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COMMONS MAGAZINE

Bicycling Surges Across the US, Outpacing Noisy Critics

June 6, 2013 | By Jay Walljasper

Former New York mayor Ed Koch envisioned bicycles as vehicles for the future, and in 1980 created experimental bike lanes on 6th and 7th Avenues in Manhattan where riders were protected from speeding traffic by asphalt barriers. It was unlike anything most Americans had ever seen—and some people roared their disapproval. Within weeks, the bike lanes were gone.

Give a Little

June 5, 2013 | By Jay Walljasper

The commons is, at its essence, the act of giving and receiving carried out on a massive scale across all levels of society. It seems apparent that generosity is hard-wired into human beings, despite several centuries of fevered protest from figures such as Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman and Richard Dawkins that we are guided by self-interest.


So it’s great news that the subject of giving has recently surfaced in a number of TED talks—the influential video lecture circuit that increasingly functions as the ideas soundtrack for the 2010s.

The Sol Collective Sows Seeds for a Brighter Future

May 27, 2013 | By Jessica Conrad

Founded in 2003, Sol Collective is a community-based meeting space in Sacramento, California that uses art, education, and technology for community empowerment. The nonprofit is led by a dynamic team of volunteers, educators, and activists—community members dedicated to fostering connections between Sacramento residents. We had the opportunity to connect with Rafael Aguilera, an active member of the Collective, at the “2012 Commons Solutions Lab”:http://www.onthecommons.org/work/change-system-we-must-start-everywhere-once.

A Grassroots Initiative Enlivens the Commons in West Marin

May 27, 2013 | By Jessica Conrad

In 2006, a group of community members expressed a strong desire “to foster a social complement to the scenic landscape and natural ecology of West Marin,” and after a series of discussions about the commons and its life-enriching capacities, an organization called West Marin Commons emerged. Today West Marin Commons is dedicated to establishing, preserving, and enhancing common spaces in the semi-rural western region of Marin County, California. It also seeks to create social infrastructure for resource sharing, conservation, and learning.

Protecting Drinking Water by Preventing Pollution in Upstream Communities

May 24, 2013 | By Daniel Moss

Sure, we can treat drinking water in filtration plants before it pours out of your tap. Most cities do just that, some better than others. But with energy costs rising and watersheds in miserable shape, what does it take to work with upstream communities to ensure that the water doesn’t get contaminated in the first place? That’s the challenge that Our Water Commons, an On the Commons project, tackled during a recent conference.

Protecting Drinking Water by Preventing Pollution in Upstream Communities

May 24, 2013 | By Jay Walljasper

Sure, we can treat drinking water in filtration plants before it pours out of your tap. Most cities do just that, some better than others. But with energy costs rising and watersheds in miserable shape, what does it take to work with upstream communities to ensure that the water doesn’t get contaminated in the first place? That’s the challenge that Our Water Commons, an On the Commons project, is tackling during an upcoming conference.

Potential Partners We Don't Recognize

May 23, 2013 | By Jay Walljasper

The international Economics and the Commons Conference is a commons in itself, deliberately planned to include ample time for discussion and convivial spaces for attendees to get to know one another.


Rather than the usual Q-and-A at the close of a presentation, we are encouraged to share our own ideas with the audience. This morning began with fresh perspectives on caregiving, public infrastructure and the dual role of the commons as both a reform and revolutionary movement, followed by a spate of equally compelling observations.

From Berlin With Hope

May 22, 2013 | By Jay Walljasper

The international Economics and the Commons Conference is off to a flying start. More than 200 commoners from 30 countries met in Berlin May 22-25 to discuss “new ideas, practices and alliances” for gradually installing the commons as the “core paradigm” for our economy, our society and our lives.


Silke Helfrich, co-founder of the Commons Strategy Group, opened the event with a round of rousing answers to the question: How do you get to the commons?

How Artists Strengthen Communities

May 21, 2013 | By Jay Walljasper

The creative community is experiencing an unprecedented interest in the arts’ ability to impact public life. Just one example is ArtPlace, an Obama administration catalyzed collaboration of thirteen leading foundations, eight federal agencies—including the National Endowment for the Arts—and six of the nation’s largest banks. ArtPlace focuses primarily on creative placemaking, or “investing in art and culture at the heart of a portfolio of integrated strategies that can drive vibrancy and diversity so powerful that it transforms communities.”

UNCOMMON/WORD Poet Advisors

May 14, 2013 | By Camille Gage

We are honored to introduce the inaugural team of poet advisers who have generously agreed to review submissions to UNCOMMON/WORD: A collection of commons-inspired poetry. The team includes poets Sarah Browning, Douglas Kearney, Juliet Patterson, Crystal Ann Williams. And our poet fellow is Elizabeth Dingmann.

Poetry as Provocation

May 13, 2013 | By Camille Gage

Sarah Browning is the executive director of Split This Rock, a national organization that helps poets take a greater role in public life and heightening poetry as a living, breathing art form. Split This Rock integrates the poetry of provocation and witness into movements for social justice and supports poets of all ages who write and perform this vital work.

America's Most Enduring Common Ground

May 10, 2013 | By Jay Walljasper

With only thirty British pounds, in 1634 John Winthrop and his Puritan followers purchased fifty acres of Reverend Blackstone’s land in what is today the heart of of Boston. Part of that land was set aside for sheep grazing, a space which came to be known as the Boston Common, now America’s oldest public park.

Hidden Power Grab Stops Communities From Deciding Their Own Futures

May 8, 2013 | By David Morris

In his 1996 State of the Union Address Democratic President Bill Clinton famously declared, “the era of big government is over.” And during his tenure he did everything he could to make that true—deregulating the telecommunications and the financial industries; enacting a free trade agreement severely restricting the authority of the federal government to protect domestic jobs and businesses; and abandoning the 75-year old federal commitment to the poor.

Why Should We Care About the Commons Now?

May 4, 2013 | By Jay Walljasper

Both the idea and the reality of the commons have been declining since at least the 18th century. Why now, at the beginning of the 21st century, should we struggle to revive them? What purpose do they serve in a modern, urban society?


The simple answer is that we have to.


Despite the many benefits it brings us, the market operates like a runaway truck. It has no internal mechanism telling it when to stop—stop depleting the commons that sustain it.

The Commons That Connects Us Six Days a Week

May 4, 2013 | By David Morris

For 225 years the U.S. Post Office has been the most admired and ubiquitous manifestation of government. From 1789 until the 1960s, the Cabinet level agency saw its mission not only to deliver the mail but to aggressively defend the public good. In the late 19th century when oligopolistic mail order delivery companies abused their rural customers the Post Office launched parcel post. The competition quickly forced private companies to reduce their exorbitant prices and dramatically improve the quality of their service.

Summertime Ooooohhs!

May 1, 2013 | By Jay Walljasper

The first unmistakable signs of summery weather—warm temperatures already at breakfast time, passersby in short sleeves, sounds of squeeling kids coming in through open windows—are greeted here in Minneapolis with an exuberance reserved for Super Bolw victories in other cities. This gentle delirium overtook us last week when temperatures hit the 70s. Appointments were abruptly cancelled and offices grow empty throughout the afternoon as everyone conspired to spend as much time out-of-doors as possible.

The Real Tragedy

April 30, 2013 | By Jay Walljasper

In the belief system called economics, it is an article of faith that commons are inherently tragic. Almost by definition, they are tragic because they are prone to overuse. What belongs to all belongs to none, and only private or state ownership can rescue a commons from the sad fate that will otherwise befall it.

The Real Tragedy

April 30, 2013

In the belief system called economics, it is an article of faith that commons are inherently tragic. Almost by definition, they are tragic because they are prone to overuse. What belongs to all belongs to none, and only private or state ownership can rescue a commons from the sad fate that will otherwise befall it.

How Arts and Culture Open a Window to the Wider World

April 25, 2013 | By Camille Gage

We’re pleased to announce the new Arts and Culture department of Commons Magazine, where we will amplify our coverage of creative work in all disciplines. With a special emphasis on artists, writers, performers, and collectives who blur the lines between art making, personal activism, and community involvement, we seek to show how art can help us dissolve lines of class and geography and create a context for renewing our sense of belonging in the diverse global community. After all, when art and culture open a window to the wider world, we can more clearly see all that we share—the commons.

A Review of Shiney Varghese's "Water Governance for 21st Century"

April 25, 2013 | By Ana Micka

Water Governance for 21st Century, by Shiney Varghese at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, makes a compelling case urging advcates and policy makers to advance an approach combining the commons framework and the Public Trust Doctrine principles. Shiney notes that the tendency of recent trends to rely on market and rights–based policies has exaccerbated the failures in water governance.