The Newton Commoners Plot for Renewing Community

The Plot is more than interesting. It touches something deep within us – the yearning for connection, for conviviality, for joining up with people in a shared place that together we can co-create, a place where community can be meaningfully experienced and strengthened.

I discovered ‘The Plot’ in the early spring. I was alone. Even in it early stages I was a bit astonished by the level of creativity and care so evident in its design. Symbols meaningful to me were embedded, from the gate to the sacred circle to the radiating garden beds that bore such nourishment in the months that followed.

While the artistic invitation of ‘the plot’ created the possibility for a new urban commons, the people who were drawn to it shaped it into a vibrant intergenerational, inter-racial, inter-faith common space where all were welcomed; quite extraordinary, to say the least!

One Sunday, at the gathering for what became the weekly pot-luck feast, I met people from all the major faiths, including people practicing traditional indigenous spiritual traditions. Fifteen languages were in play, maybe more. The youngest was less than four; the eldest I am guessing somewhere in his 9th decade.

The unfolding this space over the months is cause for celebration. But it is more, and not just in a context of one neighborhood.

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In the unprecedented period of human history we are living, it is increasingly difficult for more and more people to cope. Climate change, rising inequality, the growing precariousness of work and environmental degradation feed fear, powerlessness, grief and alienation. Loneliness and a growing mental health crisis are symptomatic of the impacts.

Originally a creative art installation that aimed to engage citizens in its creation as well as culinary benefits of a collective food growing experiment, the Plot has been an amazing unfolding of community building and the creating of a new commons. By providing the access to the property, the local government enabled the blossoming of a connective conviviality and new relationships, not to mention the nutritious fresh vegetables I and others were able to regularly harvest.

Citizen led initiatives such as this are a growing trend globally, one often referred to as the commons movement. In cities like Bologna (Italy), Barcelona and Madrid, to name but three, local governments are creating a collaborating environment and policy to actively encourage and respond to citizen led propositions focused on creating commons for citizen and environmental benefit.

It is an idea whose time has come. The plot is clear. The Newton ‘Plot’ not only needs to be have its access to the land extended, the city has an opportunity to use it as a lens through which to explore its local government becoming an active agent in encouraging the multiplication of such initiatives. I hope it does.

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