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Enriching Philadelphia

Philadelphia is already rich — there's enough wealth here to enable EVERYONE to work a few hours creatively daily and then relax with family and friends to enjoy top quality healthy food.  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 supportive neighborhoods where everyone is valuable.  And to do this while replenishing rather than depleting the integrity of the planet.

Grassroots economic initiatives, grand and tiny, multiply by thousands:  Parks for People tears up asphalt to plant neighborhood gardens, in San Francisco.  The Permaculture Credit Union in Santa Fe, New Mexico, makes loans for ecological repair.  Hundreds of Madison, Wisconsin citizens have relied on their own local paper money.  Hundreds of Ithacans have joined their coop health plan, and dozens have volunteered in its free clinic.  Scores of Dallas residents help cultivate and share weekly harvests, at Windy Acres Farm:  "I always need Johnson grass hoed and vegetables picked, sorted and boxed," says Charles Richardson.

Multiply these individual efforts by millions:  Jane Bodine grows a tall strip of lush corn between sidewalk and street, in Manayunk.  "Every year I put something different and unusual there, to show the neighbors new ideas."  Near Bear Mountain, California, Gary Strouss and four other families generate electricity from Kennedy Creek.  Selling his car to rely on bicycle and train makes Randy Ziglar of Los Angeles feel much freer:  "Cars are tanks in the war against nature."  At Grove City, Pennsylvania, Joe Jenkins' family uses a homemade waterless toilet that generates safe, sweet-smelling soil.

Philadelphia is being fixed even while it decays.  At the same time that U.S. industrial jobs are being stolen to globalization, thousands of practical programs are proving people can rebuild damaged local economies from the ground up — making them better than before.  Thousands of jobs are being invented by citizens dedicated to ecology and social justice.  How?  We are organizing local talent to produce what we need.  We're building an economy which connects people, rather than controls them.

The foundations of sustainable local wealth are energy efficiencies, local food and fuel, water conservation, holistic healing, alternatives to the automobile, nonprofit housing, local manufacture and trade.  The prime tools for this conversion include earthbermed coop dwellings and hyperinsulation, solar and wind energy, urban agriculture, treefree paper, compost toilets, bicycles and trains, farmers' markets, coop health care and local currency.

We start with the tools, time and money that we have, regardless of geography, wealth or skills. Whatever we do is an essential contribution to civilizing civilization.

Imagine if the two billion hours of paid labor that Philadelphians perform yearly were directly dedicated to making our lives easier.  We'd be living instead in homes that need little fuel for heating and air conditioning, homes that we'd own securely.  We'd be transported in vehicles that need little fuel — by rail especially.  We'd eat far more food grown without pesticides.  We'd be responsible trustees of the natural resources of our regions.  And we'd be trading money created locally for our use — money that stays home to help us hire each other and which is available without interest charges.  Our time and money would be used to make our neighborhoods friendly and beautiful.

We'll measure our worth as neighbors and citizens, rather than as consumers.  Yet we'll own more of quality than before.  Best of all, we'd revive an American Dream — to earn enough money from one job to raise a child, to feed and clothe ourselves well, and travel.  We'd have work that's creative and interesting.  We'd have more than jobs and money.  We'd relish work, by putting love at the center of commerce.




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, networking the community to take care of itself to the maximum extent practical.  Here are some of the ways this is done:

As local wealth increases through these programs, there is more money available for producing goods and services that feed the transition from dependence to strength.  It's important to note that local and regional self-reliance do not isolate communities.  They give them added capability to reach to each other, with ecological export industry and travel. 

The following examples, again, are among the hundreds of types of programs that give citizens genuine democratic power — in the marketplace — where it counts.




New Job Creation

Capitalism says that jobs come from investors and bankers.  And socialism says that jobs come from politicians and bureaucrats.  They both say that they are the only ones with the money, authority and knowledge to create jobs.  But a mutual enterprise system generates good by jobs relying on initiatives by average people who work, who raise children, and who depend on the health of communities.  Virtually everything used in a locality can be made locally, by small energy-efficient shops that use regional resources (including components of discards), and which control and recycle all emissions and byproducts.  Specialty materials shops (such as foundries and sawmills) can be linked to each other and to micro-industrial assembly shops.

Even today, thousands of high-quality household goods are produced locally for internal markets, such as soaps, shoes, clothes, rugs, drapes, food, toys, and furniture.  Communities are busy providing food and food processing, compost, garden tools, clothes, hats, gloves, shoes, wool and angora goods, plant fibers, recycled fibers, lamps, tools, forges, herbal medicines and healing.  These are the basics.

There are thousands more products for which regional and national markets could be found, such as trolley components and cargo bikes, insulation, transit, compost toilets, cleaning supplies, and scrap metal reprocessing.  You name it; such products can be made and exported without waiting for external capital, and without further contaminating our environment.

As local production networks for such industries as these become more extensive, and as the increase in local wealth enables more of us to afford locally-produced durables and household goods, the unit price for local artisanry and manufacture gradually becomes competitive with mass-produced imports.

Locally-made goods are already competitively priced, when we calculate that buying local goods in locally-owned stores produces local jobs that save money by reducing unemployment's costs of social services, vandalism, drug use, violent crime, and jail.

Several related changes in local economies are needed to facilitate these transitions:

  • Large-scale employers would embrace job sharing and flextime, and consider the benefits to themselves and society of six-hour days without reduced pay.  Kellogg's thrived on this basis for 54 years.  All employers would end racial bias in hiring and invest in workers as assets (even as friends) rather than as costs.  Research shows that labor productivity and yearly business growth are highest in countries where income is most equal(Economist 11/5/94 p.21).
  • Government would gradually cease providing welfare to large companies, in the form of special tax breaks, bailouts and below-cost sale of raw materials.  Many local governments are catching on to better kinds of job development.  They've quit chasing heavy industry, venture capital, and franchises.  St. Paul, Minnesota, for example, has a Homegrown Economy Project.  Eugene, Oregon hosts the Buy Oregon project, which finds local contractors to bid for regional manufacturing subcontracts.  In Littleton, Colorado, the director of business/industrial affairs, Christian Gibbons, says "our New Economy Project creates economic development from the inside.  Research shows that 90% of new jobs are created by local business."
  • Working with existing businesses returns "the biggest bang for the buck."  The federal study "Local Economic Development Tools" agrees, concluding that expansion of local firms through import replacement programs can generate ten times more jobs than imported capital.
  • Bankers would learn that small loans are actually likelier to be fully and promptly repaid.  Chicago's South Shore Bank and India's Grameen Bank have proven the superior safety of small loans to low-income people.  This requires an end to racial bias in lending.
  • Schools would teach all students how to become powerful community managers and creators of jobs, as well as active union and co-op members, rather than obedient drones.
  • Planning departments would become public resource and innovation centers, welcoming new ideas, serving the public.

Again, none of the above is exotic.  They are national trends.  Such processes promise measured improvement rather than continued decline.  With all these programs we'll be able to use our buying power to vote for powerful communities and set examples for the world.

Glover teaches Metropolitan Ecology at Temple University, and is a "consultivist" for grassroots economic development.  A community economist with a degree in City Management, he is the founder of community programs like Ithaca's HOURS local currency, Health Democracy, Citizen Planners, and the Philly Orchard project. www.paulglover.org

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