Bologna, Italy’s potential co-op valley

Excellent short introduction on the city of Bologna, Italy, and why its history lends itself very well to a culture of co-ops. Over the last few decades, it’s been in the habit of various instances there to have the city act as both a “top-down catalytic developer” and as “backers of bottom-up grassroots movements,” combining the two approaches and cultivating complementary initiatives, which results in stronger partnerships that strengthen the local ecosystem.

Another interesting aspect is that while today some movements are trying to trickle down decision power from stats closer to cities, for a long time Bologna has been going even further, so “many initiatives in Bologna are directly taken at the local district level rather than the city one.”

The region has cooperative roots embedded deep into its history, so those reflexes are now part of “territory’s socio-cultural networks” and go back to their medieval communal culture. Now, the mayor wants to extend that into platform cooperativism.

[I]n line with Elinor Ostrom’s work and James Muldoon’s recent proposal of Platform Socialism, Bologna’s mayor, Matteo Lepore, has portrayed the city as the prospective Italian Co-op Valley. To be clear, we are discussing a more equitable alternative to Silicon Valley’s extractive business model that is based on values such as solidarity, mutualism, and proximity. It is not an attempt to imitate Silicon Valley in any way.

Bologna offers a chance to rethink the social contract that currently governs the Internet, prioritizing the multi-stakeholder orientation and combining the established heritage of urban commoning with the novel ideal of the platform cooperativism global movement. As a result, digital platforms can be viewed as infrastructures that provide public utility services and should be jointly owned and managed by all the stakeholders who are impacted by their operation.

The post is heavily linked to a number of resources, so I invite you to see it also as a jumping-off point to discover more about the cooperative history and some of the useful local thinking. The author also closes the piece with two existing examples of platform cooperativism. Fairbnb, an Emilian worker-owned cooperative answer to Airbnb, tackling the “pressing gentrification issue posed by its extractive incumbent.” And food-delivery cooperative Consegne Etiche, which was an answer to pandemic lockdowns as well as to extractive business practices.

Social entrepreneurs from existing cooperatives who wanted to change their business model, urban designers, local shopkeepers, academics, and gig workers’ union representatives got involved in this co-planning process. The goals were to rethink the city after Covid, fight mainstream extractive platforms, and provide an essential service to citizens at the same time.

In the end, a great lesson that can be useful across the world even beyond cooperatives; without turning back the clock completely, there is great potential in looking beyond Silicon Valley and hyper-capitalist models, to find lessons and inspiration in each region’s historical accomplishments and values.