Postcapitalist Accountants Value the Urban Commons

R-Urban Project

In a recently published paper, a group of ‘postcapitalist accountants’ demonstrate the value of the urban commons by applying the Community Economy Return on Investment (CEROI) tool from Take Back the Economy.

Community Economy Research Network (CERN) members Doina Petrescu, Constantin Petcou, Maliha Safri and Katherine Gibson conducted this exercise in alternative value accounting, shedding light on what usually is invisible and uncounted, including voluntary unpaid labour, environmental care services, everyday ecological practices and well-being improvements.

The tool is applied to the R-Urban project which was established on the suburban outskirts of Paris in Colombes, a multicultural municipality where residents have incomes below the national average and where social housing towers are interspersed with single family dwellings.

The data used is from 2015, the year before this R-Urban project was evicted from its site by a new right-wing municipal administration that could not see the value of an urban farm compared to a parking lot!

Initiated in 2011 by the activist architecture practice Atelier d'Architecture Autogérée (aaa), the Colombes project had four full years of operation before closure, and in that period urban commons projects were developed based around urban agriculture (through AgroCité) and recycling (through Recyclab).

Projects included a microfarm, family garden plots, teaching space, compost school and a self-constructed community recycling and ecoconstruction centre that included workshop space, materials storage, a design studio and apartment, and garden deck.

According to the calculations, the initial Community Economy Investment of €1.2 m resulted in an annual Community Economy Return on Investment of 180%.

The authors acknowledge the irony (and pitfalls) of using the ‘master’s tools’ to challenge the dominant economization of lifeworlds, but they say, “As feminist economists and architects, we are reluctant to cede all econo-metrics to the Capitalocene.”

“If we are to build post-capitalist urban resilience, we need tools to track inputs and outputs of money, labour, care, and conviviality.”

Even though the Colombes project was evicted, the R-Urban model has since been replicated in three additional urban areas of Paris (in Gennevilliers, Nanterre, and Bagneux by aaa) and in London (in Hackney Wick and Poplar by PublicWorks) with funding support from local municipalities.

The paper, Calculating the value of the commons: Generating resilient urban futures, is an open access publication, part of a special issue of Environmental Policy and Governance on Transformative Geographies of Community Initiatives.

Jenny Cameron