Where Are The Commons?

I recently came across this article. The basic argument is that the tech industry, while increasingly using the terms like “commons” “town hall” and “community center”, is in practice creating more spaces cut off from the public for employee use only.

The disappearing commons is not a problem caused by the tech industry. The tech industry is just following along with the city’s already poor urban planing. There are very few places that are even available at all for public use in the Bay Area. In Oakland, you’ve got the library (where funding is being cut left and right). You’ve got “public parks”, but we all know what happens if you try to stay past curfew in a public park. There are some Recreation Centers but these are mostly for sports and rentals.

Where are the commons? Where are the places I can go to have a meeting with friends and collaborators without having to pay $3 for a cup of coffee? Or places where I can go to stay warm and chat with neighbors when the house is cold and lonely. It is not just the tech industry that thinks in terms of acquiring space instead of liberating it. Even in Berkeley, where there are loud echos of the cultural revolutions of 60’s and 70’s, people have large homes and small or non existent commons.

We need to liberate more space. In Oakland, as the steel industry left, spaces that were once industrial centers became repurposed. In the past decade there has been a migration of artists coming to Oakland specifically because of the variety of space that’s available. What is also happening (mainly through the work of post-occupy activists) is that space is being repurposed for the commons. Organizations such as Sudo Room and The Bay Area Public School are leading the way in this movement. But things are just getting started.

One day I would love to see a true community center in every neighborhood. Where people can go to talk, create, plan, and most importantly share resources. Sure the tech industry has created walled off cities for Goolers, Mozillians, and Twits (?), but what’s the alternative for them? Large fancy strip malls with $15 burritos? Just as they have used the collective wealth off their companies to provide for the needs of their employees, we must use the collective wealth of our communities to provide for the needs of our friends, neighbors, and comrades.

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