Blog: Gregg Newsom

Gregg Newsom is a native Detroiter and co-founder of Detroit Evolution Laboratory --a wellness and education center -- in Eastern Market. He's seen Detroit through the eyes of a late 80's/early 90's anarchist punk as well as the eyes of a young professional during a recent five-year stint working for Compuware. Gregg will be writing will about how Metro Detroit needs to embrace a process of economic and community evolution rather than chasing the single big fix.

Post No. 3

Decommodification is taken seriously within the orange trash fence that denotes the boundaries of Black Rock City. The gift economy is one of the most fascinating social aspects of the event. Save very specific circumstances, currency is not exchanged in the city. Participants gift one another with tangible and intangible expressions of themselves. It is important to note that this is considered a means of participation and not based on exchange or trade. Gifts are given unconditionally.

Corporate sponsorship and advertising are banned from Black Rock City. Commercial interests and consumption are considered barriers to immediacy and are believed to prevent full-on participation by members of the community. The basis of this theory is a reaction to the breakneck speed that our society is running at. Due to the demands of our daily lives we engage in massive consumption simply to keep up.

This ban interrupts mandated and often soulless interactions. There is a shift from passive consumption of goods to an active creation and expression. It also negates the possibility that external forces could influence aspects of the communities experience and development. Participants are given the opportunity to express themselves and by engaging in this expression they contribute to the community at large. This process brings us right back to immediacy and breaking through barriers that may hinder our experience. The individual is empowered to directly influence his or her community and culture.

Decommodification works fairly well in Black Rock City for a week out of the year. But lets be realistic for a moment here, Detroit was and is a city created by industry. We’d be here without the automobile for sure, but we wouldn’t be faced with the same issues and opportunities. Our dependence on corporations can be seen in every nook and cranny of the region. Now, I know that corporate funding does a great deal of good work here. I simply wonder, based upon the empowerment that I’ve experienced at Burning Man, how aspects of decommodification could empower us here at home?

Obviously we’re the Motor City and we’re not going to wipe away the commerce that keeps us on the map. But what would it look like if we shifted the focus from passive consumption to active expression within our communities? More importantly, what would it take to do so?

Detroit’s NEXT Detroit Neighborhood Initiative 1st Quarter Report published by Mayor Kilpatrick’s office in October is focused upon efforts to attract retail to Detroit and to six specific neighborhoods. Yes, it is vital that these neighborhoods get a boost and, based on this study, it is quite apparent that there is opportunity for business to be successful in these areas.

If we were to shift gears and play with decommodification here, we would not look to attract outside retail to these areas but look within the community itself to grow retail that matched its own needs. A slightly decommodified NEXT Initiative would empower individuals within these communities to explore their personal and cultural experience and through this exploration discover and hone their talents and gifts. Rather than a quick fix or a band-aid, this empowerment begins a sustainable evolutionary process for the individual and the community that will manifest as business, art, and any other form imaginable.