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Towards Commons-Enabling Infrastructures (2): some examples / answers …

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
31st August 2013


Second part of a report by Silke Helfrich on what was said and thought on this issue during the Commons and Economics Conference in Berlin last May.

“To, both, show where we are at and show what’s possible, here are a few alternative approaches (practices) to infrastructures:

1. Guifi.net – „the open, free and neutral network; Internet for Everybody“, which is a large and successful community built, shared and controled internet infrastructure; an example of it’s application: guifi.net.map.

It is

- “based on a peer to peer agreement that let’s anyone join the network by providing her/her connections, which in turn extends network connectivity to others. Guifi.net is an independent network owned by commoners, but also constituted as a foundation that lets it dialogue with the state and market in order to have access to other infrastuctures (such as the electro-magnetic spectrum) and grow.”

There are other such networks based on common WLAN hotspots and a bit of antennas and software programming in Athen, Barcelona or Vienna. The European Union is funding research projects about their potential.

Because, if

- “many of such community networks are set up together they can form a distributed network, based on so called »Linux-Containers« (LXC). This would be a new and light-weighted, community-controled p2p form of enabling communication beyond the big corporations and based on computers of relatively low performance. ( CONFINE »Community Networks Testbed for the Future Internet).”

Indeed, in post-Snowden times an infrastructure of free, distributed networkes to enable our (digital) communication seems more important than ever (see also Community-lab.net).

2. Smart Grids:

They could help spure commons based, distributed energy production by many countless projects and initiatives. But there is a similar problem as in the case of telecommunication: if those initiatives would like to exchange energy among themselves, they would need to use the market based grid ? which makes them vulnerable. Moreover, the current trend favoring Smart Grids is not driven by commons but by the Green Economy idea which basically ignores the factor of excessive consumption.

3. Education: Marabá Rural Campus

This is an example of a Public Higher Education Institute that offers technical and undergraduat4e degree in agroecology and rural education. It is an interesting case that shows, how communities appropriate themselves of usually state run infrastructures. Peasant movements involved with land reform, indigenous people or quilombos are involved in student selection mechanisms, that is: extremely diverse communities, but usually pro commons and some of them even strictly commons based, sharing and producing collectively.

Along with trade unions they pressured the State to set up the Campus. The land was donated by the Movement of landless people, MST. The location choosen for the campus was particularly relevant as it is close to El Dorado dos Carajás where in 1996, 19 people were murdered by the police.

In a way the place of the Marabá Rural Campus is a battle ground between commons based initiatives and neo-extractivists.

Marabá Rural Campus has small scale family farming, agroecology and food souvereignity as principles and blends them with research focussed on the communitie’s needs. One of their strategies is called: alternation pedagogy, that is students spend one third of their time in their respective communities; this allows for a process orientied learning and research, it minimizes rural exodus etc.

Btw; there is an interesting conceptual link to a recend article by Prof. Uwe Schneidewind (Director of the Wuppertal Institute) who calls for a citizen university concept in Germany. We need to commonify education. Pioneer work we can build upon is done in many places; on example is the Future-Foundation Eduction of the GLS-Trust) This will be the main pillar of commonifying public services and infrastructures.

4. Transportation and Urban Planning:

… infrastructure as a commons can include car-pooling and car-sharing, achieved through a distributed sharing of transportation needs and routes. Shared cars could have preferred access to key roads. In Tallinn, capital of Estonia, a system of free public transport was recently instituted that lets registered residents of the city use the system at no cost, while visitors from other parts of the country and foreigners must pay. The idea is that citizens have already paid via their taxes for the transportation.

“To be entitled to freely use public transport in Tallinn, citizens of Tallinn have to purchase the so-called ‘green card’ (EUR 2) and personalise it. People from outside Tallinn can also buy the ‘green card’ which enables them to load the needed amount of money to use public transport. Since the implementation of free public transport, a significant increase of the number of registered Tallinners can be observed.”

So, it seems to help densifying urban spaces which to a certain degree is desperately needed to leave the urban surroundings untouched.

Urban planning and public spaces can be considered infrastructure as well. And from that perspective, urban gardening or urban agriculture are attempts to reclaim spaces that have been taken over by development and/or abandoned. Other approaches to convert urban infrastructure into Commons Enabling Infrastructures (CEI) are social housing projects or Community Land Trusts.

To mention just two examples out of many: The Ca La Fou in Spain (Catalunya) – “Colonia Ecoindustrial Postcapitalista – is an industrial colony that has built low-cost housing that is own, managed and governed by the community. And the Community Land Trust in Brussels developed organizational forms (the trust) to convert urban land and housing into something used and stewarded by the communities themselves on a pretty ambitious scale.

Obviously in all those areas there are plenty of tensions:

* the government shows a lack of committment to land reform

* guaranteeing participatory management is a constant struggle

* corruption is not unknown in the commons, nor is conflict
etc, etc…

But once we conceive Commons Enabling Infrastructures in a clearer way, once we understand, why they are so crucial to expand the Commons and how many thrilling initiatives can be (already) connected to each other, once we have a more commons-friendly environment in which these experiments evolve, each project can focus with major strength on these issues which won’t disappear but can be commonly addressed and resolved.”

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