Ad-Free Common Space

What do sports stadiums, balloon festivals, Broadway theaters, and Texas state parks have in common? They're now large gathering places with corporate branding.

* The city of Huntington Beach, Calif., has given Coca-Cola exclusive rights to use municipal property to sell its soft-drink products.

* Broadway theaters are open to flashing corporate marquees. (The venerable Selwyn Theater is now the American Airlines Theater).

* Albuquerque's International Balloon Fiesta now displays Kodak.

* The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department struck a deal with Chevrolet, making the Suburban "the official vehicle of Texas State Parks."

And in sports stadiums, trade the Boston Garden for the Fleet Center, Candlestick Park for 3Com, and the Meadowlands for Continental Airlines Arena.

Such commercialization only cheapens the experience of gathering together with fellow citizens, even if such places are privately owned.

That point is made strongly in a report "Public Assets, Private Profits: Reclaiming the American Commons in an Age of Market Enclosure" from the New America Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit think tank.

These examples are growing exponentially across the US in ways that suggest the need for a more aggressive strategy to protect the "commons" that tie us together.

Much of this stems from advertisers' drive to capture the couch potato in places other than the couch - and that's been going on since invention of the mute button on TV remotes.

At least two groups - Commercial Alert in Washington and the Center for Commercial-Free Education in Oakland, Calif. - are trying to unbrand our public spaces.

But more than that, Americans need to develop greater awareness of, and appreciation and respect for, what is truly common, or what is shared together as a community and not just for private interests.

This old nursery rhyme, included in the New America report, contains sage advice for today's citizens:

They hang the man and flog the woman

That steal the goose from off the common,

But let the greater villain loose

That steals the common from the goose.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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