A project to explore how the commons transform public action in Europe
Uso Civico at the Asilo, Naples. Conversation with Maria Francesca Tullio

Some background elements:

The third city in Italy after Milan and Rome, Naples has suffered in recent years from austerity policies and presents socio-economic indicators that bear witness to this. Historically, there has been a strong challenge to private property and there are important links between the administration and social movements.

In 2007, the Rodotà Commission carried out legal work on the Civil Code in order to recognize its status as a common good, consistent with the social function of property, provided for in the Italian Constitution. This defines them as essential goods to fundamental rights, which must be managed in an open and accessible way, so as to preserve the good for future generations … After 3 years of negotiation, the “Ex Asilo Filangieri ”, a former convent abandoned and occupied by a group of artists, was recognized in 2012 by the Naples City Council as a common good. It is self-managed by an open community, a place for experimenting with participative democracy in the field of culture.

This route was somewhat dialectical – and partly in conflict – with the “Naples Laboratory for a Constituent of Common Goods”, created by the municipality, to map abandoned and unused municipal goods, in collaboration with citizen associations. This laboratory organizes thematic consultations and advice to develop the “uso civico” : a legal tool consisting in giving these public and private abandoned goods to citizens wishing to develop collective projects of social utility that are economically viable.

Finally, in 2015, the municipality recognized the self-government of the community of Asilo, by accepting the Declaration of civic use written by the community itself and defining the rules of use.

In 2016, thanks to this “uso civico” mechanism, the city of Naples granted the status of commons to 7 other emblematic places. These places were public property and have been occupied for a long time by groups from the communities after being abandoned; the communities that illegally occupied these places are now recognized as administrators.

This period of lockdown was an opportunity for us to speak with Maria Francesca De Tullio, lawyer, contributor to the Asilo in Naples (03/18/2020). Here is a report of our exchange:

Maria Francesca De Tullio: Asilo is above all a cultural center and wants to renew the way in which art is produced. The Uso Civico is a little different from what you can see in Bologna. Here, we are talking more about development and direct management. The community has much more power.

Asilo was born out of an occupation of artists protesting against the dominant public policies of concentrating funding on major events and major artistic directions. Before the occupation, it was a building where big events took place. It was managed by concession and was occupied symbolically. It was supposed to last 2-3 days but many residents, researchers, environmental activists and feminists joined the movement. This took place shortly after the joint water referendum, which Naples was the first city to apply. They decided to use this movement to renew institutions and denounce the tendency to sell what was public, under the guise of austerity policies. We finally imagined a way of managing these goods as common goods, open to everyone. They started by holding Assemblies to see how to manage this place in an open, inclusive, anti-fascist, anti-sexist way.

A declaration of civic use has therefore been drawn up. It is a bit of a legacy of “communal goods”, with the difference that in the traditional model there was no assurance that the property would be opened. It has therefore been renewed to ensure that the property is managed by the community and that the development is imagined as an open development.

Then began a long 3-years negotiation with different phases of friendship / conflict with the administration. The administration received these rules of “civic use”, accompanied by a file highlighting the activities and people having passed through the Asilo. The administration finally decided to maintain and support the project by paying for water, electricity and extraordinary works. These methods were then used by 7 other Neapolitan places with different themes.

Was there any methodological help from the Asilo pioneers to help these 7 other places to put together declarations of civic use?

Orbiters, jurists, philosophers of law, etc. helped the emergence of the other places but there weren’t really experts. It is really the communities that set up the management procedures. Another question arises, relating to the representation of the civic value of uses.

The mayor of Naples is in his second term. Before him, we had this municipalist experience with Massa Critica. This movement held public assemblies with the inhabitants. There was already a political network to discuss the themes of the city and beyond. In this network, they have developed legal tools but each space has its rules, its ways of being managed. In other cities, other spaces would also like to join this uso civico.

What was the consensus between the city and Asilo and how did it impact the rules of Asilo? (why is it after reading the rules that it is decided to support?)

These are two different levels but not isolated. Not everyone agreed to ask the administration for recognition. In the end, it was the fruit of discussion within the community assembly. However, all agreed that conventional building management procedures should not apply. The city recognized a new community, attached to constitutional principles, like the principle of equality, and the specifically Italian principle of horizontal subsidiarity.

The call to the meeting is public, the agenda and the report are also public. Before, there was a more restricted assembly and they finally decided to postpone all the decisions to the public assemblies. The administration agreed to give this property under management to the community because it did not want to sell it, it wanted to put it to the use of the community but thought of using conventional tools such as the concession. We had to make proposals, and finally invent a new tool.

All decisions are made by consensus so not everyone was always in agreement, but it helps to be very united. We are trying to understand each other and see how the assembly can make better decisions. 4 hours of meetings are held per week with work tables to operationalize the various proposals.

Why can’t we imagine a place like the Asilo with the Bologna Pacts?

With the pacts, management is shared between the city and the community, and it is the city that controls what has been produced and the value that has been made. Normally, the city does not offer to support the places economically. In civic use, there is recognition that the community decides. It is a recognition of the normative power of the community and of what it can do and change. The condition is that the community is completely open while with the pacts, one can make exclusive use. Also, the uso civico may not have a time limit.

In Bologna, the city decides to give a place to communities but sometimes to the detriment of other social initiatives / movements, who have been expelled from their spaces in a desire to install profitable economic activities there. In Naples, the community chose the spaces itself. However, there are still hybrid models.

How did you think about liability?

The responsibility is that of the city for major works but for daily activities, it is neither the city nor the place; there is a system of self-responsibility. Those who enter sign a declaration of co-responsibility for damage to the place, to third parties and to oneself. It’s a bit like in public space.

In addition, in terms of openness and inclusion, there is a search for communication forms of to address those who would not come naturally to the place, despite the principle of openness.

What if there is a fire and everything is on fire?

These are the rules, but there is no case of application of these rules in such serious cases.
More generally, we have the idea of ​​organizing an international group of jurists and activists who reflect on the commons.

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