Commons Transition Plan

City, Country

Ghent, Belgium


In 2017, the City of Ghent commissioned and financed a Commons Transition Plan (Bauwens and Onzia, 2017). The main aim was to document the emergence and growth of the commons in the city and to identify strategies and policies in support to the empowerment of such initiatives. The study included the mapping of 500 commons-oriented initiatives in Ghent; 80 interviews with commoners; 70 questionnaires; and 9 open workshops divided per theme (e.g. food as a commons, transportation as a commons etc).

Initiative's relationship to REFLOW

  • Co-creation design & framework

  • Collaborative governance & urban strategies

  • Pilot framework

  • Capacity building


City level

Period of implementation

2017 (plan development)

Core vision

The City of Ghent has long invested in enhancing participation and co-creation. During the past few years, the municipality has been constantly re-examining its own role vis-à-vis the fast growing number of commons-based initiatives across the city, investigating new ways of supporting and funding. The key question underpinning the study was how to develop a mix of political, relational and regulatory framework for the local government and its citizens, so as to facilitate the further development of the commons in the city. The study well documented the existence of plenty of commons initiatives in all sectors of human provisioning, in turn evidencing the presence of forms of ‘do-ocracy’ based on both individual and collective contribution. However, the study also highlighted a number of barriers, including the high fragmentation of the initiatives, hindering regulation, membership dynamics often ‘closed’, general perception of the initiatives as mainly directed towards vulnerable categories and not as general productive resources (Bauwens and Onzia 2017).

Implementation and governance

Ghent is a dynamic city that, over time, has been able to create a vibrant political and administrative culture that engages many city officials at different levels. A network of facilitators, connectors and street workers is actively engaged at micro-levels, playing a fundamental role in terms of creation of social tissues, as well as a broader atmosphere that is conducive to civic autonomy. Indeed, this atmosphere has been crucial to the emergence and growth of the commons in the city. Moreover, the city is active in the support to bottom-up initiatives for the temporary use of vacant land and buildings, pioneering a specific policy on this and also coordinating a pan-European network of cities in the context of the recent Refill project.

Acknowledging this positive and vibrant atmosphere, the Commons Transition Plan focuses on the kind of institutional innovations needed to further develop and support the urban commons in the city. It proposes public-social or public-partnership based processes and protocols to streamline cooperation between the city and the commoners across different sectors. The Plan proposes a concept of the local government understood as ‘partner city’ which acts as a facilitator and convener of commons projects, while setting in place and maintaining an enabling regulatory framework.

Among the various proposals, the plan suggests the creation of a City Lab that prepares a ‘Commons Accord’ between the city and the commons initiative. Based on this contract, the city sets-up specific support alliances which combine the commoners and civil society organisations, the city itself, and the generative private sector, in order to organize support flows. Furthermore, the plan is also proposing the establishment of a cross-sector institutional infrastructure for commons policy-making and support, divided in ‘transition arenas’ (i.e. food as commons, energy as commons, etc).

Source: Bauwens and Onzia, 2017

Key to the Plan is the implementation of polycentric governance arrangements which enable the creation of support coalitions between local authorities, commoners, civil society organizations, businesses and knowledge institutions.

Source: Bauwens and Onzia, 2017

Results, impacts and learnings

Although the Plan has been raising wide interest at international level, it has not been applied locally. Indeed, its application appeared challenging from the very beginning, requiring a massive shift in mentality, shared intents towards a courageous, yet unexplored path, not to mention the reorganization of the city administration towards more flexible, adaptable and distributed forms of governance. While Ghent is indeed a frontrunner city in terms of citizens’ engagement, participation and collaborative governance, the full realization of the Plan probably required a political mobilization which was hard to be achieved. Nevertheless, the Plan offers valuable insights on how similar issues could be addressed in other cities; it has inspired other cities to follow on similar paths, such as in the case of Sydney with its Commons Transition Plan approved in 2019.


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