PAUL GLOVER ESSAYS: community control of food, fuel, housing, health care, planning, education, finance.
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Grassroots Economic Development

by Paul Glover

Ithaca is already a rich city there's enough money in Ithaca today to enable EVERYONE to work a few hours creatively daily and then to relax with family and friends and enjoy top quality healthy food prepared by some of the finest cooks on earth, to enjoy clean low-cost warm housing, clean and safe transport, high quality handcrafted clothes and household goods, to enjoy creating and playing together, growing up and growing old in a supportive community where everyone is valuable, all in the midst of one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth.

And to do this while replenishing rather than depleting the integrity of the planet.

Our abundant wealth has not yet been translated into community well-being because local money and economic development have been traditionally controlled by people whose purposes are profit gained with scant regard for damage done to their fellow citizens or to nature.

I'm referring not ONLY to the dull and distant elites which control commercial banking, venture capital, real estate, major local corporations, or to government and its notorious bureaucracies. I'm referring to we general public as well, who have followed bad leadership in order to indulge an American Way of Life which has itself become anti-American by destroying the natural resources upon which all business depends.

Rather than apply our city's great wealth to making life healthier and easier, local money is instead poured down the drain, lost as food bills to agribusiness, lost as purchases from chain stores, lost as energy payments to NYSEG, lost as transport payments to auto manufacturers, oil companies and auto insurance companies, lost as rent payments to absentee landlords, lost as local tourist dollars to hotel chains, lost as medical payments to drug companies and insurance companies, lost by destruction of agricultural land for suburbanization, lost in pumping clean water across town for flushing wastes, lost as tax payments to state and federal agencies which do more harm than good, and discarded into landfills.

Our wealth can instead be redirected, through personal and community decisions. On a personal level, each of us can to different degrees:

As a community, we can demand public policy which moves toward local ownership of housing stock, fuel production and distribution, and thus magnifies grassroots development possibilities.

We can do such things by enacting public policy which:

  • facilitates purchase of housing stock by occupants, and which:
  • helps fund commercial and residential energy conservation,
  • which establishes business incubators and retail showcase for prototypes and product lines of locally-manufactured goods such as shoes, clothes, soaps, pastas and other foods, cargo bicycles and other practical tools,
  • which changes City tax collection to raise rents on vacant Commons properties while lowering taxes on housing and commercial properties which have been insulated, while providing local tax credits for solar, wind and agricultural development,
  • which changes City building code to encourage compost toilets and solar greenhouses,
  • which re-installs fixed rail trolley routes linking Cornell and the Commons, looping around GreenStar to retain student dollars locally,

    • which deliberately slows automotive traffic while making bicycle and pedestrian travel safer, and transit use easier,
    • which collect a local option penny-per-gallon tax at the pump for transit, trollies and bike lanes,
    • which decentralizes and de-bureaucratizes public education, both to teach creative ecological citizenship, to reduce student commuting, and to reduce the school tax burden,
    • which expands local ownership of Cornell, to spread expertise in these directions.
    • This is a quick introduction to grassroots ecological economics. It contrasts with top-down conventional business planning, and opens an arena of infinite possibilities.

    Here's Where Wealth Comes From

    Regions make themselves rich and powerful primarily by recycling their wealth, to magnify it. That means retaining talents, skills, and money of local people in the community as much as possible, connecting the community to take care of itself to the maximum extent practical. Here are some of the ways this is done:

  • Barter Posts are storefronts which enable public to trade without cash.
  • Business Incubators are buildings containing equipment shared by small new businesses, to reduce start-up costs.
  • Buy-Local Campaigns promote social and economic benefits of shopping for locally-produced goods, at locally-owned stores.
  • Co-Housing provides shared community spaces for child care, gardens, cooking, recreation, to make life friendlier and easier.
  • Community Development Corporations are citizen groups with power of government, to initiate programs for business, housing, transit, etc.
  • Community Development Credit Unions, like Alternatives Federal Credit Union are member-owned banks that invest most money back to the neighborhoods from where deposits came.
  • Community Foundations make grants to local groups.
  • Community Insulation Initiatives install energy-efficient equipment in homes.
  • Community Reinvestment Agencies are local groups which make sure local banks invest locally, without racial bias.
  • Eco-Indicators are relied on to measure whether the local economy is improving for all, or merely enriching an elite.
  • Eco-Industrial Parks exemplify manufacturing of basic useful goods with recycled materials and zero pollution.
  • Farmer's Markets enable farmers and craftspeople to sell directly to local people.
  • Farmland Retention groups advocate public policy that promotes and protects local farming.
  • Flexible Manufacturing Networks combine the skills and tools of several local manufacturers to enable them jointly to get a manufacturing contract.
  • Food and Fuel Co-ops coordinate bulk buying of food, fuels, solar equipment, windmills and insulation by neighbors, to reduce unit costs and gain policy leverage.
  • Health Funds are locally-controlled nonprofit health financing co-ops.
  • Housing Co-ops remove housing from the speculative market, enabling occupants to resell their units with specified limits to profit.
  • Import Replacement Programs connect regional businesses and individuals to supply each other, rather than depending on imports.
  • Industrial Retention Initiatives are carrot-and-stick programs seeking to keep industry from closing or moving away.
  • Land Trusts purchase local land to protect it, usually from suburbanization. They buy housing to remove it from the profit system.
  • Local Pension Funds are locally-originated and controlled, much of whose capital is dedicated to local investment.
  • Local Currencies are local paper money which adds to local money supply, raises minimum wage, promotes job creation, friendly trade, local business.
  • Local Tax Credits reduce local fees on organic farms, solar and wind energy, realizing that tax reductions will be returned via high sales tax revenues.
  • Materials Re-use Centers disassemble and stockpile components of discards, for resale and re-manufacturing. New buildings are constucted ecologically, using non-rainforest woods.
  • Microlending makes small loans at low interest, in order to help new small businesses form.
  • Military-to-Domestic Conversions retrofit vacated military bases or weapons factories for non-military jobs and production.
  • Revolving Loan Funds make money available at zero- or low-interest for specified purposes when prior loans are repaid.
  • Smart Growth is land use planning restrains sprawl and relies on regional business rather than chains. Government invents new rules to facilitate this shift. Corporations are evaluated for their commitment to the environment and fair pay.
  • Socially Responsible Investing is the practice of selecting stocks and bonds according to their environmental and/or social effects.
  • Worker Ownership Networks support conversion of business ownership to employees.
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