Naples's civic laboratory

The city of Naples is experimenting with new ways to manage abandoned public buildings, this includes involving citizens in the process. This innovative approach has caught the eye of many other European cities.

Cinzia Sciuto
Cinzia Sciuto MicroMega, Italy
Source: MicroMega
Naples's civic laboratory - NewsMavens
Naples. Pixabay.

Why this story matters:

Italian cities have under gone a wide range of experiences when it comes to squatting. 

Citizens who occupy public buildings do so against the law, and it is in the name of the law that municipal authorities often try to evict them.

But on the other hand, squatting often happens when municipilaties fail to provide public services which they are, by law, obliged to furnish.

It is undeniably illegal to occupy a public building. However, it is also true that our Constitution -- the foundation of our legal system, on which the legitimacy of every law is based, and in the light of which every law should be interpreted -- states that "It is the duty of the Republic to remove those obstacles of an economic and social nature that, by in fact limiting the freedom and equality of citizens, impede the full development of the human person and the effective participation of all workers in the political, economic and social organisation of the country." (Article 3).

In Rome, the International Women's House -- an institution that has been providing services and assistance to tens of thousands of women over the last thirty years while managing a sizeable, beautiful historical building in Trastevere -- will likely close soon because the rent is too high. Surely this is not the legality that our founding fathers had in mind.

But Naples is trying out a different approach.

Instead of indiscriminately cracking down on citizens by invoking the law, the city tries to work with its inhabitants, looking into ways to make them contribute to a collective well-being, and reintegrate them into lawful society.

It is no coincidence that the "Naples Laboratory" is observed with interest by many European cities, especially Ada Colau's Barcelona. At times when politics has lost its ability to provide meaning, perhaps the most virtuous cities and civic experiences will allow us to rediscover a sense of democracy and solidarity.

Details from the story:

  • As of 2012, the municipal administration of Naples, under Mayor Luigi De Magistris, issued a series of resolutions that allow citizens' assemblies to use unused public goods for cultural and social purposes.
  • The most famous of these resolutions is the one concerning the former Asilo Filangieri, where citizens of different backgrounds have long gathered to organize cultural and social activities.
  • The administration is also studying measures to ensure that even disused private buildings can be used to increase the well-being of the community.
  • The Permanent Observatory of Common Goods was born in 2013 in order to manage and supervise these initiatives.
  • All these measures were inspired by the legal work of Stefano Rodotà, which states that the management of common goods, understood as assets directly linked to the sphere of fundamental rights, is worthy of protection beyond their formal ownership, whether it be public or private, and therefore must be subtracted from the exclusive mechanisms of the market.
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