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.
The last place in the world you might think of looking for inspiration on spirited community togtherness is Detroit, a city still suffering from racial divisions and stark economic disinvestment.
Lelalnd Maschmeyer is a creative director in New York City and author of The Triumph of the Commons.
Most people don’t have time to sit around and contemplate the commons, says Leland Maschmeyer—an award-winning creative director and author of The Triumph of the Commons—because they’re busy with the “practical and pressing” stuff of life Can we fault them? No, of course not. The commons as a worldview and set of practices can appear fairly abstract and quickly turn “interest into disinterest ”
(Photo by College360 under a Creative Commons license)
The books on this list may not be easily acquired just because book stores are closing, libraries face budget cut-backs, and schools supplant the page with the screen, or the book with the computer. But if you’re reading this you already know that knowledge, like a place to meet, can be obtained with patience, resourcefulness, and working with others. I have listed the books in rough order of difficulty.
Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (New York: Ballantine Books, 1983)
With the announcement by the FCC that cable and telephone companies will be allowed to prioritize access to their customers, only one option remains that can guarantee an open internet: owning the means of distribution.
Thankfully an agency exists for this. Local government. Owning the means of distribution is a traditional function of local government. We call our roads and bridges and water and sewer pipe networks public infrastructure for a reason.
What if there was a way to reduce the risk of many major diseases at the same time as helping improve your overall health, decreasing your weight and boosting your energy? And what if this treatment was simple to do and took only a few minutes each week?
Wait, it gets even better! What if this could be accomplished with no special equipment or training and it would cost absolutely nothing. You could do it any time and place you want--in fact, the vast majority of us have been doing it since the age of two.
Traveling to New Hampshire last week to talk at Keene State College, I had no idea what to expect. Although I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Vermont and Maine, New Hampshire stands out for its libertarian leanings-- no state income tax, no state sales tax, license plates proclaiming “Live Free or Die”.
It’s easy to not think about the looming climate crisis. For one thing, it’s depressing to ponder the misery ahead if we don’t take drastic steps now to curb greenhouse emissions. It’s even more depressing when you consider that even the most modest steps to reduce carbon use in the US have been derailed by corporate lobbyists and ideological zealots.
The Wealth of Nations
Kids playing in Chicago's Millenium Park. (Photo by Kymberly Janisch under a Creative Commons license)
When my long-time friend John became a father, he confided to me that the world suddenly was divided into two distinct camps: people with children and those without. This puzzled me; I figured it was his excuse for being out of touch.
Photo courtesy of PM Press
We’re losing the ground of our subsistence to the privileged and the mighty. With the theft of our pensions, houses, universities, and land, people all over the world cry, Stop Thief! and start to think about the commons and act in its name.
But what is the commons? Its 21st century meaning is emerging from the darkness of centuries past.
Not long ago Neal Gorenflo, co-founder of Shareable--an award-winning news, action and connection hub for the sharing movement--called himself an “unlikely voice for sharing.” An epiphany in 2004 spurred him to leave his job as a corporate strategist and become a strategist for the common good. Without question, it was the right move for him. Gorenflo says his decision led him to develop a more collaborative lifestyle that’s “nothing short of magical.”
Car ads are generally not the place you look for inspiration about a commons way of life. But a recent duel between GM and Ford offers a keen comparison of what’s at stake.
“Screw the company trying to take our river, and the government. If I die, I’m going to die defending life.” So said María Santos Dominguez, a member of the Indigenous Council of the Lenca community of Rio Blanco, Honduras.
Anchor institutions--hospitals, colleges, and other institutions deeply rooted in their communities--are a form of commons that is viewed as crucial to revitalizing low-income neighborhoods. Besides being major employers and big customers for local businesses, they have an intrinsic stake in making sure their neighborhoods thrive. Your local hospital, for instance, is not going to pack up its beds and move to Mexico.