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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 … Continue Reading

“Put your money where your heart is”


James Schwinn spoke on the benefits of decentralizing and localizing the economy. This was one of his slides. Photo by author.

Day Two of the Gaining Ground Summit has been focused on economics. Mark Holland, the esteemed moderator and source of this post’s title, introduced the day by pointing out that a major concern for the Brundtland Commission was economy, and that the term “sustainability” was coined by economists.

The first speaker, James Schwinn, founder of Aixecar Inc., focused his “Financing Sustainability” talk on the benefits of decentralizing and localizing the economy. He spoke of the need to shift our approach to financial capital to the same approach that is applied to ecosystems: a bioregional model that is resilient, … Continue Reading

Making Space for A Cart/Kiosk Culture in Accra and Portland

Portland Food Carts: Photo by Author

In Portland you might enjoy a steaming bowl of curry, while in Accra a spicy box of jollof.  Both purchased for a low cost and in a convenient location.  What is known as a cart in Portland or New York, a kiosk in Accra or Moscow, might also be a booth, pavilion or a stand.  Each is a different form of micro-enterprise that plays an increasingly important role in our cities today. A kiosk is an efficient way for an individual to start a business with low costs and short time, while providing an immediate service to an urban area.  Congruently, the vibrancy of a neighborhood can be accentuated through the articulation of these small forms.  But … Continue Reading

Libraries aren’t just for books

Photo by Flickr user Landschaft

One of the great things about being a student is having the luxury of coming up with really fun ideas. Last semester, some classmates and I worked on a re-imagining of a Vancouver neighborhood around the Britannia Community Center (here’s a link to the project / sorry for the Flashtastrophe). One feature that we put into our design was the idea of a tool library.

Basically, a tool library is like a book library, except that rather than borrowing books, people can borrow ladders, lawn mowers, power tools, circular saws and other tools that people only use infrequently. Our group placed the hypothetical tool library in a light-industrial warehouse and paired it with a “Maker Shed” and … Continue Reading

CIP Niagara Conference – Planning in a Recession

This untraditional session tackles the current economic downturn, crisis, meltdown, recession, depression – however you conceive of it. Its title is “What Planners can Bring to the Table in a Recession,” aptly subtitled “Planners’ Improv”. Panelists are:

- Rino Mostacci from the Town of Fort Erie, Ontario
- Ron Marini, City of Hamilton, Ontario
- Paul Smithson, City of Burlington, Ontario
- Ann McAfee, City of Vancouver,BC (retired), consultant, City Choice

Today’s discussion took the form of a brainstorming session between the audience and an expert panel about how planners can best do their work in the context of economic collapse. Highlights are summarized below, at some length. The conversation was rich and spirited – the topic and seem to have hit a nerve!

A planner from the Maritimes opened the dialogue by sharing his long experience working in places where economic hardship … Continue Reading

CIP Niagara conference: Communities on the competitive edge

The first plenary session this morning is focusing on economic development. The panel contrasts two very different communities- Hamilton, Ontario, whose main challenge is poverty and more conventional economic development, and Clyde River, Nunavut, which is suffering from climate change.

The first speaker, Mark Chamberlain, is an entrepreneur in Hamilton. Chamberlain argues that like good, competitive businesses, communities have to put people first. Many of our economic problems have root causes that we do not fully understand or address, like poverty. Poverty, or socioeconomic status, is the largest indicator of health, wellness, future earnings, and use of the healthcare and criminal justice systems. Hamilton is heading towards a community where collaboration and innovation address root causes of social ills as a form of economic development. One way Hamilton is going about this is the creation of social enterprises. Social enterprises … Continue Reading

Property Values Decline, but not in Vancouver

3D Overview by Lanefab.com

3D Overview by Lanefab.com

During this “Great Recession,” property values and employment rates have been declining across North America, with my hometown having one of the worst unemployment rates in the US.

Nevertheless, Wall Street Journal reported that Vancouver’s property market is remarkably robust.
“[Vancouver's] office market has logged seven building transactions this year capped off by Germany-based Deka Immobilien’s recent $263 million purchase of Bentall V, a 33-story tower in the heart of the city’s district. Just as impressive, prices have held up well. By contrast, only five office properties valued at $5 million or more have sold in Manhattan in the first two quarters of this year, and average prices paid are off 32%, according to Real Capital Analytics, a New … Continue Reading

Rotterdam: The city that does sleep – quite early!

Travelling around Europe is a joy for anyone interested in urbanism. It offers a completely different model of development, and for some, maybe the inspiration to try and bring that model home with them. Surprisingly, it also inspired me to acknowledge some of the positives of our North American way of life. Or at least, reconsider what is positive.

Green Infrastructure: Paying for Utopia (Feature)

The term ‘green infrastructure’ typically conjures up ideas of LEED-buildings, green roofs, grey-water recycling and emerging clean energy technologies such as solar panels and wind turbines. This type of ‘green infrastructure’ investment is sometimes heralded as an economic save-all, a way to meet the goals of the planning profession while investing in the world of tomorrow. Pundits suggest that investment in green infrastructure will create the backbone of future communities, places that are energy efficient, multi-modal, carbon-neutral and in harmony with natural systems.

However, “green infrastructure” could also have an entirely new meaning. Exploring this expanded definition is going to test our beliefs and will require keeping an open mind. Planners should be up for the task; as a profession we are open to idea exploration, we experiment with new technologies and we utilize our creative instincts when planning for communities … Continue Reading

Passtimes and participation

Baseball… How I love a good baseball game on a sunny afternoon in Portland. Being able to watch the triple-A Beavers play in a classic downtown ballpark at an affordable price doesn’t hurt either. Unfortunately, most Portlanders don’t seem to have the same zeal for the old passtime as do I. Maybe baseball isn’t in the cards for Portland — or, as some suggest, perhaps the city has graduated to the major leagues. At least one fan-base is sure of Portland’s major league credentials… but they’re not baseball fans.

In addition to owning the Beavers, Merritt Paulson (son of Henry) also owns the Portland Timbers of the United Soccer Leagues (not a typo). Like the Beavers, the Timbers play their games in charming PGE Park. … Continue Reading

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