Commons-based Governance in Public Space: User Participation and Inclusion

Peter Parker, Staffan Schmidt


Participatory forms of park governance have been seen as means of empowering users, improving adaptation to local needs and harnessing local resources. Participatory governance has however also been critiqued for benefiting only select groups. The situation is ambiguous with participation held to be both empowering in the sense of developing use-values in locally relevant ways and exclusionary in representing select interests.

This research addresses the question of if and how a particular form of participatory governance, park commons, may be compatible with inclusive public space. To do so the research explores boundary work of user groups and public sector enabling in two park commons using a multiple case study approach.

We find that park commons may be understood to contain a mix of different types of shared resources. The specific mix explains different expressions of user-generated boundaries and particularly the extent that these boundaries are permeable. The research also identifies several forms of public sector intervention that influence the ways boundaries are constructed. The findings indicate a potential for public managers to strategically enable commons as a means to increase civic engagement and potentially increase rather than diminish inclusiveness of parks.

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