Reinventing the Commons

By Ingrid Steinberg   AUGUST 26, 2020

In 2007 in a small English town called Todmorden, a woman dug up her prize rose garden, planted vegetables, and put up a sign: Help Yourself! This was the beginning of a group called the Incredible Edible Network, of which there are now 100 branches across the UK. In 1992 an Australian man came up with the idea of a Walking School Bus, whereby parents agreed on a set walking route and timetable for walking to school, and volunteered as chaperones. The Walking School Bus is now a widespread phenomenon in Europe, Australia, and the US. In 2012 the city of Palo Alto launched the Zero Waste Party Pack, spreading 22 large sets of reusable dishware, utensils and napkins among volunteer hosts throughout the town. Any Palo Alto resident can check out a Party Pack by contacting a nearby volunteer.*

Despite the increasing dominance of market and consumerist forces in our daily lives, innovative individuals and communities have consistently found ways to bring people together to create better ways of living. These initiatives save community members money and time, preserve the environment, and help the most vulnerable.They also bring neighbors together in community – in the process alleviating the scourge of isolation and loneliness that has inevitably accompanied the shrinking of communal life.


Pacific Palisades is no stranger to community efforts of this sort. Recently, I have become aware of several impressive local initiatives spearheaded by our neighbors. Anthony Pearson noticed that some people were leaving unwanted books on the sidewalk, leading to rain damage. The Pearson family took it upon themselves to collect books from around the neighborhood, and distribute them amongst our multiple Little Free Libraries so that we can all have access to books as our local library branch remains closed. Sahel Amani missed the Palisades Farmers Market, closed since the start of the pandemic. She set up a mini farmers market on Temescal Canyon Road every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, providing a distribution source for farmers and other vendors, and a way for community members to easily access local produce. Alicia Albek, who has historically given vegan tours of Ralphs and offered vegan educational events in her home, turned to zoom and continues to offer free vegan education to the community. There are many more examples of neighbors serving our community. They are the glue that transforms us from a collection of individual households into a true neighborhood.


The climate and ecological crisis presents a daunting set of challenges that requires an unprecedented response at every level of society, from governments to corporations to cities, families and individuals. We cannot wait for others to do the work. We must follow the example of neighbors like Pearson, Amani, and Albek. 


To make the changes necessary to maintain our community’s resilience and to safeguard our children’s futures against catastrophic global warming and ecological damage will require each and every one of us to play a part. There is no recipe for what that part must look like. Each of us brings different gifts, passions, and resources to the table. And each of us has the power to make a truly unique and powerful contribution. 


Yet we do not have to act alone. Indeed, each person’s impact will be vastly amplified if we work together as a community. 


Resilient Palisades will be holding a community meeting on Thursday September 3 at 7pm. Register here to join with other Palisadians in planning and enacting a neighborhood response to the climate crisis.


Want to learn more about the concept of “the commons”? Check out this animated short video


*These three initiatives are among many described in a fascinating collection called Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons produced by Shareable ( 

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