Schumacher Center: Economics, What’s Esthetics Got to Do With It?

Jane Jacobs

This article was originally published by the Schumacher Center for a New Economics.

In her 1984 book Cities and the Wealth of Nations, the remarkable Jane Jacobs writes not about economics, but about economic life. She observes economies in motion, not in stasis, and argues that city regions are the heart of that economic life – pulsing, changing, and engaging in “exuberant episodes of import-replacing.”

She worries that the policies of nation states hold back the individualized development and diversification of cities, leading to stagnation and deterioration. She seeks examples of how cities can counter this generalized tendency to decay under the monoculture of a national economy. She finds hope in the cultivation of differentiated form and style. That is to say, she finds it in esthetics.

In the final chapter of Cities and the Wealth of Nations, titled “Drift,” she references a Japanese anthropologist, Tadao Umesao, who “observes that historically the Japanese have always done better when they drifted in an empirical, practical fashion than when they attempted to operate by ‘resolute purpose’ and ‘determined will.'”

Umesao coins the phrase “an esthetics of drift” to describe this characteristic. Jane Jacobs adapts this concept to describe what is required of cities to remain open to the place-based innovation that will foster creative and appropriate new small businesses.

“In its very nature, successful economic development has to be open-ended rather than goal-oriented, and has to make itself up expediently and empirically as it goes along.”

“‘Industrial strategies’ to meet ‘targets’ using ‘resolute purpose,’ ‘long-range planning’ and ‘determined will’ express a military kind of thinking. Behind that thinking lies a conscious or unconscious assumption that economic life can be conquered, mobilized, bullied, as indeed it can be when it is directed toward warfare, but not when it directs itself to development and expansion.”

“All big things grow from little things, but new little things are destroyed by their environments unless they are cherished for reasons more like esthetic appreciation than practical utility.”

Wendell Berry made much the same argument in his historic 2012 Jefferson Memorial Lecture, but he would use the word “affection.” It is lack of affection for community, for place, for people, for land that has wrought such an ugly economy and degraded the countryside and the lives of country people.

Judy Wicks would call it “Love.” (See video below.) Her love for her Philadelphia neighborhood, for her customers and staff, for goats and pigs and chickens, led her to grow the particular business that was the White Dog Cafe, and to shape its particular relations with the farmers who raised the greens and pork served at the restaurant. There will be no chain of White Dog Cafes. There cannot be. It grew from a specific aesthetic, a cultivated affection, and the boundless love of a single woman. But it inspired replication – suggested a form and style – and led to a bubbling up of other “new little” enterprises in the city – a step towards turning Philadelphia into the vibrant, diverse, job generating, import-replacing city Jane Jacobs would wish.

This Valentine’s Day, the staff of the Schumacher Center sends its love to all those entrepreneurs and their citizen partners who have cultivated an “esthetics of drift” in their business approach, cherishing their place-inspired creations, and encouraging multiple episodes of lively imitation.

After Years Without a Grocery Store, Greensboro Neighbors Are Building One Themselves — And They’ll Own It

This article is presented as part of New Economy Week, five days of conversation around building an economy that works for everyone. Today’s theme is “The New Economy Is Close to Home.”

In Northeast Greensboro residents just want a grocery store.

In the late 1990’s the local Winn Dixie that had served the neighborhoods around Philips Avenue for many years closed down. Winn Dixie and other large grocery chains divided up market territory resulting in the closing of some stores despite their profitability. The loss of this Winn Dixie turned Northeast Greensboro into a food desert.

Continue reading After Years Without a Grocery Store, Greensboro Neighbors Are Building One Themselves — And They’ll Own It

Jessica Gordon Nembhard on the history of cooperatives and the civil rights movement

Jessica Gordon Nembhard
Jessica Gordon Nembhard

Our friend and colleague Jessica Gordon Nembhard will publish her new book, “Collective Courage: A History of African-American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice” in May. She spoke to Colorlines.com about this critical, but often overlooked, part of the Civil Rights Movement.

Continue reading Jessica Gordon Nembhard on the history of cooperatives and the civil rights movement

Credit unions face threat from Congress

Don't Tax My Credit Union

Don't Tax My Credit Union

Many more people are members of cooperatives than you might think. There are energy cooperatives providing electricity to people across the country, there are health care cooperatives providing more affordable insurance, and if you bank at a credit union, you are a member of a cooperative! Credit unions in the United States are created as non-profit organizations “owned” by their members, who generally receive better services and lending rates than traditional banks. There is an effort underway in Congress to end the tax exempt status credit unions enjoy. The Credit Union National Association writes:

The bankers want to use the tax reform process – still going on behind the scene, with bills scheduled to be introduced in September or October – as a means to raise your taxes and tax credit unions out of existence in the process.

The American Banker Association has even launched a website and grassroots campaign asking Congress to tell credit unions, “It’s Time 2 Pay.”

Well, we think the 96 million Americans who rely on their credit union every day pay enough already. We know that a tax on credit unions is just another tax on those same 96 million credit union members.

Find out more about this effort at the Don’t Tax My Credit Union website set up by the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). Credit unions play an invaluable role in protecting individual and community wealth – particularly in a period of economic instability. These community-based financial institutions are beginning to invest more heavily in small businesses, competing with bigger for-profit banks. Learn more about this from CUNA at their website, here.

Looking forward to the Eastern Conference on Workplace Democracy

Eastern Conference on Workplace Democracy
Eastern Conference on Workplace Democracy
Eastern Conference on Workplace Democracy

Here at F4DC we are really excited about the upcoming Eastern Conference on Workplace Democracy! This event, held every two years, brings together people from across the eastern half of the United States to learn about democratically run workplaces and cooperative economies.

The conference takes place at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA from July 26-28. This year’s conference them is “Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities:”

Democratic Community Economic Development Through Worker Ownership

We have a voice in our own communities’ economic development through democratic workplaces! Democratic workplaces – such as worker-owned cooperatives – are growing in many ways as a viable alternative to a society that lacks meaningful humanizing jobs and democracy in everyday life.

As we seek to grow in response to the massive need for workplace democracy, let’s take time to explore how we can best thrive – as individual members, as cooperatives, as communities and as a movement. We can help each other understand just what it means to grow sustainable democratic workplaces. Exploring how to grow healthily is even more important in democratic workplaces for building relationships and solid processes.

Let’s discover together how we can cultivate and maintain our democracy while reaching out to share this opportunity with others!

The conference features great speakers, panels, and an amazing variety of workshops. Check out the official website for more information and, if you’re interested, register today!

Food Co-op Initiative Announces Grant Opportunity

Food Co-op Initiative Seed Grants

Our friends at the Food Co-op Initiative are making grants to new food co-op startups. Below is the press release they issued yesterday:

Food Co-op Initiative today announced they are accepting applications for grants up to $10,000 for development of new grocery co-ops. The Seed Grant program provides a cash award along with proven resources to help organizations achieve success. Food Co-op Initiative advisers will work closely with awardees throughout their organizing process, including making at least one in-person visit to the community.

Food Co-op Initiative’s Seed Grant program is designed to streamline the startup process to foster the maximum number of successful, sustainable co-ops. These competitive grants must be matched by the co-op with funds raised locally. Grants may be used for payment to professional consultants, registration fees and expenses to attend training opportunities, and initiatives supporting member recruitment, capital-raising, community outreach, or other aspects of organizing the co-op.

Food Co-op Initiative was founded in 2010 in response to a continuing wave of interest in establishing new retail food co-ops. The Initiative provides a range of services to the hundreds of volunteer groups working to bring improved access to food and the other economic and social benefits of cooperatives to their communities.

In 2012, Food Co-op Initiative awarded $100,000 to 14 organizations in 12 states. Grants are funded by the USDA, Blooming Prairie Foundation, and the kind support of cooperators nationwide. Applications and guidelines are downloadable at www.foodcoopinitiative.coop. Deadline for applications to be received is August 1st. Awards will be announced by September 1st.

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About Food Co-op Initiative: Food Co-op Initiative is a non-profit foundation created to provide resources and support for communities that want to start new food co-ops. Food Co-op Initiative provides support, referrals, and training to help communities nationwide create successful grocery cooperatives.

Prometheus Radio Project aims to “change the radio dial”

The Prometheus Radio Project is pushing for more LPFM stations across the country.

The Prometheus Radio Project has long been preaching the gospel on low-power FM radio stations. In the wake of several natural and man-made disasters, LPFM stations stayed on the air when their larger counterparts were knocked out. In addition, LPFM stations are far less expensive to setup and operate, allowing community groups to launch them and deliver customized programming relevant to the people in their area.

The FCC will open up a “window” for new station application from October 15-29 this year. Prometheus is offering assistance in geting application ready and working through the often-byzantine system the FCC runs.

In the coming days and weeks, they are hosting some webinars to help people get going on these applications. If you’re interested in LPFM community radio, check out the Prometheus Radio Project.

Eliminating food deserts and building community ownership are keys to sustainable development

Steve Dubb and David Zuckerman recently published a great article explaining how eliminating food deserts is critical to developing sustainable communities. This is precisely what the folks in Northeast Greensboro are working on through the Renaissance Community Coop. We are thrilled to join them in this effort and excited about the transformative potential it has for their community, and the city of Greensboro more broadly.

The authors point out that grassroots focused economic development is important – critically important – but that community ownership is equally vital and often times overlooked. They go on to briefly outline other communities using community-owned cooperatives to eliminate food deserts and build community wealth:

One strategy for ensuring community ownership can be seen in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. In 2008, community organizations successfully negotiated the city’s first ever Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). As part of this agreement, the Hill House Economic Development Corporation received $2 million in commitments from the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority to help develop the neighborhood’s first grocery store in over 30 years.

Importantly, Hill House EDC continues to own the land on which the store is built, ensuring that lease payments provide earned income revenue for years to come to financially support the nonprofit. Additionally, as part of the CBA, Hill District residents referred by a newly established First Source Center receive first consideration for all hires.

They close by noting that,

A framework for revitalization that includes local purchasing and hiring, employee and community ownership, and anchor institution and community stakeholder support is necessary to guarantee that, over the long term, the community retains control of its important assets.

Ridding communities of food deserts so that the people have access to healthy and affordable food is a cornerstone piece of redeveloping our neighborhoods to be sustainable. Community-owned businesses can play a critical role in this work. Reinvesting money directly back into those communities through democratic processes is equally important. The Renaissance Community Coop is building just such a business and, in the process, re-imagining their community as one that is democratic, just and sustainable.

Read the full article here.

A New Era in Chicago as workers open their own window factory

New Era Windows

Writing in The Nation, Laura Flanders covers the opening of New Era Windows in Chicago. After their former employer, Republic Windows and Doors, closed the plant and fired the staff, the workers occupied the plant. Eventually they were able to take ownership of it and, with the help of the broader cooperative movement around the country, re-opened it as a worker-owned cooperative!

Flanders writes:

The workers in this story are members of the same workforce who, when they received word that their plant was about to be closed with no notice at what was then the Republic Windows and Doors factory in 2008, occupied their plant and became a cause célèbre in a grim winter of mass layoffs. When they were laid off again in early 2012, by a second owner, they decided, as Apple would say, to “think different.” With encouragement from their union, the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE), and The Working World, a progressive investment group that helps co-operative start-ups internationally, they formed a company, “New Era LLC.” New Era is 100 percent owned by workers and now, at last, open for business.

Below is a great video piece on the opening. Click here to read the full article.