Cartographers of the Commons
How far we’ve come in ten years! In 2004 a number of us at the Tomales Bay Institute – the predecessor to On the Commons – tried to get a number of small communities to conduct what we called “local commons surveys.” The idea was to encourage people to make their own inventory of the many overlooked commons that touch their everyday lives, and especially those that are threatened by enclosure. By making commons more visible, we reasoned, people might begin to organize to defend them. It was a great idea, but only one or two communities actually got it together to survey their local commons. A valiant experiment with modest results.
Now we are the midst of a veritable explosion of commons mapping projects. In October alone, there have been two loud thunderclaps of activity along these lines -- the MapJams organized by Shareable.net and Ville en biens communs in France.
The MapJam took place this month in over fifty cities in the US, Europe, Australia and Arab nations. The process consisted of people meeting up to share what they know about sharing projects in their communities. They ten categorized the results, co-created a map and spread the word. It’s all part of the new Sharing Cities Project launched by Shareable.
Many of the new cartographers of the commons are overlaying specific sharing projects and commons on top of Google Maps. Here, for example, is a map from Share Denver. And here is the map from Sharing City Berlin.
As if by cosmic coincidence, hundreds of self-organized commoners in dozens of communities in France and Francophone nations recently participated in a similar exercise. Hosted by Villes en biens communs, many communities produced maps while others hosted workshops, experiments or convivial meet-ups. All of them focused on the commons.
These mapping projects bring to mind the very successful Wikisprint project that the P2P Foundation helped organize several months ago. Dozens of peer production projects throughout Spain and Latin American held events on the same day. They shared live video feeds and presentations with each other, and posted a listing of all of the projects throughout Latin American and Spain on a single map. What matters is that a new body of shared knowledge comes into being, about which everyone is self-aware. This truly is how new movements take shape -- by self-organizing a new mental map of the world that lets people begin to navigate in new ways.
These mapping projects join several other noteworthy mapping initiatives. Eager to encourage people to see the Great Lakes in the US as a commons, environmental educator Paul Baines took it upon himself to create an interactive mapping website, the Great Lakes Commons Map. The site gives people an opportunity to see how other people use and enjoy the lakes, and in effect creates a new public space for making this visible and celebrating these experiences.
A few years ago, Pablo de Soto of the Spanish group Hackitectura conceptualized and supervised the mapping of the commons in the cities of Athens (2010) and Istanbul (2012), through the Mapping the Commons project. (Here’s my blog post on it.)
The Mapping the Commons project was launched to explore how urban commons could be protected “from enclosure by totalitarian neoliberalism’s public-private enterprises.” The organizers convened commoners in those cities to discuss the issues, define the parameters of commons, and then produce short videos for each commons. De Soto and his colleagues are now involved in doing a similar mapping of commons with commoners in Rio de Janeiro.
To keep track of the proliferation of so many interesting and useful commons maps, Ellen Friedman of the Commons Spark Collective started the Commons Atlas. It is yet another useful reference guide and inspiration.
I have got to believe that there are other commons mapping projects out there that I don’t know about. If you can add to the list mentioned here, please share your knowledge in a comment – and perhaps get in touch with the Commons Atlas to make its listings more complete!
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