. The disturbing ‘unsecuring’ of belonging that ANT involves continues within the philosophical tradition ANT trades on and contributes to in the form of an abiding controversy over the place of the natural world.
This book develops a fresh perspective on everyday forms of engagement, one that foregrounds the role of objects, technologies and settings in democracy. Examining a range of devices, from smart meters to eco-homes, the book sets out new concepts and methods for analyzing the relations between participation, innovation and the environment.