Friday, 15 July 2011

relocalising economies.

I often feel grateful for the good life my family has living in Lyttelton.
The rich web of active local economies that exist here mean that we as a four person family can live on a single income comfortably.
We have a quality of life that we wouldn't manage in other places because these human-scaled economies maintain a strong social life here and build healthy, mutually supportive neighbourhoods.
I was reminded of this yesterday.

I spent my day based at home and around this town with my two children as we often do.
We engaged in the myriad of tasks which maintain our household economy, as most of us do on any particular day. 
You know most of this list: cook, build, administer healthcare, mend, resolve conflict, grow food, comfort, preserve, make medicine and body products, feed and care for livestock...the list is long.
Although we strive to maintain our household as a unit of production rather than a unit of consumption, none of this counts as part of the "Economy." It's worth however, is obvious and indisputable.

in the morning we picked up firewood from the community garden and took it to a family with a newborn, a request I happened upon on freecycle. Both time and wood was gifted.
Elsewhere in Lyttelton yesterday, the Community House prepared dinner for an armload of people, volunteers organised events, ran the Information Centre, the volunteer fire brigade trained, people took food to their neighbours and others gave food to the community foodbank. These people all took part in the local gift economy.
Gifting is still part of what we do here.

Later in the day as the sun came out the girls and I walked to Cass Bay and along the way foraged some parsley. Foraging could perhaps be a classed as an economy in itself.
You too might contribute to this foraging economy by hunting, fishing, upcycling, and rescuing mislaid treasures from rubbish skips.

That evening we used Timebank to find someone to be with our girls while we went out. The Timebank is embedded into this community's culture and is a network of people who trade services using time credits rather than cash as the currency.
Other less formal elements of a healthy bartering economy are when we trade or swap goods, share seedlings and simply when we return favours to our friends.

A pot-luck dinner preceded the meeting I went out for. Pot-lucks are a brilliant way that Kiwis "do" collective economies, as are consumer co-ops, community land trusts and any other innovative way we figure out how to pool resources. Here in Lyttelton a group called "The Harbour Pool" is innovating new ways in which we can pool and share financial assets without involving crippling interest. This will provide a model for further groups to set up and keep money circulating and benefiting families in the Harbour.

Lastly a thread strengthening this web of localised economies are the business cooperatives that Project Lyttelton is currently investigating.  Community-owned cooperatives are primarily created to serve the members and therefore, benefit a broad sweep of the people living in that particular community rather than a comparatively few investors who may live far away.

As we go about our lives we can be unaware of all these different human-scaled economies that we take part in daily and how these positively affect the quality of our lives. These local economies is what keep people alive when they lose their job or their business; it is these local economies that shone through the chaos of late February here in Lyttelton. Naming and valuing all these local economies helps transform our understanding of wealth and reminds us that we are in fact receiving all the time. Antidotes to a sense of scarcity cultivate empowerment in our lives and lift our spirits.

written by Jacinda Gilligan, also at

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