The failure of capitalism as a social system is an imperative to radically transform our neighborhoods – large and small, urban and rural – into spatially rooted, social commons. For if we accept that our lived spaces are appropriate and accessible starting points for sustainable human development, indeed, possible birthplaces of non-antagonistic and self-mediated relations, we certainly accept that they allow us to create new social commons, facilitating the emergence of an ecological society.
In such a neighborhood-centered society, social commons (in particular, energy, water, soil, food, material, learning, communication, and health commons) would frame our lives, from birth to death. No one would be prevented from participating in any process that determines the future of humanity. No one would be excluded or made redundant. Not only would sensible, spatially proximate systems and practices become integral to our lives; they would be instrumental in the decommodification of society. Democratically controlled and collectively built and sustained from below, self-governing and self-regulating social commons would help us to realize our potential, however, without destroying the biological foundation of all human development.
From single molecules, genes, and epigenetic processes to whole ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles: nature in all its complexity is a unique and unrivaled source of inspiration if we are to change our neighborhoods in a more ecologically benign direction. The biological diversity of forest ecosystems, the water holding capacity of pond ecosystems, and the collective creativity of conscious human beings can easily replace the impervious surfaces of car-dependent cities and the monocultural landscapes of industrial agriculture, while minimizing the use of energy and the production of waste.
The ongoing species extinction – be it through deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practices, water pollution, urban sprawl, or warfare – prompts us to act. It is high time that neighborhood communities of all sizes begin to contribute to healthy ecosystems, become interconnected spaces where no one is reduced to a living fragment of what we can become, denied a lifelong exploration of our social and ecological possibilities.
Our creative and collaborative potential is limited, however, not by the chains of wage labor or any other restriction (or algorithmic filter) imposed on us from above. Our capacity to imagine is one of the things that make us human, but evolutionarily and ecologically we still belong to nature. Whatever our conditions on this planet: how we perceive and socially determine this continually evolving relation to nature have immediate and delayed, real-world consequences; it is our future in the making. As individual and collective, spontaneous and continuous, creators of self-organized social commons, we must therefore strive for neighborhood communities and a society, not structured around artificial scarcity and monopoly markets, but explicitly defined by human needs and a variety of collaborative practices that respect the roots and limits of human creativity – that give hope to humanity through nature.