Earn a Living in a Sustainable Local Economy

Today’s complex, global economic system is increasingly unstable. We need a pathway to stability and sustainability. That’s where the Elm Street Economy comes in. The Elm Street Economy is composed of locally-owned and locally-financed enterprises, industries, and independent practitioners who are invested in bringing long-term well-being to all living there, including nature. Its focus is on working together to create a dependable, environmentally sustainable way of life that brings basic services, products, and resilience back to our local communities.

Recognizing a pressing need to prepare for a better future, forward thinking people in communities from coast to coast are developing what we call the Elm Street Economy. Be it in a city neighborhood, a suburban sub-division, a small town or rural community, the Elm Street Economy is coming to life. It may look a little different from locale to locale, with urban Elm Street communities growing food on rooftops instead of backyards, for example, but wherever they might be located, they can flourish due to values and characteristics symbolized in this logo.

  • Local production of food, renewable energy and goods.
  • Local development of commerce, government and culture.
  • Reduction of consumption while improving environmental and social
  • Being an exemplary working model for other communities when the effects
    of decline of the existing economy and our natural resources becomes more

Why Elm Street, and Why Now?

The Wall Street Economy – with its vast government-supported bailouts – is far removed from the daily lives of most of us. While enriching an elite, Wall Street is causing high levels of stress for most us, rendering our pension and retirement funds insecure,  reducing access to credit, and burdening us with trillion-dollar tax burdens far into the future.

On the other end and as a result, the Main Street Economy as we’ve known it is struggling. Mom and pop stores are closing fast. What remains are mainly strip malls and franchises, leaving one community pretty much indistinguishable from another. Yet even they are barely hanging on, having primarily become distribution points for the products and services of companies overwhelmingly produced and brought in from faraway.

Jobs are shrinking, along with benefits. Nearly one in ten unemployed who are actively seeking a job can’t find one. Many others who are jobless have given up looking for one. Over 80% of us who still have a job worry about keeping it. Others fear losing their homes. Budget deficits have state and local governments eliminating the safety net once provided by basic public services. Our air, rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans are polluted with toxic properties that threaten our health and the health of the environment. Uncertainty about the future is stressing everyone.

In the emerging Elm Street Economy our communities and lives are shifting from:

  • Expensive, polluting fuels → clean renewable energy
  • Globalization → Localization
  • Over consumption → meaningful production
  • High-rise congestion → neighborhood and home convenience
  • Specialized → Generalizes Knowing Generalized
  • Cash and credit Varied means of exchange
  • Excess → Enough

Why It’s Working: 7 Characteristics of the Emerging Elm Street Economy

The Elm Street Economy is a proactive grass roots response to the uncertainty and stress on our personal and community lives from global economic instability, resource depletion, and climate change. It’s a plan B people are drawing on to resurrect strong, resilient local communities we can depend on first and foremost to meet the needs of a secure and fulfilling way of life. It’s aimed at providing with the means to safeguard a secure place to live, healthy food to eat, affordable quality health care, a hearty, healthy environment, and a less stressful way of life. In some ways it’s bringing back the best of the past; in other ways is pioneering something new.

1. Turning from expensive, polluting fuels toward clean, renewable, locally available energy.

Turning from expensive polluting fulesNotice the bicycle, the wind turbine and the solar panels in the logo? They’re symbolic of the forces driving the emergence of the Elm Street Economy. Throughout history the character of every culture time has been determined in large part by the available sources of energy. The Wall Street and Main Street economies we know today were built from vast quantities of cheap, abundant fossil fuels that heralded in the Industrial Revolution. Abundant cheap oil in particular has made Western society what it is today. But the era of abundant cheap oil is on the wane and the implications are already becoming life-changing.

We tend to take for granted the amount of energy we have instantly at our disposal everyday. But before the harnessing of fossil fuels, no human society had anywhere near the amount of energy we use to keep the current globally-based economy going. But with the age of cheap, abundant oil now waning, expending the ten calories of energy as we do now to produce one calorie of food is becoming unaffordable and unsustainable. As are many other things we expend energy on. Consider this:

Every time you turn on a 100-watt light bulb, it is the same as if you had a fit human being in the basement, pedaling as hard as they could to keep that bulb lit. That is how much energy a single light bulb uses. In the background, while you run water, take hot showers, and vacuum the floor, it is as if your house is employing the services of 50 such extremely fit bike riders. This “slave count,” if you will, exceeds that of kings in times past. It can truly be said that we are all living like kings.”
Chris Martenson, The Crash Course

Just one gallon of gasoline contains is equivalent to approximately 500 human hours work! A typical fill-up of 16 gallons is approximately equal to 8000 human hours or about 4 work-years (approximately 2000hrs/yr).

Reduction of fossil fuel usage and adoption of non-polluting sources of efficient local energy are hallmarks of the Elm Street Economy. It draws on beneficial technologies to produce renewable energy and improve health and education. You’ll see these qualities reflected in the other shifts that follow, as well

2. Relying on local resources to meet local needs.

Economic globalization has put our neighborhoods and local communities at the end of a very long supply chain, making us vulnerable to instabilities and fluctuations in the global marketplace.  The next time you go shopping, take a look at where the things you bought came from. What if you couldn’t get these things affordably from such distant locals because of a devalued dollar or rising energy costs? If you couldn’t easily forego them, how many are made with 50 miles of where you live? The Elm Street economy focuses on providing for the basic needs of everyone in the community with material, jobs, and labor that are largely based within our own region.

Some folks, like Dave Ewoldt of Transition Industries are launching small-scale light manufacturing and other “industrial” type endeavors at the neighborhood level that re-use what’s already available in place of complex
technology and global Industrialism’s unsustainable growth from afar.  Others like Fab@Home are gearing up to enable home manufacturing using new technologies like table top manufacturing to produce just about any object in three dimensions using a wide variety of materials, from chocolate to silicone.

3. Dropping our role as shoppers for the opportunity to produce meaningful work.

Notice there are no malls in the Elm Street Economy logo. Unfortunately our primary role in today’s economy is to consume. This is evidenced by repeated appeals by our leaders to go out and shop for the country. “Buy, buy, buy” is the mantra. Everyone is shaking in their boots these days because people are no longer spending money they don’t have to buy more things they don’t need.

The US has 22.2 square feet of retail space per person, while other first-world countries have only two or three square feet. But according to the United Nations’ happiness scale they are far happier and in the Elm Street Economy
we will be too.

In the Elm Street Economy instead of shopping and selling things made elsewhere, people are making and/or doing things for themselves and others that provide for the betterment of people, their households, and their communities. Their emphasis is on quality not quantity. They may be engaging in light industry like Dave Ewoldt and thousands of others or providing services like growing food, sewing, potting, repairing, hauling, cleaning or teaching others how to do such things themselves. The emphasis of these activities is on quality, not quantity. In our course Sustainable Livelihoods: Now, in Transition and for Tomorrow, we list hundreds of such ways one can contribute to their local community.

4. Living and working in or nearby our homes for ourselves and our neighbors.

You’ll notice in the Elm Street Economy logo that people are living, working, and recreating in or nearby their homes. Usually they work for themselves or their neighbors.  A local economy is a nearby economy. Some people define local as the distance one can comfortably ride a bicycle to and from. Others limit the meaning of local to the distance a healthy individual can walk to and from. Still others see is anywhere easily accessible by public transportation. But whether it’s in apartments, converted office buildings, or single family homes our work, daily life, family life, and entertainment need no longer separated by long, stressful  commutes and crowded venues. Like in the Elm Street Economy logo, residents of Oakland, California’s Temescal neighborhood are part of the Urban Homesteading movement, growing vegetables and herbs and raising chickens for themselves and local restaurants. Architects Catherine Chang and Chris Andrews live in the neighborhood design and remodel the craftsmen homes there.

5. Becoming Jacks and Jills of all trades; master of one.

Over the past 100-some years, we’ve turned many routine aspects of our lives over to specialists and professionals to the point that we’ve become unable to or feel unqualified to do the kind of basic things for ourselves that people have done for themselves throughout history. From raising our children to planning a wedding or repairing a window screen, we’ve come to believe we must hire experts or specialists to do things for us, at least, buy their how-to books, take a class, or have a consultations with them if we were to dare try doing them ourselves.

People in the emerging Elm Street Economy are busily re-empowered themselves to develop a wide variety of daily living skills and abilities, freeing themselves from having to pay others for things they can do themselves. But they are also honing their special, more complex or challenging talents and abilities to support themselves by providing help to others in the community who don’t have the time, energy, ability, or proclivity to carry out themselves.

Contractor Max Vogals in Oakland community is an example. Using recycled materials, he supports himself helping neighborhood residents and businesses with building projects they can’t take on themselves. Allison Ewoldt of Tucson, AZ, is another example. She’s teaching piano to the children in her neighborhood. In our community, Lia Sluyter does alterations; Linda Madden provides therapeutic massage – something it’s quite difficult to do for oneself!

6. Using a variety of means for exchange and investment.

The Elm Street Economy is built on local investments and local exchange of products and services through personal relationships with friends and neighbors we know and trust.

Investment and financial resources in the Elm St Economy are primarily being generated within the local community and retained within the community. Local investment is occurring through community banks, microloans, Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) networks, Solari Circles and credit unions.  Exchange of products and services isn’t limited to cash, check, or credit card purchases. Many needs are provided by voluntarily helping one another, lending and sharing, arranging for exchanges or swaps, setting up re-giving networks, bartering, using time banks, local currency, and setting up peer lending programs.

7. Choosing simple satisfactions over the burdens of excess.

Realizing that the scale of life has become too complex and too large, those who are building local economies people realize we not only have to stop growing, we have to cut back. As financier and philanthropist George Soros has pointed out, we’ve overshot – at the personal, local, state, and national levels, as well as in the use of our natural resources. We’re deeply in debt at all levels.  So for those in the Elm Street Economy, excess is out; satisfaction is in.

Like families in the early 1900’s, those who are part of the emerging Elm Street Economy find they’re happier and healthier doing meaningful work within their community in exchange for more free time and a chance to simply enjoy the basics of a secure, pleasant life. They no longer crave lots of  expensive possessions they would otherwise need to work long hours to pay for.

The kind of discretionary items we once spent many hours working to own just aren’t needed in the Elm Street Economy. Their idea of what they “need” has shifted from such things as gala catered parties and diamond-studded  doggie collars to enjoying  the security, comfort, and pleasure reliable and affordable local healthy food, sufficient water, sturdy, temperate shelter, comfortable clothing , energy, security, health services, sanitation, transport, maintenance, community, education, trade and technology,  strong community ties, entertainment, and a meaningful spiritual life.


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