(Vision) A Neighborhood Start-up’s “First Bite”

Kent Dahlgren
9 min readSep 17, 2020

We spend so much time worrying about relentlessly bad news cycles we forget how much can be accomplished when we start small, fine-tune, and extrapolate, and it’s in this manner we change the world.

And for millennia, people have transformed their world in precisely this manner.

There’s a joke among the Inuit people of the North Pacific:

Q: how do you eat a whale?

A: one bite at a time. Pro-tip: invite your neighbor.

And so it is for the establishment of a sovereign, hyper-local community that’s embraced the principles of regenerative economics and anti-fragile philosophies.

For generations we’ve allowed our muscles to become slack in the belief that institutions are “too big to fail,” and yet it has become abundantly clear the failure of large, centralized institutions is historically inevitable.

I mean. Look around.

I’m not suggesting that large institutions collapse entirely in the blink of an eye.

What happens is what’s happening right now; the failing institution consolidates its resources within a diminishing circle of influence, and desperately attempts to rely upon largely-empty expressions of intimidation to maintain an equally diminishing circle of concern.

By degrees, the little people (us) are left to our own devices, but even a mortally wounded dog is still dangerous, and so the centralized institution pops and snaps their teeth at any entity which attempts to encroach upon its diminishing sphere of influence.

Indeed, it’s possible and even likely that the large centralized institution doesn’t entirely collapse; what usually happens is an inevitable right-sizing, to borrow from the parlance of private industry as it seeks to spin the cruelty of staffing layoffs.

In either case, be it comprehensive systemic collapse or be at a “right sizing“ of resources, the little people are left to fend for themselves, and it can take decades or centuries for a centralized authority to reassert itself in a meaningful way.

In other words: we are on our own.

Which brings us back to the Inuit joke about eating the whale: the Leviathan is consumed one bite at a time, and it’s optimal that you invite your neighbors.

So let’s begin there.

Let’s say that you walk a circle around the neighborhood each night, and within your circuit lives a community of about 1,200 homes and 5,000 residents.

In recent years there’s emerged a significant series of developments regarding regenerative models, and as a result, there are current best practices and supportive technologies that rapidly helps local advocates establish financial self-sufficiency, sovereignty, and transparent and accountable self-governance.

I’m not talking about people creating their own government.

I’m talking about the community coming together so it can provide health, wealth, education, security and community in a manner that is complementary to the efforts of a centralized authority in a state of contraction.

As our local, state, and federal institutions are right now.

So.

Each night you walk for 45 minutes or an hour, and your nightly walk circles your neighborhood.

Within that neighborhood are about 1,200 homes and 5,000 residents.

In this article, I describe how a community of this size can achieve and sustain financial self-sufficiency within a model that is self-governing.

By embracing regenerative economics and anti-fragile philosophies, a community of about 1,000 people generates about $6100 a month in revenue, which funds a local committee.

The local committee invest in earn/learn opportunities that transitions neighbors from being consumers into producers.

That might sound mysterious, so what I’m talking about is a committee that helps neighbors launch and sustain their side hustle, that helps each neighbor bring in just a few extra dollars per month.

Maybe a neighbor decides to purchase local vegetables and sells jars of her grandmothers salsa recipe, or maybe somebody else provides a service to her neighbors on how they can turn their yards into gardens that produce fruits and vegetables.

Consumers become producers, and $6,100 a month becomes $12,000 a month, $18,000 a month, and more.

By expanding modestly upon the same regenerative, anti-fragile themes, this same community multiplies the funds necessary to continue expanding their bases of self-governance.

The money generated by the local committee is invested into an expansion of services and educational opportunities that enrich the local neighborhood.

Like I said: I’ve already delivered this vision in a separate article, but did you know that it’s an actual project?

I love fiction, and I love writing fiction, but this is a nonfiction story, and I am actually referencing an actual neighborhood.

People enjoy the catharsis of escapism, particularly when they are in a state of trauma, and I guess maybe that’s why some elect to binge watch movies while the world burns just outside.

But not everybody is traumatized into a state of passivity, and there are those who find it unacceptable to behold the suffering caused by a centralized institution in a state of decline, so they roll up their sleeves, take a step forward, and they ask the question:

Q: “how and where do I begin?“

Answer: begin with a neighbor, and you eat that whale, one bite at a time.

We have defined five phases for our project:

  • Prepare (as in: prepare the soil for a garden)
  • Plant (as in: “they thought they had buried us; they didn’t know that we are seeds”)
  • Practice (fine-tune the operational community of practice)
  • Prosper (expand local wealth, health, and safety)
  • Pollinate (locally-sourced leadership takes what they’ve learned and shares it with adjacent communities)

Fun aside: I’ve actually done this before, within the realm of grassroots political advocacy.

Because that’s how you change the world: you start small, fine-tune, and extrapolate, with an emphasis upon the hyper-local engine.

There exists a spiritual maxim which states: one learns by teaching, and one heals by healing.

My investment in grassroots community advocacy was predicated upon the baseline supposition that leadership must come from within the community itself, and fortunately: this dovetails seamlessly with my own philosophies regarding servant leadership.

A servant leader is honored to serve in a manner which benefits the greatest number of the community, and with outcomes aligning to the highest good, and to do so, I focus almost entirely upon ordinary citizens, because they possess the greatest potential for leverage.

Start small, fine-tune, and extrapolate.

Lather, rinse, repeat, and it is in this manner that the little people change the world.

But let’s get practical: let’s talk about the Pollination phase, where homegrown leadership takes what they have learned and shares it with adjacent communities.

After generations of being victimized by marketing and economic colonialization, adjacent communities are probably not going to get excited about being pitched by yet another fast-talking dude in a crisp blue shirt.

The vision must carry a spirit of homegrown authenticity, or it will never fly.

So. Let us begin.

Our first of five phases is Prepare, as in: prepare the soil for a garden, and that begins at the household, because if you lose the household, you lose the community.

The household is the cornerstone of community wealth.

It’s considered best practice for landlords to evict and replace tenants who are not able to pay the rent, but this practice quickly becomes self-defeating, particularly when the economy hits the skids.

The family living within that home has likely invested significantly in the neighborhoods well-being, and so uprooting and displacing the family strips a community of its soul and its character.

And, sure: if one assumes that the economy expands forever without any economic downturns, then who cares, right? Just rip and run, turn and burn, who cares?

There are many segments of the broader economy that are sufficiently compartmentalized such that people within these industries don’t really care one way or the other, do they?

Developers are still compensated for destroying an unremarkable two bedroom one bath home, and replacing it with a couple of tony side-by-side units.

And real estate people similarly don’t really care, just as long as they can close that deal.

Of course, the economy periodically slows, and in the wake of the COVID-19 virus, many are wisely considering the broader implications, particularly when they factor for what was learned during the 2008 recession.

If we take two or three steps back, and we mitigate the shortsighted influence of developers, real estate, and other players, it becomes evident that owners and tenants actually have more in common with one another then they may have originally realized.

A wise homeowner might work to enrich their relationship with their tenants, because after all: their tenants have served as their homes steward, and probably are perfectly well suited to protect and defend the property against the elements.

Of course, there are corporate owners that don’t really care, and compartmentalized participants within this ecosystem simply evict tenants and leave the homes empty for months, years, or more

This necessitates ongoing maintenance, and the homes aren’t actually generating any revenue, even as they become targets for vandals and squatters.

So let’s go all the way back to the plan for a neighborhood that goes into business with itself, where the neighbors are the primary beneficiaries.

1,000 people participating in a hyper-local economy generates about $6,100 a month in revenue for the community itself, and once the community has invested into helping some of its members upgrade into a model of regenerative economics, the self-governing committee realize the benefit of a multiplier effect that turns this into $12,000 a month, or more.

The neighborhood that goes into business with itself therefore achieves a breakeven state fairly quickly, and this makes it easy for the community to raise the funds necessary to bootstrap the first phase: Prepare, as in to prepare the soil for a garden.

Remember the Inuit joke: bring a neighbor, so you can eat that whale, one bite at a time.

Let’s consider a duplex, two adults, four children. Six individuals, plus a forward-thinking landlord.

Seven individuals total organized as the community’s first self-governing committee.

The landlord is involved because they recognize how a project of this type will protect and even elevate the value of her property, while deepening and enriching his or her relationships with the neighborhood.

Let’s imagine that the city has raised property taxes, and suddenly rent has been increased by $500 a month

Let’s imagine that COVID-19 has imposed financial stressors upon each tenants household such that they are forced to choose between eating and being sheltered.

It’s funny. The smallest thing makes the biggest difference, right?

These tenants aren’t looking for millions of dollars, and they’re not even looking for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

They are probably struggling to come up with a few hundred dollars a month, and within a plan that quickly helps a neighborhood fund itself, these fiscal requirements are trivial.

Within our plan, these six neighborhood tenants become the foundation of a self governance committee that manages its own affairs, and what are they looking for? Seed capital, to the tune of a few thousand dollars total, if that.

Honestly, just a few hundred dollars a month, each person.

Within our plan, which is defined with an over-arching (V) vision , and subordinate (S) strategies, each (E) execution task is associated with quantitative and qualitative (M) metrics of success.

For our first phase (“Plant”), we have defined a (V) vision that stops displacement and establishes a baseline state of resiliency, beginning in the home.

A subordinate (S) strategy for this (V) vision is a helping the pilot community immediately address issues associated with fiscal and community stress.

An (E) Execution task in support of this (S) strategy is to enlist these neighbors in the implementation of the communities self governing community, and a quantitative and qualitative (M) metric in support is one that tells us whether or not we have been successful.

The first thing we do is meet with the tenants, present the plan, and ask: do you believe in this vision? Would you like to help us define and implement this plan? Would you be interested in leveraging your experience to share this plan with other communities?

In the first phase, we introduce the earn/learn opportunities, beginning with the establishment of a homegrown community hub: a duplex.

Like I said, this is an actual project, so in our conversations with the actual people involved, we have learned that one of the tenants will be leveraging this plan to try and bring her two children back to the neighborhood.

This tickles us.

We believe with conviction that it’s time to bring the neighbors back into the hood, so to speak, because we’re not reestablishing the cornerstones of community: that cornerstone has always been there.

The project provides its own funding in three important ways:

  • Cuts out the middleman of “extractive industries“
  • Introduces regenerative and anti-fragile economic strategies (a stimulus from the bottom-up)
  • Makes visible various forms of non-monetary capital, such as the trust capital that exist within existing “cornerstones of community“

And the whole thing is built upon an easy to use neighborhood ledger that renders all agreements and local self-governance transparent, accountable, and easy to audit, so the community can minimize the tendency for governance to develop self defeating fraud, waste, abuse, and corruption.

I really do love living in the future, right?

We are no longer bound by the constraints of a system that is in a state of consolidation and retreat.

And this is not an either/or proposition, because that’s not realistic.

This forms the optimal basis of private/public collaborations, while delivering prototypes that local municipalities might adopt when it becomes feasible.

Suddenly, those in possession of hard capital find it lucrative to invest in regenerative practices and economics.

Why?

Well, how’s the rest of their portfolio doing right now?

--

--

Kent Dahlgren

Product management fix-it guy. World-famous people skills. Extremely small hands. (edit) marketing lady says I’m also supposed to say “CEO of software company”