5 Takes on Sustainable Local Economies

A significant component of sustainability is  developing and fostering strong local economies. Why? Well, people often conceptualize regional economies using economic base theory, of which one part is the idea of leakage. Basically, when people who live in a community spend money outside of their community or spend money with a business that takes money outside of their community, money “leaks” out of the area. Large retail chains and businesses owned by multi-national firms have high rates of leakage for local economies. Leakage also happens when people travel to another community and spend money there (i.e. tourism, but this helps bring in capital to the tourist destination). So, encouraging locally-owned businesses helps to stem leakage, keeps locally-earned dollars circulating within a community, and generally promotes prosperity and job-creation in the region. This is what makes it literally sustainable.

So what are some ground-up local economic development initiatives going on in Vancouver and elsewhere right now?

5. Co-Working

Hive LogoThe HiVE is a space in downtown Vancouver for organizations and individuals working in the sustainability and creativity sectors. The co-working space has shared working spaces that are intended to encourage cross-pollination of ideas, social networks, and innovation. The HiVE is modeled after many successful co-location spaces around the world; members save money through sharing infrastructure and amenities like business equipment, telecommunications, receptionist, meeting spaces, event spaces, kitchen, lounge, etc. You can rent a dedicated workstation, a desk by the hour, or a meeting room for events. The idea is that professional, but low barrier-to-entry, space helps start-ups and non-profits get going and prosper.

4. Local Currency

Local economies don’t always need dollars – some places create their own local currencies. For example, the Dunbar neighbourhood in Vancouver will be getting its own “Dunbar Dollar,” with the Dunbar Residents Association and the Dunbar Village Business Association working out the details with Village Vancouver.

Local currencies are certainly not new in British Columbia. The Community Way currency has been used in the Comox Valley for the past year with plans to introduce it to Fernie, Nelson and Cranbrook this year. Here’s a video about how it works:

3. Begging, Borrowing, and Stealing

Just kidding, this is more like bartering and borrowing.

At Planning Pool, we are huge fans of tool libraries. We have an awesome video about the Northeast Portland Tool Library.

Vancouver Tool Library LogoBut, now we get to write about a tool library in Vancouver! The Vancouver Tool Library, at 3448 Commercial St (at Victoria), isn’t officially open yet. But, you can drop by on a Wednesday or Saturday for the next month or two to join ($20 membership share and $30 annual maintenance fee, on a sliding scale). The library hosts gardening, bike maintenance, and wood-working tools.

If you’re more into building gadgets, we also have the Vancouver Hack Space in town. You can check out their site to see what kinds of events are going on and which projects members are working on.

2. Sliding Scales and Paying What People Can Afford

Rhizome CafeIn Vancouver, we have a couple of local businesses, like Rhizome Cafe, where patrons can pay what they can afford. Rhizome offers free meeting space for local community groups and a donation box where customers can help ensure that everyone who is hungry at the cafe can be fed.

Now, the large chains are catching on to the fact that this kind of business model is both possible and good for the community. Three of Panera’s 1,500 locations have been operating as 100% donation-funded for the past yearChristian Science Monitor reported:

Most patrons, it finds, drop the entire retail cost, or more, into the voluntary donation box, in essence subsidizing a meal for someone who can’t pay the full amount. Panera says about 60 percent leave the suggested amount; 20 percent leave more; and 20 percent leave less. The largest single payment so far? One person paid $500 for a meal.

1. Just Saying “No” to Mega Banks and Credit Cards

Perhaps the most revolutionary thing to happen since humans invented credit, BitCoin is the first digital currency that operates on a completely distributed network. In other words, the currency exists on the network of its users, so no bank or payment processor is required between buyers and sellers. This decentralization is the basis for BitCoin’s security and freedom. People can access Bitcoins from anywhere in the world that has an internet connection, and the fees are low, meaning that the currency has very low barriers to entry, unlike banks.

So why does this matter for local economies? People an trade goods and services by bartering or exchanging Bitcoins. This website lets people find other Bitcoin users in their neighbourhood.

Here’s a video:

What other tools and options are there that help promote healthy local economies?

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