"Tragedy of the Commons" or "Open Source" - Part I
Russell Degnan

What does the planning system say about us, as citizens?

Underlying it are a lot of assumptions about the way people interact with the public and private realms. The outcomes they wish to reach, the conflicts different goals will cause, and the importance of alleviating those conflicts. Somewhere in there, the planner gets to provide their two cents worth on the best way for a city to grow, and to judge the different goals on their relative merits.

Partly because of our common law system, and partly as a historical artifact of the way planning developed as a profession; the biggest assumption made is that the the primary purpose of the Act is the protection of other people's rights to use their property. It parallels the idea of sustainability by maintaining other person's "rights" - to sunshine, to a quiet road, to a pleasant street - in the future, while allowing developments and uses compatible with those rights today.

The public realm holds a special place at the bottom of the hierarchy in the planning legislation. Every property interfaces with the public realm in some way, and extracts some benefit from it in the process. The public realm is therefore protected from uses which will diminish it. A classic "Tragedy of the Commons" where no person can be trusted to not destroy it - even if they are doing so inadvertently.

Contrast this approach to the public space with that taken to another public realm: open source software, and the Wikipedia. Pedants will tell me - correctly - that they are not really public goods. Like public space they have administrators, who are to some extent owners, who keep the space from imploding on itself. What is different is the underlying assumption on usage. Underpinning open source approaches is the assumption that the developers (and users) of the object will be working to enhance the public good. Control is passed to them to do so, and the results are quite spectacular.

Many questions come from this:
1. Are these approaches incompatible?
2. If so, what are the underlying differences that make them so?
3. And does our own public realm really exist as common tragedy, instead of a open good?

The first two questions are probably best answered as one. I will leave both those and the third to another post so I can ponder them better. What do others think?

Sterner Matters 7th November, 2004 21:58:47   [#] 


Something to ponder...
As the Wikipedia has grown, we have had to grow more brutal in dealing with people who aren't working for the good of the community. More generally, I wonder whether trusting individuals to act in the interests of the community gets less practical the larger that community gets?

Another thing - the evidence that developers will properly consider the community's (and therefore their own broad) interest is not exactly compelling, given their tendancy to try to build developments that communities don't want. Or is that because we only hear about the planning battles rather than the success stories?
Rob  10th November, 2004 11:35:58