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(How) can you plan an urban commons? Placemaking, visioning and negotiating for a commons on the Josaphat site in Brussels.

By Hanne Van Reusel, Phillippe De Clerck, Burak Pak and Johan Verbeke


no isbnIn this paper we will retrace the emergence of Commons Josaphat (CJ), an autonomous citizen collective that aims to create an open platform to negotiate the future development of the Josaphat site as an urban commons, which is not an easy target within the Brussels urban development setting. In the global surge Commons Josaphat constitutes a valuable ongoing trajectory that particularly situates itself by its experimental approach to practice the commons on an explicit urbanistic scale, exploiting the opportunities the Josaphat site offers as zone of regional interest. With the focus on the making process itself, highlighting the importance of negotiating spatial planning processes from the very beginning, CJ in essence targets to create favourable conditions for the implementation of urban commons. In its quest CJ outlines a mutual trajectory of parallel and related processes of collective visioning and local placemaking: on the one hand the creation of a coherent idea of what the fundamental principles would be, in order to develop the area as an urban common; on the other hand the practice, support and encouragement of onsite activities. These more tangible activities bring life to the Josaphat site and foster knowledge about and care for this area, while the commons ideation is used as anchor point to rethink a critical alternative for the way the Josaphat site might be developed. While the richness of combining what could be called ‘citizendriven topdown’ visioning and a ‘neighbourhood bottomup’ placemaking in one and the same endeavour is hardly questionable, we will see that this process is accompanied by a set of contradictions that needed and need to be overcome by different means. Four concerns are being recognised and subjected to an effort of articulation, concerning both the internal organisation of the collective and its relation with the broader public and official agencies. These tensions revolve around the limited availability of time and energy, a balancing between focus on the current place or principles for the future, questions of representativeness and legitimacy. As an additional final feature, the aspiration to operate in a horizontal and open manner has shown a twosided effect, resulting in a vague identity and a radical openness, making it a hard job to position CJ and define its autonomy and whether or not desired institutionalisation. As a conclusion we will argue that this contradictory and tense advancement represents the neverending search for a balance between legitimacy and efficiency within decisionmaking. As such, the CJ process of designing and governing Josaphat as an urban common is a tightrope walk between the own envisioned ideology and an actual realisation. It has been a constant learning process of which we hope to share and, in a way, to ‘open source’ the experience including its uncertainties, hesitations and failures so as to constitute a precedent to build upon.status: publishe

Year: 2015
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Provided by: Lirias
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