Archives—April 2012

Scrip times

It seems that when money gets scarce, new forms of money emerge to fill the gap. One town in Greece has developed a local currency called the TEM to help them maintain their economic systems against the tide of collapse in that country; I would expect many other towns to follow. Although scrip systems are more common in depressions, there have been other systems (such as Ithaca Hours in Ithaca, New York) that have been developed and used more to support local business than to weather economic storms. Supporting local businesses provides a “multiplier effect” for circulating local dollars: as they pass from citizens to businesses and back to citizens, each dollar does more “work” locally (if you will) than if national or multinational businesses are frequented (while the labor is local, the profits are sent elsewhere and rarely invested locally). The EPA put out a great manual over 20 years ago on this issue, and it is still relevant today.

If you had to (or wanted to) develop a local currency, what would it be called?


Walking is so pedestrian

This recent article in Slate on the amount of walking that Americans do relative to those in other countries could not have been more timely for me (and thanks to Grist.com for bringing it to my attention!). I read it while in Newport, Rhode Island at a professional meeting (the US-International Association for Landscape Ecology, of all things) and it really struck a chord.

Always the cheapskate, I found a hotel that was almost one-third of the price of the hotel where the meeting was held, and it was only about a mile away: an easily walkable distance. I like to build these sorts of walks into my day, especially when I’m at a conference that involves a lot of sitting in dark rooms for hours on end. The morning walk ensures that I am awake for the presentations, and the evening walk allows me to reflect back on what I’ve learned.

However, although the walk looked straightforward and perfectly safe on the web, it was considerably less so in reality. At least a third of it involved walking in a grassy/sandy ditch while cars sped past on a two-lane road (and I was not the only walker using this route), and the rest of the way included narrow sidewalks littered with street signs, fire hydrants, and other impediments (I suppose I should include dog poop here as well). Marked and posted pedestrian crossings across two busy county roads were few and far between.

It seemed odd to me that a tourist-based town was so difficult for pedestrians, especially given that the town was settled far before automobiles were invented (some of the old houses in the historic district dated back to the 1700’s). Most likely, the space once devoted to pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages was given over to automobiles, with not much thought given to their inherent incompatibilities. Walkability is often emphasized in conversations regarding sustainable cities, and now I have a very personal understanding of this issue.


The value of money

I found a small bit of time over the weekend to read Mark Boyle’s recent book, “The Moneyless Man: A year of freeconomic living” (2010, One World Publications). He succeeded to live for a year without spending or exchanging money; all of his needs were met through bartering, growing or building things himself, riding his bike (or occasionally hitchhiking), or using the cast-offs of others. Although he acknowledged the role that money plays in a market system (regardless of whether it is capitalist, socialist, communist, or other), he felt that money has become disassociated with this central role: to help make the trade of goods and services more efficient. Instead, money has become a end goal to itself; to accumulate as much as possible.

The book is an interesting read, and has a good deal to contribute to communities that are interested in supplying more goods and services locally, and for those looking to simplify their lives. Unfortunately some of his methods are illegal in some (or all!) parts of the US (e.g., dumpster diving, collecting wild edible plants and mushrooms on private property), but the illegality of these methods does give the reader an opportunity to wonder why these laws are necessary.

The book brought to mind the documentary “Once upon a time in Knoxville“, about a sort-of planned community within spitting distance of my old haunts in southern Knoxville during my grad school days. There, one enterprising man has built an entire neighborhood of houses out of discarded materials, and rents the houses out. Sadly, the house I rented (presumably not made from recycled things) was quite a bit worse than the houses he had put together! But perhaps I couldn’t have expected much for $200/month…..

If nothing else, Mr. Boyle provides the reader encouragement to take some time off from “the rat race” (if even for a long weekend) and contemplate what exactly is needed versus what is a want masquerading as a need. That is certainly something most people in developed countries could do on a regular basis!