Ed. note: This is another excerpt from the online version of Free, Fair, and Alive by Silke Helfrich and David Bollier. You can read more about the book and find more content here.
This neighborhood, the San Frediano parish, is only a few steps away from the world-famous Ponte Vecchio. Even though it is within an area of gentrification, a startled visitor who stumbles across the Nidiaci Community Garden will encounter, especially in the afternoons, a leafy oasis filled with energetic, noisy children and their parents. Rambunctious six-year-olds race around the grounds and play on swings while their older brothers take lessons with the city’s only self-managed soccer school, “The Lebowskis.” On certain days, a Portuguese musician who lives nearby teaches violin to children. On other days, a British writer teaches English in a studio space on the grounds. Families organize free swaps of outgrown children’s clothes. Some residents tend to a small vegetable garden. Others have organized a project to monitor city pollution and traffic.
This space of togetherness, tucked away in a corner of the central city, is stewarded as a commons. Its use “depends on what people decide to put into it,” as Miguel Martinez, an amateur historian of the Nidiaci garden put it. “It’s hard to say what we are doing there, because everything depends on what new arrivals want to create.” But in a neighborhood in which about forty percent of the children come from families born abroad, simply having a space to common is no small blessing.