(Community Design) A Shared Vision

Imagine that each evening you take a walk around your neighborhood, and at a steady pace you’ll walk a three mile loop in less than an hour.

30th and NE Ainsworth, Portland, Oregon. 1944

Assuming Portland or Austin-like urban density, you just walked a circle that includes 340 acres of land.

Within this circle are about 1,200 dwellings, and assuming average occupancy, there’s about 4,500–5,000 people living inside.

Ok: visualize a neighborhood community.

Let’s pretend there’s a pretty bad recession, and a lot of people are out of work, at risk of eviction or foreclosure.

Almost everyone needs to figure out how to earn just a few more bucks each month, and the neighborhood isn’t indigent; there’s a lot of wisdom and wealth in the neighborhood, just not all of it monetary.

The neighborhood association decides to do something about it, so they organize something like a neighborhood “garage sale,” and it’s made clear that all proceeds they earn go back into the immediate community.

The neighborhood association partners with an urban farmer to bring in “earn and learn” opportunities, and the neighbors like it, so they start focusing on their neighborhood market.

This market would feature both goods and services, and at first people buy and sell their extra stuff, or hire themselves out to help with taxes or home maintenance.

Let’s assume that just a quarter of the people who live inside the circle (about 1,500 people) chose to do business with one another instead of Amazon or Walmart, and not a lot of business: just one to three transactions per month.

This adds up fast.

The neighborhood would transact about $2,000,000 a year in peer to peer commerce, and this money is kept inside the neighborhood, instead of sent to Bezos.

For those who participated in the local market, this translates to about $1500 a year in additional revenue, or about $125 a month.

Not a bad start, but not great. We’ll get to this in a moment. Let’s start small.

If the neighborhood association charged a small transaction fee (5%) for facilitating market transactions, they would generate almost $100k per year in revenue that could go towards the earn and learn program.

Because the neighborhood association is providing programs for those in need, they would be able to structure themselves as a nonprofit, which means that they can operate tax-free.

These are general stats, but they expand dramatically if one invests in curating and growing cottage businesses.

And that’s what the urban farm “earn and learn” program is all about, so within a couple months, a small number of neighbors enlist and are soon selling their food products in the market.

Salsas, pies, chutney, etc. The kind of things that you might buy at a farmers market, right?

One of the things I miss about Portland are the tamale ladies that walk the neighborhood pulling a cooler filled with freshly prepared tamales.

Did you know that in Texas, the “Texas cottage food law“ makes it easy to launch a home food business?

For those home businesses that are earning less than $60,000 a year, there are no permits, no licenses, and no inspections required for a cottage food business.

So let’s assume that the neighborhood association has sponsored and learn and earn collaboration with an urban farmer, and just a few people have turned this into a business opportunity, maybe by referencing some of their grandmother’s recipes.

The people who participate in this program become producers rather than just consumers, and economically, this triggers a fascinating multiplier effect.

Again, assuming that just a small number of neighbors adopt these programs, the community is now generating a little over $7 million a year in revenue.

For those participating within the market, they are generating an average $450 a month in additional revenue, or just over $5,000 a year.

These are averages, applied to everyone participating in the economy, which still assumes just 25% participation, so obviously: some are earning more than others, but the money is still kept within the local neighborhood.

In this second phase, the neighborhood association itself is generating about $300,000 a year in self-funding, which is invested into more earn and learn opportunities, designed to create an ever greater number of producers.

In fact, the neighborhood association might elect to adopt a voluntary form of basic income (BI), which would ensure that the neighborhoods citizens are not displaced if and when they are in a state of economic duress.

In effect, this becomes an example of a hyper-local economic stimulus, and it pays for itself by:

  • Not spending as much with Amazon / Walmart
  • Buying local
  • Investing in turning consumers into producers

Why bother “seizing the means of production” when we can instead stimulate people’s productive capacity, so they are no longer simply consumers, but producers?

I have reason to believe that the dominant economic model is overextended in such a way that they might be non-competitive, making it possible to beat the big guys at their own game, simply by stimulating peoples loyalty to their own.

As an aside:

Each Amazon Marketplace transaction results in an 18.3% transaction fee, per transaction, which most people don’t see because it’s built into the advertised price.

So that money is drained from the neighborhood (see: fiscal leakage), and is only used to make Bezos more wealthy, at the expense of your community.

Second aside:

In one study, women of moderate-weight lost an average 10% of their body weight in six months, so an hourly walk around the neighborhood is a decent way to get some exercise, and for cheap!

And it brings a neighborhood together, which serves as a foundation for community crime prevention.

Because our local neighborhood market would make it possible to recognize non-monetary forms of capital, the “block walkers“ might be recognized for their contributions towards community policing.

And they could leverage that earned trust to ask the community bank for resources, when needed.

See how cool that is?