Remember Sustainability 2.0

Saul Brown does. He also knew that some of the footage we recorded made it on to YouTube.  I hope someday more of the footage makes it online in some form.  Strathcona BIA is working on their next conference which they’ve dubbed Sustainability 2.010! I’m less involved this time personally, but with Will Allen coming to Vancouver and Majora Carter having already been here twice.  Resilient Cities: Vancouver, greening the inner-city, Green Capital, GCAT, Vancouver is definitely one of the North American leaders in sustainability, social purchasing, urban agriculture, urban architecture.  You know good stuff.

Social Purchasing Works

At least Saul Brown seems to think so. Saul and his company are members of our Green Inner-city Cluster and have helped us on SOLEfood and the Sustainability 2.0 Expo among many projects. His company provides sustainable and socially responsible corporate gifts and operates out of a green building in Strathcona.

Building Opportunities with Business maintains an online directory of inner-city businesses with particular emphasis on those that are sustainable and socially responsible. Many large organizations such as Business Objects and SFU use it to buy their catering, recycling, or cleaning services. Next time your business or organization needs to hire someone for a job, if you’d like to hire someone who is progressive and working towards improving Vancouver’s historic inner-city, check our online business directory first.

If you operate a business in Vancouver’s historic inner-city and wish to be included in the directory, you can register online. We’re making a few changes and additions to our website which will be finished soon according to our web developers.

SOLEfood garden raising a success

Over 50 volunteers and at times nearly as many media people descended on Hastings and Hawks in the DTES for the official garden raising of SOLEfood. We built twenty-four 12ft by 4ft garden boxes and numerous composting containers made of recycled shipping material. Also assembled was a small shed as well as the beginning of the general clean up of the sight which included fridges, wood, slate, metal, and other miscellaneous garbage.

Lots still needs to be done. SOLEfood was always intended to provide training and employment for inner-city residents. However it is a long way from being a functioning farm. We need to:

  • Finish building garden boxes
  • Line all garden boxes
  • Fill boxes with drainage rock and soil
  • Remove urban debris
  • Relocate and secure garden shed
  • General clean up and securing of site

All that work needs to be completed before we can begin planting and growing food on East Hastings. There is lots of good news such as a local chef wanting to buy our vegetables and a farmer in the valley willing to provide us with starter plants.

The garden raising received a lot of media coverage, including two BOB staff members making the front page of the Vancouver Sun. Here is a list of stories I collected:

We took some pictures and put them on Flickr. We might put a few on Facebook too.

It takes a community to raise a garden

On October 31st at 10:00 AM, volunteers are gathering at 700 East Hastings and Hawks Avenue in Strathcona to create the raised bed garden boxes necessary to convert five empty asphalt covered lots into an urban garden that will provide food, employment, and training opportunities for inner-city residents.

If you are interested in contributing to the greening of Vancouver’s inner-city we need volunteers and tools and materials, contact Seann Dory of United We Can for the latest list of what we need. Part of this project involves a mural which will include permanent recognition of the groups that made SOLEfood a reality.

700 East Hastings

This garden raising represents the culmination of months of work by a dedicated subset of the Green Inner-city Cluster. The property belongs to the owner of the Astoria Hotel who is letting us convert it to a garden in exchange for paying the taxes for the next couple years. We need to begin the conversion this month in order to be eligible for lower taxes.

Artist Rendering

Artist Rendering

Save Our Living Environment is a sister organization to United We Can which was selected to be the lead organization for our first grant application. From there we got the name SOLEfood for our first urban agriculture project. Today’s coverage in the Metro and on Projects In Place’s blog neglected to mention the financial and organizational support of a number of key partners:

Come out and help us make Vancouver the Greenest City in the World, starting with Hawks and Hastings.

Gardens on Hastings Street

I made a point of walking down East Hastings Street today and getting some photos of the various community gardens.  Even though we’ve entered September there are still a lot of blossoms blooming in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Building Opportunities with Business and the Green Inner-city Cluster are working hard to bring agriculture back to Strathcona.

Community Garden

Hastings Community Garden

DTES Neighborhood House

Community Garden

Another Garden on Hastings

Is there a community currency in the downtown eastside’s future?

What is money?  Simply something that we’ve all agreed upon a shared value for.  As long as a community of people can agree upon a value of something as a medium of exchange, it really doesn’t matter what that unit of exchange is.

a complementary currency from calgary

a complementary currency from calgary

One of the opportunities presented by the current economic conditions is that we have time to explore some ideas that haven’t received enough attention and discussion.  Daring ideas that build upon what we’ve learned, in an attempt to improve what we have and want.  We can no longer afford to be limited by what has come before us.

The idea of a local, complementary currency is not a new one.  However, there are several conditions and opportunities that have emerged, making it a good time to revisit the possibilities as they might apply here and now in the downtown eastside (DTES).

I think the idea of a community currency in the DTES holds a lot of potential for local economic development, tourism, sustainability, marketing and creating employment.  The BOB board is currently exploring the idea as a tool for revitalizing the local economy and greening the inner city, and has also recieved some early support by companies such as Edible Planet, Saul Good Gifts and Eclipse Awards.

There has been some early interest from the community as well, and if we can attract an established financial institution like Vancity, it’s possible that we might be able to make this happen.

For some quick background, here are some articles on community currencies for reference:  “Local Currencies: Communities Printing Own Money To Keep Cash Flowing http://tr.im/imy9” and http://www.saltspringdollars.com/ a successful local model from Saltspring Island.

Wikipedia explains local currency:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_currency

The idea of a community currency presents some interesting opportunities for the DTES.  A complementary currency is meant to be used instead of, or in addition to normal currency.  It’s based on the idea of focusing and retaining economic activity within a certain geographical area so that “economic leakage” does not occur.   For example, if $1million was injected into DTES companies through various programs, yet the staff of all those companies live in Burnaby and spend their money there, how does that initial injection help the DTES economy?  It doesn’t, as that economic activity has essentially “leaked out” of the community.

So by developing a local currency, we know that those funds will be used and circulated within the community/economy that its intended for.  In this case, we would focus on the DTES economy, with perhaps interchangeable bills for Strathcona, Chinatown and Gastown.

The concept is fairly simple and based on the Saltspring Dollars model.  Say for example, we secured a seed investment of a $1 million – this would be stored in trust at a financial institution like Vancity.  An organization like BOB would then oversee the printing of $1 million in community currency that would then either be sold or distributed throughout the DTES – these bills would have a one or two year expiry date, but they could be converted back to cash for face value any time before that.  The bills could feature local artists and should be made to look beautiful so that they are collectors’ items as well – a different design for Strathcona, Chinatown and Gastown could have tremendous marketing and branding opportunities.  Only stores and restaurants within the DTES would accept this currency, at a percentage level they are comfortable with – and they would do so because they know they know the money is backed by real dollars, and that it’s also part of a campaign to increase business activity and tourism.

how currency circulates

how currency circulates

Part of the opportunity comes in people and tourists from outside of the DTES hearing about this special money and wanting to come to the area to get some or see how it works.  They would buy DTES dollars either at par or at a slight premium, perhaps through Tourism BC or similar organizations  They would then spend those dollars within the DTES because they can’t be used elsewhere.

Think of the interest that could be generated amongst 2010 visitors who hear about this currency, or are drawn to see what the DTES $3 bill looks like.  Many of these visitors will come to the DTES out of curiosity, spend money here, and also take some of the bills home as souvenirs.  The more desirable the bills, the more that will be taken and not spent.  Then, when the currency is about to expire, businesses that have DTES dollars on hand can convert them back to cash.  However, all the money that has been removed from the system will still be on hand and “unclaimed” at the institution.  So for example, if $400k is removed from the system as souvenirs or keepsakes, that amount of cash will remain unclaimed at Vancity and can then be used to fund community improvements, local infrastructure, or more economic development.  Ideally, the community will decide beforehand what these funds are to be used for.  This is one way that all businesses can participate in the influx of people from the Olympics.

Other advantages of a DTES community currency might include:

  • Strong community building element, differentiating our communities from others, yet also drawing Strathcona, Gastown and Chinatown together.  Builds on the independent mentality that is prevalent in the DTES.
  • Attracting Olympic tourists and other Vancouverites to the area to collect and spend this unique currency.  Imagine three dollar bills.
  • Showcasing local artists and history or neighbourhoods through the artwork on the bills.  Chinatown, Gassy Jack, Cherry Blossoms etc.
  • Encouraging sustainability by supporting economic development within and between local businesses
  • Generating “legacy funds” that could be used to enable community projects or infrastructure…community gardens, public washrooms, etc.
  • Eliminating some black market transactions as this currency would be used for legitimate transactions
  • It might allow people on welfare or work support programs to “earn” more than they would typically be allowed to, if they were paid in part with these funds as well.  Help create new employment opportunities
  • If led and administered by BOB, it would help secure its position as a progressive organization on the cutting edge of economic development
  • help attract new funding because donors would know that any funds they injected in this manner, would actually stay and circulate within the community it was intended to

The concept is fairly simple, yet not without obvious challenges in terms of launching and administration.  Humans are creative though, and these are challenges would not be insurmountable.

This post is simply meant for discussion and as a possible different approach to local economic development, marketing, tourism, community building and sustainability.

Can a community currency help with some of the challenges faced by the downtown eastside?  None of our traditional methods seemed to have worked so far, so why not be more creative in our approach in developing sustainable communities?  What do you think?

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