Urban commons: More important than ever in the age of Corona

We’ve all seen the photos. Empty city streets. Empty cafés. Empty public transportation. The social distancing measures which have been ramping up across the globe feel like they’ve cored out the very essence of our cities – the social interactions which create the foundation of urban society. It’s been hard for many of us – me included, which is why I’ve held out on writing until now. The situation has been changing so quickly that I felt that anything I might write would be outdated before I even published it.

But I’ve noticed an encouraging trend through it all: those of us who can’t physically engage in our usual commoning processes are finding new ways to engage in solidary, community-based practices. My colleagues at Shareable recently posted a great article about examples of increases in grassroots crisis response from the US.

Hackathons, city-wide gift card actions, collective action to save a city’s nightlife, designing and sharing a sewing pattern for a homemade mask or 3D printer files for respirators or face shields: these examples all call on the common will, cooperation, and creativity of individuals who feel a sense of collective identity and imperative to act for the benefit of the group. Or, to put it a different way, these initiatives demonstrate the wealth of resources at our disposal when we simply work together.

Commons are everywhere, and they have always been the buffer of collective action against individual loss. Those of us who can are donating our time, energy, creativity and skills to help keep the projects and communities we love afloat.

I have long argued that cities stand to benefit from these initiatives, and written several articles about how cities can reach out to and incorporate commons projects into their administrative structures. Now, more than ever, cities need to find ways to tap into the deep wells of the urban commons to overcome stopgaps and create synergistic solutions to today’s urban challenges.

We’ve put the release of the Urban Commons Cookbook on hold for now. Until then, anyone looking for insight as to how to best integrate urban commons and community-led projects into their own city is welcome to contact me directly, for example by writing to the email address below.

Stay safe everyone.

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