Communities of thought, practice, and forecasting future shape our individual aspirations and value system. If these communities spur the conversation about the future generation, and forge rituals for remembering their share in our current consumption, they foster a different kind of lifestyle and institutions than when we ignore such conversations. Similarly, when communities invoke in us, a duty to nurture habitats of birds, ants, squirrels and spiders for instance, we become responsible for nature, both within and without.
How do these communities emerge which spur, spawn and sustain the spirit of compassion, creativity and connectivity across spaces, sector, skills, seasons and social groups? Whenever people come together around common parks, workspaces, playgrounds, open art installations spaces, flea markets, farmer’s markets, Sunday bazaar etc., they get in each other’s way, then they evolve rule of social and cultural engagement. That’s how different kinds of communities evolve.
When rural inhabitants migrate to the city, they bring their stories, culture, values and knowledge but city administration seldom leverages that. I will like to discuss next how knowledge, technology, culture, values, and institutions are evolved or so shaped that margins of a city don’t become slums but the crucible of creative crafts, frugal innovations and caring and sharing centres.
The rate of erosion of knowledge of elders was never so high in the history of human civilization, as it is now. How do we track, map, catalogue and revitalise it for contemporary and future strategies of coping with risk, climate change, and fluctuations and increasing loss of self-identity? We can use traditional knowledge of migrants as well as natives for developing sustainable, frugal and affordable solutions for the not-so-privileged people.
We can create connections between grassroots knowledge banks and the formal scientific and technological institutions to create sustainable, frugal and inclusive products and services, a la Honey Bee Network for over 30 years.
SRISTI’s natural product lab has tried to do this over the last 25 years, and GIAN has developed a platform over last 20 years to reduce ex-ante and ex-post transactions costs of innovators, entrepreneurs and investors in urban and rural areas.
Special policies and institutional arrangements must be created by city council to pursue the following knowledge, spatial, skill, and sectoral commons:
a) Awards and prizes can be announced for sharing knowledge, innovations, practices in open source which enrich community life, help poor people get access to various services and products and encourage social innovations and enterprises. The database of such ideas will encourage formal and informal institutions to create many more open source knowledge commons. This may also target migrant communities to share their knowledge and ideas for common good.
b) Challenge awards for solving unmet social urban needs: how to cool a top floor room in summer without using air conditioner, for instance; how to segregate, recycle, repurpose and rejuvenate the waste so that sanitation and livelihoods are connected in a circular economy space.
c) How do we make urban common space attractive for artists to showcase their art, installations, sculptures and all other creative forms to share with society? Such spaces are needed all over the city. The Art and culture define the civility of society. Unless we provide free, open and engaging ( even if provocative) spaces for such displays and if possible stable installations, how will dialogue about dissent, diversity and democracy take place?
d) Community food kitchen Lab where elders can come and share with younger generation about traditional and organic food and keep families happy and healthy. City councils can encourage Sattvik kind festivals (sattvik.sristi.org) to connect urban communities with rural organic and traditional food communities.
e) Educational inequality is very serious discriminator among children and youth in many urban communities around the world. Open source content and reading and study rooms are needed for children from families which can’t provide a peaceful place for them to study. Public libraries with software, apps collections, mobile phones, tablets on hire, besides books are needed at an unprecedented scale. This will help trigger entrepreneurship and overcome job inequalities.
f) Children creativity has not been given enough attention. Children are often treated as a sink of advice and assistance rather than a source of new ideas. Children creativity workshops and idea contest during shodhyatras-learning walks have a great potential of molding the mind and heats of future leaders of our society by connecting them to society and nature.
g) Mobile libraries, wi-fi hotspots in common co-working spaces, community innovation lab, playgrounds, gardens, walking stretches, can overcome some of the income and opportunity inequalities.
h) Risk funds/micro venture funds to help citizens convert their ideas about overcoming problems of disadvantaged communities and city councils are needed to encourage social innovations and entrepreneurship ( www.nifindia.org/mvif).
There can be many more ways in which we can revitalize cities and help shape the future of frugal and compassionate spaces for fulfilling aspirations of common people. The key driver may be how do we revitalise urban commons.