The Possibilities of Local Commons

Over the past several years, the idea of the “commons” has once again began to gain traction as a governance model. What kinds of possibilities exist for local communities to revitalize themselves through cooperative management of their own resources? This paper explores the policy implications of the emerging concept of the “local commons.”

Japan today faces an epidemic of vacant homes and unused plots of land throughout the country, contributing to a phenomenon known as the “spongification of urban areas,” in which a decreasing population density results in the proliferation of pockets of underutilized space. As Japan’s population decline continues to depress both consumer demand and the monetary value of land, it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which market forces alone can ensure the efficient use of land. Amidst this backdrop, a system in which the government coordinates between holders of underutilized land and those who would put it to productive use is beginning to emerge, in which usage rights can be redistributed efficiently without getting tied up by an undue focus on the transfer of ownership. As this dynamic coalesces into a public institution, the emergence of a new “local commons” in which regional sustainability is prioritized and decision making rooted in the diversity of local needs is realized, can be seen.

It is important to note here that the concept of the “local commons” is broader than a mere change in land management practices. It encompasses a revolution in the very rules and networks governing the use of space, and the personal relationships of trust that underpin them. Achieving a true 21st century “local commons”, will require connecting the trust built up over time in and around specific local communities into the global network of information, logistics and services.

Executive Vice President, NIRA / Professor, The University of Tokyo Executive Vice President, Nippon Institute for Research Advancement; Professor, Institute of Social Science, The University of Tokyo; Ph.D. in Law and Politics, Graduate School of Law and Politics, The University of Tokyo; specializations: history of political thought, political philosophy
Makoto Hayakawa
Professor, Rissho University Professor, Faculty of Law, Rissho University; PhD. in Law and Politics, Graduate School of Law and Politics, The University of Tokyo; specializations: contemporary political theory