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Water, Public Hygiene and Fire Control in Medieval Towns: Facing Collective Goods Problems while Ensuring the Quality of Life

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Type: Journal Article
Author: Ewert, Ulf Christian
Journal: Historical Social Research
Volume: 32
Page(s): 222-251
Date: 2007
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/7812
Sector: History
Social Organization
Water Resource & Irrigation
Subject(s): urban affairs
collective action
quality of life
tragedy of the commons
public health
common pool resources
Abstract: "Clean water, neat streets and fire prevention determined the quality of life also in medieval towns. While ensuring an environment worth living citizens were faced with collective goods problems. As a result of the environmentally harmful urban way of life common-pool resources like waters and streets were over-exploited, polluted and degraded. This urban tragedy of the commons was even more complicated, as public hygiene and fire prevention, both necessary to cope with pollution and fire hazard, were public goods and their realisation caused a public goods dilemma. Due to coordination efforts municipal administration, transfer of property rights, enhancement of voluntary cooperations and regulations common-pool resources like water and infrastructure could be provided, but municipal authorities barely succeeded in enforcing polluters to internalise the social costs of their behaviour and managing the supply of public preventive goods. Differently from the suggestion made in the concept of Environmental Kuznets Curve emergence of environmental externalities and treatment of communal risks were not only related to economic development, but also to population growth."

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