Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Common Space: The City as Commons

Stavros Stavrides

Zed Books



Common Space: The City as Commons is the first of its kind, providing a theoretical approach to problematizing space in the city as commons and not only as a state-managed space or commodity. Based upon Lefebvrian tradition as well as engaging with theorists like Foucault, Bourdieu and Zibechi, Stavros Stavrides draws upon historical and contemporary examples to answer questions around the practice of doing in common (or commoning). In particular, he uses cases from Athens, Greece and cities in Latin America among others. Rooted in the context of today’s urbanized world, in this book Stavrides investigates the potential emerging out of resistance and creative alternatives for city dwellers to appropriate their own city (page 1). Furthermore, Stavrides attempts to clearly connect commoning with spatial relations that are organized in an open network. Such networks open communities to newcomers, new possibilities, and new sharing rules, for example (page 3).

Stavrides defines common space as “a set of spatial relations produced by commoning practices” that “create forms of social life, forms of life-in-commons” (page 2). He therefore positions common spaces as distinct from public and private spaces, in that they emerge as sites open to public use and have rules and forms that are not dependent upon a prevailing authority (page 2).

Common Space is organized into three parts: Commoning space (Chapters 1 and 2); Inhabited common space (Chapters 3 to 6); and Envisaged common space (Chapters 7 to 9).

Part One looks at the contemporary metropolis and highlights forms of spatio-temporal ordering and normalization to control and mould the city through dominant power relations. It identifies that processes of normalization create “common” or social worlds with recognizable boundaries, within which people share identities, habits and values (page 31). Although these worlds of commoning are not only shared beliefs, etc., these ways of sharing strongly influence a sense of belonging and active participation in shaping rules of common space. Stavrides states that common worlds can be different in form as well as different in the way they were created. He explores the historical process of expanding commoning and concludes that although commoning is not anti-capitalist, it facilitates efforts to supersede capitalism (page 61).

Part Two investigates inhabited common spaces. Drawing on the history of a social housing complex in Athens, Stavrides gleans lessons about the practice of expanding commoning. Constructed in 1935 to accommodate refugees from Asia Minor, he shows how this exemplifies the concept of heterotopia – a collective experience of otherness – and how from this was created an expanding shared world (pages 66 and 67). Stavrides then discusses housing and urban commoning and the role of social movements to focus activities around collective demands often associated with rights. Here he illustrates how commoning occurs on varying levels and is practised by urban dwellers as a means to cope with the harsh conditions that they face daily in the city (page 99). Moving from housing to the metropolitan streets, Stavrides traces their history as contested spaces. Looking back at how streets were seen as a tool to bring order back to cities, he then considers their role in two different sets of urban policies: gentrification and shared space. Finally, Part Two examines the occupied squares movement and uses the case of demonstrations in Barcelona and Madrid and the Syntagma Square occupation in Athens.

Part Three presents envisaged common spaces. This looks at how collective memory is used to reclaim public space-as-commons or to rediscover commons through practices of defacement. Here Stavrides discusses official acts of defacement next to alternative or dissident defacement. He then considers the role of images and words to represent and describe how people envisage common space. Stavrides contends that depicting urban utopias that include a communally organized environment will more successfully harness the transformative power of commoning if such images are “inventively created and exchanged” (page 226). Part Three ends with representations of space and of emancipation, and traces the rethinking of politics behind the creation of liberation-oriented images.

In conclusion, Stavrides emphasizes that whilst he tries to define the characteristics of common space in this book, common space remains a process in motion. This book provides an in-depth journey into the concept of common space, and links philosophical thought with urban planning and design and social movements. It is relevant to students, academics and practitioners alike.


Book note prepared by Hannah Keren Lee

Search the Book notes database

Our Book notes database contains details and summaries of all the publications included in Book notes since 1993 - with details on how to obtain/download.

Use the search form above, or visit the Book notes landing page for more options and latest content.

For a searchable database for papers in Environment and Urbanization, go to http://eau.sagepub.com/