Why Vancouver’s inner-city crystalizes the green paradigm shift

It’s often these days that we find the word problem replaced by the words challenge or opportunity. Sometimes this is appropriate and useful, but Van Jones in his book The Green Collar Economy, clearly demonstrates why the word problem should not be dropped from our lexicon. His book seems to be increasingly more relevant to Vancouver’s inner-city.

The increasing divide between rich and poor is more than a challenge or opportunity, it is a problem. Perhaps for those on the more comfortable side of the equation it’s a challenge or opportunity, but for the growing bottom percentage? Access to clean potable water in developing nations is more than a challenge, and for those struggling to find it it’s a problem far more than an opportunity. The myriad environmental, social and economic disruptions we’ve created from years of exponential production and consumption are more than just an opportunity or challenge, collectively they have become a problem of global scale.

The reason why it’s important to acknowledge that there are problems is because it creates the urgency to recognize problem solvers. Without problems how can we even have problem solvers? Challenges and opportunities are indicative of competitive language, the kind born out of free market ideologies. They denote opportunism, and that’s fine. We need opportunists to capitalize on the wealth of opportunities in the fast emerging green economy, but to Jones it goes deeper than this.  In the Green Collar Economy the challenges and opportunities that will help to create equitable wealth come from solving these environmental and social problems. It’s more than opportunities within an emerging economy, it’s about the health of human society and the living planet we depend on. Because of this, the people who are most in need of problem solving  naturally become crucial problem solvers themselves:

“We cannot afford that kind of moral shortfall. To solve our global problems, we need to engage and unleash the genius of all people, at all levels of society. Some of the minds that can solve our toughest problems are undoubtedly trapped behind prison bars, stuck behind desks in schools without decent books, or isolated in rural communities. A green economy that is designed to pull them in—as skilled laborers, innovators, inventors, and owners—will be more dynamic, more robust, and better able to save the Earth.”

Van’s book and his theories on job creation and environmentalism ring particularly true right here in Vancouver, which is simultaneously facing the challenges of rejuvenating the ‘poorest postal code in Canada‘ and  becoming the greenest city in the world.

One of the crucial points Van makes is that this Green economy should not just be embodied by the health conscientious crowd who drive hybrids, eat organic specialty foods or buy fair trade coffee.  It’s a paradigm shift where members of society at all levels have an important role to play as laborers, planners, community leaders, investors and innovators. This perceived eco-elitism can be replaced with what he terms eco-populism, whereby those who would otherwise view being green as expensive and detached from their lives can find green options more accessible. I would say the same for those who view the green economy predominantly as emerging technologies, renewable energy and other higher-order activities. This is also part of it yes, but let’s not let the large venture capital numbers eclipse the large transformative power of communities in action.

Environmentalism here in Vancouver has demonstrated elitism as it has everywhere. Looking at it as technologies and capital investment is only a fraction of this paradigm shift. Focusing on eco-chic products, organic free range specialty foods, and other consumer goods is also only a fraction, and some argue it is the more shallow fraction at that. A rethink of how we interact within and create society, including a fundamental rethink of the shapes, sizes and flow of cities is another fraction. The deconstruction and reconstruction of urban space, repurposing of materials, waste diversion, on-site energy creation, increasing of urban agriculture and a complete re-adjustment from the old industrial paradigm to a far more equitable and community-centric paradigm will take more than Soy Lattes and Hybrid cars, no slight to either. And it will take more than investment in higher order R&D as important as this is. This change is already happening here in Vancouver, along with groundbreaking technological R&D and delicious organic fair trade Lattes we’ve become renowned for.

Referring back to the list of recipients from BOB’s Consultant Fees Program we can see Jones’ paradigm shift taking form here in Vancouver’s inner-city. Two visions, one of a rejuvenated inner-city that historically has struggled with many social and environmental challenges, and one of Vancouver becoming the Greenest city in the world seem to be coalescing; where an experience of community economic development in which grassroots innovation and sweat equity are translating into problem solving is unfolding. This kind of problem solving creates opportunities and builds community capacity through and for an increasingly engaged population. If we can continue to do this here and continue to do this collectively, in other cities and towns around the planet, then we’ve created the global shift that Jones envisions. Like that old saying, “death by a thousand cuts”, the old paradigm is cast away from our disparate but collective movement. But how can we recognize and actualize a movement that is inclusive and simultaneously comprehensive? Societal relationships are complex and tense; particularly the relationships between those with seemingly little power and those with seemingly unimaginable power. Jones proposes that we recognize collective ideals that are clear and simple, yet able to bridge the complexities between diverse stakeholders, and appeal broadly.

Movements need principles. History teaches us that it is impossible to guide a complex series of deep changes without grounding efforts in unchanging ideals. Strategies can be complex, but goals and ideas should be clear. Bearing this in mind Jones puts forth 3 principles:

1. Equal Protection for All.

2. Equal Opportunity for All.

3. Reverence for All Creation.

These principles can appeal to free market enthusiasts eager for opportunistic reward, to problem solvers in inner-cities or rural areas, and to those who feel strong about either the social aspects of environmentalism or the ecological.

The challenges we face moving forward will require bottom-up as well as top-down solutions. The middle ground in this continuum is where the policy makers mix with the problem solvers and where the innovators mix with the investors. Here in Vancouver the inner-city/DTES is one of those places, and I hope that these principles will continue to become the pillars that support that middle ground here and elsewhere.

I recommend Van Jones’ Green Collar Economy to anyone interested in Vancouver’s development on the whole, and in its inner-city in particular.


Great urban gardening and sustainability workshops July 11th

This post originally appeared in the Building Opportunities with Business Blog.

Strathcona proves once again that it’s fast becoming one of the funnest and most forward thinking parts of the city! I read the newsletter from Strathcona & Cottonwoods Gardens regarding their upcoming open house on July 11th and I figured it was so good that I’d just paste it in full into the BOB blog. Please pass the word on about these great open house events!

Magical Gardens in the midst of the city: Sunday July 11th from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm

From 10:00 am to 2:00 pm on July 11th you can visit eight magical acres, sway to live music with Tambai Marimba, learn from free gardening & sustainability workshops, see one of Vancouver’s oldest off-grid solar houses, eat scrumptious goodies, sample local garden honey, snatch wonderful plants at bargain prices, & celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Vancouver’s first community garden and the opening of Cottonwood’s new garden (the first community garden fully accessible for seniors and people with disabilities!)  Everyone is welcome!

Strathcona & Cottonwood Gardens Annual Open House takes place at

Prior/Hawks * Raymur/Malkin

For more info call (604) 608-0384 or (604) 253-3384 or visit their sites:


www.strathconagardens.ca or www.cottonwoodcommunitygardens.ca

Open House Events

Live Music!  Tambai Marimba!  Fiddlers!

Sway to the music of awesome fiddlers or dance your socks off with Tambai Marimba, Vancouver’s great youth Marimba Band. Tambai Marimba: Cottonwood Garden, 10:30am to 1:30pm.  Fiddlers: Strathcona Garden, 11am to 2pm.

Free Gardening & Sustainability Workshops

How to Keep Chickens in Your Backyard for Complete Beginners/Southland Farms: Sunday, July 11, 10:30am

Thinking about having your own chickens and fresh eggs?  Jordan Maynard, Manager of Southlands Heritage Farm, will help you understand the basics of keeping chickens in your backyard.  You’ll leave this workshop with the confidence to buy, care for, and enjoy your own backyard hens.  Workshop organized by Village Vancouver.

Permaculture/Vancouver Permaculture Meet-up Group: Sunday, July 11, 10:30am

Permaculture is an important way of letting the earth take care of itself.  Learn basic permaculture techniques from the Vancouver Permaculture Meet-up Group.  Workshop organized by Village Vancouver.

Winter Gardening/Grants Gourmet Gardens: Sunday, July 11, 1pm

Want to have fresh vegetables from your own garden year round?  Certified organic farmer & edible landscaper, Grant Watson, will teach you the basics of what/when to plant, so you can harvest from your garden in the coldest season.  Workshop organized by Village Vancouver.

Corsage Making: Sunday, July 11, 12-2

Learn how to make corsages from flowers and leaves picked that morning at Cottonwood. You can have a corsage custom-made for you, make your own, or choose one that has been made.

Compost Making/City Farmer: Sunday, July 11, 10:30am-2pm

Learn how to make compost from City Farmer’s Compost Hotline Staff.

Birdhouse Making for Kids: Sunday, July 11

This hands-on workshop teaches kids how to make their own birdhouse.  Each participant will be able to make and keep a wooden birdhouse they have made.

Bee-keeping demonstration: Sunday, July 11, 10-2

Bee-keepers from each garden will demonstrate basic bee-keeping techniques and teach people about bees and their needs.

Solar Eco-House Demo: Sunday, July 11, 10:30am – 2pm, Strathcona Community Garden

See Strathcona’s wonderful solar house.  This garden house generates its own power with solar panels, re-uses all its water with a grey-water recovery system, was built with recycled materials, and has a licensed composting toilet.  Built over 20 years ago by teenage women learning carpentry skills, this is one of Vancouver’s oldest off-the-grid houses.

Magical Oasis in the Midst of the City: Garden Tours

Please join us for tours of Vancouver’s oldest community gardens, as we celebrate 25 years of community building, local food production and sustainability.  Recipient of a City of Vancouver Heritage Award, Strathcona and Cottonwood Community Gardens feature eight magical acres with 350 individual garden plots; countless varieties of native and exotic perennials; one of the largest collections of heirloom apple trees in BC; thriving honeybees; a solar house that generates its own power, recycles water, and has a licensed composting toilet; beautiful water gardens, terraced gardens, oval gardens, fragrant gardens, reflecting ponds; an Asian garden, native garden, permaculture garden, wetlands; cherry, apple, plum, mulberry, fig, pear, persimmon & Asian pear trees; blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, currants, Saskatoon berries, gooseberries, grapes & kiwis; eight types of bamboo; nut trees; and many ornamental trees and shrubs.  There are two solar greenhouses; toolsheds; extensive composting; and many species of birds, butterflies and hummingbirds.  A pair of bald eagles nests overhead. Garden Tours: 10:30am to 1:30pm, at Strathcona and Cottonwood Gardens

Cutting Edge Sustainability: Solar House

Strathcona’s Eco-house is a model of sustainable building.  This garden house generates its own power with solar panels, re-uses all its water with a grey-water recovery system, was built with recycled materials, and has a licensed composting toilet.  Built over 20 years ago by teenage women learning carpentry skills, this is one of Vancouver’s oldest off-the-grid houses. Learn how the eco-house was built, principles of grey water recovery, solar power: 10am to 2pm, Strathcona Garden.

Wonderful Plant Sale!  Bargain Prices!  Great Plants!

Strathcona & Cottonwood’s Annual Plant Sale features an incredible variety of plants at bargain prices including perennials, vegetables, heirloom fruit trees & berry bushes, bamboo, flowers, shrubs, native plants, shade lovers, sun lovers & more!  All of the plants are grown by our gardeners or donated by local nurseries.  Prices are awesome and the range is impressive.  Over 600 plants at bargain prices.

Plant sale starts at 10am, Sunday, July 11, at Strathcona Community Garden (corner of Prior & Hawks).

Opening of New Garden Fully Accessible for Seniors and People with Disabilities: 11:30am

Join us as we celebrate the opening of this new ¾ acre inclusive garden that is designed to enable everyone, regardless of age or physical ability, to garden.  Based on the principles of universal design, the garden features raised beds that are high enough for seniors and people with disabilities to garden from a seated position; pathways 3-4’ wide and surfaced with a firm surface appropriate for persons with walkers, canes, strollers and wheelchairs; water taps at a convenient height for people who have difficulty bending and close to raised beds so that carrying a hose will not be needed; a tool shed with easy access and reachable tools; meeting spaces with wide-enough, smooth surfaces.

Official Opening of New Accessible Garden: 11:30am.  This new part of Cottonwood is along Raymur, at the corner of Raymur & William, across from the Food Bank, on the east side of Strathcona Park.

Honey!  Local Bees!

Honey sales from our own bees, who thrive on the diversity of flowering plants in our gardens.  The honey is fresh, local, and delicious.  Come early!  The honey usually sells quickly.  Honey Sales: 10am at Strathcona Garden and at Cottonwood Garden.

Silent Auction
If you haven’t been to our Silent Auction before, you’re in for a visual treat.  Beautiful hanging baskets with fuchsias in full bloom, heritage apple trees, and a stunning Passion Flower vine, to name but a few of the entries we’ve had — all generous donations from local nurseries and gardeners.  Come and check it out and maybe you’ll go home with a spectacular plant to highlight your garden or patio.  Sunday, July 11, Strathcona Garden, 10am to 1pm.

Native Plant Tour
Come to the Native Garden at Cottonwood and we’ll show you which BC native plants you can grow to replace some of the invasive plants that have come into BC.  Sunday, July 11, 10-2.


Strathcona Garden & Cottonwood Garden are sister gardens located next to each other in and next to Strathcona Park., on the east side of Vancouver, on Prior Street, between Main & Clark.

Strathcona Garden is located just west of Strathcona Park, on Prior & Hawks.

Cottonwood Garden is located along the south side of Strathcona Park, on Malkin, between Raymur & Hawks.

The new accessible garden expansion is on Raymur, opposite the Food Bank (1150 Raymur).

The two gardens host the Open House together

More Information about Strathcona & Cottonwood Gardens

Strathcona & Cottonwood Community Gardens are the oldest community gardens in Vancouver, and are an awesome story of what people in the community can do to transform the urban landscape.  These beautiful eight acre gardens were built on dump sites — a massive community effort transformed the land into a magical oasis & self-help organic food centre in the midst of the city.  Hundreds of volunteers composted new soil, laid water pipes, built a recycled off-grid solar house with grey water recovery & a composting toilet, designed & built over 300 garden plots, built 3 solar greenhouses, and planted an amazing collection of native trees & bushes, heirloom fruit trees, berry bushes, perennials, etc.  There are terraced gardens, oval gardens, fragrant gardens, water gardens, a permaculture garden designed/maintained by young people, a native garden, Asian garden, the largest collection of heirloom apple trees in BC, wetlands, honey bees, and many species of birds, butterflies and hummingbirds.  A pair of bald eagles nests overhead.

The July 11 Open House will be very special as Strathcona celebrates 25 years of community building, local food production and sustainability, and Cottonwood opens a new accessible garden expansion, which will be fully accessible for seniors and people with disabilities.

Strathcona’s 25th anniversary is a watershed for community gardens throughout the city.  When people started Strathcona, the concept of community gardens in Vancouver did not exist and there was a lot of resistance to the idea.  It took a lot of hard work and struggle to get the gardens to happen and to eventually have gardens all over the city.

Community gardens all over the city did not spring out from nowhere, but from the work and support of many people.  Community gardens are now not only accepted, but the City and the Park Board have had to develop policy around it because of the great demand for community gardens throughout the city. We can all be proud of contributing to that.

Cottonwood’s new accessible expansion is the first truly integrated accessible community garden in Vancouver, which will enable seniors and people with disabilities to participate in community gardening and will make a real difference to many people.  Based on the principles of universal design, the garden features accessible raised beds that are high enough for seniors and people with disabilities to garden from a seated position; pathways 3-4’ wide and surfaced with a firm surface appropriate for persons with walkers, canes, strollers and wheelchairs; water taps high enough for access & close to plots so that carrying a hose will not be needed; a tool shed with easy access and reachable tools; meeting spaces with wide-enough, smooth surfaces.

There are hundreds of community gardens in Vancouver, but seniors and people with disabilities are often not able to garden in them simply because they are not properly designed and have barriers.  Paths between plots are too narrow for wheelchairs to pass, beds are in the ground or too low or wide for people with disabilities to reach, water taps are too low, path surfaces are too bumpy or sloped, tool sheds cannot be entered etc.  Seniors face similar issues bending to the ground, to taps, carrying heavy hoses, etc.  Even in existing gardens where there are raised beds, the paths are often covered with inaccessible surfaces like bark mulch or gravel, so seniors and people with disabilities are segregated from the rest of the gardeners.

This special new garden is designed to change that and will enable everyone, regardless of age or physical ability, to garden and be part of all garden activities.  It will thus make a significant difference to many people.

For more information about the marvellous July 11 Open House

Please call (604) 608-0384 or (604) 253-3384

or email info@cottonwoodcommunitygardens.ca

or visit www.strathconagardens.ca or www.cottonwoodcommunitygardens.ca

Top 5 Green Urban Initiatives

Man oh man, I told myself I wouldn’t leave the office today without posting to the Greening the Inner-City Blog but it has been busy at BOB! So without further delay I will recount some awesome green initiatives in five North-American cities that I think should inspire anyone this Earth Day. And because people love searching for top tens and top fives and bests and worsts on the internet I’ll even present them as the top 5, as the title clearly states (though there are many other fascinating and awesome programs in several other cities too that could easily make the list). And because I’m in a massive hurry to get home I’m going to copy and paste a lot of the wording right from their own websites, thanks!

5) Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx) (Bronx, New York) is a community organization    dedicated to Environmental Justice solutions through innovative, economically sustainable projects that are informed by community needs. One of the many awesome programs bridging sustainable community economic development, urban renewal and workforce development is the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training Academy (BEST) which trains residents in bioremediation, wetland restoration, horticulture, water and soil quality testing and numerous other green job skills. The BEST Academy links environmental clean-up and restoration in the community to the career development and economic needs of local people.

4) Chicago Climate Action Plan. (Chicago) Chicago Mayor Richard Daley got inspired on a trip to Germany a few years back, which is hard not to do if you find sustainability and green technology particularly exciting. After coming home he decided to one up those Germans by making Chicago a global leader in environmentally sustainable urban planning. The CCAP includes best practices for ensuring Chicago is full of:

Other initiatives are also being developed such as a global building energy monitoring system which would enable the City to control the temperature at more than 500 city-owned facilities, reducing energy costs by as much as 30-40 percent, and a green collar workforce development program aimed at empowering Chicagoans with the skill sets needed for building retrofits, renewable energy and other green economic activities.

3) Growing Power. (Milwaukee/Chicago)                                                             Will Allen, CEO of growing power, has helped to raise the profile of urban agriculture to great heights and his work has inspired cities around North America (including Vancouver) to join the urban farming revolution. Growing Power transforms communities by supporting people from diverse backgrounds and the environments in which they live through the development of Community Food Systems.  His urban farming initiatives, which recently won him a MacArthur Genius Grant, have spread innovative approaches to urban agriculture, aquaculture and even beekeeping, from Milwaukee to Chicago. Empower communities and increasing food security.

2) The Portland Metro EcoDistricts Initiative (Portland Oregon)

Integrating Environmental Performance and District Scale Development and spearheaded by the Portland Sustainability Institute, the EcoDistricts Initative is a large-scale and diverse public private partnership currently underway which includes the City of Portland, Portland Development Commission, Metro, Portland State University and Oregon University System, Oregon BEST, Real estate, design, and construction industry leaders and leading urban environmental organizations who have collaborated on a framework for the development of 5 pilot projects throughout the city.

The objective of the program is to test, accelerate and eventually codify the next generation of best practices in green development and civic infrastructure that can be scaled to create neighborhoods with the lowest environmental impact and highest economic and social resiliency in the United States.

EcoDISTRICTS is a strategy to build “triple bottom line” neighborhoods with the lowest possible environmental impact and highest long‐term economic and community returns.

So basically, just when you thought Portland couldn’t get any more awesome they go and put this thing together.

1) Greenest City Action Team and Vancouver 2020 a Bright Green Future (Vancouver BC).

Surprised? Well I can say with confidence that I don’t give top placement to our Mayor’s vision and the team behind it simply out of hometown pride. The objective is clear, to be the world’s leader in sustainability and the healthiest, cleantech-savvy, robust, gorgeous, green economy powerhouse on the planet. Hard not to give top placement to an initiative like that!  Here are some of the hard targets from the GCAT recommendations and Bright Green Future 10 year plan.

Secure Vancouver’s international reputation as a mecca of green enterprise

2020 Target: Create 20,000 new green jobs

Eliminate Vancouver’s dependence on fossil fuels

2020 Target: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions 33 per cent from 2007 levels

Lead the world in green building design and construction

2020 Targets: All new construction carbon neutral; improve efficiency of existing buildings by 20 per cent

Make walking, cycling, and public transit preferred transportation options

2020 Target: Make the majority of trips (over 50 per cent) on foot, bicycle, and public transit

Create zero waste

2020 Target: Reduce solid waste per capita going to landfill or incinerator by 40 per cent

Provide incomparable access to green spaces, including the world’s most spectacular urban forest

2020 Targets: Every person lives within a five-minute walk of a park, beach, greenway, or other natural space; plant 150,000 additional trees in the city

Achieve a one-planet ecological footprint

2020 Target: Reduce per capita ecological footprint by 33 per cent

Enjoy the best drinking water of any major city in the world

2020 Target: Always meet or beat the strongest of B.C., Canada, and World Health Organization drinking water standards; reduce per capita water consumption by 33 per cent

Breathe the cleanest air of any major city in the world

2020 Target: Always meet or beat World Health Organization air quality guidelines, which are stronger than Canadian guidelines

Become a global leader in urban food systems

2020 Targets: Reduce the carbon footprint of our food by 33 per cent

So happy earth day everyone! There’s lots to be excited about, now get involved in the greening of your inner-city and surrouding urban spaces.

Sustainable Competitive Advantage

There is a good post over at Max Gladwell on the importance of ongoing sustainability and CSR dialogue. Shouldn’t sustainability be one of the very few sustainable competitive advantages?

More news on greening the inner-city to come later today, but if you want to help show up at the SOLEfood Urban Farm this Sunday rain or shine.

BOB wins BC Commuter Challenge

That’s right, Building Opportunities with Business (BOB), has triumphed over all other organizations in the province of twenty-five or less employees to win the 2009 BC Commuter Challenge. BOB staff is committed to social and ecological sustainability and winning our class of the commuter challenge is further proof of this. BOB encourages all organizations in Vancouver’s inner-city to register next year and try to take our title away.

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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