Reclaiming the Commons

Down to Earth: Reclaiming the Commons Photo: Aad Hoogendoorn
    • from June 9 to July 11, 2021
    • Keilezaal
    • Keilestraat Rotterdam

The transition to renewable energy is both urgent and far-reaching. Urgent because the petroculture that characterizes modern civilization is a major contributor to global warming and climate change. Far-reaching because the way we live and care, learn and live, consume and produce – how we interact with each other and with nature, how we organize our living environments and our societies, and whether everyone has equal opportunities – is largely determined by access to energy.

Based on the idea that the sun, wind, and hydrogen belong to everyone, the transition to sustainable energy should also belong to all of us. The exhibition ‘Reclaiming the Commons’ starts from the observation that energy was once part of the commons (goods or resources that are jointly owned by users). How can we reclaim the commons in the twenty-first century?

Reclaiming the Commons was part of the IABR in 2020: Down to Earth. The exhibition presents the results of the IABR–Atelier Rotterdam. Together with partners and residents of the Rotterdam district of Bospolder-Tussendijken, the IABR developed a ‘Toolbox for the District’, a toolbox that residents can use to appropriate the energy transition.

    • Credits
Photo's: Aad Hoogendoorn

The exhibition ‘Reclaiming the Commons’ starts from the observation that energy was once part of the commons: that which belongs to all of us and for which the community collectively cares. Sun, wind, and hydrogen belong to everyone, so the transition to renewable energy should therefore be a communal effort, in shared ownership.

From 2017 to 2020, the Atelier Rotterdam conducted research in the Bospolder-Tussendijken district to find out how the energy transition could act as a lever to empower the district. About 5,000 districts in the Netherlands have to stop using natural gas. Initial experience shows that this is not an easy thing to do. There are problems with implementation and, above all, with financing and social resources. The City of Rotterdam has identified five districts, including Bospolder-Tussendijken (BoTu), where the energy transition will take place first. BoTu is one of the poorest districts in the Netherlands, but also a resilient one: culturally diverse, articulate, and confident. Atelier Rotterdam investigated whether the residents could become co-owners of the transition, in a way that would contribute to social inclusion and improve the living environment and quality of life in the district.

To understand the potential of the residents, the Atelier Rotterdam explored the visible and invisible social networks in the district. To what extent can and do residents want to be co-producers of their living environment and take responsibility for the transition?

Next, together with residents and local partners, the Atelier developed a Local Energy Action Plan (LEAP), which was presented in the exhibition ‘Whose Energy Is It, Anyway?’ and was the subject of a series of workshops and working sessions with administrators, experts and stakeholders from the district. The ‘Toolbox for the District’, a toolbox to accompany the Local Energy Action Plan, was presented in the exhibition ‘Reclaiming the Commons.’

The exhibition ‘Reclaiming the Commons’ is a follow-up to the exhibition ‘Whose Energy Is It, Anyway?’, which had to be closed after only three weeks in December 2020 due to the lockdown (because of the Covid-19 pandemic) and could only be visited by a few people due to restrictions.