Wednesday, March 28, 2012

San Francisco Announces Sharing Economy Working Group

By Neal Gorenflo

It's an important day in the sharing economy.Mayor Edwin M. Lee of San Franciso announced today the formation of The Sharing Economy Working Group, the first of its kind in the U.S. and perhaps in the world. The purpose of the working group, "is to take a comprehensive look at the economic benefits, innovative companies and emerging policy issues around the growing 'sharing economy'”. This could catalyze other cities to take similar action.

Read the article here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A New Way to Occupy City Hall: Participatory Budgeting

Gabriel Hetland and Abigail N. Martin
From the Nation
March 15, 2012

Despite worries that the Occupy movement would not survive the winter, activists continue to highlight ordinary Americans’ frustration with the dysfunction of “the world’s largest democracy.” In January, “Occupy Congress” descended upon Capitol Hill, and in early March students across California organized to “Occupy the Capitol” in Sacramento. But Occupy has done more than just highlight the inadequacies of American-style representative democracy. It is giving direct, participatory forms of democracy, like the General Assembly model, a new lease on life. So far, Occupy’s participatory democratic decision-making has been confined to public spaces outside the halls of government power. The question for Occupy is, can the movement bring participatory democracy inside?

Participatory budgeting, a relatively novel form of participatory governance that is not dissimilar from the vaunted New England “Town Hall” meetings, represents one promising model. The best-known “modern” example of participatory budgeting, also known as PB, was initiated by the Workers’ Party in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre in the late 1980s. Since that time, PB has spread to hundreds of cities and a number of state governments around the world. Although the specific details vary, PB (almost) always involves grassroots public assemblies that give ordinary citizens the chance to deliberate about and exert some degree of control over public spending.

On the ground, PB is demanding. It is no surprise that participatory democracy requires extensive participation by ordinary people. But the impact is impressive. In Porto Alegre, PB has led to civic empowerment, more transparency over government spending and a redistribution of public resources. In Chicago and New York, anecdotal evidence suggests similar benefits.

Before the raids that spelled the end of physical occupation, a number of Occupy groups began discussing the potential for PB to become part of the movement’s strategic repertoire. Excited by the advent of PB in four city council districts in New York City, Occupy Wall Street held a PB teach-in last October. Since then, Occupy groups up and down the East Coast from Boston to Greensboro have followed suit and are exploring ways to bring PB to their cities. The Participatory Budgeting Project, a New York based non-profit, has organized a conference on PB to be held at the end of March in New York, and Occupy activists from a number of cities, including Boston, Chicago, New York and Oakland, are expected to attend. Conference goers will have the opportunity to observe assemblies in the four city council districts where PB was introduced last fall. These assemblies will decide how to spend nearly $6 million (a bit over $1 million per district), surpassing the $1.3 million that was distributed in Chicago’s 49th ward by alderman Joe Moore, who became the first US politician to introduce PB in November 2009.

Not all Occupy activists have embraced PB. In October, a proposal to support PB was voted down at Occupy Oakland, in part due to a general resistance to engage formal political spaces. However, supporters of that proposal came together as a group called the Community Democracy Project (CDP) to continue to work to bring PB to Oakland. Through a voter initiative, CDP’s goal is to revamp the Oakland City Charter to make way for the creation of neighborhood assemblies that would be given decision-making power over the city’s entire discretionary budget. Despite Occupy Oakland’s initial reluctance to support PB, CDP members (including the authors of this piece) have continued to engage the movement. At Occupy Oakland’s General Assembly this past Sunday, many activists appeared ready to embrace PB when approached by CDP. But not all were convinced. One woman commented that she was not interested in PB because, “I think the system needs a total overhaul."

Is participatory budgeting an answer to the question of what’s next for Occupy? Perhaps. But, in order for this to happen, proponents of the strategy need to convince Occupy activists that PB can do more than provide window dressing for continued elite and corporate control over political decision-making. Many in the Occupy movement are deeply skeptical of anything that smacks of cooperation with the state. To make PB meaningful (and convince skeptics that it is worth pursuing), two things need to happen. First, the rift between the seemingly irreconcilable logics of institutional and insurgent politics has to be bridged. Just as significantly, corporations and the wealthy must be forced to pay their fair share in taxes. Otherwise PB will amount to little more than popular control over austerity.

As Porto Alegre and other cities have shown, PB requires (and can help lead to) functioning government institutions. But to be effective, institutional reforms like PB must be accompanied by popular struggle and direct action. One of the most impressive examples of PB, in the Venezuelan municipality of Torres, demonstrates this well. Since 2005, ordinary citizens in Torres have had control over 100 percent of the local investment budget. This represents a significant victory for popular power, but it did not come without a fight. PB was vigorously supported by Torres’ (now ex-) mayor Julio Chávez but was opposed by a majority of Torres’ city councilors. In order to overcome their opposition, Chávez mobilized hundreds of supporters to physically occupy City Hall, after which the councilors agreed to implement PB. Torres underscores an important point: PB should not be seen as a reformist alternative but a radical extension of the insurgent logic underpinning the Occupy movement.

The rejection of “trickle-down” economics and what Paul Krugman calls “destructive fiscal austerity” is equally important for PB to take root. Occupy has shown that the consequences of market fundamentalism – poverty, rising inequality, and crippled democratic institutions – will not be tolerated forever. To achieve the radical transformation of political and economic institutions that the US – and the world – so desperately needs, the insurgent energy of Occupy must be combined with radical-but-concrete measures such as PB, progressive taxation, and the fight to end of corporate personhood.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

unMoney Convergence

April 24th, 2012 8am-6pm
San Francisco, CA.

We are inviting innovators to converge on April 24 in The Bay Area for the 2012 unMoney Convergence to engage in an evolutionary conversation on money. In the wake of the financial crises around the world, new approaches are emerging in the ways that currency moves and property is held. We invite you to these explorations.
Our goal is to bring foster dialogue and collaboration among the range of interesting emerging ideas around money and exchange systems and to explore connections with issues of land and property tenure. In addition to topics on alternatives to the current currency systems, we invite all who are looking at new ways to look at land tenancy and stewardship, hard currency versus energy, time and food based currencies. We are looking for synergies between folks who see the need for more grounded, materially based economics and those looking at the spiritual, energetic and values based approaches.

In April 2008, the first Unmoney convergence was hosted in Seattle with a similar range of participants. Relationships were built and several interesting projects were explored.. Since then, we have gone through a financial meltdown around the world that has its roots in flawed economic theory and corrupt financial practices. In 2012, it is even more apparent that we need a fundamental shift in the approach to currency and the principles underlying our local and interconnected global economies.
range of interesting emerging ideas around money and exchange systems and to explore connections with issues of land and property tenure. In addition to topics on alternatives to the current currency systems, we invite all who are looking at new ways to look at land tenancy and stewardship, hard currency versus energy, time and food based currencies. We are looking for synergies between folks who see the need for more grounded, materially based economics and those looking at the spiritual, energetic and values based approaches.

In this era, we understand in even more profound ways the need to rebuild local economies, slowing down the global growth economy and provide lively hoods for many millions of people who have been displaced from their work, their land and their homes by un- rooted global economic dynamics. This one day conference proximate to The Future of Money and Technology conference will explore the deep questions that participants bring around these topics.

The invitation is being made to social-entrepreneurs, academics, economists, bankers, philanthropists, business men and woman, system changers, lenders, borrowers and barterers. In addition we are inviting members of the Slow Money movement, those involved in Land Trusts and others concerned about housing, farmland preservation etc. to look at the intersection of land and currency.

Most of the conference will be participant driven, the agenda will be created live over the course of the event by those attending. We will primarily use Open Space Technology to organize ourselves. Everyone attending is welcome to present or lead a discussion about the topics they are interested in. Feel free to add a workshop and/or discussion you would like to attend, facilitate or lead when you register.

Our goal is to bring together and support deep dialogue and collaboration between the range of interesting emerging ideas around money and exchange systems.

We encourage your participation and your support...

Topics covered will include :


slow money

local currencies

complementary currencies

time dollars

retail trade exchanges


state of the art transaction software & hardware technologies

money & spirituality

ecological accounting

monetary theory

social venture & entrepreneurship

value network mapping

equity sharing

energy backed currency

organizational structures

gift economies


unMoney is a project of Planetwork

Register here.

Crowdfunding Law Needs Your Support

March 8, 2012

Faced with regulatory and financial barriers to accessing mainstream investment capital, many entrepreneurs have turned to crowdfunding platforms such as KickStarter and IndieGoGo to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations. These small-dollar donations demonstrate that regular non-wealthy folks want to support local entrepreneurs in their community. If entrepreneurs could also offer investment opportunities to the crowdfunding "crowd", they could potentially access millions of dollars of investments from their communities and networks that already support their businesses, without the financial and logistical challenges of regular securities registration.

H.R. 2930, the Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act, which would exempt crowdfunded investments from state and federal securities registration, introduced by Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) overwhelmingly passed the House last November (407-17) with White House support. Two other crowdfunding bills are in the Senate Banking Committee: S. 1971 (Scott Brown, R-MA) and S. 1970 (Jeff Merkley, D-OR).

These crowdfunding bills can be traced back to the Sustainable Economies Law Center's July 2010 rulemaking petition to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC File No. 4-605), which petitioned the Commission to create a registration exemption for crowdfunded investments. Our work caught the eye of small business advocates, who in turn created online petitions, testified at Congressional hearings, and lobbied Congress to introduce a crowdfunding bill.

The current crowdfunding bills, which enjoy bipartisan support, are now stalled in the Senate. Small business advocates have learned that the Senate wants to see more public interest in these proposals before moving forward. To demonstrate public interest (as well as the power of crowdfunding), SELC's allies have launched a campaign to take out a full page ad in the Washington D.C. newspaper Politico, which is distributed in printed form to Congressional staffers and other DC types. For more information or to participate in this crowdfunding effort, click here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Biketopia: a Model Organization for the Next Economy

By Mira Luna

I like to think of utopia as the space where idealism meets reality. Over the years, I have found few radical social change projects that met reality without failure or conflict, especially within a capitalist economy. Transformative projects often fail to take off and end up disillusioning their founders and volunteers. The Bike Kitchen model is one of those unique exceptions that we can try to learn from.

The first time I visited the San Francisco Bike Kitchen, I was struck by the seemingly limitless energy – it was bursting at the seams with volunteers and clients waiting to work on their own bikes. As other local nonprofits and business are struggling or closing up shop, I wondered what makes this model different.

Bike Kitchens have been around since the 1980s, and the earliest recorded one was in Austria. There is little documentation about how they spread, but now they're all over the world: from Argentina to France to Ghana and over 200 in the US alone. Their common mission tends to be bike access for everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. Reciprocity and self-empowerment are the key operating principles. Everyone’s contribution matters regardless of skill level.

Almost all Bike Kitchens share a remarkably similar model, perhaps because it works so well although there is some variation. Some have “earn a bike” programs for kids, and some, like Bike Not Bombs. repair and ship bikes to developing countries. The Bicycle Organization Project explains what constitutes a community bike shop:

Non-profit bicycle organizations
Bike shops that are accessible to people without money
Shops that have an educational focus, teaching others how to fix bikes
Shops that are volunteer run
Shops that provide free or low-cost services to the community
Organizations that recycle bicycles and parts

Most of these workshops charge small shop day use or periodic membership fees, around $5 per day to use. As ecologically minded organizations, they recycle bike parts and get donations from bike companies to sell at low cost or as “digging rights” for a bigger bike project. Some have flat “build a bike” fees to cover the cost of staff supervision, parts, frame, etc. to build an entire bike from scratch (from a minimal $30 to $60 or a six hours work trade). Patrons at SF Bike Kitchen have a third payment option – to volunteer for another nonprofit on the local Timebank and use their Timebank hours to pay. Shops offer bartering so that costs can be paid in labor instead of money by their lowest income customers, reducing barriers to participation from diverse groups. For this reason, some kitchens, like Colectivelo in Oakland, California, use no money at all.

Kitchens are different from regular bike shops in that they involve their patrons learning to fix their own bikes and becoming self-sufficient mechanics. Volunteer staff may guide them or teach them in classes, but the work is done by the patrons in a learn-by-doing methodology, which is critical in mastering bike maintenance and repair. To keep the shops sustainable, patrons are recruited to be volunteer staff, teaching others at whatever level they are at. SF Bike Kitchen staff seem to love their jobs, are obsessed with bikes, and reliably show up for weekly 5-hour shifts. The San Francisco Bike Kitchen has more patrons than it has space, so there is usually a line at the door even before the kitchen opens.

Bike Kitchens are surprisingly easy to start. Some begin out of a personal garage, like Bozeman Kitchen, sharing tools and skills informally. Biketopia in Berkeley opened and took just two months from conception to become an incorporated nonprofit with storefront shop, stands, tools, and a youth program. Founder Zach Cohen volunteered at the San Francisco Bike Kitchen as staff and earned Timebank hours at BACE Timebank, which he then used to create his own community bike shop in the East Bay. The hours paid for business plan, development, logo design, marketing and helped recruit a dedicated Board member. The SF Bike Kitchen donated the bike stands through its grant program. A local youth organization supplied volunteers to give at-risk youth employment skills. Zach explained his passion in an interview with EcoLocalizer, “I believe the most important form of activism is the creation of alternatives to the failing establishment. Biketopia’s goal is to address diverse social problems with one comprehensive model that builds community while implementing solutions to youth homelessness, climate change, interest based money, and public health.”

I was shocked to find out that despite charging minimal fees for shop use, Bike Kitchens are financially robust nonprofits. The San Francisco Bike Kitchen does so well it makes grants to other organizations, including non-bike organizations. SF Bike Kitchen’s annual Tour de Cupcake fundraiser sold out last year in just 6 days.

Colectivelo charges its patrons nothing. If people want to take something physical from the shop, they are asked to propose a work-trade to help the shop. It can be pretty much anything, as long it seems sincerely offered. Coordinator Morgan Kanninen says, "We make sure folks know about how the shop runs, what its challenges are, and that their opinions of what would help the shop are valuable. From there, what they want to do is really up to them. We don’t have rates for the number of hours it takes to earn something … it’s really valuable for this to be a co-created space. Someone painted us a landscape painting with a bike on it. " Colectivelo's rent is paid by the Catholic Worker organization and they receive parts and tool donations, which allows them to not pass on operating costs to their low income patrons, many of whom are undocumented immigrants.

Bike Kitchens are sometimes run with a collective-style governance structure. Because patrons pay for membership and day use, patrons often do most of the Bike Kitchens' governing. A blurry line may exist between patron, casual volunteer, and volunteer staff as everyone helps everyone else. SF Bike Kitchen Board member Lorae Fernandis believes that, “Paying minimal fees creates a dynamic where volunteer staff feel like they can ask the patrons to pitch in with work, rather than being passive customers and customers want to help because it’s their bike kitchen. There can be some inefficiencies in decision-making and executing tasks without much hierarchy but we think this model is important to community work.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

DARE to SHARE | Generosity meets practicality in the East Bay's new economy

From the Monthly
By Rachel Trachten

Once, the American dream was all about individual ownership. Success meant having your own house, your own car—and certainly your own gardening tools. But times are changing (thank you, economic downturn; thank you, global warming), and so are ideas about what we each need to possess. Members of the growing less-is-more movement include six North Berkeley homeowners who have taken down the fences surrounding their adjoining properties on a tree-lined street to create a “compound” with a shared yard, vegetable garden, and hot tub. Good friends since they met about 30 years ago, these companions have been staging a quiet revolution since the mid-’80s, gradually purchasing adjacent homes so they could share their lives on an informal, daily basis. Included in the group is Annie Leonard, creator of the popular anti-consumerism video, “The Story of Stuff.”

“Why should I buy a Cuisinart or a vacuum cleaner? They have one,” says 51-year old immunologist Jo Anne Welsch, gesturing toward neighbor Andre Carothers. “We all save money. By sharing, we all own less stuff.” Among these households, the types of sharing that happen without much fuss or planning include caring for one another’s kids, lending everything from a pair of tights to a car, inviting others for a home-cooked meal, and advising one another on real estate, editing, and medical care.

The lifestyle isn’t for everyone. From time to time, says Carothers, 52, a nonprofit management consultant, someone he doesn’t know shows up at his house on the recommendation of another neighbor. Carothers welcomes this type of surprise but “someone with a traditional perception of ownership and space wouldn’t fit in here,” he says. “Someone who’s upset if their Cuisinart is gone.”

That reminds him. He turns to Welsch. “All of my forks are miss-ing,” he says. “Do you have them?”

“Yeah, probably,” she responds. “I’ll look for them.”

As evidenced by arrangements like Welsch’s and Carothers’s, the trend toward neighborly cooperation is flourishing in the East Bay. Locals are sharing cars, tools, appliances, and even chickens; they’re swapping produce, books, and home repair help. Some arrangements are casual; others are based on written rules. Friends or neighbors often create their own sharing plans, while other setups are organized by a city or nonprofit.

The phenomenon embraces old-fashioned neighborly values and eco-friendly attitudes; it also has something to do with economic hardship and lightning-fast email. But whether the motivation is to save money or save the planet, sharing opens up possibilities that don’t exist when folks fly solo.


In the bigger picture, sharing offers profound advantages that may not be obvious, says Jason Marsh, editor-in-chief of the online magazine for U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. “A lot of research from psychology, evolutionary biology, and even mathematics suggests that our tendency to cooperate with each other is prevalent across cultures and a key factor in the survival of our species,” says Marsh.

“Even subtle connections with neighbors create a network that over time brings not just practical benefits but also feelings of reward, belonging, and improvements to our health and longevity,” he adds.

Not, you understand, that the “practical benefits” are insignificant. “You can do a lot of things you would never try on your own,” says Luan Stauss, 50. The owner of Oakland’s Laurel Book Store, Stauss started a cooperative home repair group seven years ago in her Maxwell Park neighborhood in Oakland. Shared brawn and brains helped her team of six households tackle projects from pulling out a tree stump to designing and building a fence. At Stauss’s home, the group has showed up to repair her patio roof, landscape the garden, and install drip irrigation.

Stauss got the idea to form a co-op when she and some friends volunteered for Christmas in April, a nonprofit (renamed Rebuilding Together) that repairs the homes of elderly and disabled residents. “We realized that we could be doing this for ourselves, too,” she says. “We’re willing to help each other out, and we don’t all have to own a chainsaw or a wheelbarrow.”

After organizing a group in Laurel Park, Stauss took the idea with her when she moved to Maxwell Park in 2005. Her notice on the local listserv led to the formation of three groups, and hers is still going strong. Each household proposes one day-long project per year, with additional prep work if needed. One member of the group is a skilled electrician, a few are generally handy, and the others have learned by doing. “Everyone has become much more self-sufficient,” says Stauss, with her characteristic quick smile.

Self-described “sharing lawyer” Janelle Orsi, 32, helps people create legal agreements for barter, cooperatives, and sharing. Orsi has a knack for explaining complex legal issues using simple, hand-drawn cartoons. She co-founded and directs Oakland’s Sustainable Economies Law Center, and says it’s essential for everyone in a group like Stauss’s to be on the same page about expectations. “Any time people are investing significant time or resources it puts them at risk for coming into disagreement,” says Orsi. “It’s important to be clear about what each person is putting in and getting from the group.”

As a law student at U.C. Berkeley, Orsi lived in co-housing, sharing a washing machine, vacuum cleaner, tools, garden space, and meals. Her studies focused on social justice and she was struck, she says, by the extent to which our society, with its plentiful resources, doesn’t provide for all its members. In 2009, Orsi and attorney Emily Doskow co-authored The Sharing Solution, a book filled with hands-on help and creative ideas for people who want to share goods or services.

Lucky for Stauss’s Maxwell Park home repair group, Doskow is Stauss’s life partner, so the group got free advice about getting organized and coming up with a list of expectations. These rules were especially useful early on—for example, one person didn’t attend several of the required work days and subsequently left the group before anyone had to ask. As members have gotten to know one another, flexibility has increased. “If you have people you can trust, you don’t have to be really rigid,” says Stauss.


Another form of friendly swapping takes place through the Bay Area’s local time bank, the Bay Area Community Exchange, one of the five largest of about 130 time banks nationwide. “With no money trading hands and just an agreement and some trust you can trade hard products for soft brainy stuff,” says California State University instructor and permaculture expert Fred Klammt, 61, who recalls swapping red cedar logs and branches for web programming. The 900 members use the exchange’s website to list services they’re offering as well as items or help that they need. In this economic system, all labor is valued equally, so an hour of plumbing might be exchanged for an hour of gardening, or an hour of cooking swapped for an hour of massage.

Although people start out by carefully tracking hours, friendships often develop, leading to a less formal give and take. Of course, not all exchanges go smoothly—Klammt was irked when someone sent him a proposal with a dollar amount for work that should have been traded.

For some, a time bank or other form of barter is a way to learn to bake or get a haircut. But for people who are un- or under-employed, an exchange can keep skills fresh and offer a sense of purpose. And, for those without ready cash for essentials, barter can provide access to meals, transportation, or health care. Orsi notes that last fall, as Greece was hit with an economic crisis, several barter networks arose there, allowing people to use an alternative currency to offer and receive food, child care, computer help, and a host of other goods and services.

How common are these various forms of exchange? “We don’t know what portion of the economy is constituted by barter,” says Orsi. “The thing about the informal economy is that it’s largely under the radar.” However, Orsi says that she gets frequent requests from individuals and organizations who want advice on setting up an online barter network, a time bank, or alternative currency. (One local currency, Bernal Bucks, encourages shopping in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. Residents who shop with Bernal gift certificates or a Bernal Bucks debit card support local businesses and gain rewards of five percent on bucks spent.)

While some turn to experts like Orsi for help with legal agreements for co-housing or other major investments, others set up shares on their own. Lynne Elizabeth, a 62-year-old publisher who lives in Oakland, shared a used Prius with neighbor Elaine Kurtovich from 2005 to 2008. “When we first decided, we weren’t even sure people could co-own,” says Elizabeth, who quickly learned that both the Department of Motor Vehicles and insurance companies make car sharing fairly simple. The DMV has a form for co-ownership, and an additional driver can be added to an insurance policy. The two women divided their expenses down the middle, agreed that one could eventually sell the car to the other at the Kelley Blue Book price, created a system for gas costs, and reserved the car on a shared online calendar. Because neither woman commuted by car, conflicts about its use were limited to weekends, and were handled with a can-do attitude. “We’d figure out a way to make it work,” says Elizabeth.

Matt Nichols, a 49-year-old transportation planner for the city of Berkeley, supports car sharing at work and at home. One of the original board members for the nonprofit City CarShare, Nichols rents his South Berkeley driveway to that organization. Along with four of his neighbors and many other CarShare members, Nichols uses the car as needed, reserving it in advance for an average cost of $6.50 per hour including gas, insurance, and repairs. “There’s a big element of self-interest; I hate owning a car,” says Nichols, a self-described environmentalist who rides his bike to work and lives near BART. When his car was stolen in 2005, Nichols did the math and realized he could save more than $2,000 per year by renting through CarShare. “I like the communal aspect,” he says, “but you can be selfish, too. You don’t have to be noble to do this.” The downside—advance planning, lack of flexibility—are worth the benefits. “I save a ton of money and a ton of hassle,” says Nichols. “I don’t mind thinking through a few details.”


For those who want to share in a more casual way, neighborhood swaps are convenient and fun. On a bright December morning, about 25 people, toddlers to seniors, gather at Berkeley’s Ohlone Greenway. Hoisting bags laden with chard, tomatoes, herbs, paperbacks, sweaters, and hats, this small crowd is ready for the monthly swap organized by the group Transition Berkeley.

“It’s a way to create abundance from scarcity,” says Berkeley resident and organizational psychologist Nan Cowardin-Lee, 58, who arrives by bike with her husband Jeffrey, a massage therapist. Cowardin-Lee donates dried oregano, two dresses, beet green seeds, and baking apples. She goes home with two shirts, a dress, a scarf, two persimmons, two bunches of kale, a jar of honey, and a book about herbs.

Transition Berkeley, which hosts the swaps, was formed last year by residents Susan Silber and Linda Currie as part of the international Transition movement, a collection of neighborhood and city-based groups trying to become more self-sufficient and less dependent on oil. To this end, members of Transition groups—branches also exist in Albany, Richmond, and Oakland—advocate growing food, learning to fix and build everyday things, and collaborating and sharing with neighbors.

For about an hour, swappers peruse and chat. A group of women discuss the best way to cook a pumpkin as others confer over book choices. Berkeley resident Andrea Paulos shows her niece Penelope, 3, and her daughter, Mabel, 11, that the fleece hat, summer shirt, and purple sweater the little girl outgrew and donated are now being worn by an even littler girl.

At the produce table, a group debates whether a rounded, light-green squash is a pepina or a pepita, and Barbara Edwards, co-author of From Tree to Table, discusses crop swaps as a great way to see and taste all that grows in Berkeley. In warmer weather, she says, people bring pineapple guava or feijoa, along with figs, pears, lemons, and an assortment of apples.

Even local governments are getting into the sharing act. Chelle Putzer, community services manager for the city of Albany, brings personal passion to the idea that urban neighbors need to connect. Thanks to Putzer’s vision and energy, Albany actively supports block movie nights, a garden swap, and a seasonal dinner swap.

When Albany resident Pam Tellew, 50, approached Putzer to suggest a clothing swap and free events where people could learn new skills, he readily agreed.

“People are capable of doing a lot more for themselves than they think they can,” says Tellew, who homeschools her two sons and stepped up to help with coordination. The Albany events (known as “skill shares”) have featured presentations from volunteers versed in everything from backpacking to knitting to how to select shoes (this from a podiatrist). Upcoming gatherings will focus on home repair and maintenance, keeping backyard chickens, and soap making.

In Richmond, swapping takes place at the local library—but seeds are exchanged, not books. A project developed by the Richmond Rivets Transition group, the library “lends” vegetable, herb, and flower seeds. To keep the inventory up, volunteers show borrowers how to return new seeds from the plants they grow.


For people who want to make sharing a daily practice, one solution may be right in the backyard. Silber of Transition Berkeley has taken down part of her fence to accommodate a three-way chicken-raising project with her next-door neighbor and a friend who lives across the street. She also trades babysitting and meals, and works at The Hub, a shared office space in Berkeley’s David Brower Center.

Sharing enthusiasts would like to see people rely on one another more than they do. “We should ask more of each other,” says Carothers, referring to the members of his Berkeley compound. “I can’t think of one thing we couldn’t accommodate.”

Paulos, who came to the Transition Berkeley swap with her daughter and young niece, lives the kind of cooperation that sharing theorists describe. As someone who grew up poor in a family of 10, Paulos says that swapping and sharing are not new concepts to her. “I have scrounged and swapped and worn hand-me-downs my whole life,” she says. “I make it a practice to offer my stuff and to ask for stuff I need on a regular basis. We share our truck with the neighborhood, and borrow the wagon/shovel/down jacket/ soap/whatever in return. The world would be an amazing place if everyone just looked right next door and saw, really saw, who was there and what they need.”

Rachel Trachten, who lives in Berkeley, is a frequent contributor to The Monthly. She often shares her backyard lemons.

Worker Coops Increase in Europe Since Financial Crisis

Economic Survey 2011 - First indication
The most recent numbers show that employee ownership was continuously progressing across Europe since the financial crisis. This is the main conclusion of the economic survey of employee ownership in the European countries in 2011. The conclusion was the same in 2010, we have thus a confirmation.
In 2011, 9.9 million employee owners held 232 billion Euro in their companies' shares compared to 9.5 million holding 197 billion Euro one year before.
The number of employee owners increased more in Spain, Sweden, Denmark and France, while it was decreasing in Italy, Greece, Portugal as well as in Germany, Belgium and Ireland.
The survey brings an exhaustive information. It is based on the census of the 2.505 largest European companies employing 32.8 million people in 2011 (compared to 32.4 million in 2010).
The full results will be published in May 2012.