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Democracy in the Public Square

Paul Van Der Woof
Flickr Creative Commons
Occupy Wall Street, Zucotti Park, NYC

The Tragedy of the Commons follows the theory that people can't be trusted to take care of common property without degrading it or taking more than their fair share of resources. This idea was popularized by William Forster Lloyd, who published a pamphlet in 1833 using cow herders to prove that people couldn't be trusted to share our common resources wisely. He believed property should be owned privately.

I'll spend part of this weekend with my daughters in the Boston Commons, a large swath of greenery in the center of Boston protected from the traffic and noise that borders it on every side. We'll see food vendors, jugglers, ball games, picnics, bikers, and maybe hear some music from a concert on the lawn. People will come and go and use it only for what they need.

Public squares like the Boston Commons are the heart and soul of cities all over the world, built by those who occupy it. The 'square' can be many things -  a literal space in the middle of a city, the virtual space that inspired the Arab Spring, protesters demanding freedom from oppressive rule, or the public airwaves for which I work - any commons we choose to preserve together for a common good.

William Forster Lloyd may have been too quick to lament the tragedy of the commons. 


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Colin McEnroe, Ross Levin, Chion Wolf, and Greg Hill contributed to this show.

Betsy started as an intern at WNPR in 2011 after earning a Master's Degree in American and Museum Studies from Trinity College. She served as the Senior Producer for 'The Colin McEnroe Show' for several years before stepping down in 2021 and returning to her previous career as a registered nurse. She still produces shows with Colin and the team when her schedule allows.

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