Managing the Urban Commons: Applying Common Property Frameworks to Urban Environmental Quality

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"Research into the management of common pool resources offers lessons which can be applied to the urban environment and its commonly held goods and bads. "There is a long tradition in both land use law and planning that claims a public interest in the bundle of rights that make up the institution of private property (Babcock and Feurer 1977; Jacobs and Ohm 1995). These claims are based in the goods and bads produced by private uses of land and by the relationships between land uses. These goods and bads take various forms. Many share the difficulty of exclusion (or avoidance) which is a key characteristic of the common goods concept. Land uses and development patterns affect such goods as air quality, water quality, environmental and ecological health, the quality of public spaces, and the characteristics of political and social spaces. These goods, when not pure externalities, are ineffectively internalized in the private market for land. "Despite this history and the multiple effects we have on each other, private property rights activists seek legislation which will increase the private rights of landholders and diminish the rights seen as public and subject to regulation. The most recent and widespread example of this is the movement to enact 'takings legislation.' Takings legislation characterizes the public regulation of private land as a removal of a privately held right rather than the exercise of a legitimate public right, and demands payment for taking. Resistance to the public regulation of private property is a complex and closely held set of ideas. In part, it is tied to doubts about the legitimacy of public purpose. The extent to which land uses have common property aspects is an empirical question: does this land use affect my neighbors, and if so, to what extent? As well, resistance to regulation expresses fears about ineffective and needlessly domineering governments. Ensuring that our common holdings in urban environmental quality are managed effectively and appropriately should allay some of this distrust in government. "The literature of common pool resource management offers some insights to the problems of the urban commons. First of all, common pool frameworks provide a familiar solution to the internalization of costs and benefits of a common resource. Second, this literature can contribute to the evaluation of the institutions which manage the urban commons, where these exist (Ostrom 1998). The common pool resource literature suggests that institutions should be appropriate to the scale of the resource to be managed, and should involve all those who hold a right in common. For example, for such goods as locational amenity, zoning by local governments is appropriate in scale. However, for such related bads as congestion and air quality, zoning by local governments is a poor fit in regional land use impacts. For some urban goods, we find that institutional designs are a good approximation of common good management institutions. For others, we find that institutional designs are inappropriate to the management of the common resource."



IASC, common pool resources--theory, land tenure and use--policy, urban affairs--policy, institutional analysis, institutional design, public goods and bads