An Introduction to the Commons

I’m working on an introductory piece (about 2 printed pages) for people who know nothing about the Commons. My aim is to explain enough so that people are interested and will ask more questions. Feedback is always appreciated.

Our Commons

For a long period of time, human economic development was tied to the land. The elites owned the land, and various types of workers, from serfs to sharecroppers, produced crops for the landowners. During the Agrarian Age, land was the most valuable commodity.

Even though large engines and other physical capital had been around in the 18th century, it was not until the early 20th century that a large number of workers were able to leave the farm. The automobile and highways made it possible for many people to commute to factories to work as employees. With the arrival of the tractor, one person was able to farm much more land than was previously possible with a team of horses. Larger farms were now viable and farm workers were lured to higher paying factory jobs. During the Industrial Age, physical capital, such as a factory, was the most valuable commodity.

Today, less than 2% of Canadians work on farms, yet we can all eat. At the same time, the industrial sector is shrinking, but there is no shortage of manufactured goods. The only sector that is growing is the knowledge sector. At some time in the near future, knowledge work will outnumber manufacturing jobs. I say knowledge work, not jobs, because much of this work is not as salaried employees.

Knowledge work is not information work. It is work that creates something new, such as a story, a design, or a service. Some knowledge workers can create new services, such as a digital photo sharing service. This is the case of Vancouver-based Flickr, whose husband and wife founders sold their service to Yahoo for $30 million. In the Internet Age, the most valuable commodity is human creativity.


If a community is to thrive in the Internet Age, it must be attractive to knowledge workers. These workers need to be connected to other knowledge workers so that they can stay creative. They need to have constant access to fresh ideas. One way to attract knowledge workers is to offer the right physical space and connections. Because many knowledge workers are not employees, they don’t need conventional office space. Many are starting to create their own alternative spaces in cities such as London, Toronto, Vancouver and even Charlottetown. Take a look in any city and you will see people working with wireless enabled computers in what has become the default third-space – the coffee shop.


Now, a new third-space, the work commons, is being created where workers pay a monthly membership to have access to shared work areas and business services. No one owns an office, because no one needs a full-time space. It would be a waste. The idea behind the Tantramar Commons is to provide the physical space in Sackville for a work commons. The model for the work commons has been established and is successful, covering its costs, nurturing innovation between sectors and growing entrepreneurs; all at a minimal capital cost.

The presence of a work commons will encourage communication between entrepreneurs, who need additional space, and will be a focal point to attract knowledge workers from outside the area. Other commons are currently looking at creating a worldwide network to share ideas and services.

In addition to a work commons, the Tantramar Commons will offer space to non-profit organisations in the environmental and cultural sectors. These sectors are important to ensure our sustainabilty as a community. Sackville has a certain critical mass of organisations in these two sectors already, but we need to sustain it. There are many potential benefits of local entrepreneurs working in the same space as environmentalists and artists. The cross-pollination between sectors that don’t usually intermix will be fertile ground for innovation.

Much as the town square was the common space for community development in early America, so will the interconnected, but locally grounded, Tantramar Commons be our space for problem-solving, celebration, consolation, and knowledge creation.

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