Grow Shelter Dos

[information_box]In Freerange Vol.2: Gardening and Violence we featured a lovely project by New York based design firm XLXS. They are now embarking on a bold and exciting project with a Navajo Community.  The text below is a message from them. Please have a read and spread this message. It’s a great project.[/information_box]



Native-Americans  and Visitors Aim to Celebrate the Arts While Exchanging Cultures and Ideas

Looking for a way to pay homage to his Navajo roots, Thomas Isaac, an artist, in collaboration with Brooklyn-based design collaborative, XLXS, has decided to build a shelter that responds to the traditional Navajo architecture of the Hogan .  He intends to make a domicile for local artists to share and collaborate and visitors to appreciate.  Having grown up on the Navajo Nation, Isaac believes that this type of unique dwelling for the community is exactly what they need to conserve and celebrate the local artists and cultural beauty the people have to offer.  Currently,  accommodations for visitors in the Shonto area are austere.  With the construction of the artist center, a focal point will be made whereby visiting artists may stay and collaborate with the local community.The idea for this artist shelter goes beyond the appreciation of the arts.  Isaac plans to make this shelter sustainable to add value to the nearby Navajo National Monument and in keeping with the cultural beliefs associated with the hogan.  Julia Molloy, co-founder of XLXS says,” We are excited to work on a project that lends itself to the people and their authentic way of life.”  In addition to the sustainability, collaboration between the visiting artists and local community is paramount.  Isaac believes that the cultural exchange and collaborative art projects enhanced by the artist center’s unique design will build bridges between the Navajo people and the outside world.Completion of this all-volunteer project is dependent on funding.  XLXS generously has devoted their time and expertise to translate and create Isaac’s vision, and your help can make it a reality.  Get involved in this mission to transform the way artists and visitors collaborate to appreciate the history and richness of the Navajo Nation.To learn more about this project and how to donate please visit….

Contact: Julia Molloy
Cell Phone: 917.613.7113

Reclaiming The Commons

I have felt for a while the creeping sensation there has been something crucial missing from contemporary political discourse and dialogue.  Until recently was not quite sure what it was. I was always vaguely aware of the idea of the commons but it previously seemed a distant and historical concept with little relevance today. However, recent developments such as the creative commons and open source movements and the occupy movement have led to a dawning realisation that this concept may in fact be the invisible link connecting these events. The idea of the commons is what so many of us in the developed and developing worlds have been fighting for. It is a new paradigm which has the power to unite disparate causes and peoples and to allow us to move beyond traditional discourses and divisions of left wing politics. I am now convinced that the concept of the commons is our best hope for achieving a world of freedom, justice, community self determination and environmental sustainability.

Commons academic David Bollier defines the concept as:

A social system for the long-term stewardship of resources that preserves shared values and community identity.
A self-organized system by which communities manage resources (both depletable and and replenishable) with minimal or no reliance on the Market or State.
The wealth that we inherit or create together and must pass on, undiminished or enhanced, to our children. Our collective wealth includes the gifts of nature, civic infrastructure, cultural works and traditions, and knowledge.
A sector of the economy (and life!) that generates value in ways that are often taken for granted – and often jeopardized by the Market-State.

The common resources of Earth were abundant and reasonably well managed at the time of the industrial revolution. Most indigenous communities had learned through trial and error to view land and resources less as a commodity than as a basis for identity for a particular community to be equally shared among living, dead and those yet to be born. The Native Americans as well as Maori and aboriginal Australians all saw themselves as connected to the land and as having a role as guardians of the land. Under this indigenous system, acquiring legal title to land was done through proof of occupation, historical connection and active use of the resources. Stewardship or guardianship was the key cultural concept which governed and prevented the over exploitation of these resources.

In pre-industrial England, rural communities also governed their common resources in a similar manner with complex systems of overlapping traditional rights governing activities such as mowing meadows for hay, gathering food and fuel from the forests and grazing livestock on land held in common by the local community. Enclosure of these once prevalent common lands into private land began in the 16th century This process of enclosure (often by violent bloodshed) ended many traditional rights of the peasants or non landowning people.

The 1215 twin charters known as the Magna Carta are recognised in the English speaking world as the source of the protections of rights such as trial by jury, due process of law, the prohibition of torture.  What is less recognised is that the second and lesser known Charter of the Forest in fact confirmed the right of the people or ‘commoners’ to subsistence from the common resources of the forests. Peter Linebaugh in his history, ‘The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All’ demonstrates how these ancient legal rights of the people have been repeatedly laid aside when the ‘greed of privatization, the lust for power, and the ambition of empire seize a state.’

Attention was also focused on the abundant common resources of the rest of the world by colonial powers. In the colonies, the doctrine of ‘terra nullius’ was employed to justify the departure from the Magna Carta in order to facilitate the enclosure of indigenous lands and enslavement of peoples in the settler-colonial societies. As Chomsky states on the settlement of North America “According to this useful doctrine, the Indians had no property rights since they were just wanderers in an untamed wilderness. And the hard-working colonists could create value where there was none by turning that same wilderness to commercial use.”

The ecologist Garrett Hardin’s influential 1968 theory of ‘The tragedy of the commons’ has been used by Neoliberal economists to justify further privatisation and commodification of common resources such as forests, waters and land. This theory has led to massive land grabs and ultimately justified the privatisation of common assets, resources and infrastructure on an unprecedented worldwide scale. The dangers inherent in this dominant ideology of the ‘State/Market duopoly’ has been cautioned against by academics such as Bollier:
“Today, the commons – a vehicle for meeting everyone’s basic needs in a roughly equitable way – is being annexed and disassembled to serve a global market machine. Nature becomes commodified. Commoners become isolated individuals. Communities of commoners are splintered and reconstituted as armies of consumers and employees. The “unowned” resources of the commons are converted into the raw fodder for market production and sale – and after every last drop of it has been monetized, the inevitable wastes of the market are dumped back into the commons. Government is dispatched to “mop up” the “externalities,” a task that is only irregularly fulfilled because it is so ancillary to neoliberal priorities.”

This extreme economic ideology has heavily influenced today’s political elites who on the whole assume that common resources must be managed either through privatization or government management (or more recently a partnership of the two). The results of this approach are evident now all around us in what could be termed ‘the tragedy of the anti-commons’ in which communities across the planet are waking up to discover that there are very few common resources left with which to sustain themselves and develop their local economies.

Elinor Ostram of Indiana University won a nobel prize in economics in 2009 for her amazing body of work effectively debunking ‘the tragedy of the commons’ theory by showing that communities all around the world actually had been co-managing commons successfully and efficiently for hundreds of years. Ostrom’s meticulous field work explored how people collaborate and organise themselves to manage common resources such as forests through a complex set of governance principles.

The Key to such effective management according to Ostram were eight ‘design’ principles of stable local common pool resource management:
1 Clearly defined boundaries (effective exclusion of external un-entitled parties);
2 Local rules regarding the appropriation and provision of common resources
3 Collective-choice arrangements with inclusive decision making;
4 Effective monitoring the users;
5 A scale of graduated sanctions for violations of community rules;
6 Mechanisms of conflict resolution that are cheap and of easy access;
7 Self-determination of the community recognized by higher-level authorities;
8 Organization of larger common-pool resources, on a local scale

Ostram put into words what many of us instinctively felt all along – that a more community centred approach is the most efficient way to achieve a sustainable future. Essentially Ostram’s work confirms what many indigenous and pre-industrial communities had already known – that a culture of community based guardianship, self determination and a clearly defined set of cultural rules can lead to effective management of common resources.

Many examples of successful commons do exist in the post 2008 financial crisis world.
Maine, New England’s co-operatively managed lobster fishery is one example of a common resource which is managed sustainably and has positive impacts both environmentally and for the local fishing community financially. Where Industrial fishing enterprises have no connection to the fish stocks other than profit-making for shareholders, the Maine lobstering community has a legalised role and an economic interest in protecting and maintaining this resource as stewards. As a result, the fishery is thriving and can provide adequate income for both current and future generations.

The Via Campesina is a coalition of small-farmer and peasants rights movements from around the Global South and is based on a commons philosophy that people should have access to common lands with which to sustain themselves. The Zapatista movement is a movement of Mexican peasants who have gradually and under much repression and resistance from the Mexican Central Government been forming autonomous and independent municipalities complete with schools, common agriculture systems and courts of deliberative justice.

Another example of the commons resurgence is the recent proliferation of co-operative businesses worldwide. 2012 has been the UN International year of the Co-operative and has seen a huge rise in the number of this type of business being formed across the USA, Europe and other developed nations. The fact that Cuba is also looking seriously at allowing privately run co-operative businesses to take over from Government in many areas until now the preserve of government shows that the co-operative business movement may in fact be a middle ground between socialism and capitalism. If managed correctly this could decrease tensions between the two philosophies by allowing greater decentralisation of power and more self determination of communities,

Despite these inspiring examples, it will be a long and hard fought battle to wrestle back power over the commons from the hands of Governments and the private sector. This new approach to governance will require forms of land and resource management rooted in community and locality rather than one governed by profit margins, absentee shareholder owners and industrial farming. There are many legal and economic tools by which this can be done, land trusts, co-operative business models and open source software are just some of the commons based mechanisms which are currently driving a ‘commons renaissance’ in the post 2008 era. However, alongside these innovative work around solutions, more supportive Law and policy regimes from sympathetic Governments will greatly increase the viability of commons. As Bollier puts it:
“For this, the state must play a more active role in sanctioning and facilitating the functioning of commons, much as it currently sanctions and facilitates the functioning of corporations. And commoners must assert their interests in politics and public policy to make the commons the focus of innovations in law.”

This new discourse of the commons provides us with a way to get beyond the left v right and private v public debates by adding a third player of the commons sector. My hope is that the successes of commons and co-operatively managed enterprises both economically and in terms of creating happy and productive people will influence governments and private sector entities to support such initiatives and possibly to adapt their own methods to reflect a more commons friendly approach. There is real potential in the idea of the commons for a more collaborative future in which local communities and business are actively involved in and responsible for guardianship of our shared land and resources. Through the adoption of a commons based dialogue we can more effectively co-create a new vision for our future society. This vision is one of decentralised and democratically controlled industry and economy and a vision of a future in which we can all share in the benefits of and live in harmony with the planet.

Licensed to build (building in the times of the regulated individual)

“Infrastructures are flexible and anticipatory. They work with time and are open to change. By specifying what must be fixed and what is subject to change, they can be precise and indeterminate at the same time. They work through management and cultivation, changing slowly to adjust to shifting conditions. They do not progress toward a predetermined state (as with master planning strategies), but are always evolving within a loose envelope of constraints.”
Allen, Stan. Points + Lines: Diagrams and Projects for the City. pg. 55. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 1999.

“Infrastructural work recognizes the collective nature of the city and allows for the participation of multiple authors. Infrastructures give direction to future work in the city not by the establishment of rules or codes (top-down), but by fixing points of service, access, and structure (bottom-up). Infrastructure creates a directed field where different architects and designers can contribute, but it sets technical and instrumental limits to their work. Infrastructure itself works strategically, but it encourages tactical improvisation. Infrastructural work moves away from self referentiality and individual expression toward collective enunciation.”
Allen, Stan. Points + Lines: Diagrams and Projects for the City. pg. 55. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 1999.

You may be aware of recent changes in regulations regarding the design and construction of houses over this last year. Namely the standardisation of the Licensed Building Practitioner (or LBP) system.
For those of you not familiar here is a quick breakdown:
In order to design or build a residential dwelling you have to be a licensed building practitioner. You must have relevant and proven experience in your chosen trade (i.e. building, plastering, block laying, architecture and so forth) in order to obtain a license to practice. On top of proving your experience you must also pay a fee. What this ensures is that any building work that is carried out from this year forth will legally have to be done by experienced and qualified practitioners, thus theoretically this work will be carried out to the minimum standard required by the building code.
The LBP system also takes liability for building defects in houses (leaky buildings would be one such defect) further away from local councils and closer to tradesmen and designers.

Indirectly, such a law change says:
“when a individual builds or alters a dwelling they are adding to the nation’s building stock, which future generations will inherit, thus it must be constructed by publically sanctioned methods (and people) to ensure its quality and robustness for future dwellers”.
Individual peoples may pay for the assembly of new dwellings, yet the greater collective has a stake in the structure also.
I kind of like the idea that we legally weigh quality dwellings in the same way we might public infrastructure. By giving single dwellings infrastructural status we recognise their contribution to positive urban development (as opposed to aggressive suburban sprawl). Yet, there is a difficult middle ground where collective interest for quality building stock meets the individuals desire for defining the environment of their own dwelling.
The introduction of the LBP system could be seen as one more step to curtail individual freedom to build, yet there is a legal clause that allows owners of land to build their own structures on that land (a owner-builder exemption). From a very basic conceptual view, the ability to construct your own home is a kind of primal right, just like growing your own food (another activity which in recent times has had regulations reviewed). To over regulate primal rights stumbles into dangerous territory, it stunts the ground up initiatives which can empower entire communities.
Having a discussion about regulations such as the LBP system is important right now, as we look to Christchurch and the painfully slow progress being made to get parts of the population adequately sheltered. The wait for qualified tradesmen will be a long one amid such a huge rebuilding effort, and with high demand comes an increased cost even if tradesmen from outside of Canterbury are brought in. (As a side note, bringing in workers and housing them in quasi-prison camps as described in this article ( is not a pleasant idea). Disaster relief situations can be greatly aided by community driven efforts to recuperate and rebuild, to make such activity harder to do legally is disappointing.
One hopes that a more delicate balance can be struck between the public need for healthier building stock in housing and the ability for individuals to author their own homes (to see a good example of owner builders crafting an excellent house see here:
In its current state the LBP system hints at an infrastructural agenda, yet one gets a slightly cynical undercurrent with this. To build healthy, vibrant, and responsive housing communities we can’t approach such a task from a cynical angle. Especially now, as the largest rebuild in New Zealand’s history is about to take place in Canterbury.
Individuals and sub communities must be allowed the manoeuvrability to author their own dwellings if they should choose to do so.
Of course undertaking the building of your own house isn’t a task taken on lightly. My partner’s uncle went and worked for a builder for some time before he felt he had the necessary skills to construct his own family’s house (which he drew inspiration for from the Whole Earth Catalog). One should prepare themselves adequately to build your own abode, which is one of the great reasons why doing it as a group or community is such a great notion (I remember the community I grew up in building the local school hall). The owner-builder is a important individual in our society, the product of their work can provide the necessary reflection on our regulations and conventions to which we adhere.
Bottom up initiatives can produce ideas not often perceived in conventional environments of design and build as well as providing the opportunity for people to exercise their primal rights.
I hope that room is made for such expressions in the Christchurch rebuild, and that the undercurrent of cynicism in building regulation doesn’t manifest in the city’s new urban geography.

Songs for Christchurch Artist Prints

The amazing artist John Baker has produced the following drawings to raise funds for the Songs For Christchurch project we are working on.

We are offering one-off prints of these drawings, signed by the artists, and lovingly drawn and donated by John.

For sale, only for the next 5 days.

Please have a look at them here, then head to the pledgeme page to buy any of them:

The prints are a4 sized, signed by the Artist John Baker and the featured Musician.

1. Amanda Palmer. $200.

2.  Tim Finn $200.

3.  Mara TK (Electric Wire Hustle) $150

4.  Flight of the Conchords: $500

5. Ladi6: $200

6. Dallas (Fat Freddys Drop) $200

7. Adam McGrath (The Eastern): $100

8. James Coyle (Nudge) $100

9. Tim Prebble (Spartacus R) $100

10. Lisa Tomlins (Fly My Pretties) $150

11. Paul Hoskin (The Yoots) $100

Seawomen & Pussies

Captain TUG’s Log: The Moral Compass.
+13° 42′ 2.51″, +123° 13′ 10.91″ Philippines Archipelago.

On land today, I came across a kitten with pink eye. With such intense pink eye that there was no room left for the eye within a socket so overfilling with yellow puss streaming down its cheek; that I assumed it had hidden itself somewhere in the back of its skull.

At first It made me sick.

Then it made me sad.

Then it made me think.

I instinctively returned to the ship and proceeded to locate the medical kit I had been entrusted with back in Australia and searched for the eye wash, gloves and the ipad oops eye pad.

Upon returning to the kitten I noticed I now attracted the attention of a few locals. I was there now too with my country counterparts, they all looked at me wondering:

Why was I starring at such an ugly kitten for so long?

Why all the attention? And

What did I plan to do with those gloves?

The answer was, I wasn’t sure.

My trusty local counterpart looked at me and said quite calmly  ‘it will die, some live here & some die’. You see, I was in a small provincial town in the Philippines and my moral compass hadn’t adjusted fully from the ole country. My compass orientated me to the idea that if a kitten has such intense pink eye that in shock, you should instinctively try and aid it. However, upon further thought, and my counterpart’s wise words, I concluded that what I would actually be doing would be extending the pathetic excuse of that cat’s existence. An existence riddled by pain, quotidian hunger and sans love.

What logic later suggested was that I grab the nearest stone and smash it against its head in one motion, a stealthy kick into the sea perhaps, as an old sailor friend of mine had done. Kill the Kitten and Kill the Pain of its own life. If the kitten would die soon, and was currently dyeing a slow death, would that not be the more moral thing to do? kill it quick, now(without enjoying it) Arghhh.

What did I do?

Nothing. Which is of course always something.

So in summary, and spare a little thought about what you might do and why? I came up with these three likely actions in response to this everyday land situation of the pink eye kitten.

a. Do nothing resist an instinctual urge*, continue to walk by.
b. Try to aid the dying kitten.
c. Kill the kitten.

a. This  ‘instinctual urge’ is in fact not really innate or instinctual at all but yet just another example of ingrained social normalisation i.e resist a couple of times and apathy comes along, soon, instinctually,

b. aiding the kitten in any way is prolonging a death in this context. Even if l let you take it back to your house you’ll be moving soon and cant take it and then you have created a weak monster. Besides you cant apply this logic to every kitten. Or can you?

c. You would get a few strange looks from people around you and blood on your shoes but overall the kitten thanks you.

It got me thinking, just a little.

In nautical terms a true compass reading takes into consideration standard deviation, on account of the angle between the true north and the magnetic north. So can the same be said about our moral compass readings? Do we need to allow for moral deviation and take into account our present chartered waters?

My reaction that day (dressed in rubber gloves) was so bizarre for all reasonable locals watching. Something that took a few days to sink in. Subsequently spending more time here, and since noticing the varying hardships of other animals and human lives in town I began to understand the relevance of relativism.

I recall some towns folk cooking up dog a little while ago, I looked in shock at first but now It leads me to confirm C. C I believe was by far the best moral decision out of the three also resulting in the greatest good (had I have shared the kitten chops).

In Summary todays log.

a. I’m sorry I didn’t smash the kittens head in with a near by rock. I saw one but couldn’t bring myself to do it.

b. When I’m out facing moral conundrums I tend to think about it for too long and finally do nothing.

c. Nothing is always something.


Captain TUG (Tania Undies Groba) is a part time tall ships sailor, quarter time musician and occasional joke teller. With a sensibility for nonsense and a sensitivity that breaks out into rash in the face of sterile pragmatism, she is often seen talking her way out of serious predicaments opting to settle contentions with human pyramids. Having spent a small lifetime in Australia’s oldest circus she has come to realise that the world at large is a pathetic excuse for a show that we are paying for, and if we cant find the absconded ticket man/woman she suggests… lets critic the show. Tania is living in Calabanga, Philippines for a little while longer.


Pharmaceutical Packaging: A Design Galapagos

There’s a certain part of me that adores utilitarian design: Road markings, oil refineries, factory lines. The Melbourne museum has a small display that shows the history of barbed wire fencing. Enthralling. There’s a guy in New York who does tours into the basements of old buildings to talk about boilers.

And I love pharmaceutical packaging.

Not the stuff on the counter. Or foot balms. Or cosmetics. I’m talking about the good stuff. The stuff out the back.

I had the good fortune to recently find myself in the back of a pharmacy in Spain. Basically, in graphic-design-nerd heaven.

I’m sure you’re aware of the formula. White box. A large headline of black sans serif type. Geometric blocks of colour. Unlike the counter drugs, this is a world that is not designed for consumer seduction. It’s designed so that the pharmacist doesn’t get confused and mix up your Viagra with your Vicodin.

It’s beauty is in it’s strict adherence to function. One striking aspect of this strictness is that a drug’s packaging necessarily becomes a time capsule from the year of its inception. If the function of the package is to not confuse the pharmacist then why would you want to change the typeface, or the colouring?

To see these artefacts of decades of graphic design trends all together on the same shelf is bracing: its the living dead. Like seeing your ancestors all together in the same room, all young, fit, fresh and beaming back at you.