Lost the plot
This is part of a series of thoughts and reflections following some time spent in South Africa in November 2015. The title of the blog is inspired by Lost the Plot; a group of citizens based in Possilpark, Glasgow who have recaptured the commons and found the plot! (Big thanks to Billy)
The day started in earnest: “Take me to the places that make you smile”, I said.
“The park!!!!”, the kids screamed in unison.
But when we arrive at the local park, it was locked up.(Is this sounding familiar?) Pleased to share his skills, a local father Garvin shows the kids a technique for squeezing through a gap in the fence. A small group of adults are left on the edge of the park watching on. We get talking and it transpires the local authority lock the park to ensure it is not vandalised at night time, but then manpower issues mean that the park occasionally doesn’t open during the day.
Have we quite literally “lost the plot”? A place of significance, an asset to a community, a place that makes kids smile is now locked to citizens. In pursuit of protecting the commons, the local authority, in this instance, have inadvertently placed a monetary value on it. A case of “we’d love to keep it open but we simply can’t afford to protect it.” But protect it from who? Citizens are the rightful occupiers of this space.
Perhaps if we could shift our thoughts away from who we are protecting the commons from to a conversation around what we are preserving the commons from. My heart and my head both say the preservation of monetising public space.
My view of the commons is a place where citizens feel at home, somewhere anyone can put their feet up on the table, but only if they want to. They feel welcome there because it is theirs. But this isn’t just exclusively about parks. What about our streets and our community centres to name a few? As professionals support ‘business models’ in the pursuit of ‘sustainability’, they risk transforming community centres from being the heart of a neighbourhood to a heartless endeavor, whereby local activists and volunteers with a passion for people, in the aim of nurturing the commons, are being forced to monetise their love of bringing their community together.
Imagine a neighbourhood where we could invest in common space, where residents wouldn’t need funding applications to pay hall lets, but could negotiate with fellow neighbours to use space as they see fit. It feels to me like a ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ scenario, whereby funding becomes the crux of a group’s existence, but the burden lies with those having that awkward conversation around paying hall lets. This issue is one I suspect will resonate with many – a challenge for us all to bare.
Is this part of our call to action, to preserve the commons? I know one thing for sure; we need to go beyond squeezing through those fences and start finding ways to unlock those gates.
We’re delighted to be hosting a blog by Billy from Possilpark in the coming weeks. We will learn of the story of residents recapturing the commons to grow food where they live.