Mapping the Commons of Athens and Istanbul

Can the commons be mapped? Which is the new common wealth of the contemporary metropolis and how can it be located? What are the advantages and the risks of such a cartography in times of crisis? The paper will aim to present and discuss the concept, the process and the results of the workshops “Mapping the Commons of Athens” and “Mapping the Commons of Istanbul” which were organized in 2010 and 2012 respectively.

The two cartographies were conceptualized and supervised by, and were developed in order to offer a form of collective study, a contemporary reading and an online mapping tool for the cities and their special dynamics. In a period that the contemporary metropolis seem restless and vulnerable at the same time, the workshops teams seeked for, examined and studied areas where alternative practices to capitalism are being developed.

Seeing beyond the “public” and the “private”, different types of commons were mapped based on collectivity, sociability, open and free access, gift and peer to peer economy. Online collaborative maps were created presenting an emerging image of today’s metropolis, formed by the potentialities of its inhabitants which however is still fluid and unstable.

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.

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 case studies of the mapping project. 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 developing collaborative mapping strategies and audiovisual languages, using open source software and participatory wiki-mapping tools. The final production features an interactive online video-cartography complemented by secondary databases and analogue-paper productions

The proposed method to define and map the commons consisted on three main steps:

1/ The first one was the discussion of the notion of the commons based on the literature, mainly Negri & Hardt’s Commonwealth thesis. Working in smaller groups, every group selected a set of commons and they presented it later to all the participants. Those first commons were added on a draft map. After extensive discussion with the rest of the group some of them were selected to be researched further.

2/ The second step consisted in adding parameters to the selected commons. The basic ones being name, actors, way and conflict. Name defines the common discussed, actor the group of actors trying to maintain the common, conflict defines the way that tha common is threatened and way the way through which the actors are trying to maintain the common intact. A more extended definition includes parameters to define as: wealth, benefits, rents generated (direct, if any); scale (micro-local, neighborhood, city, region, global), open to all, restricted to closed community and more

3/ The last step was the production of a short video of about 3-5 minutes to explain and depict each common. The videos are produced by small groups but sharing the initial credits. Its stage of editing was discussed by all the participants. The videos were added to interactive digital map using the platform meipi as online software.


Mapping the Commons of Athens[1] 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 the one where older and newer forms of resistance and counter-practices were about to 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.[2] 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, would be able to highlight the city’s living dynamic and its possibility for change. With this goal in mind, the team was faced with an interesting but difficult challenge; to emphasize the wealth of the metropolis by turning to the affects, languages, social relationships, knowledge and interests of its multitude; to build a cartography based on commons that to a great extent were immaterial and abundant, fluid and unstable and to therefore try to respond to certain difficult questions: How can the new artificial commons be mapped? Do they emerge in times of crisis? Do they constitute a form of resistance and which are the new dangers of enclosure that need to be faced?


Athens workshop’s participants in action.

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 to the inhabitants of Athens a new useful tool and a different reading for their city. The types of commons that were mapped are based on collectivity, sociability and sharing; they are encouraging open and free access and peer to peer practices. The database is rich and wide varying 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[3] 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[4] to the parties demanding the ludic use of the streets, from the animals as fellow humans[5] 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.

Language like affects and gestures, is for the most part common, and indeed if language were made either private or public — that is, if large portions of our words, phrases, or parts of speech were subject to private ownership or public authority — than language would lose its powers of expression, creativity, and communication. M. Hardt, A. Negri, Commonwealth

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 (re)claim 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 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.[6] 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.

Taksim Square project construction started by the central municipality of Istanbul on 4 November 2012, when a large group of activists occupied a part of the square shortly. The Mapping the Commons Istanbul Workshop participated and documented the process on site.

The biggest problem in these projects is that the whole process of planning, commissioning, and construction is kept inaccessible. 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 hardly any satisfactory response to these oppositions.

In this context, Mapping the Commons Workshop in Istanbul[7] 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[8], where a common discussion platform is successfully created against the new law of transformation of urban space, in Taksim Square[9], filming, discussing, and occupying of the square for common use against the authoritative projects, in Tarlabaşı[10], 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[11].


Through the two very intense workshops, a new representation system of both cities emerge. The lenses of the commons to “focus on” the metropolis, produces a radically opposite content to the hegemonic representation of the urban in institutional films, advertisement and corporate news.

We agree with the comments that the crucial issue on the commons should be its regulation, empowerment and protection. Mapping the Commons could then be understood as controversial since cartography has being historically one of the main tools for the enclosure of the commons by economic elites -those maps being secret or public ones-. Today some of Greece’s state companies, public and natural spaces are mapped in the “Hellenic Republic Development Assets Found”; a sales website where those commons are being offered to private global investors. We understand cartography as a subjective battlefield by itself and a form of activism. In that sense this projects is part of an already long tradition of critical cartographies by grassroots activists and radical scholars worldwide.

One of the aims of the project is to offer a “how to” to the academic and political discussion on the commons: a methodological tool to define and map the urban commons. The innovation of the method is being parametrical and audiovisual. The parameters have resulted on an accurate metadata tool to go beyond the plain text, although the extended data sheets require a longer term work to be achieved. The effort to produce a short video of each common is addressing the important role of moving images in contemporary political language. The visually explained methodology, the scholar literature involved and all of each workshop’s documentation (blog, parameters data sheet, videos and map) can be found and commented at The site has been redesigned as a scalar platform where new cities can be added in the future as a common research.

The fact of the first cities to be mapped being as significant in mankind history as Athens and Istanbul has probably motivated the processes. There was a great difference in the two first cities to be part of this workshop. Athens was mapped during a time of turmoil, when neo-liberal capitalism had started showing its demise as a system. People were extremelty active politically in a climate when there was still a lot of optimism for resistance. On the other hand Istanbul was mapped during a time that seemingly economic upheaval was taking place, huge investments and architectural projects were being designed around the city, while a much more subliminal policing of the citizens made even the workshop feel like a very risky activity. However, even though the conditions seemed to be so radically different, the mapping of the commons proved to be an equally important neccessity. No matter the economic and political condition, it was proven that defining and claiming commons is an extremely urgent issue no matter the economical and political state of a country. Rethinking property, privatization and government control is not a national issue to be raised in times of crisis. It is an ongoing process and an ongoing effort to keep commonwealth intact.

Text by Pablo De Soto, José Pérez de Lama, Daphne Dragona, Aslıhan şenell and Demitri Delinikolas.


[1] Athens Workshop credits:
Concept 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)
The work Mapping the Commons, Athens was realized in the framework of the series EMST Commissions 2010 at the Project Room of the museum, with the kind support of Bombay Sapphire gin. See

[2] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Commonwealth, Cambridge, MA, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009.

[3] The topic of Anger as a Common is presented by Matthias Fritsch in his video as: “Can anger be a common? Like care and love can be considered commons. In the Athens of riots, the Athens after December 2008, anger and rage brought part of the multitude together for better or for worse. Whose side are you on? Do you know what comes next?”

[4] Free information and media exchange as commons. Intellectual property forms a primary means for enclosing common knowledge production. Through IP, knowledge is commodified and then transmitted through controlled means of distribution. P2P file sharing is a practice through which knowledge production and its distribution channels are re-appropriated for the commons.

[5] Can the stray animals also constitute a city’s commons? Prior to 2004, Athens was a common space for animals and humans.There were many cats and dogs that lived all around the city without human masters or liberated from relations of bondage. Stray animals and humans often lived in a relationship of companionship, offering to each other communication, food, shelter, affection and protection.

[6] For a detailed discussion on the affects of newly introduced laws on the residential areas in the centre of Istanbul, see, Tuna Kuyucu and Özlem Ünsal, ” ‘Urban Transformation’ as State-led Property Transfer: An Analysis of Two Cases of Urban Renewal in Istanbul”, Urban Studies 47 (7), June 2010, pp. 1479-1499.

[7] Istanbul workshop credits:
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 Aslihan 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.
The Project is co-organised by amberPlatform and ITU Faculty of Architecture, Department of Architecture between 1-8 November 2012.

[8] Fener-Balat-Ayvansaray is a historical residential district in central Istanbul. In this area there is a diminishing non-Muslim community, which inhabit the area for hundereds of years, as well as migrants from eastern Turkey since the industrialization of Istanbul starting in the 1950s. The local municipality introduced an urban renewal project in 2009, with hardly any public interest, and since then the inhabitants have been resisting for their common rights through a public organisation called FEBAYDER.

[9] Taksim Square project construction started by the central municipality of Istanbul on 4 November 2012, when a large group of activists occupied a part of the square shortly. The Mapping the Commons Istanbul Workshop participated and documented the process on site.

[10] Tarlabaşı is an area in the centre of Istanbul. In this area a diverse community of immigrants live and occupy the streets for different common and everyday activities, such as weddings, festivals, carpet washing. The workshop participated and documented a wedding and immigrants kitchen on 4 November 2012.

[11] The workshop participated and documented a demonstration on 5 November 2012 at the Istanbul Technical University Faculty of Architecture courtyard, where proffessors, research and teaching assistants, and students held a festival for claiming the assistants’ employment rights, creating a communication space as commons.

Authors’s bios:

Pablo de Soto has a Master Degree in Architecture by KTH. Founder of, a collective of architects, programmers, artists and activists exploring connections between territory, architecture, digital networks and free software culture. He is editor of two books: “Fadaiat, Freedom of movement, freedom of knowledge” and “Situation Room, designing a prototype of a citizen Situation Room”. He has teached critical cartography workshops in four continents. He is currently a PhD candidate at the School of Communication of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. His recent work can be seen at

Daphne Dragona is curator and a researcher based in Athens. She has worked with centres, museums and festivals in Greece and abroad for exhibitions, workshops and media art events. She has participated in lectures and presentations in different symposia and festivals and articles of hers have been published in various books and magazines. She has worked expansively on game-based art, net-based art and on emerging forms of creativity related to the commons. She is currently a PhD candidate at the Department of Communication and Mass Media of the University of Athens.

Demitri Delinikolas is a film director and producer based in Athens. He has been directing commercials and short films and has participated in and produced a variety of new media projects. He studied Animation and Film Direction in the UK and currently he is a PhD candidate at the university of Athens researching the application of the internet in the production and distribution of Digital Cinema. His work can be seen at

Aslıhan Şenel is an architect, design studio tutor and lecturer at the Istanbul Technical University (ITU). After receiving her bachelor and masters degrees in ITU, she completed her PhD at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL in 2008, with a thesis titled ‘Unfixing Place: A Study of Istanbul through Topographical Practices’. She has organised international student workshops and contributed in publications such as Politics of Making by Routledge, First Year Works by ITU, and Besides Tourism by Edicions ETSAB. Her recent research and practice involves architectural representation with a focus on urban complex systems, performance, collaboration, and participation.

José Perez de Lama aka osfa. Architect, artist and theoretician. Founder of Fab Lab Sevilla. He has PhD in Architecture and teaches Architecture Theory at the University of Sevilla. Before this he was part of He is the author of various books, among them: “WikiPlaza. Request of Comments”, “FabWorks. Diseño y fabricación digital para la Aruitectura. Docencia, investigación y transferencia”, and “Devenires cíborg. Arquitectura, urbanismo y redes de comunicación”.


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