Grassroots Economic Development
|by Paul Glover
Ithaca is already a rich city there's enough money in Ithaca today to
enable EVERYONE to work a few hours creatively daily and then to relax with
family and friends and enjoy top quality healthy food prepared by some of the
finest cooks on earth, 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 a supportive community where
everyone is valuable, all in the midst of one of the most beautiful landscapes
And to do this while replenishing rather than depleting the integrity of the
Our abundant wealth has not yet been translated into community well-being
because local money and economic development have been traditionally controlled
by people whose purposes are profit gained with scant regard for damage done
to their fellow citizens or to nature.
I'm referring not ONLY to the dull and distant elites which control commercial
banking, venture capital, real estate, major local corporations, or to government
and its notorious bureaucracies. I'm referring to we general public as well,
who have followed bad leadership in order to indulge an American Way of Life
which has itself become anti-American by destroying the natural resources upon
which all business depends.
Rather than apply our city's great wealth to making life healthier and easier,
local money is instead poured down the drain, lost as food bills to agribusiness,
lost as purchases from chain
stores, lost as energy payments to NYSEG, lost as transport payments to
oil companies and auto insurance companies, lost as rent payments to absentee
landlords, lost as local tourist dollars to hotel chains, lost as medical payments
to drug companies and insurance companies, lost by destruction of agricultural
land for suburbanization, lost in pumping clean water across town for flushing
wastes, lost as tax payments to state and federal agencies which do more harm
than good, and discarded into landfills.
Our wealth can instead be redirected, through personal and community decisions.
On a personal level, each of us can to different degrees:
- insulate businesses and homes to reduce fuel waste, install superefficient
windows and windowbox heat grabbers.
- Join the Finger Lakes Land
Trust, and attach conservation easements to your property where applicable.
- Buy groceries from GreenStar and the Farmer's
Market, from local restaurants, delis, and buy home cooking from people
on the http://www.ithacahours.org HOUR Town list.
- Join the Ithaca
Health Fund, to gradually redirect back to Ithaca the $50 million of local
money which yearly is paid to insurers.
- Ride bicycles and buses,
and participate in demanding bike lanes in the City Ithaca
Bicycle Action Group Listserv: send message: subscribe IBAG-L your
is voting. Shop with local craftspersons and retailers, and look at the
labels when buying out-of-town goods.
- Trade with Ithaca
HOURS, which stimulate development of local talent and connections, while
providing business loans without charging interest.
- Support the Tompkins Cortland Labor Coalition and United
Workers of Ithaca, which seek to balance interests of workers and owners.
- Donate to community organizations and street
- Rely on independent
- Reduce your taxable income and live
- Install a compost
- Boycott goods produced
by corporations, such as McDonald's,
which damage the environment and/or exploit
- Attend city
government meetings, to monitor what is done with public money by private
As a community, we can demand public policy which moves toward local ownership
of housing stock, fuel production and distribution, and thus magnifies grassroots
We can do such things by enacting public policy which:
- facilitates purchase of housing stock by occupants, and which:
- helps fund commercial and residential energy
- which establishes business incubators and retail showcase for prototypes
and product lines of locally-manufactured goods such as shoes, clothes, soaps,
pastas and other foods, cargo bicycles and other practical tools,
- which changes City tax collection to raise rents on vacant Commons properties
while lowering taxes on housing and commercial properties which have been
insulated, while providing local tax credits for solar, wind and agricultural
- which changes City building code to encourage compost toilets and solar
- which re-installs fixed
rail trolley routes linking Cornell and the Commons, looping around GreenStar
to retain student dollars locally,
- which deliberately slows
automotive traffic while making bicycle and pedestrian travel safer, and
transit use easier,
- which collect a local option penny-per-gallon tax at the pump for transit,
trollies and bike
- which decentralizes and de-bureaucratizes public education, both to teach
creative ecological citizenship, to reduce student commuting, and to reduce
the school tax burden,
- which expands local
ownership of Cornell, to spread expertise in these directions.
- This is a quick introduction to grassroots
ecological economics. It contrasts with top-down conventional business
planning, and opens an arena of infinite possibilities.
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, connecting the community to take care
of itself to the maximum extent practical. Here are some of the ways this is
- Barter Posts are storefronts which enable public to trade without cash.
- Business Incubators are
buildings containing equipment shared by small new businesses, to reduce start-up
- Buy-Local Campaigns
promote social and economic benefits of shopping for locally-produced goods,
at locally-owned stores.
- Co-Housing provides
shared community spaces for child care, gardens, cooking, recreation, to make
life friendlier and easier.
- Community Development
Corporations are citizen groups with power
of government, to initiate programs for business, housing, transit, etc.
- Community Development Credit
Unions, like Alternatives
Federal Credit Union are member-owned banks that invest most money back
to the neighborhoods from where deposits came.
Foundations make grants to local groups.
- Community Insulation Initiatives install energy-efficient equipment in
Reinvestment Agencies are local groups which make sure local banks invest
locally, without racial bias.
are relied on to measure whether the local economy is improving for all, or
merely enriching an elite.
- Eco-Industrial Parks
exemplify manufacturing of basic useful goods with recycled
materials and zero pollution.
Markets enable farmers and craftspeople to sell directly to local people.
Retention groups advocate public policy that promotes and protects local
Manufacturing Networks combine the skills and tools of several local manufacturers
to enable them jointly to get a manufacturing contract.
- Food and Fuel Co-ops
coordinate bulk buying of food, fuels, solar equipment, windmills and insulation
by neighbors, to reduce unit costs and gain policy leverage.
- Health Funds
are locally-controlled nonprofit health financing co-ops.
Co-ops remove housing from the speculative market, enabling occupants
to resell their units with specified limits to profit.
Replacement Programs connect regional businesses and individuals to supply
each other, rather than depending on imports.
Retention Initiatives are carrot-and-stick programs seeking to keep industry
from closing or moving away.
- Land Trusts
purchase local land to protect it, usually from suburbanization. They buy
housing to remove it from the profit system.
- Local Pension
Funds are locally-originated and controlled, much of whose capital is
dedicated to local investment.
- Local Currencies
are local paper money which adds to local money supply, raises minimum wage,
promotes job creation, friendly trade, local business.
- Local Tax Credits reduce local fees on organic farms, solar and wind energy,
realizing that tax reductions will be returned via high sales tax revenues.
Re-use Centers disassemble and stockpile components of discards, for resale
and re-manufacturing. New
buildings are constucted
ecologically, using non-rainforest woods.
loans at low interest, in order to help new small businesses form.
Conversions retrofit vacated military bases or weapons factories for non-military
jobs and production.
Loan Funds make money available at zero-
or low-interest for specified purposes when prior loans are repaid.
Growth is land use planning restrains sprawl and relies on regional business
rather than chains. Government
invents new rules to
facilitate this shift. Corporations are evaluated for their commitment to the environment and fair pay.
- Socially Responsible
Investing is the practice of selecting stocks and bonds according to their
environmental and/or social effects.
- Worker Ownership Networks
support conversion of business ownership to employees.
Paul Glover is founder of Citizen Planners of Los Angeles (1983). He is author
of "Where Does Ithaca's Food Come From" (1987) and "Ithaca Power"
(Ithaca's fuel supply, 1988), and holds a degree in City Management.