Wednesday, May 15, 2013 11:44 AM
Originally intended to protect defendants from unnecessary indictments,
grand juries have recently been used to investigate and intimidate innocent activists.
New York City legal
activist Jerry Koch is only the latest victim.
It might seem ironic that the
only place you can’t practice your 5th amendment right would be a federal
courtroom, considering its just such a place the amendment was designed for. It
might seem ironic that a process designed to protect people accused of serious
crimes can be used to imprison people for up to 18 months who have committed no
crime without bringing charges against them. It might, unless you know about
Grand juries are an old feature
of the English common law, and were originally designed to make sure that
prosecutors couldn’t bring cases about serious crimes against people without
evidence. The grand jury determines, before the trial, whether the prosecuting
attorney has enough evidence to continue with the case. Since it is an
evidentiary hearing that could effect the outcome of the trial, the grand jury
is completely secret, usually just with the prosecutor, the jury and the
witness giving testimony in the room.
But throughout the 20th century,
grand juries were used to bully political “enemies” of the state. From union
organizers to Communist Party members to Black Panthers to enivronmental
activisits, federal grand juries have been used by the government as a tactic
of harrasment and information gathering. Witnesses subpeonaed to the grand jury
cannot have their lawyer with them, and cannot refuse to testify. Despite fifth
amendment rights, refusing to speak to the grand jury can result in contempt of
court charges and the resister spending the length of the grand jury in jail,
which can be as long as 18 months.
Thus, by acting on one of your
most basic and core rights, in a room with no judge and no council present, you
can be de-facto convicted of contempt (the prosecutor would need to bring you
in front of a judge to rubberstamp the contempt charge) and thrown in jail to
languish for the duration of the grand jury process.
Just such a prospect is facing a
New York City
legal activist and anarchist: Gerald Koch is being subpoenaed regarding a
bombing in 2008, a bombing that broke a window and hurt no one, and that he was
subpoenaed for once before, in 2009. Not because they suspect him of being
involved, but because they think he may have overheard information about it in
a bar. As Jerry has put it in a public statement:
Given that I
publically made clear that I had no knowledge of this alleged event in 2009,
the fact that I am being subpoenaed once again suggests that the FBI does not
actually believe that I possess any information about the 2008 bombing, but
rather that they are engaged in a ‘fishing expedition’ to gain information
concerning my personal beliefs and political associations.
Last year, four anarchists in
the Pacific Northwest faced a similar grand jury over vandalism on May Day 2011: two
spent five months in jail, a third spent seven, all of them spending much of
that time in solitary confinment, despite the fact that they committed no
crime. Jerry faces a similar possibility of jail time. By refusing to speak to
a grand jury, they stand up for the safety of their friends and for their
rights, and they face serious consequences for doing so. What does it say about
our “free society” when it jails citizens for asserting their rights in a
completely closed process absent a judge or a lawyer?
If you're in the New York area, Jerry's
subpoenae date is 10:00am on May 16th, and people are going to pack the court
room at 500 Pearl St.
You can learn more about Jerry’s case, and how you can support him, at Jerry Resists.
Image by Brian
Turner, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, May 08, 2013 11:54 AM
The April launch of the Digital Public Library of America brings the knowledge-sharing we love about local libraries to the internet.
This article originally appeared at Shareable.
Public libraries exist to ensure that people have free and open access to information. The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), which launched in April, aims to provide that same access to information and materials, in the digital realm.
A project several years in the making, there are three facets to the DPLA: it’s an open portal that provides access to a variety of resources including documents, photographs, historic artifacts, film footage, art and other culturally significant materials; it's a tech platform for people to build upon (think apps that reveal geotagged materials); and it's an innovation and advocacy organization that works to make, and keep, content openly available to the public.
Launching with over two million materials from museums, libraries, schools, cultural centers and more, the DPLA is just getting started. The grand vision is to have the library be an ever-growing hub for librarians, students, teachers, artists, developers, historians and anyone else who is interested in seeing, learning about, using, repurposing, expanding and sharing materials.
John Palfrey, president of the Board of Directors of the DPLA sees the library as a symbol of the networked age. As he put it, “The most exciting idea is that we cannot begin to imagine the extraordinary things that librarians and their many partners can accomplish with this open platform and such extraordinarily rich materials...We will create new knowledge together and make accessible, free to all, information that people need in order to thrive in a democracy.”
Tuesday, April 30, 2013 3:20 PM
Harnessing the power of collaborative
learning and DIY science, California’s
Maker Faire aims to combat throwaway culture by giving young people the tools
and inspiration to invent.
This article originally appeared at Shareable.
Since 2006, Maker Faire has
provided a space for inventors, tinkerers, builders, crafters, and
wannabe-scientists to showcase their creations with the intent of encouraging
others to dabble in inventing something themselves. With large-scale kinetic
sculptures racing and roaming the grounds, science experiments with electronics
and activities like clothing and apparel re-purposing stations on site,
participants are encouraged to touch, ask questions, and take what they learn
into their own workshops for some fun experimentation outside of the Maker
Faires' big top.
Sherry Huss, vice president of Maker Media, doesn't look the role of a
lab-coat wearing mad scientist that one might expect to be a Maker Faire organizer.
There are no beakers popping up and bubbling over in her office. She wears no
tool belt as she navigates the work spaces of Maker Media's headquarters in Sonoma County, California.
Yet, as anyone who has attended a Maker Faire may believe, Huss has the stuff
that genius is made of. Every year, she meets with her small planning team and
formulates the clever uses of time and space for what is referred to in their
tag line as “The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth.”
“We do it the old fashioned way,
with post-it notes and lay them out. And it somehow always magically works
out,” says Huss. “You have to get your head into it because everything that is
happening on site is intentional. There are very few things that just come
together,” she added.
And what comes together for
roughly 100,000 visitors after months of tireless planning is quite brilliant.
In addition to seeing a nearly
40 percent increase in new exhibitors each year, the contagious spirit of Maker
Faire continues to spread from the Maker's Bay Area headquarters to the rest of
the world. With annual events in San Mateo and New York, and
over 100 mini-Faires or satellite events internationally (including Rome, UK and a rotating country Maker Faire Africa, among others),
Maker Faire has an accessible, inclusive vibe that leads many to start
tinkering with or concocting projects of their own.
“Making is all over. It’s not
just the Bay Area,” says Huss. “We don't own the license on it...there are
Space is free for makers, and
event organizers only charge a small fee if an exhibitor plans to offer items
for sale. Maker is also careful with the selection process, focusing on
non-commercial exhibitors and ensuring that all of Maker Faire's inventive
action is family-friendly and safe. Especially with so much
up-close-and-personal, hands-on DIY participation.
“People are there showing their
projects and sharing how they made them,” says Huss. “Our goal is to make
Makers. People who come to the Faire get the confidence to become a Maker.””
Based on feedback from previous
years' attendees, demos and hands-on craft projects and exchanging ideas have
been the biggest draw. Naturally, organizers continue to foster the
collaborative learning that happens at the annual events that span two days. This
year's theme is Maker Spaces, which is sure to be a huge hit among DIY
enthusiasts. Similar to model homes and the nifty kitchen design displays at
big box stores, Maker Faire will showcase these Maker Spaces to plant seeds of
empowerment in the minds of aspiring makers from all walks of life. What
defines these spaces, however, is not simply the presence of tools and a simple
tool bench, but the act of making itself.
“Just look at Mister Jalopy, chronicling the decline
of the work bench in the garage,” says Huss. “Garages now are mostly just
storage places. They used to have a work bench. The toaster broke, you didn't
get a new one; you took it out and fixed it. I am hoping that this movement
will swing it back that way.”
Although the days of dad
tinkering with old radios and small appliances on his work bench in the garage
were often solitary escapes, the makers and fixers of today tend to have a more
collaborative focus. In addition to crews of several hundred helping hands,
sponsors and organizations collaborate to ensure that the festivities go on
without a hitch. In Detroit,
they collaborated with The Henry Ford
Museum and Research Center. In Kansas
City, they had help from the Kauffman Foundation. Portland partnered with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.
Huss isn't directly involved in
programming for all of the Faires outside of New York and the Bay Area, but she
provides training opportunities for those interested in setting up their own
events, ensuring that the infectious Maker spirit spreads to the garages and
minds of the aspiring tinkerer in all of us. After all, Maker is not just a
one-time event. More than anything, Maker is a way of life that brings together
communities in a too-often competitive culture, and encourages--above all
else--collaboration, innovation, and fun.
“I think there is a lot of
(interest) with continuing education and the Maker Space community,” says Huss.
“Like the old grange where people came together; usually around food. It is so
cool for people to come together to make things,” she concludes.
Image by Bridgette
Vanderlaan, Maker Faire.
Friday, March 01, 2013 10:57 AM
This post originally appeared at Shareable.
percent of the food in the U.S. goes to waste. Let’s sit with that for a
minute. Almost half of what we produce is going to the landfill. Meanwhile, over 50 million Americans live in food-insecure households.
There are changes we can
make in our own lives to adjust those numbers. By looking with a critical eye
at what gets thrown away and reducing our own food waste we can raise awareness
about the issue. We can also contribute to, volunteer with, support, and start
organizations that save food from landfills and get it into the hands, and
stomachs, of those going without.
Boulder Food Rescue
is one such project. Powered 90% by bicycle--that figure only drops to 80%
freezing winters--BFR picks up food that would otherwise end up in dumpsters
and distributes it to over 40 organizations including soup kitchens, low-income
schools, elderly homes, low-income family units and homeless shelters. In the
last year and a half, the organization has rescued over 250,000 pounds of food.
Boasting a team of over
120 volunteers, BFR has its system down to a science and those involved with
the project would like to see their food rescue model adopted by other cities.
They’ve created what they call The Package Deal; a step by step guide to starting a food
rescue program complete with tips, resources and materials. Issues addressed
include coordinating with stores, building a team of volunteers, finding
recipients, utilizing the media, finding bikes and equipment, and creating a
plan for long-term success.
An inspiring example of
what’s possible with some planning and a lot of human-power, BFR is
transforming its community and demonstrating the potential of resource sharing,
starting with the food we eat.
Image by Boulder
Food Rescue. Used with permission.
Follow Cat Johnson on Twitter.
Thursday, February 07, 2013 3:18 PM
That's me and my OpenROV co-founder Eric Stackpole working on a prototype underwater robot.
This post originally appeared at Shareable.
Don't get me wrong, I like collaborative consumption. I think Airbnb makes the world a more interesting place, allowing people have more authentic travel experiences. I love TaskRabbit. I use it all the time for errands. I've written about tool libraries for MAKE Magazine. I get it. Access is certainly more appealing that ownership. For my lifestyle, at least.
But I still think collaborative consumption is overrated compared to the other side of the sharing economy coin: collaborative creation. The true potential of a networked, peer-to-peer economy is just starting to show with the maker movement. And it's not just about what we can consume together, it's about what we can create together.
Sure, collaborative consumption can help you earn some side money, subsidize car ownership, or have a more human-centered vacation, but rarely can it help you learn new skills, build a small business, or drive a new industry. Collaborative creation is about building new forms of wealth, not just sharing it. Collaborative consumption isn’t designed to create high-skilled, meaningful livelihoods for users. From personal experience, I believe that the skill-building, job-creating potential of the maker movement is more important than a new way to consume. It can address one of society’s biggest problems -- high unemployment, especially among young adults like myself.
As Chris Anderson eloquently described in his new book, Makers, the Internet is the prototype, the model for how to create with wide participation. And now we're seeing the same surge of creativity with stuff, and it's changing the way we experience the objects in our lives. From 3D printing to makerspace communities, Etsy to Kickstarter, the maker infrastructure is maturing to a stage where literally anyone can make significant contributions.
I've had a front row seat to this emerging trend. I've been writing the Zero to Maker column for MAKE, chronicling my journey from total beginner to improving amateur. After losing my job in 2011, I felt I didn't have much of a choice. I knew I wanted to get out from behind the computer, but I also had zero technical experience. Luckily, I found the maker community to be friendly and empowering.
I started an open-source underwater robot project with my friend (and hero) Eric Stackpole. In the last year, OpenROV has grown from a conversation between me and Eric into an award winning open-source project as well as a fledgeling business. We're not making much money, but we're fine with that. We've found something much more valuable: a global community of collaborators who are working hand-in-hand to democratize ocean exploration. The experience is rich in community as well as what Eric and I refer to as "Return on Adventure."
The OpenROV underwater robot in action.
My Zero to Maker experience at TechShop has been a shining example of the true potential of the sharing economy - both collaborative creation and consumption. The tool-access afforded by the makerspace was critical in my development, because without the shared-resource model my plight would’ve been impossible. But the real value - the meat on the bones - was the way members and staff supported our project. OpenROV simply wouldn't exist without the communities that have supported us: TechShop, Kickstarter, and the larger maker community.
It’s the process of creation that instills meaning into the products we use. Consuming together can’t inject meaning in the products around us. Moving away from a culture of rampant over-consumption will take much more than changing our eating, driving, and buying habits. It’s going to take a whole suite of new values, technologies, and experiences. The maker movement is an opportunity to build that re-imagined future.
Perhaps the most encouraging news is that it's more accessible than ever to get involved. It seems that every maker I meet had a similarly warm welcome. Each feel a duty to pay it forward, which builds a culture of inclusion and possibility. The tools that seemed so intimidating when I got started, like 3D printers and CNC machines, each came with someone, either local or online, who did a great job teaching. Even something as crazy as an open-source underwater robot project was able to find a supportive home.
The experience has opened my eyes to the potential of collaborative creation. Lucky for you, anyone fluent in collaborative consumption already has many of the skills needed to thrive in the maker world. After all, they’re just two sides of the same movement.
David Lang is the co-founder of OpenROV as well as the author of the book-in-progress, Zero to Maker.
Thursday, January 31, 2013 2:39 PM
Photos courtesy of Jeppe Hein and Shareable.
This article originally appeared at Shareable.
Jeppe Hein, a
Danish artist known for creating experiential art, has put an
interesting twist on park benches by populating the town of De Haan in
Belgium with his eye-catching “modified social benches.” The benches,
which range from the super-comfy-looking to the seemingly unsittable,
are intended to bring people together in unexpected ways and make them
more aware of their surroundings.
While they look enough like traditional park benches to be
recognizable as something you sit on, Hein’s benches have features that
break the park bench mold: tight angles, slopes, missing pieces, loops,
dips, closed circles and more. With their unusual shapes, the benches
are conversation starters and people magnets and they add a fun touch to
Of the benches Hein says, “With their modification, the spaces they
inhabit become active rather than places of rest and solitude; they
foster exchange between the users and the passers-by, thus lending the
work a social quality.”
No choice but to sit ... together.
Is it a gazebo or a bench? You choose.
A bench and slide, great for families and hipsters.
The tête-à-tête taken to a new level.
This bench seats many and orders space in the park.
The nap bench.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012 10:36 AM
Photo by Tax Credits, licensed under Creative Commons.
This article originally appeared on 7x7.com and is reprinted with permission.
September 17, 2010. At a monthly gathering of 50 executives, I listened to a one-minute piece of advice from each about Shareable, the nonprofit online magazine I cofounded a year earlier. We believe that sharing our resources is more fulfilling than our outdated earn-and-spend MO and that sharing can address issues like poverty and global warming. Due, in part, to the recession, a wave of sharing platforms have cropped up, making it possible to create an entire lifestyle based on sharing cars, housing, nannies — even money. In that meeting of the minds, one message broke through: If I want to lead a movement toward a new sharing economy, I need to show the world how I, myself, share in everyday life. So began my year of living the shareable life, which I chronicled on shareable.net. Unsure at the outset whether my experiment would make a difference, I began in January of 2011, armed with the knowledge of several Bay Area-based services that help people share. I tried about 30 ways to share and saved a ton of money. Here are the highlights.
Experiment No. 1: Sharing Cars
I donated my beloved 1986 Volvo surf wagon to charity back in 2009. For the most part, I rely on my bike and public transportation and use my wife’s car on weekends. But, when her car isn’t available, I rent cars the old-fashioned way — at Enterprise. Each time I rent, I’m forced to endure the robotic corporate ritual of being pitched insurance. I say no every time. Finally at my wit's end, I decided to rent my next car from a human.
Enter Getaround, an online peer-to-peer car sharing service that helps you find a car in your neighborhood or rent out your own by the hour or day. I’ve been able to find cars at half off the price of major rental companies, and Getaround handles the details. Of course, sharing isn’t always easy; Getaround is only available in a few places (SF Bay Area and Portland), and the process can be inconvenient. Once you make your rental request, the car owners must accept before you get the keys. They might not check their email. And they can turn you down.
My first Getaround rental was from Sara, an eco-minded paralegal who lived near my house. After storing my bike in her garage and eating strawberries from her aquaponic garden, she handed over the keys to her Toyota Scion, known as DaffodilPickle on Getaround. As I got in the driver's seat, I thought of my nightmare scenario — wrecking the car of this sweet person who is trying to do something nice for the environment. Assured that the car was insured by Getaround, I drove away thinking, “Holy shit. I just rented a car from a stranger!”
The bottom line: Going car-free saves money. AAA estimates that driving a big car costs 92.6 cents per mile in all. At the national average of 10,000 miles a year, that’s more than $9,000. By sharing cars in 2011, I saved $4,000.
Lending Club offers solid returns for social lending. Photo by Jeremy Vohwinkle. L
under Creative Commons.
Experiment No. 2: Breaking Up with the Bank
After a long, tumultuous relationship with Wall Street, I broke it off permanently in 2011. The abuse was just too much. Our bank, Wells Fargo, had skimmed $1.8 billion in unnecessary overdraft charges from its clients, and my wife and I lost $10,000 in stocks thanks to mismanagement by our retirement fund manager.
So we cashed in everything we could. We sold stocks or bonds that seemed risky and decided to give LendingClub a try. Why not lend money to strangers? It may not sound like the safest bet, but the advantages of social lending are compelling.
Social lenders broker online deals between individual borrowers and lenders at better rates than what banks offer. For instance, instead of the sub-one-percent return I used to get from my savings account, I’m now earning nine percent, LendingClub’s average. This is within spitting distance of long-term stock market returns (around 12 percent if you invest passively in an index), but with much less risk and volatility. LendingClub makes it safe to invest, sorting loans by risk, return, and term. The service encouraged me to make small $25 loans to many people. I found the loans I wanted in 30 minutes.
In one year, I’ve invested about five percent of our retirement savings in LendingClub. No defaults yet. One late payment. Investing this way is more work than a savings account or a mutual fund — I have to regularly reinvest — but it’s worth it. In 2011, my LendingClub income was $508 at a 9.2 percent annual return. That’s $148 more than I earned in the stock market in 2010. (I’m a horrible stock market investor.)
Experiment No. 3: Redefining the Rental
I needed a hotel for five nights in New York. After searching first on Hotels.com and finding a string of rooms all priced at more than $300 a night, I decided to check out Airbnb, the San Francisco-based peer-to-peer service where you can find private vacation rentals and short-term stays or host travelers in your own home. It was there that I booked a one-of-a-kind stay in a cabin inside a loft — you heard right — for $75 a night in Brooklyn.
When I arrived at my cabin-in-a-loft, my architect-host Terri served me a frosty beer and her delicious, homemade organic vegetable chili. Sitting at her kitchen table, Terri told me how she hoped the cabin would be a cozy little getaway inside her big open space. She also shared her tips for local restaurants and offered me a homemade brownie for dessert.
Terri’s warm welcome set the tone for my stay, and I went home feeling uplifted. I felt good about the world. And I saved more than $1,000.
Experiment No. 4: Coworking
In March of 2011, my nonprofit, Shareable, moved into Hub SoMa, a 20,000 square-foot open-plan office shared by companies including The Biomimicry Institute and Change.org. For folks who would otherwise work at home or in a coffee shop, the Hub is appealing because of its community-focused coworking space that brings a certain amount of serendipity to the office. On any given day, opportunity may meet you on the spiral staircase — that’s where I scored from Hub CEO Cory Smith a rubber stamp that says, “This once belonged to:” (perfect for a swap) — or at the host desk, where Roe Cummings gave me a great tip for a story on Shareable. I even landed a $6,000 grant for Shareable on a lead from a fellow member.
Here’s how it works: Pricing is structured much like a gym membership, letting you pay based on your level of use, from 25 hours a month to a full-time private suite. Next year, Shareable will pay just $4,700 for our three employees (who have memberships ranging from 25 to 50 hours a month). My membership is $119 — $56 less a month than my old desk in a depressing office.
Working out of Hub is flexible, low-cost, and has no administrative overhead. Plus Shareable doesn’t have to negotiate a lease or worry about utilities, cleaning, or security. It’s all included. Approximate savings: $2,000 a year.
Hub SoMa offers a ready-made office space to be shared. Photo by Sarah Brooks.
under Creative Commons.
Experiment No. 5: The Nanny
My biggest savings came when our son, Jake, was born. We’re two working parents, and the idea of leaving him, just a tiny child a few months old, alone with strangers repulsed us. And we couldn’t afford a private nanny, which would cost us around $35,000 a year. We decided to investigate nanny sharing.
The trick is to find the nanny first. Once we had her, other parents felt more comfortable because they could see what they were getting into. For two years now, we’ve shared our nanny, Vilma, with two other families. She’s great. She stays with Jake on weekdays at our house. Our friends, Tam and Stuart, drop off their daughter, Taryn, three days a week. Maryann and Mark drop off Kayla on the remaining days.
I think we’ve been lucky. The arrangement is more flexible than daycare, and we found a nanny Jake loves. She provides a high level of care and is perfectly reliable. Of course, if Vilma calls in sick, one of us has to call in sick. But we’re not responsible for the other family’s childcare in case of a last-minute cancellation. We all save money, and our nanny makes more than she would working for just one family. It’s a win-win-win. Savings in 2011: $10,800. Plus, we’ve made new friends for potluck dinners, and I get to spend time with Jake on days that I’m working from home. Priceless.
My year of living the shareable life taught me some surprising lessons. The toughest to swallow is that the modern world isn’t designed for sharing — yet. In most states, renting your car to a neighbor may put you at risk of losing your insurance should your neighbor wreck it. And, in New York, it’s actually illegal to rent your apartment for stays longer than 30 days. Change is difficult. I’m no Pollyanna.
But the architect Buckminster Fuller once said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Those 50 executives were right: The world needs role models in order to make change. I hadn’t thought my blog would make a difference, but I was wrong. My story was picked up by Fast Company, Sunset, and NBC Nightly News, reaching tens of millions of people with the message that sharing is both good for the soul and a savvy financial move. At the end of the day, I reaped the personal reward of sharing with my neighbors. And I have an extra $17,000 in my pocket.
Friday, December 07, 2012 2:30 PM
This post originally appeared at Shareable.net.
The future of the cultural
commons looked dim in December 2002: Napster had been shuttered a year earlier,
while record labels treaded warily into selling DRM-locked music online. The
FCC dismantled regulations forestalling the consolidation of media ownership.
And as the housing bubble inflated, privatization — of media, public space,
scientific and technological research, even the military — became the
watchword of the day.
A decade later, the cultural
commons remains threatened, but stands on somewhat firmer ground. The record
industry abandoned its futile efforts to lock music to users or devices, a
costly lesson movie studios and book publishers seem determined to learn for themselves.
An emerging generation of cultural producers acknowledge that “good theft,” as Austin Kleon puts it, is
a fundamental part of the creative process. And Creative Commons — a once
heretical notion to develop a copyright system for cultural works based on the
principles of open source software development — is celebrating its tenth year.
Founded in 2001 by Lawrence Lessig, then a Stanford
Law professor, and a board of directors that included Duke
James Boyle and Eric Saltzman of Harvard’s Berkman
Center for Internet and Society, Creative Commons announced its first
copyright licenses on December 16th, 2002. In an announcement, the
organization’s Executive Director Glenn Otis Brown stated “One of the great
lessons of software movements is that the choice between self-interest and
community is a false choice. If you’re clever about how you leverage your
rights, you can cash in on openness. Sharing, done properly, is both smart and
The organization — and the
larger free culture movement in general — is not without critics, now and then.
Some are intent on rehashing arguments about the dubious economic and artistic
value of retaining inalienable and irrevocable rights to intellectual
property. Purists take exception to licenses that state “some rights
reserved.” More pointed critiques question the efficacy and impact of
Creative Commons, observing that the licenses remain untested in many courts,
are often embraced by creators as their careers are either on the ascent or
But anyone holding their breath
for the Rolling Stones or Michael
Bay to embrace Creative
Commons might want invest in ventilators. Meanwhile, the purists’ definition
and parameters of what constitutes free culture remain situated, as such
notions often do, at the fringes of culture and academia.
The pragmatic critiques hold
more weight: A decade in, the organization and its licenses has achieved only
modest success in the courtroom. Creative Commons has been ported to over
70 jurisdictions globally, it has only been upheld in a handful of
perhaps, is the cultural capital accrued by the principles that Creative
Commons champions. These concepts are taking root in the mass psyche, albeit
incrementally. They’re espoused by bestselling author Jonathan Lethem, whose Harpers essay “The Ecstasy of Influence,” a manifesto comprised of scraps
from other texts, makes a powerful case for the artistic value of preserving a
free, widely accessible, and endlessly mutable shared cultural heritage. Lethem
their surrogates who fall into the trap of seeking recompense for every possible
second use end up attacking their own best audience members for the crime of
exalting and enshrining their work. The Recording Industry Association of
America prosecuting their own record-buying public makes as little sense as the
novelists who bristle at autographing used copies of their books for
collectors. And artists, or their heirs, who fall into the trap of attacking
the collagists and satirists and digital samplers of their work are attacking
the next generation of creators for the crime of being influenced, for the
crime of responding with the same mixture of intoxication, resentment, lust,
and glee that characterizes all artistic successors. By doing so they make the
world smaller, betraying what seems to me the primary motivation for
participating in the world of culture in the first place: to make the world
The free culture movement that
Creative Commons helped kickstart has provided legal support and ample
publicity to struggling
creators like filmmaker Nina Paley. It’s been embraced by unlikely
institutions such as The World Bank, whose Open Access Policy requires that its
research papers are licensed under a CC Attribution license. News outlets such
as Wired and Al Jazeera release works of photojournalism to the commons, while
the likes of Naturerelease genomic research under the license.
As was the case a decade ago,
the future of Creative Commons and the free culture movement may be predicted
by developments in the open source community. In recent years, git, a
version control system for software development, has become a prevailing way
for coders to collaborate, share, and build upon each others’ work. The most
mainstream iteration is GitHub,
a public hub for developers to easily connect, collaborate, and iterate on
code. Using GitHub, modifying an existing project to serve your own needs or
goals is as easy as clicking the “fork” button.
Increasingly, GitHub is not only
hosting code. Designers are posting editable templates and Illustrator files to
the site, while GitHub Pages
hosts writing by forward-thinking bloggers, journalists, and authors.
The notion of a platform that makes it easy to create new
and modified versions of creative works, while retaining chains of attribution
back to those that have come before, may seem radical to some, untenably geeky
to others. But as Creative Commons has demonstrated for the past decade, software
development is a creative and collaborative process from which artists and
other cultural creators can learn much, to enrich their work by preserving and
building upon our shared cultural heritage.
Images by Tyler
Steinfanich and Dawn Endico, both licensed under (you guessed it) Creative Commons.
Friday, November 30, 2012 4:09 PM
This post originally appeared at Shareable.net.
Rural electricity and telephone
co-ops are one of the great sharing success stories in American history—largely due to coordination by the federal government. In 1934, only 11% of
farmers had electricity compared to 90% in Europe.
Private electric companies refused to serve many rural customers or price
gouged them when they did. The Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was
formed in 1935 to fix the problem by providing technical assistance and loans
to electric cooperatives. Less than 20 years later, practically all farms had
power due largely to electric co-ops.
The REA was such a success that
the same strategy was used in the 40s to make telephone service available in
all rural areas. The Rural Telephone Administration matched the success of the
REA. To this day, 1.2 million rural residents are members of a telephone co-op.
The US government's success in boosting
rural economies through cooperative development is a largely forgotten story
that couldn't be more relevant today. For instance, in creating jobs.
Member owned cooperatives are a proven
economic development strategy the world over, and were recognized as such
by the United Nations which declared 2012 The International Year of the Cooperative. The democratic
ownership and management of cooperatives creates stable enterprises and jobs. Yet,
none of the $20 billion in loan programs available to rural cooperatives are
available to urban ones. This is despite the fact that 80 percent of Americans
now live in cities, with some of the highest poverty rates in the country.
Last year, when cooperative
groups were visiting Congressional offices on the Hill in support of USDA
programs, Congressman Chaka Fattah, who represents an urban district in Philadelphia, asked why co-ops in urban America didn’t
have similar support. A year later, a bill developed by Fattah and cooperative
National Cooperative Development Act—aims to bring technical assistance,
revolving loans, and startup capital to co-ops in cities across America,
recognizing that co-ops are a vital and long-term economic development model.
3677 would set up an organization based out of the Housing and Urban
Development Administration and administered by a separate non-profit to
implement the kinds of support needed specifically by co-ops. The bill would
also set up a revolving loan fund for loans for machinery, buildings, and the
other startup costs. Currently with 13 cosponsors, the bill will be
reintroduced in 2013 in the new session by Congressman Fattah, with more
bipartisan support, according to his office.
“The fact that cooperatives are
seeing a resurgence in urban areas shows the strength, diversity, and staying
power of the movement. I really believe that cooperatives are an excellent
means for economic development and community enrichment,” said Congressman
Fattah, whose family shops at the Weaver’s Way grocery co-op in Northwest Philadelphia and sees the co-op model as a
solution to urban food deserts, amongst other problems.
Compared to the rest of the
federal budget, the program is tiny—$25 million in HUD support over five
years. But it's a start, and would be official recognition that co-ops are still
an excellent way to create strong local economies and local jobs in the era of
A lot of the grants would be re-granted
through the cooperative development centers that work as hubs, knitting
together state-wide networks.
One critical thing that the
Rural Utilities Service (part of the US Department of Agriculture's rural
development area) does is direct co-ops through the maze of low-interest
loans and grants not specifically directed at co-ops, but for which co-ops
are eligible: programs to fund telemedicine, biorefineries, programs
specifically for people of color and women, grants for high energy costs, and a
lot more. Those programs totaled $21 billion last year for rural America,
capital that in cities is often very hard to come by but does exist in other
nooks and crannies of the federal budget.
“A really big problem for
growing cooperatives is that they often have difficulty expanding their
operations because they cannot raise sufficient capital. Either because they
can’t raise the funds from their existing members or they may not be able to
get loans from organizations that don’t quite understand the cooperative
business model,” said Congressman Fattah.
“A second key problem is lack of
knowledge… Many new cooperatives are filled with people who have the energy and
enthusiasm to start the cooperative and get it moving, but they may not have
the specialized knowledge that is needed to ensure that the co-op continues
operations long after that initial burst of enthusiasm runs out.”
Peter Frank is the Advocacy
Cooperation Works, the national network of co-op development centers. He is
working on the national campaign for HR 3677, getting cooperators in various
states to spend some of their times making visits to elected officials and
getting to know their Congressperson.
Frank is also in year five of
organizing a food co-op in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia. He and a group of organizers
have put together a community membership of 270 people, and are aiming for 750
members by the time their business opens. The idea is indeed catching on in Philadelphia, with its
tight-knit neighborhoods and participatory culture: there are currently seven
food co-ops starting up in various neighborhoods.
“When you set up a co-op, you’re
not just setting up a business, you are setting up a democratic organization to
run that business,” said Frank. Accounting is
different. Membership is new. The bylaws are different. You don't dazzle a
couple of investors - you build support from the community, member by member,
worker-owner by worker-owner.
Looking at the success of co-ops
in rural America,
you can see a pattern of latticework: members of one supplies-purchasing co-op
are often members of another co-op to take their produce to market—a mutually
reinforcing system of deepening relationships and community resiliency. In the
recent economic downturn and this summer's drought, the number of cooperatives
had shrunk while co-op employment went up; the USDA speculated that a number of
co-ops chose to merge rather than close.
It's very similar to the 50-year
experience of the largest system of cooperatives in the world, Mondragon—256 interlinked
companies with over 83,000 employees, operating in Spain under the slogan
"Humanity at Work." In the recent documentary Shift Change, Mondragon emerges as successful precisely
because humanistic business principles are simply better for the community,
longer-lasting, and more able to withstand the winds of economic change.
As American cities turn to
alternative models of finance and ownership in the blindingly obvious breakdown
of our free-market, private enterprise system, co-ops do seem to be emerging.
Telephone co-ops plunged ahead for 20 years before the federal government got
Hopefully, this time, it won't
take so long. The forward-thinking New York City Council this year funded
Brooklyn's Center for Family Life to train two community organizations in co-op development
(they've already help start 6 co-ops so far, all with a focus on immigrant
communities.) But federal funding dwarfs what cities need, especially cash-strapped
cities whose populations are paying fewer local taxes.
Compared to the default method
of economic development—which usually involves giving tax breaks to lure an
out-of-town corporation—local co-ops may be one of the best ways to bring
quality jobs back to America.
Want to start a co-op? See Mira
Luna's article on Howto Start a Worker Coop.
Image by the USDA,
licensed under Creative
Wednesday, November 21, 2012 3:06 PM
This post originally appeared at Shareable.net.
Ahh, Thanksgiving, a day
dedicated to community, abundance and gratitude. In an ideal world, this could
be the theme of every day, but we all know how it goes: life is a fast-moving
train and expressions of gratitude oftentimes get left at the station.
Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to give thanks and to give back. Below are
some ideas for having a community-driven, gratitude-inducing, Shareable
Invite people you'd like to get
to know better to share a Thanksgiving meal. How to Host a Stranger Dinner offers advice on how to
Put your meal to music, throw a
Thanksgiving concert in your home. How
to Host a House Concert provides the how-to’s.
Meals on Wheels
serves over one million meals a day to seniors in need. Volunteer to deliver to
someone in your community.
Volunteer to help at a soup
kitchen. DoSomething.org has some ideas on how to get started.
Host a potluck,
to Reinvent the Potluck provides tips on using a potluck as a means of
planning more sharing and community-building projects.
Some areas have community meals,
open to anyone who wants to spend Thanksgiving with their community at-large.
These gatherings are a great way to meet your neighbors, connect with your
community and share in the abundance of the holiday. Contact your city
officials or search the web to see if there's a Thanksgiving community meal in
Have a skill you’d like to offer
to others? This skills-based volunteer program connects those who have
something specific to offer (carpentry, coding, gardening, graphic design etc.)
with those who can benefit from a particular skill-set.
Many homeless people have
limited access to personal care items. This Thanksgiving, Family-to-Family’s Stuff a Shirt for the Homeless campaign is encouraging
people fill a new or lightly-used bag or shirt with supplies including
toothpaste, soap and shampoo. There is also a need for baby bags, with diapers,
wipes and clean clothes. The organization will help you find a drop-off point
Many are still reeling from the
effects of Hurricane Sandy. Volunteers are needed to help with everything from
clothing and food drives to drywall removal and debris clean-up. New York Cares and the HandsOn Network are two of the many organizations that are
coordinating volunteer efforts.
Help out at a homeless shelter. The National Coalition
for the Homeless has extensive resources and a database to find a shelter
Many volunteer opportunities are
based on local needs. Check with organizations in your area to find out what
you can do to help your community with its immediate needs.
Use Thanksgiving as a springboard
into year-round volunteer work. VolunteerMatch connects volunteers with a number of
nonprofits and community programs.
Thanksgiving is the perfect
opportunity to introduce the idea of gratitude to children. The Imagination Tree has arts and craft ideas to get the
gratitude ball rolling. The UC Berkeley News Center offers ways to
teach kids gratitude instead of entitlement. How to Teach Your Kid to Share has some interesting ideas
and resources related to sharing, community and abundance.
Take time to think, feel and
express gratitude. Need a prompt? Four Reasons to Thank Everyone in Your Life provides a
great jumping off point.
Other Ways to Share During Thanksgiving
Shareable’s How To Share
guide has lots of resources and how to’s on sharing, a number of which can be
modified for Thanksgiving.
Tell us how you're having a
Shareable Thanksgiving in comments. And enjoy the holiday!
Image by David Goehring,
licensed under Creative
Tuesday, November 06, 2012 2:56 PM
This post originally appeared at Shareable.net.
The Public Banking Institute
blog cites a powerful example of how a public bank can help a
city bounce back from a devastating natural disaster. As Hurricane Sandy
recovery efforts unfold, there's a lesson from history about the role of strong
local financial institutions in increasing urban resilience.
In April of 1997, Grand Forks, North Dakota, was hit by record flooding and
major fires that put the city's future in jeopardy. One of the first economic
responders was the Bank of North Dakota (BND), currently the only public bank
in the U.S.
What's a public bank, you ask? Public banks are owned by citizens through their government.
They have a public interest mission, are dedicated to funding local
development, and plow profits back into the state treasury to fund social
programs and cover deficits. Rather compete with private banks, BND partners
with private banks to meet the needs of North Dakotans.
BND is one reason North Dakota
has low unemployment and runs budget surpluses while most
states are deeply in the red.
As a public bank, BND was able
to respond to the '97 flood in ways that a privately owned bank could not or,
perhaps, would not. While Sandy's wrath cost dozens of lives and an estimated $60
billion, Grand Forks'
suffered $3.5 billion in losses -- a lot of damage for a town of 50,000, which
saw flood waters inundate a staggering 75% of area homes. Fortunately, no one
Right after the flood, the Bank
of North Dakota got to work, established a disaster relief loan fund, set aside
$5 million to assist flood victims, and set up additional credit lines of
around $70 million:
- $15 million for the ND Division of
- $10 million for the ND National Guard
- $25 million for the City of Grand Forks
- $12 million for the University of North Dakota,
located in Grand Forks
- $7 million allocated to raise the
height of a dike at Devil's Lake, about 90 miles west of Grand Forks
Other financial institutions
hurried to catch up and match the offer, as BND worked with the Department of
Education, the Federal Housing Administration, the Veterans Administration, and
other federal and state agencies to provide student and home loan relief to
flood victims. Due to quick recovery efforts, Grand Forks
lost only 3% of its population during recovery while similarly devastated East
Grand Forks, across the river in Minnesota,
a state without a public bank, lost 17%.
That's what is possible with a
public bank: people come first. But it's not all altruism. As a local financial
institution, The Bank of North Dakota's future was partly tied to a healthy
I wish New
York and New Jersey
speedy recoveries. If you live there, I encourage you to start or get behind a
public bank initiative to shore up local resilience. Twenty states, including New York, have
initiatives underway to create public banks. The Public Banking Institute has a
guide to local initiatives here.
In the mean time, here's ten ways you can help the recovery effort.
Image by DVIDSHUB of a much smaller flood in Minot in June 2011, licensed under Creative Commons. The Bank of North Dakota was similarly involved in relief efforts in Minot, including providing low-interest loans for residents and businesses affected by the flood.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012 11:34 AM
An Ithaca Hour
[Editor's note: Aside from looking cool, community currencies are a grassroots answer to economic uncertainty and the high concentration of wealth amongst a very few. They encourage local spending and remind us to consider where money goes after it leaves our wallets. If we buy a rake from the local hardware store rather than a franchise
superstore, for instance, we help sustain a neighbor as opposed to an already-rich
business owner several states away. By keeping money circulating amongst community members, local currencies reward businesses invested in the community and encourage a self-sustaining interdependence. Local currencies are not meant to replace the almighty dollar, but they do offer some assurance to small and midsize businesses facing a weak economy. As Joel Stonington noted in an Utne.com piece, "Local Currencies Aren't Small Change," money can be used to serve people rather than to rule them, creating abundance, stability, and sustainability. The article below
explains how to develop your own community currency
and was originally posted on Shareable.]
The Lewes Pound, a local currency in the town of Lewes, England. As Thomas Paine said, "We have it in our power to build the world anew."
“Banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties
than standing armies ... The issuing power should be taken from the banks
and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs." - Thomas
“Let me issue and control a nation’s money and I care not who writes the laws.” - Banker Mayer Amschel Rothschild
The centralized creation of money and credit has a profoundly
negative effect on local economies, sovereignty, and cohesiveness.
Bankers value profit at all costs, while locally-controlled institutions
tend to hold other values - like community, justice and sustainability -
Communities can regain control of the flow of money and credit by
issuing their own currency as a complement to conventional money, as
electronic barter networks, debit cards, mobile phone payments,
Timebanks, LETS, or old-fashioned cash.
By altering the flow of resources, community currencies take power
away from multinationals and put it in the hands of more accountable
local entities. While community currencies can't be too similar to or
compete with national money, most countries allow it and some, like
Venezuela and the E.U., support their development. Mediating
underemployment and poverty are often prime motivators, or specific
purposes like small-business incubation, caregiving for seniors,
community gardens, or providing healthcare for the uninsured, according
The Brixton Pound
Starting a community currency is not for the faint of heart. It takes
a dedicated team years of effort. Learning from others' experiences is
essential. Here are some tips I gleaned from the experts and through my
Find a group of people with common ground that are easy to get along with.
important to share goals and values with your core group, otherwise
your project will be pulled in many directions. You may split into
separate projects at some point; that's often better than trying to duke
it out with people who want to do their own thing. Focus on quality
volunteer recruitment. Don't get discouraged when people come and go.
Define your goals and prioritize them.
Do you want
to support local business or low income folks? Do you want encourage
ridesharing or reward senior care? You may have many goals - currencies
can have an effect on many problems - but be clear about your priorities
and target audience as this will shape all of your decisions, including
what kind of currency you use.
“A currency is never an end in itself, but has to be seen as a
facilitator of flows within the system of a whole community and
economy," said John Rogers, who teaches how to start currencies at Value for People in the U.K. "Its essential systemic role is to match underused assets and unmet needs.”
The community meetings I held attracted all kinds of personal agendas
and wingnut plans that had no practical application. Your goals will be
Pick your tool appropriately and make it easy to use.
Currencies are not one-size-fits-all. It is crucial that you pick the
right tool, with the option to expand into multiple tools later. It
should be as easy to use as the other kind of money. REAL Dollars of
Lawrence, KS ended because businesses didn't have an easy way to spend
them. Vermont Businesses for Social Responsiblity switched
to open source software for their business to business exchange to
customize their interface and make it as simple to use - a very smart
investment. The books at the end of this article can help you decide
what type of currency might work best.
Know your community.
If your tool is online, but your community is mostly offline, it won't get used. Bernal Bucks
of San Francisco chose a swipe debit card with loyalty points. A more
rural area like Corvallis, Oregon is more of an off-line community, so a
paper currency isn't too slow for this small town.
How does your community use money, what are its assets and what does
it need? Design a plan based on the reality of your community, not just
on your own ideals. Whether you are working with businesses, nonprofits
or community members, survey them or conduct focus groups to test the
new currency before you finish your design.
Do your homework and get a mentor.
Choose a group
that's done a project similar to yours. Look up case studies that have
worked (there are many mirages of success). Community Currency Magazine is a good resource for case studies and interviews and the Complementary Currency Database
can help you search for mentors in your area. Many people sail out on a
currency expedition without a map. Learn from others mistakes. Your
membership and partners will trust you more if you've done your
Define your governance and organization structure.
Like any project you need good governance. John Rogers harps on this
point: “Some people tell me off for going on about the importance of
governance in getting community currencies to fly. They say a
well-designed CC ‘should run itself’. That’s a nice theory, but I don’t
know any CC that has stood the test of time without some form of
governance at work, i.e. someone making decisions.”
People will expect responsible and transparent governance for a
resource as valuable as a currency - that trust determines its
value. Encourage diverse community participation and representation in
your governance, especially from your members. If you want to operate as
a volunteer or worker cooperative, see my article on worker coops.
Bay Area Community Exchange is a hybrid of a member and a worker coop,
though many currencies are either run as traditional nonprofits or
business bartering exchanges.
Your decision to be a business or nonprofit will be determined by
your goals, and currency type. Only entities that have charitable or
educational aims can be nonprofits. That's not to say your business
can't operate like a nonprofit, but you won't be eligible for grants and
donations, though you may be able to get small investments, like Sonoma Go Local did from its community and business members.
Define your geographic area.
It may be helpful to
incubate your currency in a smaller community, like Bernal Bucks did in a
small neighborhood of San Francisco. However, a wider geographic area
may provide the diversity of services and goods that makes a currency
useful. Too wide an area though, like the Southwest, may be meaningless
and not effective in building trust and solidarity. Ideally, it would be
an area diverse enough to provide most of the necessities of life, and
small enough to allow direct exchange, community-building and
accountability. Regional currencies, like the Cheimgauer in Germany and Berkshares
in Massachusetts have done well partly for this reason. If you don't
grow food in your community, you may want to expand your reach to
farming areas. If you haven't lived in your area for long, ask for
advice from long time locals who may have sense of the resources and
Outreach through events.
Hosting events to promote
your currency and attending other groups' events raises consciousness,
develops alliances, recruits members/users and volunteers, and builds
community. Think about your target user audience and meet them where
they are at. Swapmeets and skillshares are useful demos of the currency
that give a more concrete feel. Offer to speak, host a booth, or
organize trading at relevant conferences, festivals, markets and other
events to promote your currency to potential members that are allied in
Bay Area Community Exchange
organized a large sustainable living festival with over 40 workshops
and 300 attendees using member skills and hours. The event increased
trading and registrations by a factor of 10 or more for the month before
the event and a couple weeks after. A similar boost happened around its
Timebank Holiday Fair. Corvallis Hours,
a bastion of homesteading, hosts an annual Harvest Festival where
members have a market for “selling” their homemade goods for Hours.
Develop partnerships and take them seriously.
allied organizations to help recruit members/users, develop programmatic
partnerships and raise your status in the community. An ally may serve
also as a fiscal sponsor to bear the burden of organizational tasks
while you focus on organizing. Choosing partnerships should depend both
on your goals (e.g. pick an environmental organization to support
gardening or a social justice organization to reach low income groups)
and their ability to provide support, such as event space, outreach,
trainings or programmatic development. A good way to begin a partnership
is to do a presentation to their staff and then ask them if there is
one small thing they'd like to achieve by using the currency, like a
website upgrade, and help them do that. Partnerships work best as a
gained credibility and usefulness by partnering with local public
transit for bus passes. Berkshares partnered with local banks for
savings accounts and currency distribution. Hour Exchange Portland
and other successful timebanks have worked with local healthcare
organizations to accept credits from low-income members – a highly
valued service that increases the value of the currency.
Keep the circulation flowing.
Bernard Leitaer, who
is often considered the godfather of community currencies and helped
design the Euro, says “...this is where a lot of community currencies
have failed. They have neglected to close complete circulation patterns,
and as a result...it tends to pool in particular parts of the system.”
To keep the energy flowing, identify unmet needs and underutilized
resources in your community, especially those not served by the
conventional system. Be a match-maker. If seniors need companionship and
your pet shelter needs socialization for its animals, or you have
unemployed people without job skills and a nonprofit or business startup
that needs volunteers, you may have a match.
One of the biggest mistakes is assuming the currency will do
everything itself. One or more exchange coordinators are vital,
particularly in the beginning. Visiting Nurse Service of New York’s
Timebank has a bilingual or trilingual coordinator for each targeted
community. Regular communication through email, newsletter and your
website reminds members what's offered and needed, and the importance of
mutual aid. Otherwise, members forget and default to using money. Many
currencies publish quarterly newsletters with directories of offerings.
Working on circulation means creating ways to both earn and spend currency. Equal Dollars of Philadelphia
developed a food market, clothing store and bike shop. They partnered
with local nonprofits so members could earn hours by volunteering, paid
their staff partly in Equal Dollars, and made micro-loans in Equal
Dollars. MORE Timebank in St. Louis created a community college, where
people could spend hours by taking classes, and earn hours by teaching.
Another way to increase circulation is to target entities with high
demand goods like beer (Detroit Cheers
currency) or services, but make sure they don't over-commit themselves.
One popular health food store ended up frustrated with loads of hours
that they couldn't spend and quit. Set up limits to make it more
sustainable, like using vouchers during slow business hours only or on
Use your currency to fund your currency.
Hey, the government does it, why can't we? As long as members agree it's a good use of resources,
don't be shy about using your currency to pay staff, reward volunteers,
put on events, or do marketing. Ithaca Hours uses its currency as a
reward for attending organizing meetings and swapmeets. Bay Area
Community Exchange supports its volunteers by giving hours for outreach
events, trainings and tech projects related to its key functions. This
is controversial amongst community currency theorists, because the other
side of the coin is corruption and inflation. The Red de Trueque, a
currency used by a third of Argentina's residents during its economic
crisis, collapsed because of fraud and mismanagement due to a lack of
transparency and accountability.
Currencies are notoriously hard to fund. Relying on external
donations, as did Berkshares, can make the short-term sustainability of
your project slightly more likely, but the long-term more precarious.
Using your currency to fund your project is also good practice in
learning how to use it. Membership or transaction fees are also a good
practice. However, it's helpful to lower the barrier to entry as much as
possible in the first year or two so you have more members offering
diverse skills and goods to increase your currency's value (fees may
slow that process). Think about the option to pay member dues with
volunteer work to support your currency project. A sparse directory with
few members is not likely to encourage trading, as the now defunct
Berkeley BREAD discovered. One of its most active members realized the
currency she was earning with her counseling services, would not be
useful for anything she needed and she quit being a provider.
Alternatively, if you have lots of useful stuff in your store, people
will flock to it.
Don't give up but be willing to change directions midstream.
Currencies take at least a few years to establish. In the meantime,
you'll have fun, make friends and get some of your needs met. The Ithaca
Hour project was the result of diehard tenacity and a small Americorps
stipend that kept founder Paul Glover going for 3 years in the
incubation stage. Some made it by adapting their strategy as they went
along, like finding out the type of currency or organizing strategy was
not appropriate for the community context or goals and changing
directions. New Earth Exchange
in Santa Cruz went through several incarnations over the last several
years to find the right one instead of being stuck on their first idea.
Now they are pioneers integrating an online business bartering exchange
with a paper currency called Sand Dollars.
Have fun! It's a lot of work. Have fun doing it and you are sure to grow.
Community Currency - from Good Idea to Sustainable System by John Rogers
Community Currency Guide by Hallsmith and Leitaer
Community Currency Magazine
Complementary Currency Database
People Money: The Promise of Regional Currencies by Kennedy, Lietaer, & Rogers
Local Money: How to Make it Happen in Your Community by Peter North
Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies with Local Currencies by Hallsmith and Lietaer
John Rogers http://www.valueforpeople.co.uk/
Paul Glover http://www.paulglover.org/currencybook.html
Mira Luna mira (at) sfbace.org
Monday, September 24, 2012 4:06 PM
Philip Belpasso playing the flute at Zuccotti Park, Wall Street
Protest March, September 26, 2011, Financial District, New York. Photo by PaulSteinJC, licensed under Creative Commons.
This post originally appeared on Shareable. Introduction by Neal Gorenflo, Publisher of Shareable
One of the legacies of socialist “Red Vienna”
in the 1920s is a huge stock of quality housing owned by the city
available at below-market rates. This not only makes affordable housing
widely available, it keeps a lid on overall housing prices. This
undoubtedly adds to the appeal of prosperous Vienna, voted as the
world’s most livable city in 2011.
Even though this historical anecdote is relevant today, considering
the damage done by a speculative housing market run amok, we never hear
about it. Mainstream discourse about cities is dominated by free-market,
pro-growth ideas that has continued unabated even after the flaws of
capitalism were made glaringly obvious by the 2008 financial meltdown.
The Floridas and Glaesers
of the world carry on with their growth-talk as if the crisis never
happened (and global warming doesn’t exist). If you believe the future
will be made in cities, then this trading in failed ideas doesn’t bode
well for the future.
What’s missing in this dialogue is a profound but ignored truth: The commons
is the goose that lays the golden eggs. Without the commons, there is
no market or future. If every resource is commodified, if every square
inch of real estate is subjected to speculative forces, if every calorie
of every urbanite is used to simply meet bread and board, then we seal
off the future. Without commons, there’s no room for people to maneuver,
there’s no space for change, and no space for life. The future is
literally born out of commons.
Another pollutant in the popular discourse about cities is the idea is that they are the
solution to our great crises. This is wildly naïve. Rapid urbanization
is a symptom of systemic problems, not a solution. Our global trade
regime is driving the enclosure and destruction of our remaining commons
and ruining local agricultural markets, making it impossible for rural
populations to survive. As Mike Davis observes in Planet of Slums,
rural poverty is driving much of the migration to cities, not mythical
opportunities. The poor are being pushed more than pulled.
Cities hold great promise, but they are not yet the engines of transformations we need them to be. We need new ideas.
Harvey’s new book Rebel Cities tempted
me and I was richly rewarded. His analysis of the market’s role in
creating social inequalities offered a more convincing view of urban
processes than I’ve gotten anywhere. It was as if gum were cleared from
And while Harvey is a Marxist, he’s no demagogue. Rebel Cities
offers enlightening critiques of liberals, anarchists, and even commons
advocates. When it comes down to it, Harvey stands for something as
American as apple pie—cities by the people, for the people. I will
stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anyone who shares that idea, whatever
you call them.
I asked my friend Chris Carlsson, a co-founder of Critical Mass, to interview Harvey as he explored similar themes in his book, Nowtopia.
Below is a recent e-mail discussion between Carlsson and Harvey which I
think you’ll find fascinating no matter your political persuasion.
Alone, Harvey is not the complete tonic, but I hope the interview
broadens your view of cities like Rebel Cities did for me.
The gentrification blues at work on a Noah's Bagels in Seattle, Washington. Credit: Tedeytan. Licensed under Creative Commons.
Chris Carlsson: Who did you write Rebel Cities for?
My aim was to write a book for everyone who has serious questions
about the qualities of the urban life to which they are exposed and the
limited choices that arise, given the way in which political and
economic power asserts a hegemonic right to build cities according to
its own desires and needs (for profit and capital accumulation) rather
than to satisfy the needs of people.
In so doing, I wanted to provide indications of the kind of
theoretical framework to which I appeal and I, therefore, use seemingly
abstract (often, but not exclusively, Marxist) concepts. But my aim is
to use these concepts in such a way that anybody can grasp them. (I
don’t always succeed, of course.) I then hope that people might become
interested to seek a deeper knowledge of the sort of framework that I
use. For example, in “The Art of Rent,” I use a seemingly arcane concept
of monopoly rent, but I hope by the end of the chapter people can
understand very well what it might mean and wonder how it is that a
society that lauds competition as foundational to its functioning is
populated by capitalists who will go to great lengths to secure monopoly
power by any means and how they capture unearned rents by resorting to
If people want a broader understanding of my framework, they can use
many resources including my own Enigma of Capital, and A Brief History
of Neoliberalism, and my website lectures (including those on Marx’s
Capital and the Companion to Marx’s Capital). I hope, however, that
Rebel Cities is understandable enough without going through all of those
materials first. In my view, one of the biggest problems for
anti-capitalist social movements in our times is the lack of an
agreed-upon framework to understand the dynamics of what is going on; if
I can somehow incite activists to think more broadly about what they
are doing and the general situation in which they are doing it (and how
particular struggles relate to each other), then I would be very happy.
You write: “The chaotic processes of capitalist creative
destruction have evidently reduced the collective left to a state of
energetic but fragmented incoherence, even as periodic eruptions of mass
movements of protest … suggest that the objective conditions for a more
radical break with the capitalist law of value are more than ripe for
For many people, targeting the “capitalist law of value” is
terribly abstract. Can you rephrase that in terms that people can see
and feel in their everyday lives?
I could substitute the phrase “capitalist law of value” with the
phrase “the maximization of profit in a context of global competition”
and then point to the devastating history of deindustrialization (more
destruction than creation) from the 1980s across city after city, not
only in North America, but also Europe and elsewhere (e.g. Mumbai and
But I wanted to use the term “value” very explicitly to raise the
question of what it is that capital values and how radically that
contrasts with other ways of thinking about the values that might
prevail in another kind of society. The capitalist law of value is what
animates the activities of Bain Capital, etc. and we have to see that
value system as profoundly opposed to human emancipation and well-being,
that there is a distinctive “law of value” that capital internalizes
and imposes that overrides all other values that stand in its path.
The values that capital internalizes do not contribute to the
well-being of people and indeed may threaten our survival. The more
people come to recognize the value system of capital the more we can
mobilize “our” alternative values against it. To see the fight against
capitalism as a fight over values is very important. It has, at various
times, animated a theology of liberation that is profoundly
anti-capitalist. It is for this reason that the capitalist class does
not want to talk of or admit to the distinctive “law of value” that
animates its actions. Apologists for capital claim they are for family
values, for example, while capitalism promotes policies that destroy
families. They claim they are in favor of freedom, but omit to say the
freedom they favor is that of a few to exploit and live off the labor of
the many, of the Wall Streeters to be free of regulation to gain their
inordinate bonuses through predatory practices.
Many people joined in to help make the protest signs used for the
march on Wall Street, September 26th 2011, Zuccotti Park,
Financial District, New York. Photo by PaulSteinJC, licensed under Creative Commons.
Most of the people reading this website are involved in
various types of co-ops, collectives, and projects that are proudly
based on values beyond mere monetary profit. But you don’t think this is
enough. You argue: “… attempts to change the world by worker control
and analogous movements — such as community-owned projects, so-called
“moral” or “solidarity” economies, local economic trading systems and
barter, the creation of autonomous spaces (the most famous of which
today would be that of the Zapatistas) — have not, so far, proved viable
as templates for more global anti-capitalist solutions, in spite of the
noble efforts and sacrifices that have often kept these efforts going
in the face of fierce hostilities and active repressions … Indeed, it
can all too easily happen that workers end up in a condition of
collective self-exploitation that is every bit as repressive as that
which capital imposes …”
You properly point out that efforts to create socialism in
one country, let alone one city, or one small enterprise, have always
failed. Why do you think people ignore this overwhelming history and
keep trying to make it work anyway?
This is one of the most difficult paradoxes embedded in the history
of the left (its thinking, its project, and its activities). We can all
understand the urge to control our own lives, to achieve some degree of
autonomy at work, as well as in the neighborhoods we inhabit; and that
basic urge which is, I believe, both widespread and broadly acceptable
to many elements in society, can be the basis for a broader politics.
When capital collapses as it periodically does, then workers frequently
mobilize (as in Argentina in 2001-02) to save their jobs, and there are
some long-lasting examples of cooperative systems and of worker control
that are encouraging (e.g. Mondragon).
The problem is that these operations operate in a context where the
capitalist law of value (Yes, that is why this is so important.) remains
hegemonic such that producers are subject to the “coercive laws of
competition” that eventually force such independent efforts towards
autonomous forms of organization to behave like capitalist enterprises.
This is why it is so important to eventually think and act in such a way
as to challenge the hegemony of the “capitalist law of value”.
Lefebvre thus notes that heterotopic practices (spaces where
something radically different happens) can only survive for a while
before they are eventually re-absorbed into the dominant practices. This
says that, at some point, we have to mount a challenge to the dominant
practices and that means challenging the power of a deeply entrenched
and thoroughly dominant capitalist class and the law of value to which
it adheres (as represented by, for example, Bain Capital). You are right
that this is a somewhat abstract idea; but if we cannot embrace it,
then we will simply be ruled by other abstractions (such as those of
“the market” or “globalization”).
You dismiss Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons with the
point that he is studying cattle herders with privately owned herds,
undercutting the very presumption of a commons in land and resources.
But you also look critically at Elinor Ostrom’s ideas about the commons,
mostly because of her relatively small samples of communities
self-managing common resources.
short-circuits the banal opposition of state and market, she ducks (as
do most anarchists and autonomists, as you argue) the problem of
organizing complex, territorially dispersed economic relationships. “How
can radical decentralization — surely a worthwhile objective — work
without constituting some higher-order hierarchical authority? It is
simply naïve to believe that polycentrism or any other form of
decentralization can work without strong hierarchical constraints and
Do you think the state, currently a wholly-owned project of
“the existing democracy of money power,” can be made to serve other
interests than capital accumulation and economic growth?
The state is not a monolith, but a complicated ecosystem of
administrative structures. At the core of the capitalist state lies what
I call a “state-finance nexus” which, in our times, is best represented
by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve; and I think it was deeply
illustrative that these two institutions, in effect, took over the U.S.
government entirely in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse. It is
notoriously the case within the state that the Treasury has the final
say over many projects in other departments.
In parallel with the state-finance nexus is the military industrial
complex which is a bit of a misnomer because it is really about the
concentration of military and police powers backed by a justice system
that is shaped in support of capitalist class power. These make for a
distinctively capitalist class state apparatus. Obviously, that form of
state power has to be confronted and defeated if we are to liberate
ourselves from submission to the capitalist law of value.
But, beyond that, there are many aspects of public administration
providing essential public services — public health, housing, education,
and the governance of common property resources. In our own society,
these branches of government often become corrupted by capital, to be
sure, but it is not beyond the power of political movements of the left
at the local, national, even international levels to discipline these
aspects of the state apparatus to emancipatory public purposes.
Ironically, neoliberalism, by turning the provision of much of this
terrain of state action over to NGOs, has opened a potential path to
socialize these aspects of the state to the will of the people if the
limitations of the NGO form could be overcome. The frontal attack from
the left against state power has to target the state-finance nexus and
the military/police complex and not the sewage department or the
organization of the Internet and air traffic control, even as it has to
be alert to how all departments of the current state are likely to be
used as vehicles for furthering capital accumulation. The current
situation is that the capitalist class is heightening its powers of
control through militarization and the state-finance nexus while not
bothering with much else.
The first day of Occupy Wall Street, September 17, 2011. Wall Street
barricaded and Zuccotti Park taken. PhotobyDavid Shankbone, licensed under Creative Commons.
At the end of your book you write, “Alternative democratic
vehicles such as popular assemblies need to be constructed if urban life
is to be revitalized and reconstructed outside of dominant class
relations.” How do you see the Occupy Wall Street movement evolving in
the absence of public space?
It is clear that the vicious police response to Occupy Wall Street is
an indication of the paranoid fear of Wall Street that a popular
movement might arise to threaten the power of the state-finance nexus
and, as has happened in Iceland and now in Ireland to indict and
eventually jail the bankers.
Militarization is, for them, the necessary answer, and part of that
militarization is the control over public space to deny that the Occupy
movement has a public space for its operations. In that case, the
liberation of public space for public political purposes becomes a
preliminary battle that will have to be fought. The assemblies provided a
brief whiff of what an alternative democracy might look like, but the
small scales and limited arenas make it crucial to experiment with other
democratic forms of popular governance capable of looking at the
metropolitan region as a whole … how to organize a whole city like New
York or Sao Paulo.
A street scene in Berlin's Schöneberg district showing the interplay between blight and gentrification. Credit: Sugar Ray Banister. Licensed under Creative Commons.
Going beyond physical space, you helpfully point out that,
“There is, in effect, a social practice of commoning. […] At the heart of
the practice of commoning lies the principle that the relation between
the social group and that aspect of the environment being treated as a
common shall be both collective and non-commodified—off-limits to the
logic of market exchange and market valuations.”
How do you see this logic of “commoning” emerging from the
actual social movements of our time, which seem preoccupied with ethical
shopping on one hand, or addressing racism, patriarchy, homophobia, and
other identitarian questions on the other?
The essence of a great urban and civic life, for me, is the free
intermingling of all manner of people opening up the possibilities of
all manner of encounters. If, for often good reasons, women, LGBT youth,
or other so-called “identitarian” groups cannot freely use the public
and supposedly “common” spaces of the city, then it is critical that
movements emerge to liberate those common spaces for their
participation. Such movements can provide a vital opening for a broader
common politics. The problem comes when that is the only preoccupation
for that group and what begins as a demand for inclusion becomes a
movement for exclusions. Alliances are needed and the more it becomes
acceptable to liberate public spaces for all public purposes, the more
open become the democratic possibilities to go a-commoning, to build a
commons and achieve a politics of the commons throughout the city or
metropolitan region as a whole. But there are counter-movements that
have to be combated. Right now, exclusionary fascist movements (like
Golden Dawn in Greece) are precisely occupying space by space urban
neighborhoods (e.g. in Athens); they are occupying spaces in the name of
an exclusionary politics. This is an extreme case, of course, but I
think it critical that the relation between the commons and the balance
between enclosures and exclusions, on the one hand, and openings and
free uses, on the other, be perpetually open for discussion and
political struggle. These are the sorts of battles in which we all have
to be involved. There is no automatic harmony to be had and I actually
think a certain level of perpetual conflict around urban life is a very
Artists and “culture workers” have historically been leading
voices of dissent, but we see a lot less of that now. Most people are
beholden to one or another institution of the “nonprofit industrial
complex” as the Incite! Collective put it in The Revolution Will Not Be
Funded. The types of dissent remain safely within boundaries that do not
challenge the logic of markets and money.
You write, “It is one thing to be transgressive about
sexuality, religion, social mores, and artistic and architectural
conventions, but quite another to be transgressive in relation to the
institutions and practices of capitalist domination that actually
penetrate deeply into cultural institutions. […] The problem for capital is
to find ways to co-opt, subsume, commodify, and monetize such cultural
differences and cultural commons just enough to be able to appropriate
monopoly rents from them.”
How do highly individualized and competitive artists and
culture producers find common ground to fight for a world beyond
I don’t quite agree with the view that the cultural workers are
passive. The context has changed (which is what I am pointing to as
culture becomes an industry and a vehicle for capital accumulation and
building asset values) which means that dissidence has to take a
different form of expression. Subversion, rather than confrontation, has
to become the main tactic and I see quite a lot of evidence of a
willingness to do that. We have, incidentally, very much the same
problem in academia. My colleagues have quite a lot to learn about how
to go about that and, in the cultural world, that sentiment for
subversion is far more widespread.
You write, “The struggle for the right to the city is against
the powers of capital that ruthlessly feed upon and extract rents from
the common life that others have produced. […] Capitalist urbanization
perpetually tends to destroy the city as a social, political, and
livable commons.” Americans are fairly religious about the idea of
private property. Even progressives don’t like to challenge the
prerogatives of property ownership.
Do you think there can be any meaningful way to halt
gentrification and the debasement of thriving urban neighborhoods that
it brings, short of creating collective ownership of neighborhood
The thing that often amazes me is the wide array of instruments
already available for left experimentation in all manner of arenas of
social life. This is very true of housing with all sorts of possible
property arrangements that offer ways to secure housing for low-income
populations. Yet these instruments are neglected and underutilized, in
part, I suspect, because of ideological barriers but also due to lack of
political and other forms of support for them.
Much can be done within existing structures, but, again, the problem
is how, for example, limited equity co-ops might be reabsorbed into the
dominant practices unless there is an active social movement to keep
them in place and expand them. Otherwise, we are in the situation of
winning a skirmish here or there (e.g. against gentrification) but
losing most of the battles and having no impact on the anti-capitalist
war. So when and how are we going to learn to fight the war against the
You point to the need to integrate an understanding of the
process of urbanization and built-environment formation into the general
theory of the laws of motion of capital. Other writers have analyzed
the breakdown of Fordist mass production and the evolution of capitalism
into a system based on a “social factory.”
I think we should get away from the imagery of the factory entirely.
The issue of the urban is quite different because it is not only about
production, but about realization of values through consumption,
consumerism, spectacle (e.g. Olympic Games which have sent many cities
into economic difficulties and played a key role in the Greek collapse
of public finances). One of the things I get from Marx’s theories is the
relation between production of values and the realization of values
through exchange in the market and both are equally important and the
urban is “where it all comes together”.
A public square in Helsinki offers plenty of space for activists to gather. Credit: La Citta Vita. Used under Creative Commons license.
You note, “Public spaces and public goods in the city have
always been a matter of state power and public administration, and such
spaces and goods do not necessarily a commons make.” How can public
spaces become a commons?
Language is a commons and part of what political life is about is
changing the languages we use to relate to each other and to understand
the world around us (which is why I want to talk about the capitalist
law of value). But the commons has to be materialized and objectified
(e.g. in print) and discussed (e.g. in an assembly or a chat room).
Commoning embraces all of these features. It is not only a physical
space, but bodies on the street still have a political priority (as we
saw in Tahrir Square) and this is particularly important to the degree
that the capitalist class has almost total power over all other forms of
political power (money, the repressive apparatus, key elements in the
state apparatus, political elections, the law, etc.).
Finally, you argue that “Decentralization and autonomy are
primary vehicles for producing greater inequality through
neoliberalization.” How do social movements fight this trajectory while
holding on to their own autonomist and egalitarian practices?
What is so odd in these times is that much of the left agrees with
much of the right that decentralization and opposition to all forms of
centralized power is the answer. This is why I talk of the “fetishism of
organizational forms” that prevails on the contemporary left. The
market is, of course, when individualized, the most decentralized
decision-making system you can imagine and it is exactly the
organization of such a competitive decentralized market that produces,
as Marx so clearly proved, highly concentrated capitalist class power.
It does so because “there is nothing more unequal than the equal
treatment of unequals.”
If all the world were organized into a series of independent and
totally autonomous anarchist communes, then how would the global commons
(e.g. biodiversity) be preserved, and what would prevent some communes
from becoming much more prosperous than others, and how would the free
flow of people and goods and products from one place to another work
(most communes have some principles for exclusion)? Interestingly, most
corporations are into networked models of administration and there are
all sorts of parallels between left and right which pass unrecognized,
as well as overlaps between corporate practices and anarchist visions.
There is a lot to be said for a decentralized basis for political
action. But, at some point, it has also to jump scales and organize at
least at the metropolitan bioregional level to take on those wretched
dominant class practices that seem to survive unscathed in the midst of
the current plethora of oppositional social movements.
David Harvey (born 31 October 1935, Gillingham, Kent, England) is the Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). A leading social theorist of international standing, he received his PhD in Geography from University of Cambridge
in 1961. Widely influential, he is among the top 20 most cited authors
in the humanities. In addition, he is the world's most cited academic
geographer, and the author of many books and essays that have been
prominent in the development of modern geography as a discipline. His work has contributed greatly to broad social and political debate; most recently he has been credited with restoring social class and Marxist methods as serious methodological tools in the critique of global capitalism. He is a leading proponent of the idea of the right to the city, as well as a member of the Interim Committee for the emerging International Organization for a Participatory Society.
co-director of the multimedia history project Shaping San Francisco (a
wiki-based digital archive at foundsf.org), is a writer, publisher,
editor, and community organizer. He has written two books (After the
Deluge, Nowtopia) edited six books, (Reclaiming San Francisco, The
Political Edge, Bad Attitude, Critical Mass: Bicycling’s Defiant
Celebration, Ten Years That Shook the City: San Francisco, 1968-78, and
SHIFT HAPPENS! Critical Mass at 20). He redesigned and co-authored an
expanded Vanished Waters: A History of San Francisco’s Mission Bay. He
has produced Shaping San Francisco’s weekly public Talks and conducted
its award-winning bicycle history tours since January 2006. He has given
hundreds of public presentations based on Shaping San Francisco,
Critical Mass, Nowtopia, Vanished Waters, and his “Reclaiming San
Francisco” history anthologies since the late 1990s, and has appeared
dozens of times in radio, television and on the Internet.
Thursday, September 06, 2012 2:54 PM
This post originally appeared on Shareable.net
The Rainbow Mansion. Photo by dweekly on Flickr.
In 2006, Jessy Kate Schingler and four other young engineers landed
jobs at NASA’s Ames Research Center. They suddenly needed a place to
live in Silicon Valley, but rather than opt for cheap housing with a
long commute, they pooled their resources and rented a palatial 5,000
square foot property in Cupertino. The Rainbow Mansion was born.
It was more than just a luxury home full of brilliant young minds.
Dubbed “an intentional community”, The Rainbow Mansion was an experiment
in a new type of cohabitation. The house began hosting hackathons and
salons in its library, inviting Silicon Valley’s best and brightest to
participate. “Right away it set itself in motion,” Schingler says. “It
had this sort of accidental mystique about it.”
In the six years since, the Rainbow Mansion has housed 60 people from
12 countries, along with employees from Google, Apple, and Tesla. One of
Schingler’s cofounders, Chris Kemp, became CTO of IT at NASA. And
Schingler herself has become an advocate of coliving, the practice of
bringing extraordinary people under one roof to live, work, and change
the world together.
In today’s America, almost
50 percent of adults in the United States are single, and more than a
quarter of “households” are just an individual living alone. An increasing amount of social interaction happens online, rather than face-to-face.
Living alone may allow us to focus on our own goals without
distraction, but it robs us of the type of communication that only
happens when people are relaxed and at home together. The spaces between
work and life—which, in decades past, would have been filled with
conversations over the dinner table—are collapsing. Coliving hacks
this trend, infusing the blurring boundaries of work and leisure with
new opportunities for inspiration, learning, and social innovation.
Here, “home” is reinvented with a new purpose. It’s a community, an
ethos, a series of opportunities for collaboration. And while most young
professionals are flocking to urban centers like San Francisco to live
in modest apartments, some are building a new American dream in once empty suburban McMansions
and luxury downtown digs. In this new scheme, your network isn’t just
your Facebook friends or business contacts; It includes your friends,
influencers, ad hoc family, and your shared home.
Defining Coliving: What It Is and Isn’t
The underlying concept of coliving will be nothing new to anyone
who’s had roommates: sharing a house, sharing the rent, living with
near-strangers for a shared purpose. “Roommate situations are typically
based on who can afford to pay the rent and who has one or two things in
common,” says Chelsea Rustrum, an entrepreneur and coliving advocate.
In a coliving home, the connections are stronger. Even if residents
don’t know each other prior to moving in, “we have this vision in common
of how we want to change the world,” she says.
Inspired entrepreneurialism is a central tenet. Residents are
carefully chosen for their ambitions and ideas, and are often working on
individual projects. “We want to be around people who want to make a
difference,” says Schingler. But “making a difference” comes with
infinite possibilities. Within a single house there may be scientists,
artists, entrepreneurs, engineers and everything in between.
Coliving is influenced heavily by coworking, a practice in which
independent professionals share a workspace rather than working
individually at home. With no boss, no distractions and a building full
of inspiring peers, synergy is the quick result of this separate-yet-together environment.
Coliving spaces often include a coworking area. For example: TheGlint,
a hilltop townhouse in San Francisco’s Twin Peaks, has a dedicated
space furnished with desks and computers. But “it’s not just a live-in
coworking space,” says TheGlint cofounder Damian Madray. He points to
events like ArtFlux,
a “participatory art experience” hosted in TheGlint’s gallery. Coliving
houses regularly host events, from lectures to dance parties to
hackathons, all designed to enhance creativity, professional development
and good old-fashioned networking. Serendipity and collaboration
The coliving movement may freely use terms like “commune” and
“cooperative”, but this ain’t your grandma’s commune. Contemporary
coliving builds on communal living practices, embracing a networked
tech, business and science-fueled culture built upon innovation and
realizing a better world through collaborative design.
Entrepreneurialism With a Conscience
"We never really stop working," says Damian Madray. “I don't think an
entrepreneur life is like that — work and life — to be honest. You're
always working and you're always playing. You're always playing because
you love what you do.”
Madray, a young entrepreneur from Guyana, was inspired by his experience living Palo Alto’s Blackbox Mansion.
In 2011, he and some friends aimed to create a similar community in
Twin Peaks. Rustrum, inspired by her sojourn and research into Berlin’s Palomar5,
joined the community early. “If you put the right people there, I think
it has the potential to be very, very, very powerful,” she says.
But how to find those people? Schingler distills the issue into a
challenge: cultivating “eliteness” without being exclusive. “How do you
say, ‘I want people whom I consider elite around me, but I’m willing to
keep myself open-minded enough to find that eliteness in unexpected
For many coliving spaces, the simplest solution is an opt-in one: A
question for applicants to answer before they can be considered.
TheGlint asks applicants to explain how they will “redefine heroism”
with their work. Residents are carefully selected to feed the spirit of
socially responsible innovation.
In a culture dominated by gadgets, it takes a little extra passion to
come up with a business model that produces more than just profit.
“What does Instagram do?” Madray asks. “It applies filters and makes you
feel good. End of story. What if for every photo shared, some kid in
Africa gets a glass of water? What if you apply some social good to it?”
When you’re living with a group of people, Rustrum says, “you’re a
family whether you like it or not. That’s how we all relate to living
Once the barriers of unfamiliarity begin to break down, people begin
to work in harmony and think along similar lines. “You see through
people's outer shell and into more of who they are,” says Rustrum. “You
develop deeper, more real relationships and have the potential to
actually work together, actually help each other. Not just in
professional ways but in personal ways also.” This is the magic of
coliving: It connects people in a multitude of ways, building trust and
creating infinite opportunities for collaboration.
“It’s hard to explain the creative serendipity that goes on,” says
Todd Huffman. He cites his own startup, which he runs out of the Langton Labs
coliving space, as an example. His group is working to build a very
advanced 3D microscope; it just so happens that four of his Langton
roommates have PhDs relating to microscopy.
When a complex issue arises, he can simply walk down the hall and ask an expert.
The collaborative spirit created around the dinner table easily
extends to computer desks and lab tables. Huffman describes Langton as
“a commune with engineers instead of hippies.” A member of San
Francisco’s arts-driven warehouse community with a population of
scientists, artists, engineers and world travelers, Langton hosts events
ranging from TEDx to dance parties to dorkbot, a celebration of “people doing strange things with electricity.”
Coliving spaces develop unique cultures based on the location and
people chosen, their mission statement, and house activities. The
underlying culture gives birth to serendipitous connections between
residents who share similar values and passions.
Sharing the weight
From the ground up, the coliving movement is designed to offer
stability, inspiration and opportunity to independent, ambitious young
professionals — the backbone of tech startups, who are often expected to
live on peanuts and take huge risks with little chance of reward.
“I find that a lot of startup stuff is like, ‘All right, you're just a
lowly entrepreneur who hasn't made it yet. Therefore you deserve to
live in dorms, in hostels, and compete in competitions and eat ramen and
pizza.’ That's not my philosophy at all,” says Rustrum. “If you
surround yourself with a nice place and decent healthy food, the belief
that you’re able to do whatever you want to do.”
Like coworking spaces, coliving houses capitalize on a shaky economy,
locating in spaces that property managers can’t rent. In downtown San
Francisco, warehouse communities like Langton Labs are re-appropriating
vacant manufacturing spaces to offer residents private rooms and shared
workspace for around $1,000 a month, highly affordable for the city.
An International Coliving Network
The coliving community is likely to continue growing quickly. With
the success of Couchsurfing, AirBnB, and global coworking networks like Loosecubes, the time may be right for a network of coliving houses around the globe.
For location-independent professionals and those who travel
frequently, this is a fond dream: Imagine having a home wherever you go,
well-appointed and populated by people you can truly enjoy. Imagine
landing in a new city and having an extensive professional network
already in place, or scooting off to another country for a month to work
on a project in a new space. It’s all quite possible, and the concept
of a coliving network is already in development.
Jessy Kate Schingler’s Embassy Network
is preparing for an alpha run of houses in the fall of 2012. A
membership model designed for both long-term residents and short-term
travelers, the network will allow members to pay “rent” that gives them
reservation access to any home in the network.
Chelsea Rustrum, inspired by the effectiveness of coworking and
coliving as well as the power of travel, is spearheading a project
called Startup Abroad.
It’s designed to bring entrepreneurs outside their comfort zone and
daily distractions for an intensive, two- to four-week experience. The
first session is scheduled for August 2012 in Bali.
Damian Madray points out that an international network can help to
inform innovators, helping them to look beyond first-world applications
for their ideas. “If you solve a problem in a developing country, then
those solutions can be applied to other developing countries,” he says.
“Guess what? There are more developing countries than there are first
Coliving’s Past and Future
Coliving has clear similarities to traditional communes and co-ops.
Langton Labs, in particular, bears a strong resemblance to 20th-century
cooperative living. It has a flat organizational structure, and most
decisions are made on a group email list. “In building a community, we
didn't pick an existing model and emulate it,” says Todd Huffman. “We
designed everything from the ground up, and in doing so, have ended up
evolving in parallel and developing mechanisms that are very similar to
cooperatives or communes.”
Unlike many prior communal living experiments, coliving spaces are
externally oriented. They’re generally located in urban areas, often
open to the public on a regular basis, and easy to move in and out of.
The ideas brewing behind these doors are quickly realized and
implemented in the world outside.
Much of this is related to the 21st-century vision of sharing, which
allows for a high level of individualism and experimentation. Previous
community models were focused on equality, with participants renouncing
privileges to adopt a group-oriented mentality. In today’s open-source
world, collaboration relies on contributions from a diverse pool of
individuals, and welcomes exceptionality.
This phenomenon occurs across human culture: As our social
organization has morphed from tight-knit groups to loose,
technology-driven networks, we are supporting each other more and
competing less. Sociologist Barry Wellman calls this networked individualism: our new found ability to work together without losing sight of our internal goals.
Accordingly, the coliving movement seeks out exceptional people,
asking them not to give themselves up to a single cause, but to support
each other’s exceptionality. This may be the key to a new definition of
“home,” one which provides comfort and friends along with inspiration
As our social and professional landscapes shift, our concept of home
is shifting too. By rebuilding their homes on a foundation of creative
collaboration, coliving participants may next redefine the world by the
Tuesday, August 21, 2012 2:21 PM
This post originally appeared at Shareable.net
Every August for one week, the Burning Man festival takes
place in a temporary city of its own creation, called Black
after Nevada’s Black Rock Desert where it is located. This year, Black Rock City’s population will be 60,000 — bigger than Carson City, the state capital of Nevada.
Our real-world cities,
meanwhile, are struggling to provide the services citizens need, limited by
declining tax income, record debt, and increasingly complex social issues.
Cities have no choice but find ways to do more with less. Many seek to harness
the creative energies of citizens to fill the gaps, asking them to take a more
active role in governance, service provision, and even in
creating new services.
It’s easy to write off Burning
Man as a hippie love fest in the desert. It has its own problems like any city,
but that's selling it short, especially in one regard - its remarkable ability
to foster participation. The event -- which for 26 years has expected
participants to practice sharing, gifting, and radical self-reliance -- is an
effective proving ground for experiments in community self-organization. In
fact, participants build most of the city without any direct oversight from
Given that cities need its citizens
more than ever, can the lessons of Burning Man’s Black Rock City, which pushes citizen participation
to the limit, be applied to modern cities? Of course they can. Here are a few
ways you can support participation, sharing and community in your own town.
the Right Mindset: There are No Spectators
Michel Bauwens, the
founder of the Peer to Peer Foundation, believes that the proper
role of government in our emerging networked society is that of partner in
social production. This means that in a myriad ways government helps
citizens help themselves. This turns the existing model of government as a
top-down service provider on its head. Instead, government works in a bottom up
fashion to empower citizens to provide for themselves.
Burning Man does exactly this.
It fosters a culture of participation through its Ten
Principles and provide basic infrastructure such as roads, sanitation, and
safety, which, by the way, rely heavily on volunteer labor. Participants fill
in the blanks beautifully with a seemingly unlimited number of options for
care, connection, artistic expression, education, sustenance, and fun. At
Burning Man, there are no spectators. Likewise, we increasingly need cities
where every citizen is intimately involved in creating their city on a day to
Almost none of the hundreds of
art projects exhibited at Burning Man are fully funded by the festival. Many of
them are crowdfunded through Kickstarter or Indiegogo. This requires active community participation,
and it also organically vets projects ensuring that the best ideas are likely
to be funded.
The city of Vallejo,
taking this idea for a spin, testing out participatory budgeting for 30 percent of its funds.
Community members decide which projects to fund, and must work together to get
the funding approved.
"If you live in northern Vallejo and you want a
bus shelter, then you know what, you've got to partner with people in other
parts of the city who want bus shelters too," Councilmember Marti Brown
told The Atlantic Cities. "People are going to have to learn how to think
like that. It encourages people to work with groups they've never worked with
Vallejo is the
first to try participatory budgeting city-wide, though it’s now
being considered in San Francisco. Want to see participatory budgeting in
your city? Get involved.
Build Your Own
Burning Man famously bans all
exchange of money, recommending that people share and “gift” their resources
within the community. That’s not likely to happen in the rest of the world very
soon — but with the recession, the housing boom-and-bust and the financial
crisis all tightly linked to the banking industry, an ever-growing number of
people are ditching their Wall Street banks for citizen owned banks like credit
unions and public banks. A
new report suggests that a public banking could reverse the effects of
recent consolidation, bolster the treasuries of government banks, and put
financial controls back in the hands of the people.
Though common in Germany and elsewhere, The Bank of North Dakota
is currently the only state-run bank in the United States, and it’s been hailed
as an “economic
miracle.” Could each city or county set up a local bank to create its own
It certainly could.
There’s another way to share
your money and your values with your community: Join a local cooperative and
encourage your city government to support the growth of the cooperative sector.
Coops are owned and controlled by either workers or customers. They are more
democratic, community-minded, and more stable job creators than most private
Did you know that 120 million
Americans belong to at least one cooperative? That 25 percent of the nation’s
electric grid is cooperatively owned? 2012 is the International Year
of Cooperatives, and this proven, fast-growing business model is offers
many advantages over conventional, tightly controlled private businesses.
Worker-owned businesses like The
Evergreen Cooperatives are
addressing poverty and unemployment, helping money stay in the community
where previous charity initiatives have failed. National coops are booming too,
including chains like ACE Hardware which help mom-and-pop shops stay open.
Want to live well on a budget at
Burning Man? Pool your resources with a “camp” of anywhere from five to 500
people, who share kitchens, showers, shelters and even transportation so that
everyone can afford access to these necessities.
Want to live well on a budget in
your city? Use the same logic: join
a car-sharing program, try out a
coworking space, share your lodging
and, if you’re traveling, rent somebody’s empty room instead of shelling out
for a hotel.
Many cities are beginning to
adopt community bike programs (of which Black Rock City also has one), but beyond that,
there is plenty of room to expand. City-run sharing networks could generate
income while saving residents money.
Think it’s a good idea? You
might need to start your own. And
encourage your city to adopt sharing-friendly
Plug In to the
Just a few months ago, Burning
Man launched a tool called Spark. Designed to facilitate collaboration between
attendees, the site allows anyone to create a free “ad” for services or
resources needed or offered (on a gift basis). Today’s ads include a call for
carpenters, an offer to “freeze anything” and several musicians looking for
Resource sharing is complicated
mostly because it can’t be done over longer distances. Sites like Craigslist,
Freecycle and Taskrabbit are good places to start active collaboration on
projects, and new platforms are being developed that will further facilitate
getting things done without buying a bunch of supplies. One new
platform-in-progress, Social Alchemy, is being developed by Burners Without Borders’
leader Carmen Mauk and hopes to be a collaborative project management tool —
for example, helping relief workers in disaster areas find the equipment and
labor they need to do their work more efficiently.
You might need to start your own
local sharing network using a service like ShareTribe — but first, check Craigslist, Freecycle and
your local tool lending library to find out what’s already going on.
Burning Man organizers lay out
the roads and some infrastructure, then allow the population to build its own
city. In the rest of America, we don’t have as much creative control — but many
of us are exercising much less control than we could, often because of the
difficulties of dealing with bureaucratic government bodies.
Do you want transparent,
efficient government? Participatory budgeting? Streamlined voting? Easy access
to your representatives? It’s all made more possible with technology.
Code for America is a group that works with city governments, helping them
transform their information infrastructure to improve citizen engagement,
efficiency and transparency. Can you help your city adopt new social
Yes, you can.
“As our futures are increasingly
becoming urban, cities need to start experimenting with citizen participatory
process,” says James Hanusa, New Initiatives Consultant to Burning Man.
He points to the Urban Prototyping
project, which seeks citizen participation in redesigning San Francisco public spaces, and the Burning Man Project,
which supports the application of Burning Man's Ten Principles in many communities.
These ideas just scratch the
surface. Much more can be done to make cities as participatory as Burning Man.
And while the above innovations increase citizen participation, they lack one
thing Burning Man offers.
City is manifested
by thousands of people in the spirit of celebration. The passion of
participants is unmistakable. They are drawn into the civic drama by the drama
of their own self-actualization. They experience — sometimes for the first time
— what it’s like to be accepted completely in public, and so are willing to
give their best to the city that invites the best in them. This is the way the
city is made, and how it makes people.
The true flowering of cities may
not occur until the civic is married to the celebratory. This too is within
Jessica Reeder is a member of
the Black Rock City Department of Public Works, and occasionally writes for the
Image by Christopher,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012 8:58 AM
At first, there seems a discrepancy: we hear incessant talk of low job
growth and economic distress, but see people tapping expensive smartphones and
buying the latest social-mobile app. Indeed, the technology and design
industries seem unaffected by the recession, set to continue on the same course
of planned obsolescence they’ve been on for decades. But a second look reveals
that advances in these sectors are helping people adjust to life in a
pared-down economy, in a world where the environment has become a main concern.
Our recession isn’t happening in a vacuum, and advances in design and
technology, paired with an economy in flux, are changing the definition of both
work and the workplace.
From an architectural perspective, office layout has been changing since
before the recession, away from cubicles and toward flexible, open-plan
designs. Companies that depend on innovation have designed headquarters that
encourage play and serendipitous meetings. Pixar’s office drives foot traffic toward
a central area, encouraging impromptu idea sharing. Cisco, inspired by the
use of common space in universities, freed
its employees from traditional desks with wireless technology and
unassigned work stations. The shift encouraged collaboration, increased
employee satisfaction, and reduced infrastructure costs.
More recently, office designs have prioritized environmental efficiency. At Skype’s
headquarters, independent work spaces line the perimeter
of the LEED-certified
building, near natural light and away from noise. Like Pixar, meeting spaces
and break rooms are centralized, encouraging spontaneous collaboration. At
Google’s LEED-certified offices around the world, traditional cubicles and
meeting rooms have been replaced with playful spaces, from egg-shaped
pods to unassigned space-age
seating. Additionally, environmental, community, and employee
wellness are supported with bike-to-work incentives and
local, sustainably produced food in the cafeterias.
From open-plan and environment-centered office design it’s a
short leap to another innovation: coworking. A dearth of steady jobs has
created a new league of freelancers, and the desire to reduce carbon footprints
has made telecommuting more appealing than ever. Sure, there’s the local coffee
shop, but coworking offers a way for freelancers and telecommuters to stay
local and tap in to the perks of an
office by sharing costs, space, and resources. Aside from the benefits of
sharing an eco-friendly printer, coworking offers potential for collaboration
and networking, and can lead to serendipitous partnerships. Shareable has compiled a list
of resources for tapping in to the movement.
Paul McFedries of IEEE
Spectrum reports that sharing is “the driving force behind a new economic
model called collaborative
consumption, where consumers use online or off-line tools to rent, share,
and trade goods and services.” Coworking can also be a manifestation of
collaborative production, found in projects like Longshot!, a magazine that
encourages contributors to work together in satellite offices. From this angle,
it looks like social, mobile, and local have gone way beyond smartphone
applications—they could be the way we work in the future.
Image: Zonaspace coworking in Saint Petersburg, Russia, by коворкинг-пространство Зона действия. Licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 06, 2010 3:06 PM
Once you start looking for the commons, you’ll find them everywhere, from roads and water to money systems and the stock market, to the Internet and the oceans. As commons-based thinking grows in influence, we present this guide to some of our favorite resources and writings on the commons. Also see our series of articles on the commons in the September-October 2010 issue of Utne Reader.
The nonprofit organization On the Commons is one of the best single sources on the commons, featuring resources on a host of topics and writers including former Utne Reader editor Jay Walljasper and activist/strategist David Bollier.
The website Shareable emphasizes sharing more than commons as its buzzword, but it covers similar ground. One notable project is the Shareable Futures series, featuring stories and essays that touch on commons themes by writers including sci-fi scribes Cory Doctorow and Bruce Sterling.
If you enjoyed the interview with commons pioneer Elinor Ostrom in the September-October Utne Reader, check out her “8 Keys to a Successful Commons” that ran with the original interview in Yes magazine.
Former labor secretary Robert Reich weighs in with a way to help the ailing economy—invest in the common good—in his article “From Consumers to Commons” in The American Prospect.
David Bollier extends this line of thinking to drugs and treatments in “Restore Medicine to the Commons” from the Boston Review.
As we prepare to reform copyright and intellectual property law for a digital era, commons thinking is forming some of the legal foundation. Cornell Law Review dedicated an entire issue to the cultural commons, which extends from Wikipedia and Linux software to the Associated Press and jam-band fan communities that trade concert recordings. Using Elinor Ostrom’s research as a starting point, a host of writers point the way to possible futures.
Last year, a study found that commons-based forest management can be good for people, the forest, and a warming earth. Read about it at New Scientist or Treehugger—or see the report itself, “Trade-offs and Synergies Between Carbon Storage and Livelihood Benefits from Forest Commons,” by Ashwini Chhatrea and Arun Agrawalk, from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Friday, May 21, 2010 11:41 AM
Let’s pick doomsday scenarios. I’ll take worldwide oil spill, and you can pick a cocktail of avian flu, swine flu, and rubber chicken flu (uh, not real). Jeremy Adam Smith over at Shareable loves the apocalypse as much as anybody, especially when he can connect the dots between nuclear attack, global warming, and asteroid impact. The common denominator? Humans have been proposing some pretty “awesome” plans for coping with all three forms of disaster. For example:
Of course, there's no time to worry about boring, real stuff like oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico. Today, we've watched enough movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact to know that the real threat comes in the form of an asteroid strike.
In case this scenario comes to pass, one entrepreneur is courageously making sure people with way too much disposable income will stay safe in the wake of apocalypse. He's selling spaces at $50,000 a pop in a network of underground bunkers.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010 2:19 PM
There’s a great post on Chicago’s Book Bike over at Shareable. Paul M. Davis profiles Gabriel Levinson, who , since 2008, has ridden “his custom-built Book Bike into public parks across Chicago every weekend, weather permitting. Heading from park to park, Levinson distributes books donated by publishers to anyone interested.”
Here’s some more:
Levinson only appears at public parks and free events, ensuring that there is no barrier to entry. As he explains, “the mission is to build and cherish a private library regardless of class or economic state, which is why the Book Bike is only at public parks. It’s a place where every single person, whether you have a roof over your head or don't, has the right and privilege to be.”
“I believe that one of the greatest gifts of being alive, of being human, is that of literacy. If you can read, your world suddenly becomes wide open, all knowledge is at your fingertips and there is no telling where that can lead someone in life. ‘Teach a man to fish’ is such a tired maxim. Why can’t the common phrase be ‘teach a person to read’?”
Levinson has two goals: to create more readers and more consumers for beleaguered publishers. “The idea is that I’ll put a book in your hand,” he says. “Maybe you’ll want to buy a book next time around. My hope has been, in addition to that, people will be inspired to go buy more books.”
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