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The City As a Commons: From Flint to Italy


The City As a Commons: From Flint to Italy

Jay Walljasper

The disaster with Flint, Michigan’s drinking water, created by political leaders more devoted to fiscal austerity than the common good, illuminates why it’s important to think of our cities as commons–human creations that belong to all residents, not just the wealthy and politically well-connected.

The commons itself means all the many things we share together rather than own privately–a list that starts with air, water, parks and streets and expands to include more complex entities such as the Internet, civic organizations and entire communities.


Denying the commons, Mussolini became public art--how ironic.


Cool! Plus ten.


The concept of "the commons" is diametrically opposed to that of "Private property". In this for profit world where money and a persons private wealth dictate political power the commons remains in retreat.

In many of those Cities that seek to expand the commons or in fact have commons that remain , private property owners are claiming the presence of such attracts "derelicts and beggars" lowering property values and interfering with profits. In the USA this has lead to Cities passing laws making it illegal to sleep on a bench or lay on the ground , even if it in "the Commons".

Just as with those Ranchers in Oregon one small group of people desire the commons be for their own personal use.


This certainly is a planet of opposite polarities. I read Mr. Walljasper and find his idealism a welcome break from so much talk of WW III, absolute climate collapse added to fiscal collapse.

Who wouldn't want to live like this:

"The form urban commons might take over the next 25 years was vividly sketched by Berlin activist Silke Helfrich. She described a convivial community living according to the African philosophy of ubuntu (“I am because you are”). Many people live in cooperative co-housing communities, and work at home or co-working spaces. The streets are alive with people on foot, bike, transit and in shared cars. Every neighborhood proudly sports community vegetable gardens, fruit orchards, flower patches, herb commons, sanctuaries for birds and bees, greenspaces, cafés, a cultural center, library, ballroom and open source hub."

Interesting article. Lots of optimistic initiatives to think about... or better yet, implement while there's still time.


After a life growing up in suburbia - and constantly worrying about being on someone's "private property" - every time we went fishing in a nearby pond, sledding, or catching critters in a creek, the thing that made me fall in love with urban spaces is the existence of real or by-custom common public space. Even where property is private there was a spirit of common ownership - walkways cutting through people's yards included an informal understanding that they were for public use to shorten the walk to the store or bus stop or school.

This is starting to change as the neighborhood gentrifies and wealthy "young professionals" bring their suburban attitudes, and largely urban-myth fears of "getting sued" with them. In one neighborhood, a new property owner barricaded-off a walkway and stairway through a vacant lot which for many decades served as the only route to the bus stop save for very circuitous one.

This sense of common-use of private property is dying fast in rural areas too. As the old farmers and their widows die and younger family members take over, "no trespassing" signs go up. Almost all the places we used to fly hang gliders hang glide are no longer usable because the new landowners in the valleys have closed their fields for landing, due to litigation fears - even though there is not a single case of a landowner ever getting sued over hang glider (or any other kind of aircraft) crashing on their property.


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