COMMON TALES

This is a story based on the discussions and models of a NXC workshop on the circulation of commons. The idea was to present the “results” of the workshop not in the standard academic way but in a funny, creative and disseminable way, suitable for a wider audience. Hence the idea of a fictional narration was born: each of the workshop participants writes a short story, narrating his/her own desires and ideas.  Each story intersects with the other, the stories circulate and the text has no start or beginning but can be read starting from any story.

The following text describes an ideal situation taking place in south London: “liberated” roof tops of every high-rise building for public free use, insertion of common spaces in every housing development and plenty of housing co-ops.

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Martin and the urban commons

It was a chilly breeze of air that interrupted Martin’s daydreaming. Directing his gaze away from the wet London panorama that spread at his feet back to his book pages he continued reading:  ‘The desire to see the city preceded the means of satisfying it. Medieval or Renaissance painters represented the city as seen in a perspective that no eye enjoyed. This fiction already made the medieval spectator into a celestial eye. It created gods. Have things changed since technical procedures have organised an “all-seeing power”? The totalising eye imagined by the painters of earlier times lives on in our achievements. The same scopic drive haunts users of architectural productions by materialising today the utopia that yesterday was only painted’[1]. “So true” thought Martin looking again at the wet rooftops that were glittering in the evening sun, two and a half hundred meters below him ‘. The voyeur-god created by this fiction, who like Schreber’s god, knows only cadavers … ‘“ damned”, cursed Martin, stopping his reading in the middle of the sentence “this De Certeau was a such pessimist! I mean…in a way, he had every reason to be as in his time the bird-eye view was homonymous to tall commercial buildings, authority and the concept maps of city planners but… it is so hard to feel that way nowadays, when enjoying the city from every possible perspective from all the public  terraces”. Martin rose from his chaise-longue and looked at the plaque in the wall as to verify his thoughts: “London’s View is a Common Good. Shard’s Public Terrace, PNCS[2] London 2013”. “Well it is not a long way since when you had to pay a ticket to enjoy the view… how completely absurd that was” continued thinking as he was descending from the top terrace to the core of the Shard using the staircase that was also part of the “public, network and common” spaces of London. He passed the workers cooperative platform and their nursery and decided to continue the descent by the lifts and all the way down to the ground floor. He picked up a pink common-use bike from the bike rack that he felt it  suited the afternoon light  and “only to think that back then you even had to pay to use a bike, that was sponsored by a bank,  those people were nuts for putting up with it” .

“Back to my everyday, ground level practice, Mr.  De Certeau” though Martin as he cycled to Nina’s house. Laury Grove House was almost similar to old style developments. Nina and her flatmates still had to pay rent, plus two of the owners have bought their flats, yet twenty percent of the building was common space as defined by law, plus their public terrace. Laury Grove House tenants shared the garden, two communal living rooms and a small nursery. Nina always complained that would prefer a working studio instead of the nursery but in the end she was persuaded by a number of parenting tenants .In exchanged they promised her an ultra quiet working environment in one of the common living rooms. Martin found her in her favourite position, by the window, holding a small model that has apparently just made as the number of scattered scrap material on top and around her chaotic desktop suggested “this is for the future river floating co-op!” said Nina dropping the model in a bucked filled with water and Martin could not but laugh at his friends perpetual creative urges. Sam, her working partner, and her friend Lexi that were also working in the living room were less amused by the splash that dangerously approached their laptops .“Nina, rather than playing with the model” remarked Sam “it would be better to get finished with those plans. In couple of hours there is a Deptfort activist meeting here and I certainly want to join them instead of drawing till dawn…I m not sure about you though”. “Right” straighten up Nina, “Martin what did you say you wanted?”

Carrying the plants that Nina gave him in his bike basket Martin cycled towards the New Cross housing co-op , his home for more than ten years. Their garden was lusher than Laury Grove House’s one, but less edible, that’s why he was now carrying the tomato plants. The young jasmine that was on the basket was an extra gift to his little daughter. He thought again of the past when companies were allowed to monopolise common edible plants as “theirs” and he shuddered in horror. “Why on earth am I remembering those dark ages today? It must be the Shard’s dirty commercial past” thought Martin. “It has happened to me before when I visited the London Dungeon once. “.He left the bike on the neighbourhood’s cycling station and walked the last meters to the co-op. He crossed the common kitchen and went straight to the garden. Ten set of eyes got immediately fixed on him “you are late for the assembly!” said Christian.” I might be dear”, answered Martin” but… look what I brought for the garden! Am I excused now?”. “ Only if you cook your famous risotto for everybody tonight!” answered Christian before turning her attention back to the assembly. Looking at his friends in the garden Martin made a last thought before concentrating at the assembly himself “De Certeau would be really happy with our everyday practices! If only he knew that the future would be brighter!”


[1]  CITATION DeC84 \p 92 \l 2057  (De Certeau, 1984, p. 92)

[2] Public, Network and Common Spaces

read the other parts of the story in the New Cross Commoners Publication, free to download from the NXC site

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