11. Case Study: Ghent, an Urban Commons


The city of Ghent, Belgium boasts no fewer than 500 commons-related projects, a ten-fold increase seen over the past ten years. Some notable projects include:

Gent en Garde and Urban Agriculture Program Food commons. Two examples of Ghent’s focus on developing political support and citizen involvement for fair, organic, local food. Another food related project is Lunch met LEF, which is reversing the dependence on cheap food shipped long-distance from multinationals by providing fresh, local foods to school lunch programs, shipped by local cargo bike shares.

CLT Gent Community land trust. A percentage of city housing is devoted to CLT Gent for its management of spaces made, or kept, available and affordable to lower income people. Other housing-related projects in Ghent include Cohousing and Woocoop, and the policy-oriented Labland.

REScoop — Renewable energy cooperative. Through collective ownership of homeowners’ solar panels, members can share energy efficiency, so that even homes with less sunlight can benefit from the cooperative. Ghent has made energy sustainability a priority, and created a government agency, Energiecentrale, to support local energy-efficient renovation.

Buren van de abdij — (“Neighbors of the abbey”), Neighborhood-managed church building. This self-governed space was gifted by the city a decade ago, and is now home to a wide variety of community and cultural events.

NEST — (Newly Established State of Temporality), Former library building turned into a temporary urban commons lab. A community space housed in a former library, NEST has customized its rent rates by offering lower rents to more participatory and sustainable projects, effectively allowing commons-oriented projects a subsidy from other participants. Ghent has other spaces operating as temporary re-use sites, include Driemasterpark.

The P2P Foundation´s Michel Bauwens in collaboration with Yurek Onzia and Vasilis Niaros, and in partnership with Evi Swinnen and Timelab, conducted a three-month research and participation project on the ‘commons city of the future’, on invitation from the Ghent city government to help shape to a sustainable and ethical economy in Ghent. “The ecosystem of commons-based initiatives in Ghent is quite exemplary precisely because it covers an ecosystem in an area that requires a lot of capital and has to overcome a lot of commons-antagonistic regulation”, according to Bauwens. The results of the project’s research was a Commons Transition Plan describing the possibilities and role of the City of Ghent (as a local authority) in reinforcing citizen initiatives.