2012: Moments

by Brian Michael Foote

Believe it or not we’re at the end of another year.  For the past three years this project of ours has grown from a scrappy fledgling into a vibrant and rich community.  Maybe this betrays some unhealthy lack of faith, or maybe at heart I’m still a barren cynic from the Texas plains, but I’m routinely floored every week at where this site has gone.  Every time I check out how many members we have or how many new blogs were started in a week I suspect there’s been a mistake.  The site says nearly 3,600 members? Someone file a ticket on Redmine!  400 groups you say? Boone, we’ve broke the code! In our salad days we had three or four bloggers who would diligently post, working hard to fill the blog column on the front page tirelessly.  Now I can barely keep up with it all.

It’s not just the quantity of our growth that’s impressive.  It’s the vitality of site and the depth of what we produce here that deserves some consideration.  It is a difficult thing to build and live in a community. You can raise a whole block of nice houses and they’ll never amount to much without people inside of them who are dedicated to creating a hood.  In the past I used to pick out five great blog posts from the year that deserved a long read over the winter break.  This year I’d like to show you a few beautiful moments on the Commons when we saw our community really come to life:

The Rise of the Personal – The heart of the Commons project has always been about connecting.  CUNY is big.  New York is big.  There are people at CUNY all over the city that you are never going to meet – or at least you weren’t going to.  If you stop to consider all of great ideas you’ve had in elevator conversations or chatting with a colleague down the hall you might then consider all of the ideas and inspiration you’ve missed just by virtue of where you spend your day.  This year I saw rush of new voices on the Commons, as well as some old ones, and realized that these are people I am getting to know.  These are people I never would have met otherwise, and yet, everyday we learn something new about each other and trade ideas.  Jessica Yood at Associations has been sharing her thoughts on everything from writer’s block to mindfulness.  Adam Wandt, Chris Stein, and Michael Smith have all shared moments from their personal life, their art and their love for CUNY through photography.  Helldriver continues to deliver some of the finest writing on music I’ve ever read.  Tony Picciano is always the first to break news from around the city and the nation to all of us here.  George Otte shares his passion for MOOCs and the possibilities available to us through digital learning.  I think I can safely say that conversations over at CUNY Math have been eye-opening for many of us and a gift to the site.  Impressively – this is only a meager list of the intimate fire-escape conversations we have with one another around the site.  When you pull the camera back a little for some perspective it’s truly amazing.

Loss and Change – For the first time, to my knowledge at least, the Commons team was regretfully informed that we had lost members of our community.  While any community has to eventually encounter the passing away of a friend, colleague or mentor, the folks on the Commons responded to these instances with heart and an eagerness to share.  Perhaps the most public of these losses was the passing of beloved scholar Neil Smith.   His work through the Graduate Center’s Center for Place, Culture, and Politics was celebrated by many communities the world over who left wonderful tributes and shared memories of their time with him.  Many in the CUNY Academic Commons community were personally moved by the passing away of Adam Yauch as well.   MCA was a New York City original, a pioneer of musical form, and a pivitol fixture in the coming of age of many CUNYites – Maura Smale articulated the feelings of many of us here on the Commons in a fitting tribute to MCA.

The New Internet – There were two events in our growth this year that have proven to be fundamental marks of our community’s character.  First, it’s impossible to talk about 2012 without talking about our year’s labor towards Commons in a Box.  From our first announcement of the news to release in November, the CBox project has been a dedicated effort to make what we do here everyday possible for all kinds of communities.  If you haven’t visited the site yet take a look at how other groups, from non-profits to bookstores, are using what we do here as a model for building their own communities.  The Commons makes the web local, it gives people tools to enrich themselves and those around them in ways that are unique to the place, time, and values of that community.  It’s real social networking.  To that end we saw the Commons come together this year to let congress know that our community rejected the hostile measures of internet legislation that was aimed at stifling the freedom possible with the internet.  The Commons protest of PiPA and SOPA spoke volumes about the core values that direct this community and I think that the two together point towards a deep understanding of what is possible in the world with the right tools.

Every week I look forward to combing through the site and seeing what new thoughts, stories and ideas are growing from it.  In 2012 the arc of our community’s growth swung sharply towards the rafters and I am tremendously excited to see what we accomplish and learn together in 2013.


Have a safe and wonderful New Years – I’ll see you in 2013.


Till next week.