A city on foot

Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway used to be a roaring six-lane highway on the south side of Boston.  Now it is a quiet green space, with flower beds and seats.  And it is an excellent space for art.

I was fortunate to be in Boston when Janet Echelman’s amazing sculpture, As If It Were Already Here, was on display, suspended over the greenway.

sculptureMade of hand-spliced, ultra-high-molecular-weight-polyethylene (UHMWPE) and braided high-tenacity polyester fibres, it is strung between buildings and lit at night. We saw it both by day and night, and it was completely different on the two occasions and it changes every moment.  It will remain until October 2015.

When one element moves so do the others.  It is immensely strong yet delicate as lace as it sways in the breeze.

sculpture 2

9 sculpture

 

 

 

 

 

The artist explains that the sculpture spans a space where the highway once split downtown from its waterfront.  There are three voids in the sculpture which represent the ‘tri mountain’ which was razed in the eighteenth century to create land from the harbour. The colour banding is a reference to the six-lane highway, interstate 93, which was buried in the Big Dig, a megaproject whose construction phase lasted from 1999 to 2006 and was the most expensive highway project in the USA.   The greenway was created on top of the highway, contributing to Boston’s network of parks and green spaces.

Greenway sign

Janet says that the sculpture embraces Boston as a city on foot, and certainly this area of downtown is now a pleasant place to linger and walk.  The Rose Kennedy Greenway has grown up a lot since I visited it in 2011.

Greenway 2011

Greenway 2011

Fort Channel Park

 

It is likely that this sculpture is providing a boost to nearby restaurants, from which people can watch the ever-changing shapes and colours.

 

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Campaign successes in Cataumet

The pile of marsh hay, or Eel Grass as it is known locally, on the slipway to Squeteague Harbour at Cataumet (a village in the township of Bourne, Cape Cod), is the sign that John York, who lives next door, is busy with the Valley Farm community garden.

Marsh hay

Marsh hay

This is an excellent project for which John must take much credit.  He took me there yesterday to show me the 76 plots which are being nurtured by local people to provide nutritious fruit and vegetables.  These were created from a rough, overgrown site.

2 garden

2a garden

 

 

 

 

 

John takes the marsh hay there to put nitrogen into the soil. He is growing a strip of pumpkins, squash and water melons on the edge of the garden, which he nurtures with the marsh hay.  It takes a year to turn into compost which he then puts on the gardens, planting a new strip of pumpkins with a new lot of marsh hay.  Gradually, through this process, the garden soil becomes more fertile.

John York

John York

Pumpkins growing in marsh hay

Pumpkins growing in marsh hay

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is also a thrift shop and this with the garden are part of a joint venture of the Bourne Historical Society, Cataumet Schoolhouse Preservation Group and the Bourne Society for Historic Preservation.

Hospital
Originally the land was part of the Barnstable County Hospital for tuberculosis patients. A farmer grew vegetables and fruit for the hospital and lived in the building which now houses the thrift shop.  In the mid 1980s it was occupied by physicians, but then was empty for 20 years.  The hospital became senior-living accommodation and, in mitigation for this development, the town won a conservation restriction (CR) to protect the land.  The CR was an agreement between the county (Barnstable, the landlord) and the town (Bourne).

When the three community organisations took over the land, they had to get the restriction lifted to allow agriculture to take place once again.  This was a long and complex process.  First they had to apply to town boards: the Bourne conservation dept and board of selectmen (town council) and then to the Massachusetts  office of environmental affairs for sign off.  Finally, they had to file the amendment at the registry of deeds for the property.

Diane Speers

Diane Speers

The thrift shop is a healthy concern; it is run by the enthusiastic Diane Speers, the volunteer shop manager, and her dozen or so helpers.  The shop is next door to the garden which has 76 plots: two are for Bourne Middle School teachers, parents, children; four are for the Bourne food pantry (food bank), providing a diversity of produce through the season and servicing 300 families in Bourne.  The plots are affordable at about $20 rent a year.

The groups pay the county 1$ a year for use of building and land, and are responsible for maintenance and repairs, of which they have done a great deal.  So the county benefits from improved buildings and good stewardship of the land.

This all helps to raise money for the Cataumet School House, a historic building dating from 1894.  The school closed in 1930 and became a community hall.  A local non-profit was formed to operate it, then this disbanded and the school deteriorated. There was then a controversy because the Historical Commission wanted to move it to a private campus of historic buildings.  The community was divided, but the selectmen voted to keep it and it was restored with funds which were raised over a five-year period.

Cataumet schoolhouse

Cataumet schoolhouse

 

8 schoolhouse plaque

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The apple tree which stood outside the school dated from about 1955 (the tree is visible in the photo on this link).  John York, who is an expert in such matters, reckons that it is a new variety of tree.  Unfortunately it was felled and the stump was moved to the community garden.   As the shoots grow John mounds dirt around them so they grow their own roots. He hopes in time to propagate this historic tree.

Tree stump with hopeful shoot

Tree stump with hopeful shoot

 

These efforts represent a number of campaign successes for the community groups. The community garden and the thrift shop are helping to protect the historic environment of Bourne and Cataumet schoolhouse, as well as providing nutritious food for families who need it.

 

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A visit to the First Nations in their own land

The banausic cry of the red-winged blackbird serenaded us as we stood on the shores of Lake Wakamne, 72 kilometres north-west of Edmonton, and learnt how the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation had settled here.  It was the day of the field trips organised as part of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) conference and I had opted to visit the First Nation reserve.

We drove out of Edmonton and across some fairly flat countryside for about an hour.

View from the bus

View from the bus

When we reached the reserve we stopped at the school and gathered outside.  Here we were introduced to Lloyd Verreault, who teaches there, Reggie Cardinal whose grandfather’s grandfather was the first chief, Reggie’s son Lydon and Grandma Isabelle, a respected elder.

Grandma Isabelle

Grandma Isabelle

Lyndon Cardinal and Lloyd Verreault

Lyndon Cardinal and Lloyd Verreault

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lloyd explained that the native tongue is Stoney and we learnt to say hello (abawashted) and thank you (isniyes).

Monument

Monument

We visited the monument and were told of the prayers which are performed there: to the east for the sun, the south for thunder and water, the west the wind and oxygen and the north the animals.  We need all these elements to survive.

The nation signed Treaty 6 with the Crown in 1877 but, as I explained previously, whereas the nation believed it had agreed to share its resources, the settlers stole the land from the people.  The nation is now confined to four separate areas.  We were on the largest, the Lac St Anne reserve; the others are Whitecourt, Elk River and Cardinal River, the last two being primarily for hunting and gathering.  Now half the First Nation population lives on the Lac St Anne reserve.

Lyndon Cardinal explained how, when they put the nation in reservations, there was a pass system which did not allow ingress or egress.  The settlers wanted to keep the First Nations people in one place.  They prevented the people from using their own language and incarcerated the children in residential schools.  Things have changed considerably since then, but even so they only became Canadian citizens in 1961 and able to vote in provincial elections in 1964.  The children are learning Stoney again.

The school is for children from kindergarten to age 12 and is federally funded with teachers coming from outside the reserve.

The school

The school

There are social problems: 84 per cent are unemployed and 75 per cent of the workers are women.  The school and the casino are the principal employers.

They took delight in telling us that, because the land is federal, provincial laws such as restrictions on smoking do not apply.

The Lake of Miracles

The Lake of Miracles

Grandma Isabelle, who speaks Stoney and remembers the time when the nation was dependent on the land, told us of the importance of the lake, ‘the Lake of Miracles’.  Now you can’t drink from the creeks, the land is polluted from pesticides.

Granma Isabelle in the powwow

Granma Isabelle in the powwow

We stood in the powwow, which means a place where people come together (rather than a means of solving a knotty problem, as it is now used).  Here people gathered in the spring, the flowering time on the medicine wheel.

Isabelle recalled the joy of springtime, the teepees by the lake, the smell of tea, the children playing.  This year the powwow is on 10 July, when dances will be led by the chief.  It is open to everyone; no drugs or alcohol are allowed.

We moved to the community hall where posters and photographs were displayed, including the creed by which they live

10 rainbow

 

8 sitting bull

 

 

 

 

 

9 creed

and some of the social history.

The baseball team

The baseball team

Then it was back to the school for a delicious lunch of beef stew and bannock (was this shades of Scottish ancestry?).   It was good to see the recent Alberta election results prominently displayed on the notice-board.

12 ed journal

In the gym we were treated to dancing by some of the children: the jingle dress, chicken dance, grass dance and fancy shawl dance.  All this was accompanied by powerful drumming and cries from the drummers.  It was easy to forget we were in a school gym as we experienced this evocative celebration of First Nation tradition.

Fancy shawl dance

Fancy shawl dance

Chicken dance

Chicken dance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The chief, Tony Alexis, joined us from Vancouver on skype.  He said:

Chief Tony Alexis on skype

Chief Tony Alexis on skype

In the spirit of honouring our elders and people, it is important to know and share our history.  We must educate ourselves in the struggle for the environment. We have a responsibility to look after what we call home.

At the end of the dances we all joined in the farewell dance, moving slowly in a clockwise circle, then shaking the hands of each participant and saying isniyes.  As we left we were presented with generous gifts of beads and leatherware.

And so we climbed onto our school bus and returned to Edmonton, having had a fascinating glimpse of the life of the First Nations people and a warm welcome.

School bus

School bus

Read John Powell’s account of the visit here.

 

 

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Hypocrisy on the meadow

On 15 June fifteen thousand of us gathered on the meadows at Runnymede, to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta.  We had been invited by the National Trust (landowner) and Surrey County Council.  

 

web Runnymede sign

It was sad that not one bit of publicity mentioned that this meadow is common land.  Indeed the trust and the council had to obtain consent, under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006, for the infrastructure for the event as these were works on common land.

They also needed consent for the sculpture, The Jurors, commissioned for the occasion from Hew Locke. It is a fascinating work, 12 bronze chairs for 12 jurors, each with embossed with intricate images and symbols representing the 800-year struggle for freedom.

One of the bronze chairs

One of the bronze chairs

American Bar Association memorial

American Bar Association memorial

We were joined by four members of the royal family, the Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson, the prime minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury among others.  The event included the dedication of The Jurors and the rededication of the American Bar Association Memorial, which was built in 1957 to celebrate Magna Carta and its profound influence on the American justice system. There  was a procession of flags designed by schoolchildren.  Music was provided by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

But the hypocrisy came with the prime minister’s speech (remember that three years ago David Cameron admitted that he did not know the translation of Magna Carta).   At Runnymede he said that Magna Carta had ‘altered for ever the balance of power between the governed and government. … What happened in this meadow 800 years ago is as relevant today as it was then.  Its remaining copies maybe faded but its principles shine brighter than ever.

‘Here in Britain the good name of human rights has sometimes been distorted and devalued.  It falls to us in this generation to restore the reputation of those rights and their critical underpinning of our legal system.  It is our duty to safeguard the legacy, the idea, the momentous achievement of those barons.  And there couldn’t be a better time to reaffirm that commitment than an anniversary like this.’

The meadows

The meadows

Yet he plans to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

He went on: ‘Liberty, justice, democracy are the rule of law.  We hold these things dear.  Let us pledge to keep those principles alight.  What we do today will shape the world for many, many years to come.’

His government has already crushed free speech by making it much more difficult for charities to lobby parliament, and to challenge decisions by judicial review.  I was sitting next to a lawyer who works for the criminal justice system and whose help to oppressed people is dependent on the provision of legal aid; she is finding that the cuts in public funding are making it increasingly difficult for the public to have access to law.  It did not strike me that the principles of Magna Carta are shining very bright.

Recognised
The Archbishop of Canterbury on the other hand recognised our past wrongdoings when he admitted that ‘the church and others have failed to uphold the principles of Magna Carta’ and he sited support for the inclosures as an example.

Magna Carta has endured for an amazing length of time, clause 39 is still law: No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights of possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land. It made me think of the way we treated the First Nations in north America— hardly in keeping with clause 39.

The day ended with the red arrows flying over

web red arrows

and Gloriana was waiting on the river to ferry people across to the historic Ankerwycke.

Gloriana

Gloriana

Posted in common land, commons, History, National Trust, parliament, USA | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Bridge of size

One of my most enjoyable tasks as president of the Ramblers is to celebrate the successes of our brilliant volunteers.  Last Tuesday I joined the Forest of Dean group to mark the completion of an impressive footbridge* over the River Lyd at Upper Forge, north of Lydney, and the creation of a public footpath across it.

It is a magic spot, the little Lyd sparkles through the trees only yards from a road but is completely hidden from it.

the River Lyd

The River Lyd

Nearby are the remains of the Upper Forge: this area was once a hive of mining activity.

Upper Forge

Upper Forge with railway line to the right

The campaign took five years to complete and involved an enormous team effort, not only among Ramblers’ members but also with Gloucestershire County Council (the highway authority), Forest of Dean District Council (the bridge needed planning permission) and the Forest of Dean railway whose line, part of the former Severn and Wye Railway, runs close by.

Story
The story began in 2009 when group members Rod Goodman and John Sheraton wrote a book, Exploring Historic Dean, which describes in excellent detail 14 scenic walks in and around the forest.

web book

Walk 2 is a 5.5-mile circular walk which starts at Norchard station on the railway and goes anti-clockwise, coming back over an old bridge across the Lyd.  This was not a definitive route although it had been used for many years.

The old bridge

The old bridge

The landowner, the Lydney Park Estate, no doubt fearing increased traffic from the book, claimed that the bridge was dangerous and closed it.

Proceeds
In 2012 the group decided to use the proceeds from the book sales (£4,500) to replace the bridge.  However, this was not easy.  It required the dedication of a new stretch of path over the river to join the B4234 Lydney to Whitecroft road and a diversion to enable the path to link into the network.

The path map

The path map

web fp sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

The county council raised problems over Japanese knotweed which had to be cleared, and dormice (although much of the area was flooded).  Hence Rod Goodman provided a dormouse box complete with lifebelt.

web dormouse box

The group obtained planning permission for the bridge in March 2013.

After many problems and setbacks, at last in June 2014 everything was ready for the installation of the bridge.  This was another challenge because it was impossible to come in by road.  The Forest of Dean Railway came to the rescue, delivering the parts by train.  The operation required much organisation and skill, and those volunteers who couldn’t do the heavy work provided the tea and cakes.

And when the bridge was built Rod remembered the dippers which flit up and down the river, and thoughtfully provided a nesting box for them.

Dipper box

Dipper box

Then the group installed a boardwalk and flight of wooden steps down the bank from the road to the bridge.  In fact, the group built everything except for the bridge itself which was provided by the county council.

With Rod Goodman on the steps

With Rod Goodman on the steps

And so on 9 June, to celebrate the completion of the project  we congregated by the bridge, having walked the short distance from Norchard station, past a lovely waterfall on the Lyd.

web Lyd waterfall  Many photographs were taken at the bridge.

The paparazzi

The paparazzi

The publicity secretary Barbara Fisher opened the proceedings; chairman Mike Ingleby told us how it was all achieved; the mayor of Lydney, Councillor Bob Berryman cut the ribbon, and I unveiled the plaque.

web plaque

And then we drank a toast to a tremendous team effort and a wonderful band of volunteers.

web Kate, Mayor and workers toast

You can read about this on the  BBC website and listen to an interview with Rod on BBC Radio Gloucestershire here (2 hours 54 minutes in).

* grid reference SO 624 049.

 

 

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A day of contrasts

Forty years ago, Friday 13 June 1975 was a day of contrasts.

It started in the most idyllic way.  I was camping on High House Waste, land rescued from afforestation by the Dartmoor Preservation Association in the 1960s.  I was with my two friends from Exeter University, Drusilla Bates and Mary Fung.  The evening before we had lugged our now old-fashioned canvas tents and food (including Mary’s chocolate cake in a tin) from East Rook Gate, over the moor to camp on the lower driftway.  My diary records that I saw a glow-worm.

Friday dawned with bright sunshine.  I was up early for a walk on Penn Moor with wide views and close sighting of a fox, returning at 7.30 to the two little tents where Drusilla and Mary were still asleep.  But then we had quickly to pack up and leave the sunlit moor as I wanted to attend the meeting of the Dartmoor National Park Committee at County Hall, Exeter.

The two tents on High House Waste at 7.30am

The two tents on High House Waste at 7.30am

As usual, I sat in the public gallery with my friends Sylvia Sayer, Lis Hawkins, Barbara MacDonald and Winifred Osborne.  One of the papers to the committee was headed ‘Consultation with other organisations’ and in it the Dartmoor National Park Officer complained that the meetings with the ‘Dartmoor Action Group’, consisting of representatives of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, Ramblers, Commons Preservation Society (now the Open Spaces Society) and Youth Hostels Association (there may have been some others) were not a good use of time.  There were various allegations in the paper which we felt to be misleading and incorrect.

Panicked
So when the paper began to be discussed by the committee, Syl stood up and shouted ‘We can’t be misrepresented in this way’.  Probably the rest of us joined in.  The chairman of the park committee, the unimpressive Sir Ronald Brockman, panicked and said that unless Syl refrained from making audible comments he would adjourn the meeting and call the police.

And so he adjourned the meeting and called the police.  We were told that when the meeting resumed in the afternoon we would not be admitted.  We managed during the break to have meetings with Richard Thorne, the committee solicitor (the park committee in those days was a subcommittee of Devon County Council), Vivian Lucas, chief executive of Devon County Council, and Ronnie Brockman.  We did get some concessions, that the matter would be discussed between us all before any paper was put to the committee.  And so we left them to get on with it.

Press stories
The next day there were stories in the Western Morning News, the Times and the Daily Mail.

Stories in the Times and Daily Mail

Stories in the Daily Mail and Times

Western Morning News

Western Morning News

 

 

Lis Hawkins wrote an excellent letter which was published in the Western Morning News on 20 June.  This was in defence of Syl’s action and was signed also by Barbara, Winifred and me.  As I recall the Dartmoor Action Group continued to function but our relations with Ronnie Brockman never did recover.

While it had been hard to tear myself away from High House Waste, I would have hated to have missed such excitements at County Hall.

Posted in Dartmoor, Devon, National parks, Open Spaces Society, Ramblers | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Prize for a plucky pressure-group

Two weeks ago in Edmonton I was thrilled to present the 2015 Elinor Ostrom Award to a most impressive organisation.  AMAN, the Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago, won the award for practitioners.  It works across Indonesia to defend community rights to the commons.  

Interviewing Abdon

Interviewing Abdon

Abdon Nababan came to Edmonton to receive the award, and I interviewed him for a video which will in due course be featured on the award website.  He spoke enthusiastically about AMAN’s work.  It was founded in 1999 and is now composed of 2,349 indigenous communities.

It has used a range of campaigning techniques.  For instance, it has lobbied the government to secure the rights and access of indigenous people.  Importantly, it challenged the government in court on the ownership of the forest commons. To have taken on the Indonesian government is no small thing.

AMAN submitted a judicial review of the Forestry Law to the constitutional court; the court found that customary forests are no longer state forests. AMAN then produced a handbook to explain to the communities what their rights are.  (It is interesting that, whereas we fought to keep our forests in state hands, in many parts of the world this is highly undesirable because it leads to exploitation of the land and local people ousted.)

Abdon Nababan

Abdon Nababan

AMAN has mapped the territories of indigenous people and persuaded the government to recognise people’s rights .  It has also set up a group to address the issues faced by women and has involved young people in the management of the commons.

Clearly, AMAN is a courageous,  fearless and innovative organisation, and Abdon is a great leader, prepared to stand up for people’s rights.  I feel sure that Lin Ostrom would have considered them well deserving of the award.  AMAN will be featured as a case study in the forthcoming short course  Defending the commons, strategies for action which you can read about here.

The other winner in the practitioners’ category was Marcedonio Cortave, an activist for the community management of natural resources in Guatemala.  He has negotiated with the government to create community forests, battling against corporate interests and huge tourist projects and has worked with a range of organisations to promote sustainable use of land.

The young scholar winner was  Scott Shackelford, who teaches cybersecurity law and policy at Indiana University.

Senior scholars
The senior scholars were Fikret Berkes, professor at the Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba, and Bonnie McCay from Rutgers University, New Jersey.  Both have worked on commons for many years and have supported and inspired countless students.  They were a popular choice for winners and are much loved and respected by those attending International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) conferences.

Fikret Berkes

Fikret Berkes

Bonnie McCay

Bonnie McCay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Elinor Ostrom Award on Collective Governance of Common Resources was created in 2012, the year of Lin’s death, by the IASC to honour her memory.  A political scientist, Lin was IASC’s first president and won the Nobel prize for economic sciences in 2009.  I was very proud that the Open Spaces Society won the first practitioners’ award in 2013 and this time I helped to judge those awards.

The late Lin Ostrom

The late Lin Ostrom

 

 

 

Posted in campaigns, Canada, commons, Elinor Ostrom, International Association for the Study of the Commons | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment