Webdocu collective ownership

Alongside all the major problems and challenges currently facing us, there are also hopeful stories. This modular web documentary is intended as an inspirational document, as a piece of research, as a guide and as an archive. It is a compilation of stories about and quests for other ways in which we can shape society. We (and many others with us) are convinced that things really can be done differently and that a different view of ownership can play a major role in this.
The main topic of this web docu is collective ownership (without the aim of profit making), but other topics are also covered that tie in with our struggle for a fairer and better society for all.
Forget Netflix, HBO, Disney and all the other streaming platforms. Immerse yourself in the world of collective ownership and other hopeful stories in this web docu. Read, watch, listen, be surprised, inspired and, above all, benefit from it.
The second update has been online since Wednesday 17 January 2024. Keep an eye on the web docu hereafter, because several more updates will follow.
Ivo Schmetz
Sylvie van Wijk
Menno Grootveld
About 14 minutes

Collective ownership – joint ownership

I moved to Amsterdam from Maastricht in 1997 after graduating from the Art Academy. A few months after my arrival I was asked via via if I felt like helping with the squatting of two detached wings of the former OLVG hospital in Amsterdam-Oost. Despite a complete lack of squatting experience, I immediately said yes. I fancied a new adventure and a different living space from the small, mouldy basement in which I lived for my first few months in Amsterdam.
In 1999, after about 15 fantastic months, we were sadly evicted from the OLVG, but the story didn’t stop there. On 14 November the old Film Academy at Overtoom 301 was squatted. A part of the large group of artists, musicians and other freebies that had gathered at the OLVG came along. Soon we got to work preparing this new place (the OT301) for living, working and public programming. The atmosphere was optimistic, and soon it was decided who was going to live where, which spaces would become studios and which spaces would serve as concert hall, gallery, vegan kitchen, cinema, rehearsal space and darkroom.

It’s an initiative to create new free spaces in Amsterdam, like the OT301, where ideally people can live and work in combination with public programming.

After several years we managed to buy the building from the municipality as a collective in 2006. For that reason, the OT301 is owned by the association EHBK (First Aid for the Arts) to this day. That time in 2006, the whole process, was my first conscious introduction to the concept of collective ownership. I had probably heard of it before that, but I never really understood how it worked.
Today, I am still involved in the OT301 and intrigued by the concept of collective ownership.
In 2020 we founded the project Vrij Beton under the umbrella of Amsterdam Alternative. It’s an initiative to create new free spaces in Amsterdam, like the OT301, where ideally people can live and work in combination with public programming. Not for me or my friends, but especially for young and/or future generations, so that they too can experience what has so enriched my life over the past 25 years.


The idea for this web docu came about during the many conversations and discussions about Vrij Beton, mainly because I noticed that unfortunately very few people know what collective ownership is and therefore mistakenly don’t regard it as an option. Nearly everyone is enthusiastic when I tell them about the OT301 or Vrij Beton, but as soon as it comes to collective ownership, I notice that people drop out. Sometimes out of distrust, but mostly due to a lack of knowledge or of inspiring examples. We made this web docu to change that and to show how we can use collective ownership. Collective ownership can be used for real estate, land, housing, free spaces, agriculture, nature, shops and energy, among other things, to make the world a better place for everyone.

Zooming out
After my personal introduction, let’s zoom out. After my carefree childhood in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s we now live in a time of gentrification, housing crisis, climate crisis, migration flows, student debt, algorithms, war and a system that encourages the endless consumption of goods and services. To put it mildly, the world is not doing well and the chances of a healthy, fair future for future generations seem to be evaporating faster and faster.
We are stuck in a system that most people no longer support or believe in. Most people continue to participate because there is no alternative at hand, we can’t think of anything better than the workings of the market. We are trapped in what Mark Fisher called ‘Capitalist Realism.’
Today, everyone has a business- and communication plan and spends more time on online appearance than on content. Quality and success are measured by revenue and reach, as more and more money has to be made for shareholders. Grow, grow and grow again! Our current system of infinite growth results in us consuming far more than the earth can handle. The consequences are already being felt today, but because we are borrowing from the future, the prospect for future generations is even darker than the present.

This is precisely why we want to present collective ownership in this web docu as a form of revolutionary action that rejects the current power and dominance of private property and helps build new autonomous communities.

Revolutionary action
It is insanely important to realise that we need to act now. For nature and the earth, but also for ourselves and future generations. There are indeed other options, other paths than the will of capital and the commercial mainstream. Change takes effort, time, sacrifices and a lot of money, but continuing in the same way is many times more costly. This is precisely why we want to present collective ownership in this web docu as a form of revolutionary action that rejects the current power and dominance of private property and helps build new autonomous communities.
Of course we know that collective ownership is not a new concept. It is old, natural, normal, common sense. The commons, the common good or collective property, had been almost completely eradicated, dispossessed and privatised. Fortunately collective ownership has regained some ground in recent years. Not just out of necessity, in the fight against the system, but also because many people are done with über individualism, and yearn for commonality and meaning. Therefore you have to realise that collective ownership is much more than a way of legally regulating ownership. Collective ownership is about commonality, self-reliance, trust, connection, affordability, collaboration, and shared responsibility and care.
Collective ownership and the commons go back to the original meaning of the Dutch word ‘gemeente’ (derived from ‘Meent,’ the Dutch word for commons), namely common land, collective ownership. We do not resign ourselves to the prevailing idea that there is no alternative to capitalist realism, and the inspiring stories in this web docu show that there are indeed alternatives.

There is a whole chapter in this docu devoted to the concept of ownership. Our web docu focuses on collective ownership, but we thought it was important to take a closer look at the existing ownership structures, their origins and the reason why ownership is so central in our society. Just about everything on earth (and, if we are not careful, in space too) is now being owned or has been purchased by someone, giving this person the right to exclude others from that ownership. It is a system that has led to many conflicts throughout history and will most certainly continue to do so.
We should firstly ask the following questions: why is ownership so important? Why do we spend so much time accumulating property? And is property and our accumulation of it the cause of many of the major problems we face?


In Chapter 1 of this web docu, we dive into the concept of ownership. Not just ownership as we know it in our Western society, but also the ideas and thoughts about ownership in other, non-Western cultures. We look at the ideas behind the degrowth movement, regeneration and the model of steward ownership. There is also a focus on the rights of nature, because we should not neglect that our drive for ownership often makes us forget that there are other living beings on the earth. Animals, plants, trees, rivers, forests, soil and marine life are excluded from our decision-making structure. It may sound crazy to some, yet we should think differently about this. If we want to live in harmony with nature and leave a healthy planet to our children, we should think about the role we play in the big picture.
Collective ownership is not the solution to all problems, nor will it always work everywhere and for everyone. But we are convinced that collective ownership should play a bigger role in our society. Everyone needs good housing, healthy food, affordable healthcare, good education, public transport, drinkable water and a safe living environment, and should be able to benefit from these things. Many of these sectors have unfortunately been privatised in recent years. All power has been handed over, with the result that the rich are getting richer and richer, and the gap between capital and normal citizens is widening. However, we citizens are in the majority and we could have all the power if we would want it. Collective ownership offers the opportunity to take control, to organise ourselves, together with others. It is possible to realise infrastructures, services and products that do benefit everyone. Projects where you reap the benefits together.

Collective ownership is therefore not just for hippies and communists, but for anyone who wants to break with the current property-centred society and the idea that our happiness depends on the things we own.

Collective ownership is not the same as communism
I regularly hear the comment that collective ownership does not work. Communism and the fall of the Soviet Union are often cited as proof of this. It is therefore good to explain that collective ownership is not the same as communism.
Soviet communism was a totalitarian system: all power rested with one political party, with an autocrat/dictator at the top. Totalitarian communism, a system imposed from above, is the opposite of the collective ownership we envisage. Indeed, the starting point of collective ownership is the collective and the citizen as the initiator.
Collective ownership is therefore not just for hippies and communists, but for anyone who wants to break with the current property-centred society and the idea that our happiness depends on the things we own. Collective ownership is an ode to working together and taking initiative!

In this web docu we show that collective ownership can be applied in many ways and to many things. The most well-known examples are the housing cooperative and free spaces such as the OT301. Real estate, in other words. But the collective ownership construction is also applied to land for agriculture, nature reserves, camping sites, care, education and communication, among other things.
Our web docu is divided into several chapters in which we feature as many different projects and people as possible to share their knowledge and experience. A huge wealth of information, but it is far from complete. In fact, there are many more great projects that would fit in this web docu, but which we did not have the time and resources to include right now. Don’t let your ideas and imagination be limited by what you see in this web docu. Collective ownership can be applied in many more ways than through the projects shown here; in that respect this movement is still in its infancy.


Working hard
Collective ownership is a great model for achieving many great things, but remember that it is not just all roses. A non-hierarchical structure is democratic and therefore very valuable, but it can also cause frustration and delay. Collective ownership means lots of meetings, consultations, discussions, disagreements and learning to listen to each other. Really listening, trying to empathise with and to respect an opinion other than your own.
In this web docu we present a series of portraits of people and places that have been working on collective ownership for years. This involves processes that take a lot of time and effort. Everyone is mostly enthusiastic, but more than once we have heard that people had no idea beforehand what to expect, and that it was more intense than they imagined or hoped for.
Collective ownership can be organised in many different ways. It does not mean that you have to share everything and that you have to do everything together. It is a matter of looking for the right balance between time for yourself and time with the collective, space for yourself and communal space. Not everyone is and/or wants the same, and you can adapt your structure to that. In this web docu you will see the ways in which this can be organised, among other things, but it should also be said that these are not the only ways. We have included as much information as possible, including organisational charts and statutes. There is something to learn from every project, the possibilities are endless. As long as you make sure that everything is well established for the future, so that never someone would be able to monetise your collective project individually.

During the corona pandemic, the world and its economies were halted. Suddenly everything went on pause, as a large number of human casualties was (rightly) feared. We saw nature rebound in some places and air quality improve. There was a certain calm that was good for people and nature, but despite this many people wanted to get back to ‘normal’ as soon as possible. They wanted to return to a life in which as much as possible could be consumed. A life in which individuals are supposedly ‘free’ to go, stand and do as they please. There were also voices suggesting that the global lockdown was a good time for reflection, to think hard about what that ‘normality’ actually meant. In the light of current issues, the way we humans live our lives cannot really be called ‘normal.’
The corona pandemic showed that we can intervene on a large scale if we really want to. It is proof that we can still bring structures deemed untouchable to a halt. That gave hope for the future, but those hopeful thoughts about changing systems and the way we organise our society have unfortunately been quickly forgotten again. Meanwhile, we are back to life as it was before the pandemic.
Our politics is sadly incapable of thinking about the distant future of people and nature. It is trapped in a system of elections and scoring points to stay in power. This results in short-term instead of long-term thinking, and in management instead of vision. Politics, our elected parliament, is mainly focused on the economic part of our society. It facilitates business through constructions in which large multinationals do not have no pay taxes and do not have to take responsibility for their often destructive, polluting and unfair production methods. It is the upside-down world, because really, our people’s representatives should be standing up for the people, not for business. Our people’s representatives should think and coordinate with other people’s representatives (globally) what is the best, healthiest course of action. Not only for us, but for all non-human life and for future generations as well.

We must all go to war against the ruling class. Left, right and centre united against the system that manipulates, divides and pits us against each other.

As far as I am concerned collective ownership is not about possession. It’s about neutralising ownership, taking out of the market what is otherwise at the mercy of capital. If something is collectively owned, you as an individual cannot claim ownership, because ownership lies with the collective. In this construct, living, growing food and all those other things you can collectively manage are no longer about speculation or building capital, but about providing good, healthy and affordable products and services. This is not about ownership but about use. Owned by no one, used by everyone!
I am convinced that things must and can be done differently. We must all go to war against the ruling class. Left, right and centre united against the system that manipulates, divides and pits us against each other. Deep in our hearts we all want pretty much the same thing: a pleasant life in peace and good health, with friends and family, decent medical care, enough food and so on. And that is possible if we rearrange society and distribute things better.
A new story is needed for progress and change. A story of hope, but also a story that leads to action, because we will have to do something anyway. We are collectively responsible, not only governments and business but also we, the ordinary citizens. If we all want change then it will happen anyway. It is very simple, we have to move from degradation to construction, from extraction and pollution to restoration and regeneration. Progress for all, free from the idea that we are going to solve the big problems through technological development. Let us not be afraid, but solve what needs to be solved with a positive intention. We all know the problems, it is now time to start working together, from the right intentions. This transition will not be without struggle, but we can all manage it together.

Web documentary
We opted for a web documentary and not for a ‘regular’ video/film documentary for a number of reasons. The first and most important reason is the possibility of depth. A ‘regular’ documentary has a beginning and an end, and usually lasts up to two hours. Within that timeframe everything has to be told and therefore a lot of cutting has to be done in nice interviews and other source material. Cutting means saying goodbye to a lot of your material and showing things out of context. Apart from short edits, in this web docu we also make use of the possibility to watch interviews in their entirety. As a viewer/visitor you can decide how deep you want to go into the material and how much you want to see, hear and/or read. The material in this web docu is endless and will be added to in the future.
That supplementation is the second reason for choosing the web docu as a medium. An ‘ordinary’ documentary will be ready at a certain point, after which nothing changes anymore. This modular web docu is an open system. Richly filled upon completion, but with the possibility of adding many more inspiring stories. Hopefully they will be there. Our focus in creating this web docu was quite local. Not just Amsterdam, as there is still so much beauty in the rest of the country, but we did not go outside the country’s borders. Perhaps we can take that up at a later stage.
A third advantage of the web docu is that it will be online, making it available and accessible to anyone (with internet). There are no cinemas, licences, entrance tickets or other barriers to getting acquainted with and viewing the web docu.
The fourth reason to choose for this medium is the fact that the web docu uses video, audio, photography as well as text. You can read, listen and watch. This combination of media is interesting because you experience and consume different media differently. For example, watching a video is more passive than reading a text, but can be done together with others, and listening is enjoyable while travelling.
It may take some getting used to taking in a documentary in this way, but hopefully you will like it. Above all, take your time and come back several times to delve further into the wonderful world of collective ownership.
When watching the web docu, keep in mind that the interviews were recorded between September 2022 and May 2023, which means that some bits may be dated due to recent developments.

Thank you
This web docu was created by Amsterdam Alternative, a collective of various writers, photographers, coders, cameramen, audio engineers, translators and so on. It is a collective project that I could not have made on my own, and probably no one else either. Hereby a word of thanks to everyone who participated and to everyone who wanted to share his/her/their story with us.
Ditto a word of thanks to everyone who has worked on or with the concept of collective ownership in the past or at the same time as us. We are aware that this knowledge and these stories have been around for a very long time. Collective ownership as it exists today is based on the knowledge, commitment and experience of many who lived before us. It is important to reflect on the fact that this knowledge and experience constitute a collective asset as well. No one living today invents things that he/she/they do not owe to the people who lived before us. So collective ownership is not only about ownership, but also about respect for what others have done for us.

Finally, a thank you to the Stimuleringsfonds and the AFK (Amsterdam Fund for the Arts) for their financial support. Without their belief in this project, this beautiful collection would not have been online today.