It’s easy to take seeds for granted. Tiny dry pods hidden in packets and sacks, they make a brief appearance as gardeners and farmers collect them for future planting then later drop them into soil. They are not “what’s for dinner,” yet without them there would be no dinner. Seeds are the forgotten heroes of food—and of life itself.
Heritage Park YMCA in Minneapolis caters to seniors. (By Twin Cities LISC under a Creative Commons license.)
One of the greatest challenges in protecting and promoting the commons-- everything belongs to all of us together instead of being privately owned--is the growing sentiment that public institutions such as government are hopelessly inept.
Let’s begin with the bad news. The U.S. Post Office, the oldest, most respected and ubiquitous of all public institutions is fast disappearing. In recent years management has shuttered half the nation's mail processing plants and put 10 percent of all local post offices up for sale. A third of all post offices, most of them in rural areas, have had their hours slashed. Hundreds of full time, highly experienced postmasters knowledgeable about the people and the communities they serve have been dumped unceremoniously, often replaced by part timers.
Imagine if your place of worship or other sacred spot were bulldozed to make way for the golden arches of McDonald’s. That’s how many indigenous people regard the continuing development of their sacred lands for mining, tourism, highways or other uses.
Over the past three decades, modern culture has become infatuated with the idea that knowledge should be owned like real estate or stock shares. The original idea, of course, is that copyrights, trademarks and patents reward people for their creative labors and thereby boosts the common good.
On February 28th the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued two decisions. One concerned net neutrality, the other municipal broadband. The first garnered by far the most attention, as it should. Net neutrality affects everyone and the FCC ruling establishes a fundamental new principle for Internet access.
But as another presidential campaign looms, the FCC decision on municipally owned broadband may offer more fertile ground for a vigorous political debate on the role of government and the scale of governance.
Between 2009 and 2010 two very different cities, Stockholm, Sweden and Keene, New Hampshire, underwent a process of community visioning and master planning. High school students in both places were asked to provide input about their preferences and visions for their cities. High school students are interesting because in many ways they are pre-political. They are clients and consumers of the public services and environmental amenities around them but with little exception they have not experienced the costs associated with their provision.
The world's largest road runner welcomes you to Fort Stockton, Texas, a town of 8500 that has banned plastic bags. Many Texas Republicans want the state to overturn this local law. (By Dustin & Lori Slater under a Creative Commons license.)
Who gets to decide what happens in your community?
Conservative Republicans in Texas are split on the issue. Darren Hodges, a Tea Party councilman in the West Texas city of Fort Stockton, fiercely defends his town’s recent decision to ban plastic bags. City officials have a “God-given right” to make that decision he tells the New York Times.
Bob Dylan’s autobiography Chronicles offers a good demonstration of the old saw that great artists steal — though in fact, I wish we’d get rid of the theft image here. Let us say instead that great artists are commoners. They enter and live in that vast inheritance, the cultural commons.
Would it be possible to map Dylan’s own debts to that heritage? He himself tells us a lot about where to look.
An in-law of mine who does rural development work in the Philippines told me about a new water system he worked on in a mountain village. It proceeded in two stages. First, the water was piped to a common containment pool. In stage two it went from there to individual houses.
It has been a tough couple of years in the effort to unite labor, community, and environmental groups, an alliance that has always been strained.
We’re clomping through a field of scrubby, rough grass when Seitu Jones suddenly motions skyward. I spot an indistinguishable shape soaring above. “It looks bigger than a hawk,” he says after close study. “I saw an eagle here last winter. All kinds of birds use this area as a flyway down to the Mississippi River.”
(By Alyce Santoro under a Creative Commons license.)
For people who participate in commons, peer production or co-operatives, the emerging economy presents a frustrating paradox in the enormous mismatch between cooperative culture on the one hand and the organizational forms, on the other hand, that can sustain it and advance the general well-being of society.
If chilly days are part of your town’s weather, you can be sure your winters are getting colder in the eyes of the world even though temperatures may be getting warmer.
Many people take vitamins to promote their health. Most vitamins come in tablet or capsule form and are sold in bottles. Recently, Richard Louv in his book, The Nature Principle, suggested a type of vitamin that doesn’t come in pill format. This is Vitamin N, with “N” referring to nature.
Louv’s basic theme is that we can become happier, healthier and smarter through more contact with the natural world. A growing number of pediatricians and other physicians are actually prescribing a daily dose of Vitamin N as a way to enhance our health and well-being.
Understanding the commons is critical for saving us from climate chaos. The fact that we all depend on the earth’s atmosphere for survival provides a strong foundation for new policies to protect us from polluters who wantonly jeopardize everyone’s future.
This view is being voiced frequently on the frontlines of green activism. But it’s also being heard in unexpected places too, such as the Vatican.
Since its passage in 2009, ferocious opposition to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) had proven a devastatingly effective electoral strategy for Republicans. In 2010, they gained a net 63 seats and control of the House of Representatives. They gained political control of 11 additional states, bringing their total to 25. When the ACA went into effect in late 2013 virtually all 25 were refusing to expand Medicaid, a decision they were permitted to make by a June 2012 Supreme Court ruling overturning the mandatory expansion provision in the law.
Americans made 10.7 billion trips on public transportation in 2013--the highest number since 1956 when the massive mobilization to build highways and push suburban development began.