Reclaim Your Streets And Take Control Of Your Community's Economics With The Help Of The New Economics Forum



A practical guide to local alternatives in a global economy

Step 1: Shop local

[image, unknown] OK, you may not always have the choice and convenience that you get from a supermarket, but things are not going to improve until you start to value a convivial neighbourhood more highly. You don't see the effect on the local economy, but it is real. A local shop can create one job for every $80,000 worth of turnover; a supermarket for every $400,000.

Step 2: Track your money

If you eat at McDonalds only one quarter of the money you spend stays in the local area. A neighbourhood in Chicago discovered that its residents had deposited $33 million in a local bank but had only received back $120,000 in loans. They created a community-owned bank. The small town of Newport and Nevern in Dyfed, South Wales, did an energy audit and found out that they were spending $400,000 a year to pay for imported energy. They initiated a campaign to insulate houses. Think of the local economy as a bucket into which money flows from local people and shops. If the bucket is full of holes, that money leaks out pretty quickly. [image, unknown]

Step 3: Plug the leaks

Successful local economic renewal has concentrated on doing just a few things well. Be practical. Learn from elsewhere. Enjoy it as you go. In Oregon in the US local residents set up a non-profit 'buy local' Marketplace that matches local business buyers and suppliers. One co-operative used to buy bicycle wheels from abroad until the Marketplace put them in touch with a local supplier who charged 40-per- cent less and with fewer delays. If you want to recruit new businesses, look for ones that are compatible with what you have already. There are dozens of different starting points for community economic action ­ you don't have to do everything.

Step 4: Take control

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There is no substitute for communities organizing to take control. People are the best experts on their own needs. Tap into that expertise by creating discussion and holding fun days for popular planning. Aim to be self-reliant. Nothing can shackle the imagination more than worrying about how to get the money to do things. If support from outside funds comes, fine ­ but this can sometimes extract more value than it adds.

Step 5: You are not alone!

Choose your own future. If you do all this but then fall for seductive adverts to earn and consume like an average American, you won't last. Aim to create a shared community vision. It can galvanize action but also guard dreams. Don't give in to outside experts. Work out yourself how to assess progress, using community indicators.You are not alone! You are part of a worldwide movement for justice and sustainability. Play your part in that. [image, unknown]

The Bucket
In a more self-reliant local economy, money may change hands up to eight times before it all leaks away. You spend one dollar with somebody who then spends part of that dollar locally with somebody else, who spends part of that dollar locally and so on. That dollar may have been worth six dollars locally by the time it has all leaked out.

This is the 'multiplier', a concept that was popularized by the founder of modern economics, John Maynard Keynes. The 'multiplier' means that money spent locally can have radically different knock-on effects. When he died, Keynes nominated EF Schumacher, doyen of 'Small is Beautiful' and local economic self-reliance, as his most likely successor. [image, unknown]

Community indicators
In 1988 two villages in Rajhastan, India, looked at how they should measure changes in social, environmental and economic status. They named 38 indicators. Compared to 20 years ago, 36 households had become worse off in terms of income by five per cent or more ­ but these same households ranked themselves as better off in 37 of the 38 indicators. Improvements included housing quality, wearing shoes regularly, eating a third meal a day and sleeping in a room without animals. The one exception was a decline in the availability of fresh milk, which was now being sold outside the villages.

Community economic action
The struggle for community and sustainability is happening everywhere, often against increasing odds. In Britain, over one-and-a-half million peoplenow take regular part in a rainbow economy of community economic initiatives. Examples include: Community Shops & Pubs, LETS, Time Dollars, Credit Unions, Community Banks and Loan Funds, Community Supported Agriculture, Food Co-ops, Permaculture, Recycling and Composting schemes, Community Energy, Self- build, Community Land Trusts, Managed Workspace, Community Gardens, Eco-villages.

The best way to create social change is through economic action, which empowers those without economic power and allows them to reclaim control. This may sound utopian, but it is also very practical. [image, unknown]

Community vision
Chattanooga used to be labelled 'the dirtiest city in the US'. In 1984 the city launched Vision 2000. Participants agreed on 40 goals for the year 2000. By 1993 they had made substantial progress with most of them. In all, they reckoned they had launched 223 projects, created 1,380 jobs and triggered investment of $750 million. They were so pleased that they held ReVision 2000 and set themselves new goals. Chattanooga is now one of the cleanest cities in the US.

Popular planning
In East London, Britain, local mosques, temples and churches collaborated to set up TELCO, using techniques developed by Saul Alinsky in Chicago to win a greater say for the local community and take on property developers, employers and local government. Other techniques include: community appraisal, mapping, planning for real, timelines, priority search, community drama, future search.

Illustrations by ERIC JONES.

Compiled by Ed Mayo, who adds: to help you reclaim your street try Short Circuit by Richard Douthwaite, Community Works! and Participation Works! all from the New Economics Foundation,[image, unknown] 112-116 Whitechapel Road, London E1 1JE. e-mail: [email protected]


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New Internationalist issue 296 magazine cover This article is from the November 1997 issue of New Internationalist.
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