Over the past few years, I have been influenced by some thinkers and innovators who believe that business as usual won’t address our needs for life and work in the next century. The open source software movement, Natural Capitalism, Dave Pollard’s work on the Natural Enterprise, Robert Paterson’s Going Home essay and the creation of the Queen Street Commons have all influenced my thinking and now my actions. I’m glad to say that what was once was only an idea is finally getting closer to reality. That is the creation of a new model for a sustainable community – The Tantramar Commons
After two years of discussion and observation we now have an opportunity to fund the creation of a Commons. We know that any initiative of this sort must be financially sustainable but we also know that our community and world must be environmentally sustainable and that a dynamic culture is essential for growth as a community. Therefore, our Commons, a cooperative endeavour, will be founded on three interdependent pillars: an environmental commons, a cultural commons and a work commons.
The core of the environmental commons will be based on the Atlantic Wildlife Institute. AWI promotes learning and awareness about the direct links between environmental health and human wellness through its work in wildlife rescue, rehabilitation, and research. Having recently completed a learning centre in nearby Cookville, at AWI’s 120 acre facility, we are now looking at constructing a new facility in Sackville for our research and networking initiatives. Other environmental organisations have already expressed an interest in joining or participating.
Photo: AWI Learning Centre
The cultural commons will reinforce organisations such as local galleries and Mount Allison’s faculty of fine arts. It will provide a focal point for artists and artisans with space for demonstrations and education, integrating cultural expression into the fabric of the community. Several local artists have shown a willingness to support this commons.
The work commons will be based on the lessons learnt by the Queen Street Commons, and here is a quote from their website:
Two hundred and fifty years ago, at the dawn of business, everyone worked at home. People found it convenient to spend the day in the close company of others who shared their common interests. One of the first venues was Lloyds Coffee House. Friends aggregated into booths and then into partnerships with each other. Those who wanted to do business with these “syndicates” wandered around the floor. From this simple beginning arose the world’s most effective insurance business.
Today more and more of us also work from home. While the Internet offers us some community, we can feel isolated and we often find the costs of basic infrastructure expensive. In addition, we miss by our social isolation, the synchronicity of opportunity that arises from meeting regularly in person. Many of us also work in sectors, and on ideas, that are still in their infancy. We are therefore vulnerable to the no-sayers and to the mainstream. This type of work needs the protection of social space where we develop amongst ourselves the trust, the community and ultimately the power, to take these ideas into the light of day.
Why do we need a Commons?
We are witnessing a shift in how the world works, as we move out of the Industrial age into the Internet age. Today, the manufacturing sector, our major source of wealth for the last century, is shrinking, much as the agricultural sector shrank 80 years ago. At some point in the future, knowledge workers will outnumber manufacturing employees. However, knowledge workers are different from the salaried employees that we have become used to for the past 80 years.
According to the authors of Nine Shift, knowledge workers:
- Are paid by their outcomesa and what they produce; not by the time they put in.
- Knowledge Workers bring something unique to the organisation for which they work.
- Their value is not in being like other workers, but in being different.
- Knowledge workers have a marketable set of skills.
In the near future, knowledge worker incomes will be a major source of revenue for many municipalities. Most knowledge workers will be paid by organisations from outside of the area. This income will be a net input of revenue into the community, as opposed to money that just changes hands locally. However, these knowledge workers will have their choice of where to live, and cities and regions will start to compete for them. Therefore, we need to develop our community infrastructure so that it is attractive not just for work, but as a healthy environment that also provides cultural stimulation.
To foster inter-sectoral cooperation, we need some common and neutral ground where we can start to have conversations and develop real understanding. This will be necessary to overcome traditional power relationships, especially for those who feel under-represented in our current political and economic structures.
I think of the Commons as a garden where members can plant and grow what they want, in a fertile environment that also encourages cross-pollination. The Commons will become a diverse community eco-system that will be more sustainable than the traditional factory or business. If one organisation in the Commons fails, it will not bring down the entire structure. Compare that with a mill closing in a similar small town in New Brunswick.
What do we hope to accomplish?
- The Tantramar Commons will be a focal point for the new Wildlife Emergency Response Network, which will bring in visitors, researchers and more like-minded organisations.
- It will be a home for non-profit organisations where they can concentrate on their programs.
- The Commons will be a welcome place for innovative start-up businesses.
- It will be an intersection for dialogue between sectors, such as between local farmers and environmentalists.
- Working from the Commons will allow the network effect to exponentially increase the power of each member.
- It will be a showcase for Green technologies at a local level.
- The Commons will provide more work options for our youth – a place to try out new business models in a supportive environment
I’ll be posting much more about the Tantramar Commons [a working name for now] as we develop the business model and the plan. I appreciate the support of many community organisations and individuals who have helped with this initiative and would like to recognise them, once I have their permission to do so.