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COMMONS MAGAZINE

Posted
July 27, 2011

Which Future Would You Choose?

A Day at the Museum-- Two very different different visions of tomorrow

Day at the Museum: Scenario 1


You stroll down the sidewalk and come to the corner right across from the museum. The light turns red. Cars zip past. You push the pedestrian button on the light pole, and soon the light changes so you can get across.


As you walk, you take a deep breath of the crisp fall air. You know downtown suffers air pollution problems, but today it seems clear and beautiful. The museum has free admission on Tuesday, and you are happy that you could rearrange your work schedule this week to take advantage of it. You climb the stairs and enter through the turnstile, but before heading off into the museum, you decide to use the bathroom. It is neat and clean, with environmentally friendly low-flow flush toilets. Coming out of the stall, you wash your hands at the sink with the soap and paper towels provided. Outside the restroom, you stop at the drinking fountain and then, refreshed, eagerly stroll in the direction of the exhibits.


Day at the Museum: Scenario 2


You step onto the sidewalk leading to the museum through a turnstile, flashing your FASTRAK card at a machine operated by a corporation that subcontracts with the city to maintain sidewalks in this part of town. A GPS monitor on your belt deducts $1 for every twenty blocks that you walk. (This monitor has the advantage of “keeping you safe,” according to the new marketing campaign, because if you fall or are the victim of a crime, you can press a button so that police or an ambulance can easily find you.) In well-traveled zip districts, like downtown, you pay an additional $2 surcharge to use the sidewalks. (“Prevents overcrowding,” say the FASTRAK ads.)


You arrive at the corner right across from the museum and put a quarter in the meter, which activates the walk light. You have ten seconds to make it across the street before the roaring traffic resumes (25 cents more would get you twenty seconds). A few teenagers and a homeless woman cross without paying, alert for the private security guards that might arrest them.


Not everyone can afford the monthly FASTRAK card, so they sneak onto the sidewalk between turnstiles or walk in the road alongside speeding cars. Pedestrian fatalities have quadrupled since the city auctioned sidewalk rights to corporations two years ago.


People passing you wear oxygen masks with various brand names emblazoned in bright colors. So far, you have chosen not to buy “fresh air” in lightweight tanks that can be easily worn when you go outside. You are not convinced the free air is that dangerous. In fact, today it seems crisp and clear. The museum entry is half price on Tuesday, only $14 with special coupons you get when making a purchase at the Gap. But you have to put up with Gap advertising throughout the exhibit. There are fewer advertisements on the days when you pay full price.


Once inside the museum, you pay $3 to use the bathroom and another $1 for washing your hands with automatically premeasured units of water, soap, and paper towel. Had you planned ahead, you would have used the Porta-Potty on the street, which costs only $1.75 but with no sink, only a Handi-wipe dispenser costing another buck. You look for a drinking fountain, until realizing how futile that is. Bottled water sells for $6 from a vendor who also runs the bathroom concession. You’ve spent enough already, you decide, and, still thirsty, trudge off in the direction of the exhibits.


Excerpted from All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons by Jay Walljasper and On the Commons. It first appeared in Kim Klein’s blog Kim Klein and the Commons Kim Klein works with mission-driven organizations with Klein & Roth Consulting and help non-profit organizations become more effective in promoting social change through the “Building Movement Project”:http://www.buildingmovement.org/_