Tuesday, June 05, 2007

TINA, meet LOIS.

Dan Coleman, Carrboro alderman and one of the panelists at last night's forum on Carolina North, just returned from six days at Berkeley, where he attended a conference of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. These are folks working hard to build and strengthen local business and community networks, in the face of globalization. Their principles:

  • Living economy communities produce and exchange locally as many products needed by their citizens as they reasonably can, while reaching out to other communities to trade in those products they cannot reasonably produce at home. These communities value their unique character and encourage cultural exchange and cooperation.
  • Living economy public policies support decentralized ownership of businesses and farms, fair wages, taxes, and budget allocations, trade policies benefiting local economies, and stewardship of the natural environment.
  • Living economy citizens appreciate the benefits of buying from living economy businesses and, if necessary, are willing to pay a price premium to secure those personal and community benefits.
  • Living economy investors value businesses that are community stewards and as such accept a "living return" on their financial investments rather than a maximum return, recognizing the value derived from enjoying a healthy and vibrant community and sustainable global economy.
  • Living economy media provide sources of news independent of corporate control, so that citizens can make informed decisions in the best interests of their communities and natural environment.
  • Living economy businesses are primarily independent and locally owned, and value the needs and interests of all stakeholders while building long-term profitability.

Are these people dreaming? TINA would like you to think so. TINA is the name Michael Shuman affectionately gives, in The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses are Beating the Global Competition, to those who believe "There Is No Alternative" to globalization. (Thanks to Dan for loaning me this book.)

We see this argument all the time--for example, in a book reviewed May 30 in the New York Times. As William Grimes summarizes the thesis of Nayan Chanda of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization in Bound Together: How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers and Warriors Shaped Globalization, "globalization is an expression of human desires that date back to the dawn of time, when the first humans left their African homeland and set out in search of a better life." Chinese jeans are in our genes!

There is an alternative, though: Shuman calls her LOIS (local ownership and import substitution). Though it may not be immediately obvious why avoiding the lure of Wal-Mart, paying more out of pocket to local business owners, might be in your own best interest as well as that of the business owners, there are clear and resounding long-term benefits:

LOIS, for example, is a natural cousin of "smart growth" or anti-sprawl policies. Promoters of smart growth envision, for example, the redesign of a community so that residents can walk or ride bikes form home to school, from work to the grocery store. They want to scrap old zoning laws and promote multiple uses--residential, commercial, clean industrial, educational, civic--in existing spaces. They believe it's better to fully use the town center than to build subdivisions on green spaces on the periphery. Because LOIS businesses tend to be small, they can fit more easily inside homes or on the ground floor of residences Because they focus primarily on local markets, LOIS business place a high premium on being easily accessible by local residents. . . .

A TINA-dependent community, in contrast, is likely to suffer several kinds of environmental hazards. Box stores, for example, are characterized by gigantic parking lots, which cover vast tracts of land with concrete that drain off oil, gasoline, and other toxins into the water table, often in torrents that can lead to flooding. When national chains move on, these huge spaces are neglected, become eyesores, and lower property values. Nationwide Wal-Mart has three hundred vacant stores, and most are less than a mile away from the Supercenter that ook the predecessor store's place.

We do a good job in Chapel Hill of keeping the big box stores at bay. But perhaps not such a good job of encouraging LOIS to thrive within our borders and slowing down the leakage of dollars to those big box stores that call from up the highway. I'll look forward to talking with Dan and others about principled steps Chapel Hill and Carrboro can take to foster thriving local living economies.

No comments: