Common Sense

This Earth Day, as people worldwide look for better ways to distribute limited resources, sharing economies have developed to address common needs. A system that helps us share goods and services—such as public Wi-Fi, garden space, books, bikes, cars or computers—can be either free or made available for an affordable fee. Local planners have become more intentional about allowing public space to function as a way to share resources and make communities more inclusive so they support public use. These areas are sometimes referred to as our urban commons.

Hanes Park and the schools around it were sustainable long before sustainable communities were cool.

For nearly a century, the open green space and facilities in Hanes Park have been peacefully shared among citizens, schools, athletic groups, small businesses, the YMCA and even international events. The joint-use development of the park and schools is a truly unique example of common ground in Winston-Salem that continues to thrive and evolve. Recommitting to keeping the park open and shared is what will help it survive into the next century.

A park that serves as a beneficial urban commons is not a new idea. The Boston Common, dating back to 1634, is the oldest city park in the United States. Hanes Park has much in common with Boston Common. They are roughly the same size—50 acres—and both began as a cow pasture. And both were designed to provide a number of vital necessities to collectively benefit the community—they are both a commons.

A commons is comprised of resources in which the whole community has an interest. These include the public facilities, schools, sidewalks, streets, architectural traits, scenic qualities and environmental resources that serve basic needs while giving the area a character and identity that can knit individuals together in a larger sense of belonging.

In Boston, the Common originated as a place where citizens shared limited urban space to graze their cows. Soon after it opened, however, some families capitalized on the opportunity by acquiring additional cows to graze, effectively hoarding free public resources for their private benefit. This quickly led to overgrazing and depletion of the Common. In 1646, a limitation was placed on the number of cows allowed by any individual owner. With a few rules and regulations in place, communal grazing was again sustainable for almost two centuries until cows were eventually banned from the city center.

Those focused on sustainable development often cite this example as “the tragedy of the commons”— when individual users behave contrary to the common good by hoarding a shared resource, eventually depleting or spoiling that resource for the whole community, including themselves. At Boston Common, it was overgrazing. In Hanes Park today, it is an attempt by a private group to fence off and monetize an open field for the football program at Reynolds High School. There is strong opposition even within the Reynolds community.

But through their current arrangement of sharing Deaton-Thompson stadium, Reynolds and Parkland High Schools are well ahead of state recommendations to share public school sports facilities in a quest for more sustainable, fiscally responsible public schools. When schools share playing fields, and public parks share fields and courts with the schools, we all benefit. It is a good choice for the environment and a solid win for the common good.

An open, grass playing field with bleacher seating on the Wiley campus would serve all practice and game needs for Reynolds and Wiley soccer, plus Reynolds lacrosse and field hockey. It could be accessed by all citizens and students, not just those who make the team or pay the price of admission. And Reynolds and Parkland could continue to enjoy the biggest stadium in the county. Precious resources should be put toward a Deaton-Thompson renovation that would benefit both schools, not a vanity stadium that would leave Parkland benched during public school improvements.

“In nature, nothing exists alone.”
— Rachel Carson, 1962

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