Community Networks and the Right to the City

This deliverable summarizes the theoretical and practical work performed in the context of netCommons project’s Task T5.2 on “Alternative Internets and the Right to the City”. The aim is to “extend the concept of the ‘right to the city’ for the case of hybrid urban space, both in theory and in practice, and to highlight the important role that CNs can play for empowering citizens to claim their right to the hybrid city.”

Since the publication of the article that coined the term “the right to the hybrid city” Antoniadis and Apostol (2014), complementary theoretical work has been published, with titles like “the right to the digital city”, “informational rights to the city”, “digital rights to the city”, “right to the co-op city”, and more. This body of work makes clear the threats on privacy, freedom of expression and self-determination posed by the domination of big tech corporations in the Internet market. By and large it has reinforced the argument that the very right identified by Henri Lefebvre is at stake in the digital space of cities, and further broadened the view on the meaning of the right to the city in today’s ICT-mediated city life.

Given that, the work of this task is focused toward making a step further beyond awareness and theoretical justification of what seems obvious today: the digital is an inseparable part of the city fabric and is subject to a wide variety of rights and claims for ownership and self-determination.

First, the report elaborates on the concept of the right to the city, in particular on the right to difference, from an actor perspective. This is not addressed in depth in existing literature, and can be very useful for Internet scholars and activists. As an extension of that, in the section following the literature review, this document makes a comparison of digital networks with the early days of railways’ development and their associated services, looking also at their impact on spatial development and on the political economy of territory.

Second, we report on three long-term threads of practical work that will hopefully help all interested parties, including urban and digital activists, to engage in the required future coalitions between different areas of commoning for the right to the hybrid city.

More specifically, these threads are referring to: 1) The development of a series of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary ‘encounters’ between urban and digital activists. Their purpose is to analyze examples from past and current struggles in both domains pointing to similarities, differences, and strategies for collaboration, promoting CNs as a key urban ICT infrastructure for supporting local services and applications. Until the writing of this deliverable three of such encounters of two-four hours duration have been organized, all of them organized instead of the single workshop that was envisaged and promised in the DoW. See Chapter 4; 2) The development of a prototype hybrid neighborhood node, a hybrid urban living lab in the centre of the city of Zurich, serving both as a hub for exchanges between urban and digital activists and as a living exhibition of alternative technologies like self-hosted services. See Chapter 5; and 3) The development of a “CN model” appropriate for integration with the Swiss cooperative housing model in the form of a) specific “requirements” for developers integrated in an architectural competition for an on-going cooperative housing project, b) an analogy with organic agriculture and a speculative descrip- tion of a future cooperative housing model (published as a book chapter in a recent book edited by one of the pioneers of the cooperative housing movement in Zurich, Hans Widmer (aka P.M.). See Appendix A, Appendix B, Appendix C

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