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Archive: Cover Stories

Grassroots Economic Development

October 2000

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 on earth.

And to do this while replenishing rather than depleting the integrity of the planet.

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 auto manufacturers, 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:

As a community, we can demand public policy which moves toward local ownership of housing stock, fuel production and distribution, and thus magnifies grassroots development possibilities.

We can do such things by enacting public policy which:

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 done:

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.

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