The Commons Comes to Schlossberg Hill

“You just walk into the mountain,” I was told. And so I walked up to Schlossberg, a large hill that overlooks the city of Graz, Austria, and into a tunnel carved out of sheer rock that extended dimly into the distance. I stepped gingerly onto the metal grating that formed a inclined walkway, and proceeded in amazement for more than 100 yards. The air had the sharp tang of rock dust. I came to a huge open space — a 150-foot “auditorium” with a 40-foot ceiling — again, carved out of sheer rock.

I had arrived at Dom Im Berg, the main venue of the annual Elevate Festival, a four-day gathering for indie music and political culture that this year is devoted to the commons.

Interest in the commons has been gaining some momentum in Austria and Germany. Some two-thirds of the conference speakers are from those nations, and a number of regional and national media were covering the event. Falter, a national weekly that has a resemblance to the Village Voice of New York City, interviewed me, and devoted another page to DJ Spooky (a.k.a. Paul Miller), the remix artist and cultural philosopher.

Fewer Traffic Signs, Better Safety?

Imagine what would happen if you took down road signs and traffic signals. More accidents would surely result, or at least significant confusion and slower traffic. Or would it? The surprising thing is that a number of cities around the world have actually done this, and experienced dramatic declines in traffic accidents.

The idea is based on an urban design philosophy known as "shared space." When drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists are forced to develop their own natural ways of interacting with each other, goes the thinking, they work out better social behaviors than the rule-driven behaviors dictated by professional traffic engineers. This does not mean an abandonment of design considerations, but rather a commitment to the larger public space designs instead of overly prescriptive traffic control devices such as traffic lights, signs and road markings.

U.S. Thumbs Nose at World -- Again

Should nations and indigenous peoples be able to protect their cultures against the global market power of Hollywood, American TV and pop music? Tomorrow, the 190 nations that belong to Unesco (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) will vote on a treaty to authorize precisely that. Every Unesco-member nation except one is expected to support the treaty, ponderously known as the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression.

The dissenting nation, predictably, will be the United States. The U.S. is becoming an old hand at showing its contempt for world opinion. Our government has thumbed its nose at the Kyoto global warming treaty, the Geneva conventions, the United Nations, and international law on the invasion of nations (like Iraq). Once again, the U.S., in defense of its market interests, is exempting itself from international norms.

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