The modern “Tragedy of the Commons”

The modern “Tragedy of the Commons”

The majority of reports internationally regarding wellbeing, liveability or economic wellbeing always tend to result in identifying obesity and mental health issues as chronic challenges for this century. These Chronic Challenges have significant economic costs as well as the obvious personal costs.

Just examine any of the international indicators to grasp the extent of these challenges. The recent Fairfax-Lateral Economics Index of Australia’s Wellbeing identified four keep challenges that keep dragging Australia down the rating:

  • Obesity
  • Mental Illness
  • Long term unemployment
  • Income Inequality

It is 19 years since the development of the Healthy Parks Healthy People concept in Australia, which emerged out of the observation regarding the chronic societal health issues that were emerging (see Oxford Health Alliance). The concept was ahead of its time and has become central to park management worldwide (See USA National Parks Service).

So why are these chronic health issues even more chronic? Have we failed to read the tea leaves? Are we designing cities and even just where we live to address these issues?

Thus, the comment regarding the “commons”.  The “Tragedy of the Commons” is a well-known concept:

The tragedy of the commons is an economic theory of a situation within a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting that resource through their collective action.

Tragedy of the Commons

Given that openspace is the traditional and original “Common”, and is there for the benefit of everyone, have we “depleted” it as a resource that solves these chronic health issues?

Maybe we haven’t tapped this resource well or at times at all? There would be many who would argue that we may have depleted the commons in terms of Eco-system services or environmental value.

So, is it time to create “The health tragedy of the Commons” where in the future we are debating over a depleted resource that has generated exceptional health and community outcomes? Or do we create the (economic) concept of “The Benefit of the Commons”?

Cities are growing, we will soon have 70% of the human population residing in cities by 2050 and massive peri-urban sprawl – society need to make “space” work better to solve these chronic health issues but also create what should be sustainable, liveable communities.

The simple concept (strap line) ” Healthy Parks Healthy People” was a dramatic and strategic response in 1999 to the health challenges as well as the broader ethical value of parks (See Healthy Parks Healthy People). This simple concept is underpinned by extensive science and knowledge and has in some areas of the world seen some interesting innovation in park management and use.

However, clearly the “in park” response at an urban scale hasn’t kept pace even with the chronic health issues. This is a global dilemma.

So, it is time not only to rethink parks, openspace and green infrastructure, it is time to start with a simple but matter of fact strap line – that is self-evident and true (and may yet not have the underlying evidence):

Healthy Commons Healthy Cities Healthy Communities

Seeing the landscape beyond the constraints of government and governance, is what is needed.  Mosaic Insights enables these insights to become ideas that lead to impact. Our insights come from our unparalleled network, experienced staff and collaborative process. We generate ideas that create impact: we drive revolutionary, not incremental, change. We create sustainable, resilient, liveable landscapes that support healthy, productive communities.

By Neil McCarthy