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Small scale solutions for large scale problems 


In 2011 an unlikely place became the centre stage of geopolitical events. Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, saw foreign affairs ministers from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and the United States come together for the Arctic Summit Although the discussion mostly surrounded expected issues, such as the maintenance of peace and the collaboration between the arctic states, this gathering was symbolic for the sudden significant position the Arctic gained. In the last decades the Arctic has seen a decline in snowfall, reducing the number of days in which it is covered by snow to 2 to 4 days every ten years. Although this is alarming information, it also offers an opportunity in the eyes of some. The snowfall in the Arctic has been thwarting any possibilities for northern sea routes and its decline seems to be taken as an opportunity by world leaders who have shown their interest in the area. Next to the opportunities it would offer in the field of transportation, the decline of snowfall also uncovers valued recourses: for example, it is estimated that the ice caps cover 20 percent of the worlds gas and oil reserves3. An area once mostly overlooked has suddenly gained a suspicious amount of interest,

but not with the intentions that

will be to its own benefit. 


This event does not portray

new situation. On a

geopolitical scale we seem

to misunderstand, or rather

forget, that many of our

resources are not infinite

and that pushing the

landscape to limits in

order for our own gains

will eventually create our

downfall, or even demise.

We seem to forget these

long-term consequences

because we want to fulfil

our short-term needs.

We seem to build our

solutions around ideas that

would postpone the problem

rather than to solve it.


Eight years after the first

official Arctic summit and around

4000 kilometer distance from the

most Northern point of the earth,

I walked into a community garden

in the north of Amsterdam, with the

question in mind of how we can manage

our resources on a small scale. Within the

big city, this garden formed a serene space, people gathered around to spend their free Wednesday afternoon sowing, hoeing and picking. Before they started, they drank a cup of tea together and discussed the gardening tasks that needed to be done. Some of them outed concerns or visions they had on any kind of events that took place in the garden. This scene offered a paradoxical view on what was going on within world politics around that time. The garden, placed on a formerly forgotten piece of grass in an Amsterdam neighbourhood, was established collectively and was not owned by anyone specific. People worked in the garden every Wednesday and Saturday. The users of the garden shared their knowledge with each other and learned from the ground that they worked on. Without their knowledge, they organically formed a system in which they managed the garden. At each gathering, one of the users would make sure that the tasks would be executed by their level of urgency. This person would note down the work of that day in order for the next supervisor to take over. The organised meet up before each working day functioned as an assembly in which people could express their visions. The gardeners asked the restaurant next door to keep an eye on the place on their days off in exchange for fresh vegetables. 


By this the garden manifested a way in which people took care of their resources with a long-term vision without taking ownership over it. This way of working seemed greatly beneficial to them and the ground the worked on. Although it might be naive to compare the community garden to our larger political systems, it offered me a more optimistic view on our world. We as humans are more than capable to manage our earth collectively and sustainably. We just need to find and use the systems that allow us too. This community garden is just one tiny example. 




From my research into common governance initiatives in the Netherlands arose the scenario of the Alliance of Common Waters. Fascinated by lawless territories I focussed on the International Waters, the large body of water 12 nautical miles from every coast line, beloning to no one and everyone. As idyllic as this sounds, an area of us all, the waters suffer from overfishing and pollution due to their lawless character. 


The notion that common pool recourses always end up depleted is known as the phenomenon “the Tragedy of the Commons”. All individual users seek to maximize their use recourses in the common pool, pushing the limits of these resources, leading to depletion. Economist Elinor Ostrom, however, came with a more optimistic perspective as she researched a variety of common pool resources around the world managed successful and came to they conclusion that under certain circumstances common governance is possible and even leads to more healthy environments. 


With the knowledge of Elinor Ostrom I travelled across the Netherlands to observe a handful of these common governance initiatives, varying from communal living spaces, to commonly managed water systems to community gardens. During my research I, too, saw how these initiatives are successfully managed. I noticed that the users of these common pools where highly aware of their environment and the boundaries. I decided to focus more in depth on one specific case, a community garden in the center of Amsterdam, where people around the city collectively took care of the garden and yielded the fruits of their work. I contextualized Ostrom’s conditions, for successful common pool recourses management, with examples of the garden and created a scenario in which I scaled these working methods up to the large scale case of the International Waters. The project aims to invite us all to think about alternative management of our resources and political systems. 



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