by Joe Flower
This article was published as part of the Healthcare Forum's Healthy Communities Action Kits, Module 4, in 1994
International Copyright 1994 Joe Flower All Rights Reserved
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Once you have developed some indicators that help you keep your eye on the
things you need to pay attention to, you can go to the next stage: local action.
One interesting form of local action is making your own home-grown economy. In
the face of rapid forces of globalization, almost no community on this planet
has control of the variables that deeply effect their community's life. Even
heads of powerful nations can't control these global forces. Local communities
need to figure out how to close the economic feedback loops in their own
community. The financial system is so globally inter-connected that when people
in your town put their paychecks into the bank, that money is immediately
vacuumed out of the community. The local community can't bid at global levels
of interest to get its own money back to fertilize its own business activities.
Communities all around the world are beginning to realize that they can
re-invent their local economy. Some of the most successful are called local
exchange and trading systems (LETS). This is a re-invention of a local,
The best example of this today is Ithica Money, in Ithaca, New York. They use a
throw-away "penny shopper" that lists all of the people in Ithaca who are
willing to barter their services with each other. A dentist might barter for a
certain number of appointments. An accountant might barter income tax
preparation. Certain restauraunts will take half cash and half "Ithaca money."
They look like phony dollar bills, and each one is worth an hour of somebody's
These are going on all over Europe. There are about 200 of these systems in
Britain. The currency units quite often are named after the town. The town of
Bath has Baths and the city of Stroud has Strouds. They are themselves an
indicator of how badly managed the macro economy is.
Many cities have experimented with another concept called "service credit
systems" or "time dollars." In any city you always have a bunch of tasks that
need doing -- keeping the streets clean, recycling, counseling, Meals On
Wheels, all kinds of services which a city needs to have performed. Some it
can't afford to have done unless volunteers do them. The time dollar or service
credits system allows a community to publish a list of these kind of activities
that everybody agrees need to be done, and to say that anyone who is
unemployed, or partially employed, who wants to do any of these tasks, will be
paid with a special credit card. As people rack up hours in the account, they
can use that credit card to ride the city buses and to use the city recreation
facilities, to register at community colleges, to receive medical care at
city-owned hospitals. This enables you to get more intensive use out of
taxpayer-supported services, such as transit systems, in return for valuable
The next stage, which very few communities have done yet, is to use the time
dollars in exchange: if you have helped out, you are entitled to have someone
come help you. For instance, a community can use computer bulletin boards to do
bartering and exchanging, trading the goods and services that local people
offer. This increases the wealth of the community and keeps people fully
employed without having to earn so much money. To make the credit card as
valuable as possible, you could go to the Chamber Of Commerce and find some
restaurateurs to offer half-price meals to service credit card holders on
whatever is their slow night. Movie theaters could give the rest of the seats
to service credit card holders for half price at 5 minutes before curtain time,
if it's clear that the movie is not going to be full.
This knits the community back together, at the same time that it gives people
who may be unemployed a way to increase their do better, without money. At the
same time, you're making efficient use of services that otherwise would be
wasted. In effect you are turning the community's needs into assets.
Farmer's markets, food-buying cooperatives, and contract agriculture form
another piece of the home-grown economy, with effects that particularly
visible. In more and more communities in the U.S., groups of people are getting
together to buy produce directly from nearby farms. They realize that if you
want to prevent your community from sprawling all over the place, you have to
keep your local farmers in business. And if you keep the local farmers in
business not only do you have fresh produce, even grown organically, if you pay
the farmers to do that. But also you cut out the middle man. Linking the people
in an urban area to their immediately adjacent rural area is so good for
building community on so many levels.
Young children in the cities learn how produce is grown and what a cow looks
like. It's just a wonderful way of re-knitting the community together and at
the same time providing a cheaper and healthier food supply.
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