Food for thought: Time for a White River Commons?

     As we celebrate and reflect this Thanksgiving, we should also consider that perhaps the time is ripe for a forward-looking, “21st century” idea– a White River/Mounds Commons.
     Since 1979, various entities have put forth plans for an enhanced, and protected, White River corridor.  In 1979, the IDNR published an extensive study of the recreational value of the White River.  In 1985, IDNR published a guidebook of recreational and cultural and community attractions along the river.  But unfortunately, the IDNR has not followed through by implementing its own recommendations for land acquisition (from its 1979 plan).
      Last year, in response to the Corporation for Economic Development’s announced plan, the Heart of the River, a citizens’ coalition, formed in opposition to that plan.  To date, 16 statewide and local conservation organizations have announced positions in strong opposition to the reservoir.  Also last year, the HTR began work on obtaining the designation as a Blue Trail by the American Rivers organization.  Last September, the Hoosier Environmental Council, in conjunction with the HTR, proposed an alternative to a reservoir– a linear park (“greenway”).
     Perhaps it’s time to consider a bolder initiative– the creation of a White River/Mounds Commons.
      Several years ago, I attended a conference in Bloomington, titled “Restoring the Commons”.  Speakers included David Bollier (author of several great books about the Commons, including Silent Theft– The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth (2003), and his 2014 book Think Like a Commoner– A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons.  Also presenting were Scott Russell Sanders, who has written extensively about community and protection of our common wealth, and Elinor Ostrom, who subsequently received a Nobel Prize in Economics for her research in how communities successfully manage common-pool resources.  These and other speakers discussed the need and possibilities for adapting an ancient form of community ownership and management, the public commons, to better protect our environment and increase democracy.
     I’ll not attempt here to fully describe the possibilities of establishing a Commons in one form or another.  According to David Bollier (2014), “There is no master inventory of commons.  They can arise whenever a community decides it wishes to manage a resource in a collective manner, with special regard for equitable access, use and sustainability.”
     For thousands of years preceding European occupation and extirpation of the native tribes, the White River provided a Common Wealth to sustain those populations. Perhaps we should now consider modern adaptations of those indigenous ways. The alternative is to always be subject to the exploitive impulses of, and attempted enclosures (of the Commons), by the growth-obsessed forces of the industrial economy.

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