A Neighborhood Improvement Journal - Summer 2021


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Nurturing the Neighborhood Economy  -  or

Getting Off the Money Grid  --  Part II


by Fred Gillette














In a period of economic turbulence, there’s more reason than ever for people to strive for a greater sense of control over their own financial lives.  The assumption that “the economy” can only exist as a giant, centrally controlled behemoth can, to an often surprising extent, be successfully challenged.  We continue our examination of the options available.


Flea markets and farmers markets

 It’s not surprising that very good deals abound at flea markets … for both sellers and buyers. There are minimal promotional costs.  The display space is likely inexpensive.  Labor costs are minimal.  You don’t need legal assistance to start and run the business.  And most of the goods are second-hand. 

What’s less typically touted is the extent to which such transacting keeps money in the community.  When doing business at a flea market, you’re very often dealing with a neighbor, or at least someone from nearby.  You’re providing the vendor some income while saving yourself money, a double gain for the local economy.  Plus, some bartering often goes on at flea markets, once again getting you even further off the money grid.

Farmers markets are in a similar category of low-tech interfacing of customers and product providers.  The markets themselves are highly localized, with most customers coming from the neighborhood.  Since you are bypassing a large number of distribution intermediaries, you are saving money and keeping the money path relatively short and local.  An added advantage is the community-enhancing nature of a local event at which you are mingling with and getting to know neighbors.


















A key element of keeping money in the community is giving more attention to filling labor needs from within the community.  More localized recruiting can reap the rewards of having staff and co-workers who possess a much greater stake in the neighborhood and interest in promoting its well-being. Obviously, these local employees are also far more likely to spend their earnings within the community.

Finding workers from the neighborhood can be relatively easy.  A variety of recruitment media are available.  Ads can be placed both electronically and in hard copy at local bulletin boards, shop windows, information kiosks and in neighborhood newsletters. 













Of course there are also the ecological advantages.  While saving people commute time and torment, we are also expending less energy than would be required to move people greater distances.  


Free stuff

Have you ever had discardable items that might have been appropriate for a garage sale, but you really preferred not to deal with selling them?  Perhaps you’ve experienced the relief of just putting them out on the curb with a “free” sign and letting them go.  Of course there are also electronic means of accomplishing this. Since it’s most typically people with a relatively light footprint on the traditional economy who take the trouble to pick these things up from your front yard and drag them home, you are likely proving a useful, local, social service while helping someone else live a little further off the money grid.













Local business nurturance

Chances are that your local merchant either lives in or near the neighborhood.  The profit that comes to this business goes back into enhancing both the commercial and residential district. Much of it may even go to employees who also live in the neighborhood.  The merchant’s family activities further stimulate the neighborhood economy.  The profits from the business are pumped back into more local purchases of goods and services.  A thriving local merchant also has the means to keep his or her shop and shop-front in good condition, further enhancing the attractiveness of the neighborhood, thus promoting further expansion of the neighborhood’s economic health … and so on. There are numerous other intangible benefits to shopping locally, including the feeling you get when you walk in a shop and are recognized, or run into neighbors doing their shopping.  But even if we remain focused on the economic benefits, it’s clearly in our own interests to engage those local merchants. 

Shopping locally has become ever easier with time.  With the increased ease and availability of electronic searching for goods and services, you can easily locate local product and service providers. plus read reviews and make decisions about the best prospects for meeting your particular needs and preferences.














Neighborhood organization

By bringing people of a geographic community toward greater self-awareness and appreciation, the neighborhood organization automatically promotes the values that are consistent with supporting and sustaining the local, micro-economy.  A typical neighborhood organization brings people together to work on tasks that enhance the neighborhood but that also promote familiarity with our neighbors.  These kinds of educational and self-awareness activities often then predispose us to offer more, generalized mutual support to our neighbors.  We’re more eager to put money into a local credit union because we’re conscious of the degree to which we are potentially helping to build a better neighborhood … not merely being aware that the money is more likely to be spent locally, but caring that it is. We are more likely to support the neighborhood merchant rather than always going to the distant big box.  We’re more likely to care about and lend assistance to the local social welfare organization that may be helping some of the people we’ve gotten to know at neighborhood events.  We’re more likely to feel comfortable engaging in skills exchanges, or at least looking for neighbors that we can hire to help us with around-the-home tasks.  If we run a local business, we’re more likely to hire the person we met at the last neighborhood clean-up.  If looking for work, we’re more likely to get hired by the person we met over coffee at the neighborhood history presentation.  The kinds of activities and behaviors that move us in the direction of a stronger local economy are often the byproducts of a well-functioning neighborhood organization.













It is quite possible to move toward increased independence from conventional economic institutions and practices.  This, in turn, can not only lead to feelings of personal power and stability (while burning less gasoline, time, and shoe leather), it can provide benefits for whole societies.  A nation that is composed of an excessive number of “too big to fail” institutions, municipalities, corporations, utilities, agencies, and funds, leaves its citizens more vulnerable to forces beyond the control of ordinary people and with little elasticity to meet crises.  An organism or society having components operating with a degree of independence is much better at survival, moving toward flexible adaptation and strength through diversity.  We can promote such independence by strengthening already existing aspects of the local economy, while perhaps creating some new ones.  We can make the national economy more resilient and adaptable while simultaneously improving our own and our neighborhood’s economic health and well-being.

















tip jarNeighborhood Life depends on your financial support.