“(W)ithout power and independence, a town may contain good subjects, but it can have no active citizens.” That was the conclusion of Alexis de Tocqueville after touring a youthful American Republic in the early 1830s, as recorded in his classic Democracy in America. Today we are engaged in a renewed debate about the authority of governments closest to the people.
The Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis, a rail-trail that links to hundreds of miles of other trails and parkways throughout the region. (Photo by Micah Taylor under a Creative Commons license.)
Americans are people on the go!
It’s been that way since the early days of the Republic when white pioneers pushed past the Appalachians to settle the West (with unfortunate results for the native peoples already living there). The urge to move is part of our national character and greatly influences how we spend our leisure time.
Conservatives, progressives and everyone else likes farmers' markets, local food, mom-and-pop stores and other qualities of a thriving community. Can they all connect around the commons? (Photo of the Barberton, Ohio, Downtown Farmers Market by the Barberton Community Foundation under a Creative Commons license.)
In the early-to-mid-20th Century the Distributists—led by English authors G.K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc—took a dim view of both socialism and corporate capitalism. As conservatives they did, however, believe in private property--so much they thought it should be “distributed” as widely as possible among the whole population.
Judges appraise the quality of tap water from various US communities at the 133rd annual conference of the American Water Works Association.
The verdict is in: Don’t spend another penny on bottled water in Boston. That city, derided in the 1960s rock song “Dirty Water”, came out on top of the 2014, “Best of the Best” Tap Water Taste Test.
I was director of the FLOK research team, [which in late June finished up its work sponsored by the government of Ecuador to “fundamentally re-imagine” the country based on the principles of the commons]. Many people have asked about my assessment of the results of the process. The FLOK process was a complex process and the assessment can only be complex as well.
One of the first questions, and critiques, is about the relationship with the government itself.
Charity Mahouna Hicks
Charity Hicks was an extraordinary Detroit activist, advocate, and movement weaver. A native Detroiter raised on the lower east side right off of the Detroit River which contributed to her love for the environment.
A protected bike lane on Dunsmuir Street in Vancouver separates riders from busy traffic. (Photo by Paul Krueger under a Creative Commons license.)
You can see big changes happening across North America as communities from Fairbanks to St. Petersburg transform their streets into appealing places for people, not just cars and trucks.
“Over the past five years we’re seeing an infrastructure revolution, a rethinking of our streets to accommodate more users--busways, public plazas, space for pedestrians and, of course, bike lanes,” says David Vega-Barachowitz of the National Association of City Transportation Officials. “More protected bike lanes is one of the most important parts of this.”
Healthy living conditions and community cohesion boost everyone's health. (Photo by Project for Public Spaces)
There is growing recognition in the medical field that maintaining good health means more than taking care of yourself and getting regular medical check ups. Healthy living conditions and strong community cohesion foster healthy neighborhoods, while inequality, discrimination, crime, pollution, traffic, isolation, and a sense of powerlessness contribute to disease. It’s difficult to improve people’s overall health without addressing the social, economic and racial issues where they live.
Indeed, you can think of health as a commons in which we all have a stake in maintaining.
"The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania", a painting depicting a scene from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream by Sir Joseph Noel Paton.
Those in the premodern world who hoarded possessions and refused to redistribute supplies and food, who turned their backs on the weak and the sick, who lived exclusively for hedonism and their own power, were despised. Those in modern society who are shunned as odd, neurotic or eccentric, who are disconnected from the prosaic world of objective phenomena and fact, would have been valued in premodern cultures for their ability to see what others could not see. Dreams and visions---considered ways to connect with the wisdom of ancestors---were integral to existence in distant times.
(Photo by Stephen Melkisethian under a Creative Commons license.)
On the Commons (OTC) is a commons movement strategy center founded in 2001. Through workshops, presentations, and direct consultation and support, OTC brings visibility to the commons movement, initiates and catalyzes commons work, and supports the development of commons-based solutions and leadership. Readers can access OTC's Commons Magazine and online resource center at www.onthecommons.org.
(Photo by Martin Dewar under a Creative Commons license.)
In 2013, the government of Ecuador launched a major strategic research project to “fundamentally re-imagine Ecuador” based on the principles of open networks, peer production and commoning. Michel Bauwens, founder of the P2P Foundation would be leading the research team for the next ten months, and seeking to “remake the roots of Ecuador’s economy, setting off a transition into a society of free and open knowledge.”
Vong Lee wears two hats at the same time as a Hip Hop artist and community organizer working with an inner city neighborhood in St. Paul.
Here’s a fresh idea to stir some strategic creativity into the important yet sometimes daunting and draining work of making the world a better place-- artist organizers. Just like it sounds, an artist organizer unites the imagination and inspiration needed to conjure art with the vision and dedication to social empowerment that characterize successful organizing campaigns.
Detroit's recovery will lose ground if thousands of people are run out of their homes after the city shuts off the water.(Photo by S.J. Carey under a Creative Commons license)
I recently visited Detroit, Michigan and am shocked and deeply disturbed at what I witnessed. I went as part of the Great Lakes Forever project where a number of communities and organizations around the basin are calling for citizens to come together to protect the Great Lakes as a Lived Commons, a Public Trust and a Protected Bioregion.
Professional Porch Sitters Union Local 1339 in Louisville, Kentucky stands up for a greener world. (Photo by Step It Up under a Creative Commons license.)
"I arise in the morning between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world,” wrote the essayist E.B. White, “This makes it hard to plan the day.”
Ah, that’s the dilemma. You want to strengthen the sense of community and the commons where you live. It’s a pretty nice place, but it would be even better if you could fix up the park, improve the schools, enliven the business district, create better paying jobs or slow the traffic.
(Photo by Mlhradio under a Creative Commons license.)
These are troubling times for anyone who cares about parks.
During the high-flying economy that crashed in 2008, private facilities—from water parks to health clubs—were touted as the best way to meet our leisure and fitness needs. But after enduring six years of economic sputtering, folks with less money in their pockets and more worries on their minds appreciate low- or no-cost recreation centers, sports programs, nature trails, public gardens, picnic grounds and swimming pools.
Market: What can be bought and sold?
Commons: What do we need to live?
Idea of the Individual:
Market: Humans maximize benefits for themselves
Commons: Humans are primarily cooperative social beings
Market: Competition predominates; we prevail at the expense of others
Commons: Cooperation predominates; commoning connects us with others
It looks like climate deniers are finally back on the defensive.
To ensure safe drinking water for all, Arturo Quevedo vigilantly protects local watersheds for the municipal water utility in Loja, Ecuador. (Photo by Daniel Moss)
Arturo Quevedo, the engineer responsible for the watershed protection program for Loja, Ecuador’s municipal water agency, has a kind demeanor. His slightly crooked front teeth are prominent beneath his moustache as he waxes ebullient about clean water percolating through forested slopes, coursing through pipes, and hydrating Loja’s children. But don’t let the gentle, nature-lover exterior fool you. As tender as he is with the landscape, he is equally fierce in sniffing out water-polluting scum.
I’m back from Cinque Terre--a string of five hillside towns on Italy’s Western seacoast where you feel like you’re vacationing in the 17th century but still enjoy modern wonders such as trains and cameras. Virtually unknown to US tourists thirty years ago, it is now a destination sensation complete with its own Rick Steves and Lonely Planet travel guides.