Envisioning the Future

Physical Commons

As we've collected signatures for our citizen initiative county charters, and educated  our county neighbors about community rights and the rights of nature, PCRG has often been struck by the paucity of public venues for meetings.  At the same time, we've had to educate ourselves about our rights to engage in the political activity of collecting signatures on "public property."  

 

Various small grassroots clubs and other groups compete for meeting space in public libraries; political groups often must pay for space in private churches, or buy food to meet in private restaurants.   This privatization of public spaces seems a modern version of the historical "enclosing of the commons." By exploring the public physical spaces in Portage County that are held "in common," we may discover additional ways to build the kind of community we want in the future.

Historically, "The Commons" was land, which might be owned by the lord of the manor, but which was accessible to certain classes of people for grazing or other uses.

According to Wikipedia, "The commons is the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately. Commons can also be understood as natural resources that groups of people (communities, user groups) manage for individual and collective benefit. Characteristically, this involves a variety of informal norms and values (social practice) employed for a governance mechanism."  Read more.

In cities, a public square or city park is often a "commons," designated for public use, with the management under the jurisdiction of a government agency and/or subject to decisions made by vote of the citizens.   But public meeting houses (open to local grassroots groups) might also be considered physical "commons."

In some communities, grassroots groups are working to preserve or attempting to establish a "commons" (for example Ann Arbor, MI).

Portage County Park District has partnered with dozens of private organizations, businesses, public agencies, schools.   If PCRG wanted to strengthen commoning in our community, we could join those partners.

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If you're interested in any of the ideas presented here, we'd love to hear from you.  If you'd like to subscribe to our occasional newsletter, let us know.

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