Mapping the Commons of Athens and Istanbul


In today’s world, the recurrent concept of the commons elaborates on the idea that the production of wealth and social life are heavily dependent on communication, cooperation, affects, and collective creativity. The commons would be, then, those milieu of shared resources, that are generated by the participation of the many and multiple, which constitute, some would say, the essential productive fabric of the 21st Century metropolis. And then, if we make this connection between commons and production, we have to think of political economy: power, rents, and conflict.

Commons can be defined by being shared by all, without becoming private for any individual self or institution. Commons include natural resources, common lands, urban public spaces, creative works, and knowledge that is exempt from copyright laws. In Athens and Istanbul, like in many global cities, the discussions around commons have been relevant especially with the increasing pressure of privatization and control of the governments over the shared assets of the community.

The questions, then, would be: may the commons provide us with alternative concepts and tactics to the dominant power, for a more democratic, tolerant, and heterogeneous society, which allows more participation and collectivity? Can we open up the different definitions of the commons, and are there different ways of understanding and discussing the commons through various practices? Due to our tradition of the private and the public, of property and individualism, the commons are still hard to see for our late 20th Century eyes.

Mapping the Commons

We propose, therefore, a search for the commons, a search that will takes the form of a mapping process. We understand mapping, as proposed by Deleuze and Guattari, and as artists and social activists we have been using it during the last decade as a performance that can become a reflection, a work of art, a social action.

Athens and Istanbul have been been the first objects case studies of the mapping project. We proposed as a Our hypothesis was that a new view of the city could come out of the process, one where the many and multiple, often struggling against the state and capital, are continuously and exuberantly supporting and producing the commonwealth of its social life.

Two groups of 20-25 architects, activists, artists, filmmakers and social scientists worked for more than a week in both cities respectively in both metropolis developing collaborative mapping strategies and audiovisual languages, using open source software and participatory wiki-mapping tools. The final production would features as its central piece an interactive online video-cartography, complemented by secondary databases and analogue-paper productions.


The method proposed was parametrical and audiovisual, a method in order to define the commons in five steps:
1. Discuss the notion of the commons based on Negri & Hardt’s Commonwealth thesis.
2. Select a set of commons.
3. Define a chart of parameters for each common.
4. Produce a 3-5-minute videos to explain each common.
5. Integrate already defined commons on a online mapping platform.
Description of the methodological tools?


Mapping the Commons, Athens took place at the end of 2010, at the year when Greece started losing its financial independence. Six months after the first memorandum with IMF and the implementation of the first austerity measures, the Greek capital was called upon to play a new role. Athens was invited to become the “beta” city of crisis, to constitute the experimental ground for the emerging transitional economic period and to confront first in Europe the impasse of late capitalism. The metropolis looked vulnerable but also restless, and its territory was certainly the one where older and newer forms of resistance and counter-practices would be formed but also challenged.

Inspired by the thought of Hardt and Negri, the workshop ‘Mapping the Commons, Athens’ aimed to study and empower these emerging forms of resistance, by focusing on the city’s most significant wealth, its commons. If “the city is the source of the common and the receptable into which it flows” as the philosophers argue, then a cartography of the commons for the city of Athens, a city in times of crisis, should be able to highlight the city’s living dynamic and its possibility for change. The team therefore was faced with an interesting but difficult challenge as its aim was to emphasize the wealth of the metropolis by turning to the affects, languages, social relationships, knowledge and interests of its multitude. The commons that were to be mapped were to a great extent immaterial and abundant, fluid and unstable. And the main questions addressed in the context of the work were the following: How can the commons be traced and mapped? Do they emerge in times of crisis? What role can they really play? What are the new dangers and enclosures being faced and how can they be faced?

After discussions and meetings with people from different areas working on the commons, the participants of the workshop in collaboration with the team of Hackitectura proceeded first to the documentation of the urban commons as part of a research online map and then to the making of short video case studies, as part of an interactive video cartography presenting representative commons found in the city . Seeing beyond the “public” and the “private”, this collective effort aimed to offer a new reading of Athens and a new useful tool for its inhabitants. The types of commons that were mapped were based on collectivity, sociability, open and free access, gift economy, peer to peer practices and a vast variety of entries appeared: from squatted and self-managed parks in the heart of the city to digital platforms for the sharing and upcycling of objects; from anger and its expression on the streets to the thousand wireless network nodes open in the city, from the critical mass of cyclists demanding roads for people not cars to the language as main common, from the free software and P2P to the parties demand the ludic use of the streets, from the animals as fellow humans to graffiti as common artistic expression on the city walls. The workshop also produced a blog documenting the progress of work and an installation hosted at the National Museum of Contemporary Art after the completion of the work.

Two years later, the maps produced are still on view online and remain open to further contributions by anyone interested. Seen by their creators as databases of exchange, the hope was and still is to inform the inhabitants about spaces where communities of commoners are formed and to empower the city’s ground for social encounters and experiences. Built as a result of a truly “common” effort, they were based on the belief that the exit from impasse of the crisis can possibly be found through creativity that embraces the ideas of sharing and co-producing.


At a time when Istanbul is being transformed radically with large-scale privatizations and constructions due to increasing pressures of neo-liberal politics, it becomes an urgent necessity to think and act in order to reclaim the commons in the city. Commons in Istanbul, such as open spaces, the right to inhabit in the city, the right to be informed of the governing and rebuilding of the urban spaces and the freedom of expression in these processes, communication platforms, and nature, are under the threat of diminishing today more than ever. The emerging laws for transforming the areas in danger of natural disaster (Law no. 5393, in 2005, Law no. 6306 in May 2012) lend strong authority to the state to demolish and rebuild the housing areas in the centre of Istanbul, moving the owners into public housing on the periphery and leaving the tenants unsettled. The law announcing the state woodlands and farmlands on sale (Law no. 6292, in April 2012) makes the natural common lands vulnerable for private development.

At the moment, there are a great number of large-scale projects transforming public coasts, squares and parks into demolition and construction sites in short-term and turning them into private lands in the long-term. Taksim Gezi Park is one of these common sites, where the former barrack building on site is planned to be re-built from scratch in order to house privately controlled cultural and commercial activities. Taksim Square, one of the most important places for public appearance, is now a construction site since November 2012, to be transformed into a large empty space devoid of public density. While in transformation, common memory of the citizens for these places is permanently destructed and erased. For example, the public life of Taksim Gezi Park and the image of Taksim Square as a political scene for large demonstrations are already on hold due to the long-term construction works, and will hardly exist after the planned spatial changes. Similarly, Haydarpaşa Train Terminal where one entered Istanbul and enjoyed its large public stairs is closed at the beginning of 2012 to be turned into a hotel despite public opposition.

The biggest problem in these projects is that the whole process of planning, commissioning, and construction is kept closed. The planned projects, which are by law presented to public opinion before being implemented by the Greater Municipality of Istanbul, include insufficient details for a public opinion to be formed. Professional (Chamber of Architects, Chamber of Urban Planners, etc.) and non-governmental organisations, universities, and some of the media struggle for more transparent processes. However, the central authority gives insufficient response to these oppositions.
In this context, Mapping the Commons Workshop in Istanbul played an intermediatory role in understanding and revealing the conflicts in relation to commons, raise discussions around the concept of commons, and most importantly be a part of the action in Istanbul to create commons, and furthermore map through videos these historical moments when commons are actualized. For this, the workshop initially took place in the street, through, for example, interviewing and filming in Fener-Balat-Ayvansaray, where a common discussion platform is successfully created against the new law of transformation of urban space, in Taksim Square filming, discussing, and occupying of the square for common use against the authoritative projects, in Tarlabaşı participating a Kurdish street wedding and a kitchen for the support of immigrants, and in the Technical University of Istanbul participating and interviewing at a demonstration to claim communication space for employment security.

[1] Workshop Credits:

Athens workshop credits:
Concept, workshop and project development:
José Pérez de Lama de Lama & Pablo de Soto (Hackitectura) in collaboration with Jaime Díez and Carla Boserman
With the support of
Curated by: Daphne Dragona
Participants: Efi Avrami, Elena Antonopoulou, Mariana Bisti, Maya Bontzou, Dimitris Delinikolas, Eleni Giannari, Aliki Gkika, Anastasia Gravani, Alexis Hatzigianis, Dimitris Hatzopoulos, Melina Flippou, Zaharias Ioannidis, Angela Kouveli, Veroniki Korakidou, Daphne Lada, Olga Lafazani, Natalie Michailidou, Yiannis Orfanos, Stratis Papastratis, Maria Dimitra Papoulia, Yorgos Pasisis, Carolin Philipp, Maria Pitsiladi, Manos Saratsis, Athina Staurides, Iouliani Theona, Eleana Tsoukia, Sonia Tzimopoulou, Antonis Tzortzis, Dimitris Psychogios
Scientific Advisors: Nelli Kabouri (Political Sciences, Panteion University), Dimitris Papalexopoulos (Architect, Associate Professor NTUA), Dimitris Parsanoglou (Sociologist, Panteion University), Dimitris Charitos (Assistant Professor, Department of Communication and Mass Media, University of Athens)
Organised and commissioned by the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens

Instructors:Pablo de Soto (, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) in collaboration with Demitris Delinikolas (empty film, University of Athens).
Event organizers: Ekmel Ertan (Amber Platform art director) and Asilhan Senel (Istanbul Technical University).
Video Project Participants: Gizem Ağırbaş, Burcu Nimet Dumlu, Ecem Ergin, Onur Karadeniz, Fikret Can Kuşadalı, Marco Magnani, Zümra Okursoy, İpek Oskay, Sibel Saraç, Jale Sarı, Yağız Söylev, Ceren Sözer, Neşe Ceren Tosun, Ece Üstün, Wolke Vandenberghe, Daniele Volante, Volazs.

Hardt, M., and A. Negri. Commonwealth. Harvard University Press, 2011.
Harvey, David. Rebel Cities. London: VERSO BOOKS, 2012.
Bollier, David, and Silke Helfrich. The wealth of the commons : a world beyond market and state. [s.l.]: Routledge, 2012.


One comment

  1. Pingback: Mapping the Commons of Athens and Istabul « Pablo de Soto

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