Pitching ideas for a new planet

Eco-town among Common plans for changing the world


“I ask people what level of intimacy they’re interested in,” Chris Davies says.

Intimacy, however, can mean so many things. In this case, it is the desire of everyday people to live in a sustainable town of energy-efficient homes clustered around a center of cafes, theaters and other small businesses, with organic farms surrounding it all. His concept of an eco-town, called Prairie Sage, is just that, but according to Davies, it can’t be compared to the old-style hippie commune.

“Just because people want to live green, live in a neighborhood designed to be pedestrian-friendly, and have organic interactions, doesn’t mean that they want to have a full-on community of forced intimacy.”

Davies’ eco-town is one of 10 socially motivated concepts to be presented Aug. 19 at the Common Pitch. Billed on its website as “a party to fix the world,” the Common Pitch will bring together some of the “titans of social innovation” at the Boulder Theater for a series of five-minute presentations describing their visions for cutting-edge projects and the ways they will increase social well-being. With food, drinks and a band, Common Pitch evokes the stylish advertising flair of its founder, Alex Bogusky, and his new plan to rewrite the rules of capitalism.

His own pitch video — the minutes in which he sells you on Common, starts with black-and-white video footage and heavy contrast. A stark white stone drops into a bucket of pitch black water and, a harsh light reflected in the inky surface, the resulting ripples roll back over one another, slosh over the bucket’s sides, and a somber voice cuts in. This is the world, its resources stretched thin, beaches laden with shoals of garbage; we are riding one of those black waves toward the edge of the bucket, and something has to change, the voice says.

The voice belongs to Bogusky, and he wants to change the world. Once one of the most important minds in American advertising, Bogusky left his successful ad firm, Crispin Porter Bogusky, which had turned around the ad campaigns of companies as diverse and gigantic as Burger King, Volkswagen and Virgin Atlantic, to start a capitalist branding revolution: Common.

The idea is that there is no need for branding, because Common will be the brand. It can be used by any participant to market any product. The motto seems to be “collaborative advantage,” not “competitive advantage.”

Launched from Bogusky’s Boulder workshop, Fearless Cottage, Common strikes some as being too idealistic, competition the only realistic way for capitalism to work. Yet as Bogusky says himself in a typically slick promotional video, “I left my agency to get down to the business of imagining a future.”

A future where he could “empower the most powerful economic force in the world — the consumer,” he says.

Common, says Davies, “fits with what I’m doing; it’s a new form of economics … coming from a grassroots, people-power foundation.”

At the Aug. 19 event, he’ll be stacking his eco-town up with ideas for public shower systems, healthy popcorn, $10 solar panels and a condom brand that donates a condom for every one sold.

Prairie Sage is designed to consist of some 300 hand-built, materially and energy-efficient homes arrayed around a town center somewhere between Denver and Fort Collins. The plan as it currently exists will include a pair of organic farms, car-free “ped ways” and free public transportation. The need to commute long distances for work or entertainment will be eliminated. The homes will offer a much more affordable option to living in Boulder, he adds.

Davies, who has studied co-housing for 15 years, stresses that Prairie Sage is something new, not a commune but a collective community with as much privacy or as much interaction as desired. It will work with society in the large sense, because going off the grid, Davies says, can ultimately “cause a big mess,” producing more waste and problems than working with and enhancing the efficiency of pre-existing infrastructure.

Davies says he’s excited to have the opportunity to spread the word about Prairie Sage.

“If we really want to change how we house ourselves in first-world countries,” he says, “it’s important that we seek out low-impact solutions like having fewer streets and smaller homes that people can be happier living in.”

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[ On the Bill Common Pitch 6-11 p.m., Aug. 19 Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder Tickets $21  ]