Monday, September 28, 2009

Neighbourhood Finance, Part II

Neighbourhood Finance, Part II

By John Taylor; 2009 Sep 28, Mashiyyat 02, 166 BE


Neighbourhood as Institution

Provenance of Neighbourhood Co-ops


More on the Neighbourhood as an Institution

The cornerstone of hillside architecture is the interposition between the family and the city of a new level of government, the neighbourhood. As we increase the power, independence and freedom of the family, so the potential influence of the neighbourhood, the immediate surroundings of families, must grow correspondingly. We noted yesterday that the inter-familial institution of the neighbourhood combines certain official governmental functions with a cooperative real estate trust and, among other things, a professional association of households living in that locality.

Strong leadership at this grassroots level would enable hillside architecture to come into existence in the first place. But ignoring that, it is clear that even in the present order vigorous neighbourhood leadership would allow a pooling of resources on a level that is bereft of financial leverage. A strong neighbourhood could target funds, including both grants and low interest loans, at improvements to neighbourhood infrastructure that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive for residents and too small for urban governments to undertake. Many of these projects are far from luxuries, they are crucial to protect the environment and reduce waste. Some that have proven successful in many places of the world are transportation initiatives like neighbourhood garages, car sharing programs, and other cooperative ways to reduce dependence on the automobile. Energy efficiency measures include geothermal installations, wind turbines, wind towers for cooling, and solar collectors.

To cite a recent example, one neighbourhood group near Washington, D.C. got together for the express purpose of financing and purchasing solar panels for every homeowner in the area who wished to participate. According to the organizer of this initiative, this idea was new and unfamiliar and required a great deal of persuasion. However, today several dozen homes in his area have solar panels, lowering electric bills for residents and reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the world. Economies of scale and greater purchasing power enabled the neighbourhood group to purchase and install PV panels at a much lower cost than homeowners could have done on their own.

Once neighbourhood government becomes a familiar institution, much more ambitious initiatives will become routine.


Provenance of Neighbourhood Co-operatives as an Idea


This essay series is the result of a cross-pollination of my ideas for adapting construction and architecture to the demands of climate change with the Panorthosia, or Universal Reform, of John Amos Comenius. At this point I wonder: Where did I get the idea of neighbourhood government? Is it my idea or his? The chapter titles of Panorthosia talk about affiliating world government with individuals, families, schools, churches and politics, but there is no separate treatment of neighbourhoods as such.

However, in the opening paragraph of the chapter on family he hints that family itself is an outcome of the individual's need to become an agent for change in his or her immediate surroundings, since "virtue begins by exerting its influence on its immediate neighbourhood..." (Panorthosia, Chapter 21, Para 1, p. 29) In the 24th Chapter, on politics, he discusses measures for improving communications, including offering free accommodation to travellers and visiting officials, who would attend regular neighbourhood information meetings to exchange ideas with locals.

"The tribes in every city should communicate through tribunes, who should assemble every month and confer about the happiness of the neighbourhood." (p. 122)

As for the neighbourhood institution being a cooperative, Comenius earlier in this chapter discusses an essential attribute of cooperatives, the fact that they are open, share in assets together, and are constitutionally opposed to exclusion and monopoly.

I have only ever heard of anti-trust laws as a recent phenomenon, so it is a surprise to read Comenius lumping monopolies along with severe political injustices like, "Politics, anarchy, tyranny, monopoly, violence ... instead of learning, prescriptions, imprisonment, execution, and warfare..." In fact, Comenius derives the beginning of the principle of eliminating monopolies from Mark 4:38, where the disciples reported that they had forbidden rivals from practicing miracles, and Jesus broke the "monopoly" on miracles by telling them to "forbid them not..." Indeed, Comenius coins a word, "oligopoly," meaning a broad, unofficial monopoly by the rich, in order to be sure to include iniquity and bullying by the wealthy, which usually does not fall under the strict definition of "monopoly."

"Monopoly and oligopoly" should likewise be done away with all over the world. This blot on our history whereby a number of people set up monopolies in our cities and kingdoms and exclude others from the right to trade, grabbing the first share of the cake, as it were, must be abolished in the reformed age. For just as we must not tolerate the confusing system under which a number of people force their way into everything by an order which determines who should undertake each enterprise, so it is equally intolerable that any work which more people could do better through the interplay of honest effort and mutual competition should fall into the clutches of a single individual, certainly a catch for him, but just as certainly a costly trick at the expense of the state. ... Everything should be common property except insofar as is necessary to preserve order and avoid confusion between parties. The same rule should be observed in the church and in schools." (Comenius, Panorthosia, p. 106)


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