Permission to Transition: Zoning and the Transition Movement
Communities are taking responsibility for their own economic futures. In response to a growing consensus that the days of cheap oil are numbered due to any combination of declining production, environmental constraints, political instability, or increasing demand, these communities are seeking to buffer themselves from economic shocks by strengthening local economic ties and reducing costs of living.
Much of their work is focused on unlocking the existing value of yards, homes, and rooftops by using them more efficiently. As part of that effort, these communities are generating efficiencies by allowing residents to share anything from cars to kitchens.
However, these innovative projects can be blocked by existing local regulations, primarily zoning.
There are signs of a new, alternative economy building around us, such as the growth of local currencies like the Totnes or Bristol Pound, community skill-sharing projects or time-banking networks, and businesses that are reinvesting their profits in ways that benefit local people.
The same is happening in many countries, with progressive groups around the world working to build a more sustainable economy from the ground up.
UK thinktank the New Economics Foundation (nef), along with a group of partners, has created an interactive online map where these initiatives can be shared to provide inspiration to others and give a clearer global picture of how a new economy is unfolding.
"Because a thing is going strong now, it need not go strong for ever,” [Margaret] said. “This craze for motion has only set in during the last hundred years. It may be followed by a civilization that won’t be a movement, because it will rest upon the earth."
— E. M. Forster, Howards End, (1910). Taken from the opening of Wendell Berry’s 2012 lecture It All Turns On Affection.
“Chain stores, of whatever variety, whether they are selling mobile phones, or whether they are selling coffee, or whether they are selling doughy torpedo-shaped sandwiches, are a way of doing business that carries with them a particular DNA for the society and the local economy which grows up around them.
Because of the way they are linked in to remote supply structures, institutional investors who are also remote and will have no knowledge of your local economy, all the demands and the pattern of business that are focused into those kinds of franchise models are fundamentally disinterested in the overall health and wellbeing and vibrancy of the local economy.”
The Rumbling of A Distant Thunder
If you go to most peak oil events, as a result, you can count on a flurry of panels and lectures pointing out the reasons why our civilization’s attempt to extract limitless resources out of a finite planet won’t work, can’t work, and isn’t working. What you won’t get is any serious discussion about what can be expected to happen on the downside of Hubbert’s curve, and how individuals, families and communities might be able to respond to that. At most, you might be lucky enough to find a late night discussion among three or four presenters and a dozen attendees at the hotel bar, sitting there with drinks in hand and talking about the uncomfortable and unfashionable realities that the event organizers have carefully excluded from the agenda.
The industrial revolution, coupled with its move towards privatisation of land and resources and its focus on capitalisation, has had effects which can be somewhat imperceptible when viewed over only a decade or so, but which become pronounced and dramatic when viewed since its inception until now. While the industrial revolution has brought not a few benefits — to some at least — it has also brought a host of significant negatives. The most obvious of these negatives, of course, is that the human race is, rather efficiently, bringing itself face to face with a potential complete meltdown of planetary biological systems, or, at least, with dangerously abrupt changes to them.
But looking deeper at the problems of environmental collapse, we should quickly discern that our crisis is less about environmental systems than it is about people systems — the invisible structures that frame and facilitate the fulfillment of our needs, our ambitions and the form, and subsequent result, of the economic activity that comes from these.
Americans’ long-term savings in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, pension funds, and life insurance funds total about $30 trillion. But not even 1 percent of these savings touch local small business—even though roughly half the jobs and the output in the private economy come from them.
So, how can people increasingly concerned with the poor returns from Wall Street and the devastating impact of global companies on their communities invest in Main Street?
In Local Dollars, Local Sense, local economy pioneer Michael Shuman shows investors, including the nearly 99% who are unaccredited, how to put their money into building local businesses and resilient regional economies—and profit in the process. As revolutionary toolbox for social change, Shuman’s book demystifies the growing realm of local investment choices—from institutional lending to investment clubs and networks, local investment funds, community ownership, direct public offerings, local stock exchanges, crowdfunding, and more.
He also guides readers through the lucrative opportunities to invest locally in their homes, energy efficiency, and themselves.
Port Townsend boasts a thriving farmers market and a local food co-op. The historic Rose theatre, which operated from 1907 to 1958, was reopened in 1992 with the help of local residents, who put up around $85,000 and became shareholders in the theatre. And new businesses are popping up all over town.
The quiet force behind many of these developments has been the Local Investing Opportunities Network, or LION, a group of residents who banded together to connect local investors with small businesses in Port Townsend and surrounding areas. The idea is to help to local enterprises flourish and keep more dollars circulating locally—money invested in and spent at local businesses tends to stay in the area, benefiting the local economy.
“That’s the way you keep profits local,” says Kees Kolff, a retired pediatrician with a neatly trimmed silver beard who’s been a LION member from the start. “We have so much profit going out of small communities to corporate headquarters—it’s pitiful.”
The Local Investing Opportunities Network (LION) of East Jefferson County, Washington, is a group of citizens who create opportunities for local businesses, individuals, and local investors to network.
LION is not a loan or investment fund, and it does not make collective investment decisions. Our membership consists of local citizens who want to invest their money locally, thereby putting their investing money to work within our community.
Keeping funds local facilitates greater economic self-sufficiency, job growth, economic development, and a dollar-multiplier effect whereby a dollar kept within the community can be spent many times over for a far greater benefit than a dollar invested away from our community.
Plugging the Leaks was created to support people in communities to take a different approach to local economic development, one that can have a greater, more sustainable impact on their local economies than traditional regeneration initiatives. Plugging the Leaks goes further than simply getting more money into the local economy through tourism, inward investment or funding. It re-generates the local economy from within, and takes advantage of the resources that a community already possesses.