In this, our inaugural issue of Commonplace, we welcome you to our new online and mobile magazine, which promises to be as much an adventure in new digital landscapes as it is an exploration of real geographies and communities on the ground.
Our first issue focuses on the Skeena Basin in British Columbia—a vast, rugged, and still largely wild region of salmon rivers, ecological productivity and biological, cultural and linguistic diversity. Controversies surrounding conservation, resource extraction, land title and tenure are not new to the communities of this region, but a gathering sense of urgency prevails.
What’s new is that the Skeena and its related watersheds have become a key battleground in a confrontation between two global forces – a deepening cultural appreciation, political awareness and economic understanding of resource scarcity and the need to better understand and protect our ecosystems, and the rapid expansion of industrialization and globalized trade on the other. Writer Terry Glavin notes in the following pages that, just as the Atlantic replaced the Mediterranean as the main sea of commerce 500 years ago, the Pacific has now replaced the Atlantic as the primary thoroughfare for trade and outward industrial expansion. A series of recent developments have put the otherwise “remote” Skeena Basin region at the epicentre of these global trends and convulsions. Understanding the Skeena story is in many ways understanding our own story.
In an age of superstorms, financial meltdowns, and giant pipelines cutting through some of the last, best places on earth, it is clear we need a new approach—a new operating system for the 21st century.
We believe this new approach starts at home, in the places we live, work, and play, and in the basic systems such as food, water, energy, shelter that we need to live well. These systems are as specific to the places we live as they are vulnerable to global patterns and pressures. In each forthcoming issue of Commonplace, we invite you to visit singular places like the Skeena that are inspiring new ways of living and doing business while wrestling with the challenges of our times.
It is clear we need a new approach—a new operating system for the 21st century.
In form, Commonplace takes a cue from popular Enlightment-era “commonplace books”— seemingly random, but in truth, often highly organized, collections of miscellaneous items: notes, letters, quotes, images. Francis Bacon, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Jonathan Swift all kept commonplace books, copying down quotes, proverbs, poems, and other passages from their reading and organizing them into sections that could be combined and recombined in different fashions.
In a 2010 Hearst New Media lecture at Columbia University, Steven Johnson (author of Future Perfect and Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation) drew parallels between the traditional commonplace book and the web, with its surprising and often serendipitous discoveries. He notes: »The tradition of the commonplace book contains a central tension between order and chaos, between the desire for methodical arrangement, and the desire for surprising new links of association….The force that enables these unlikely encounters between people of different persuasions, the force that makes the web a space of serendipity and discovery, is precisely the open, combinatorial, connective nature of the medium.
Our hope is to create places for connection, for mapping out new understandings of what is common to human nature across borders of every kind. We look forward to hearing your stories about the places you live, your experiences of the stories we publish, and your ideas about how Commonplace might evolve in future issues. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Spencer B. Beebe
Founder and Chair, Ecotrust