From Privatisation to Community Use

We are witnessing an emergence of different strategies to counter corporate ownership, real estate speculation and privatization through community ownership models and cooperative land use schemes. Will civic spaces in Central Europe be a competition for public spaces or an extension of them?

ZKU, Berlin

“The ownership of spaces determine physical access to spaces and structures how these spaces are developed, maintained, controlled, and generate revenue.”


Article by Levente Polyak

In the last few decades, ownership has become a key factor of our societies and economies. As the economist Thomas Piketty demonstrated in his recent book, ”Capital in the Twenty First Century”, the late 20th and early 21st centuries witnessed the return of the primacy of wealth over work in economic benefits and ownership has become an increasingly important part of wealth production.

Piketty’s conclusion means that after a few decades following the welfare reforms of the 1920s, when work had constituted the principal path towards emancipation and social mobility, the dismantling of the welfare state in Western societies in the last third of the 20th century has globally reduced the value of work and has degraded it into a secondary source of income, behind revenues from property. Among the ownership of other goods like financial products or intellectual properties, the ownership of spaces, that is, real estate, has become a defining element of today’s urban and rural areas: this process corresponds to the increasing role of private and corporate owners in our cities and countryside and to a general withdrawal of public ownership across the globe.

The ownership of spaces determines not only physical access to spaces but also structures how these spaces are developed, maintained, controlled, and generate revenue. As sociologist Saskia Sassen suggests, the ownership patterns of our cities are changing and these transformations should concern all of us. The corporate acquisition of buildings that Sassen describes as “a shift from mostly small private to large corporate modes of ownership, and from public to private”, thus reducing the social diversity of cities and limiting the choices of disadvantaged communities.


Levente Polyak – Urban planner, researcher, community advocate and policy adviser. He is editor of Cooperative City, co-founder of Eutropian Research & Action (Vienna-Rome) and member of the KÉK – Hungarian Contemporary Architecture Centre (Budapest).

Adopted text from Magazyn Miasta / Cities Magazine vol. 3

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