Feb 24th, 2012 by terry
As we lurch forward in the throes of worldwide economic and political upheaval, the writing is on the wall: the consumer driven economy is over. R.I.P. Ultimately, this will be better for the planet and everything that breathes, but getting there is more painful than a root canal without Novocain.
Fortunately, combining the cooperative movement with the Transition Town movement offers a template that is durable, flexible and exquisitely tailored to each community’s needs. This alignment – cooperatives and Transition Towns – is ideally suited to create the economic and social structures that we need in this new frontier.
As John Restakis wrote in Humanizing the Economy:
With over 800 million members in 85 countries, the cooperative movement is by far the most durable and powerful grassroots movement in the world. Cooperatives employ more people in democratically run enterprises than all the world’s multinational companies combined. Although the forms co-ops take, and the uses to which they are put, display an astounding variety, their essential structure remains what it was when they were first organized in the mid-1800s – enterprises that are collectively owned and democratically controlled by their members for their mutual benefit. As the global economic crisis continues to take its toll, cooperatives continue to provide livelihoods and essential services in the very places where established multinationals are shedding workers and shuttering plants. In its own quiet way, the cooperative vision continues to thrive and hold the keys to the emergence of an economic model that is capable of remaking and humanizing the current capitalist system.
A few statistics gleaned from the International Cooperative Alliance’s website illustrate cooperatives’ potential:
- Co-operatives provide over 100 million jobs around the world, 20% more than multinational enterprises.
- In the United States, 4 in 10 individuals is a member of a co-operative (25%).
- In the United States, 30,000 co-operatives operate 73,000 places of business, provide over 2 million jobs, which generate $25 billion in wages and $500 billion in revenue. Together, US cooperatives own more than $3 trillion in assets. (Source: National Co-operative Business Association www.ncba.coop/ncba/about-co-ops/research-economic-impact)
Rob Hopkins, a Permaculture educator, conceived the Transition Town Movement to proactively prepare for the seismic shifts caused by peak oil, climate change and the resulting economic fallout. Totnes England was the first Transition Town and the movement has since gone viral with over 111 official initiatives in 32 states in the US; 415 initiatives in 34 countries throughout the world and 13 languages.
Where to start? Our economy is in such a deep ditch that starting with Maslow’s Higher Order of Needs is appropriate but this paper is limited to shelter and food.
Consider these chilling statistics: Realtytrac reports 1,349,486 homes in foreclosure nationwide. Interest rates are at an historic low and the Federal Reserve anticipates that they will remain near zero through late 2014.
Economic analysts widely predict that our economy won’t recover until our frozen housing market thaws. It is richly ironic that, even with a glut of housing inventory and interest rates near zero, neither the banks, nor the fraudulent Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, nor HUD can connect the dots. They must not have the imagination to figure out how to put people to work repairing homes that are sitting vacant, and to devise a plan for people who have been defrauded and have lost their homes, their life savings and pensions, to live in decent homes. Cooperatively, we can and we must create the housing that we need. I don’t believe for a moment that there is no money for this, but it is obviously in the wrong pockets.
Umbrella cooperatives of single family homes and small flats
Organizing single family homes and flats (2 to 6-flats) under a cooperative umbrella could be the equivalent of grand slam. Co-op technicians who have legal expertise and access to resources to acquire multiple properties could negotiate with banks to bundle properties by neighborhood for purchase.
The umbrella co-op could also provide the member households with access to resources such as home maintenance and repair, bulk purchasing and an array of talent. Providing social services, such as social workers or organization development professionals would lay the foundation for harmonious household formation.
Ongoing training would go a long way to ensure that resentments don’t fester and that households stay on the right track and thrive and could be a requirement for eligibility.
Some people may find a modern housing dormitory appealing. Each person would have their own room, and the common areas would be comfortable, attractive and appealing. Each dorm would have its own culture. Responsibilities could be shared, rotated or limited. The advantage of a social environment, while reserving the privacy of your own quarters, could be great.
The design would have a huge impact on the nature and atmosphere of the building and, for probably not much more money than building it cheaply to warehouse people, it could be designed to house them well with ample space, light and air and furnishings that soothe rather than jangle.
Repurpose big box stores
Big box stores that blight many neighborhoods could be repurposed into little villages that are highly functional and create neighborly interaction. The center could be cut out for air, light and landscaping and even a vegetable garden. The utilities – electric, plumbing, water, and gas are already in place. These buildings could be adapted for apartments, stores, schools, health clinics, day care centers for both children and seniors.
The Transition Town movement is committed to reclaiming our food from the industrial agricultural complex and promotes everything to ensure a healthful and sustainable food supply, including Permaculture, organic and urban gardening, food preserving, and foraging.
Cooperative support for local and organic food would help tremendously. Walking past empty lots with weeds growing through concrete, while people are hungry and some think McDonald’s is “food” shows how out of sync we are as a society. If property owners could get a tax break, a liability waiver, and a promise to vacate if a property is sold, urban gardening with raised beds and composted soil would be an infinitely more productive use of an empty lot.
How much land fill space is filled with food and yard waste that could have become nutrient rich soil? My highly uneducated guess is that a mere ten percent of compostable material is returned to the earth while our soils continue to become leached of nutrients.
So steeped in our consumer culture, we cannot even imagine any organizing economic principle other than consuming, although we desperately need one. Try this one on for size: How can you contribute to the wellbeing of your community – whether you get paid for it or not?
Neither movement – not cooperatives nor Transition Towns – has leaders to summon to a meeting and emerge with a board of directors, a budget, an army and lieutenants to carry out their bidding. Because that structure does not exist, the solutions must emerge from the ground up. It is beyond obvious that bold new solutions won’t be coming from Washington or Wall Street any time soon. Their hay day is over. It is up to us to create the communities in which we want to live. This is a call for every person no matter how old or how young to join the effort to create the communities in which we want to live. This movement requires every skill and shoulder to the wheel. We must make this happen and together we can.