Archive for the 'Economy' Category

The Compendium for the Civic Economy: a quick genealogy…

May 9, 2011

So the Compendium for the Civic Economy is now at the printers and will be launched on Thursday with NESTA and Cabe – for visual evidence of the printing process, see pictures below (taken last week).

We’re in countdown mode, but thought it’d be good to tell a bit about the genealogy of this book. We started talking about this idea here in the office in late 2009 / early 2010. On the one hand we realised that projects we had been involved with over the past few years, like Demos’ Urban Beach in Bristol and the Hub, all suggested a way of practicing spatial interventions which did not fit comfortably with the dominant urban policy narrative of the time – but which opened up powerful possibilities, experiences and conversations. On the other hand we recognised the deep crisis of purpose in the world of regeneration and place-making – a crisis that had become glaringly obvious in the wake of the financial crash, but that of course had been latent for a while, the inevitable result of the woefully thin value often created in the real-estate driven ‘regeneration’ projects of the past decade.

So we wanted to make manifest a wider range of initiatives, projects and ventures that collectively showed a glimpse of the way forward.

This was all about operating under a different set of parameters. After the crash, the absence of ‘big public’ or ‘big private’ funding made ‘more of the same’ classic physical infrastructure-driven projects not just pointless but actually pretty much impossible to achieve. So what were instead the projects that were relevant, viable, purposeful to pursue? We had organised an early series of debates about this together with the Architecture Foundation, and it also became the question that led to our book project and its 25 detailed case studies. The case studies range from citizen-built edible public spaces and member-led supermarkets to new communities of practice for social entrepreneurs, and from locally funded superfast broadband and self-commissioned housing to peer-to-peer ride sharing websites. What the book shows is how these are based on the initiatives of an increasingly wide range of civic-minded pioneers in the private, public and social enterprise sector, and that crucially they are built on local strengths – whether existing or latent social networks, people’s skills and aspirations, or dormant physical assets.

In the office, we sometimes spoke about this project as a ‘critical coffee-table’ publication – because we realised it needed to be both highly illustrated and analytical. After all, we wanted to show, on the one hand, the tangible quality of the projects that we had researched, and on the other hand reflect on what is required to create the fertile ground for this economy to flourish and grow. Therefore we aimed our book to help build an evidence base of existing projects, and to give pointers to the kind of policies, attitudes, prototyping projects and conversations that local leaders (whether in Local Authorities or otherwise) now need to engage with if they are genuinely going to unleash trajectories to build new shared wealth.

The result? It’s in print, see below, and to be launched on Thursday. And more importantly, it is part of an ongoing conversation – we build on the research and / or practice of a wide range of people like Robin Murray, Tessy Britton, Umair Haque and organisations like Space Makers or those collected in the Spatial Agency project – to name just a few. Our book is part of a discourse that itself is flourishing and becoming ever more powerful – in sum: to be continued…


the Compendium becoming a reality - thanks to Calverts our printers


Compendium for the Civic Economy: Official Launch 12 May 2011

May 4, 2011

Finally, after more than a year of blood, sweat and tears (and just a pinch of hard work), 00:/ will be launching its newest publication; Compendium for the Civic Economy – a book that showcases 100 existing civic initiatives that are transforming local economies and places in the UK and abroad. The official launch is scheduled for 12 May 2011 at 8.45-10.30 AM and will be hosted by NESTA at 1 Plough Place, EC4A 1DE, London.

Speakers include Pam Warhurst (Incredible Edible Todmorden), Sam Coniff (Livity) and our own Indy Johar.

To register for the FREE event, please visit:

From 12 May, the book will be freely available online at – please check the website and/or our twitter profile @civic_economy for updates.


(what) form follows (which) finance

September 28, 2010


I wrote this short provocation piece about changing urban project finance for an Academy of Urbanism roundtable organised last week with the Prince’s Foundation. It is also inspired by the project we are building with CABE and NESTA: a Compendium on the Civic Economy.

“It is a truism that in the rapidly changing economic, social and policy context, we will require a different set of mechanisms and pathways to unlock the investment streams required to re-think places. And if it is still true that ‘form follows finance’, this inevitably implies a different place-making mode. The financial logic underlying the Urban Renaissance has collapsed – so what will replace it?

The answer to this question is a contested terrain. We can, however, identify multiple emergent practices, some of which have been with us for some time now whereas others are more incipient. It is possible to outline some of the characteristic dynamics of these new practices. In particular we suggest three main parameters of change:

crowdsourcing fundng


use as service…”

[see 00_Whatformfollowswhichfinance for the rest of the 2 pager]


Micro Massive Movement

August 4, 2009

“Let’s take on Tesco’s with a People’s Supermarket”. This is the new project by ArthurPotts Dawson – the chef, who in partnership with the Shoredtich Trust, launched Acorn House, “London’s first eco-friendly training restaurant”.

His next venture – the People’s Supermarket is a not-for-profit co-operative supermarket that will open for trading in a high-street location in October 2009. The concept of the People’s Supermarket is based on the Rochdale Principles that has been around for 150 years – a food co-operative. Members will be expected to pay a £25.00 joining fee and commit to working in the shop for four hours per month. There will be a request to invest a further, refundable £25.00 over the course of the first year of membership to generate working capital. In return for their commitment, members will own a share in the business and be promised a discount on the cost of their shopping of at least 20%. The more members that the supermarket attracts and the more each member spends in the shop, the higher the profits and the greater their ability to reduce prices.

So is this just a cheap locally run supermarket? No. It is a much more powerful sign of an emerging trend that might transform our local high streets and communities. It is one example of an emerging economy that harnesses the resources available at the micro level of each individual citizen, but at the massive scale of the community to enable time, finance or skills to be invested together to enable the provision of a service in combination as a means of investment. This trend has the potential to construct a whole new architecture for investment by taking advantage of the dispersed capacities that are available to deliver public services at a massive scale whilst building trust bridges across our communities.

Potts isn’t alone – other such stories span from the local filling station in the remote Scottish village of Applpecross, where the small community of less than 200 residents formed a Community Company to run the petrol station that was vital to the community’s survival, because the manager couldn’t individually afford to maintain the pumps; to the post office in the Hertfordshire village of Tewin that was revived by the local residents who formed an Industrial & Provident Society to apply for loans with residents matching this with fundraising, time and skills, and is now collectively managed by 60 volunteers. Each demonstrate the power of aggregation across a community of small amounts of time, money, skills – something we are understanding as the “micro massive” – in order to deliver a local service, and at the same time building the relationships that help create, and more importantly maintain, community.

In a post consumer capital post welfare state landscape, in which large sums of funding will be scarce, are these the new architectures of investment and community building?


Redundant Architects Recreation Association [R.A.R.A.]

July 6, 2009


R.A.R.A. is a new workspace in Clapton, East London. Set up by the East London Design Bureau it offers workstations, a workshop, tools, storage and a collaborative atmosphere possibly absent in your common or garden architectural office. Especially one you may no longer work for. It’s also close to the greenery and general pleasantness of the Hackney Marshes. Bonus. Address: Unit 2, Grosvenor Way, Clapton, Hackney E5 9ND…


“Selling is the new saving.”

April 22, 2009

Despite putting too much weight behind the cringeworthy term “sellsumer,” this article on identifies a significant trend and includes a good list of websites that make it easy to sell products and services online. These websites have proliferated as their web masters play the part of long-tail middlemen, benefiting from low initial investment. Equally, users flock to such services as they allow them to profit from their skills without having to negotiate the complexities of setting up an online business from scratch. Add the recession to the mix as an added incentive, and this efficient coupling of micro-entrepreneurs and long-tail middlemen could be poised to command a good slice of the online economy.


Welcome to the age of Civic Capitalism [The new Darlings]

March 22, 2009

The following article in the FT gives hope – and finally direction – that a new form of capitalism can be born – that works with the principles of everyday democracy – rather than over empowering the “levering few” to create a pusedo autocracy [where leadership defeats accountability]

Don’t get me wrong the current mutual model has its problems – one of the most significant is the ability to socially innovate as the need for accountability often defeats leadership/entrepreneurship.  This to me presents the interesting organisation challenge – in the mutual model – a need to combine everyday legitimacy [in scale] with leadership to deliver the sustainable innovation.

Article attached.

Darling to give backing to mutual model

By George Parker and Jim Pickard

Published: March 20 2009 20:03 | Last updated: March 20 2009 20:03

Alistair Darling will next month signal strong support for mutual savings banks and building societies when he sets out a white paper on strengthening Britain’s financial system.

The chancellor has spoken warmly about the mutual model, embodied in institutions such as Nationwide, which tend to run a less risky business model, based on savings and lending. The Treasury is assessing potential legal or regulatory changes to help mutuals ahead of the white paper.

“That would include mutuals and credit unions. Having institutions which fund themselves using different models is good from the point of view of financial stability.”

Although Mr Darling accepts that some mutuals can be run just as badly as banks such as Northern Rock, he believes they are less likely to use “extreme” funding models or to depend so heavily on wholesale money markets. Building societies have only 20 per cent of the mortgage market, down from 59 per cent before the wave of demutualisations sparked by the Building Societies Act of 1986.

Since then, the number of mutuals has fallen from 110 to 55 – a fraction of the 1,700 that existed in 1900.

Occasionally there have been conversions in the other direction, such as four years ago when Bristol & West was bought from Bank of Ireland by Britannia. Mr Darling is under pressure from within the Labour party to revive the sector. Michael Stephenson, general secretary of the Co-operative party – which numbers 29 Labour MPs among its members – said there was a “unique” opportunity to remutualise parts of the banking industry.

He said the mutual model was the obvious way forward for Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley. The two institutions could be consolidated into a single new building society which would be owned by its members, he said. Alternatively existing mutuals could be given the right of first refusal when the pair were sold.

This idea has won the backing of the influential Compass group of left-leaning MPs, which wants to go further and mutualise other high street banks.

In theory the process would be easy, given that a new building society needs only £1m of funds and at least 10 members. But there could be a large cost – to either the government or members – in setting up a new entity, especially if it has large debts.

Treasury officials have signalled that Mr Darling would prefer to sell Northern Rock back into the private sector at some point for a profit.

Supporters of the mutual model admit that it is not perfect. Four of the weaker brands have been bought by stronger rivals in the past year to prevent their collapse. It has emerged that Dunfermline, Scotland’s biggest building society, is in effect up for sale after becoming loss-making.

But a spokeswoman for the Building Societies Association said that the time was ripe for an expansion of the sector, given that its model tended to lead to cheaper borrowing rates. “Customers are fed up with the plc banking model, this is a good time for alternative models.”

the software of…sharing software

March 16, 2009

For some time now I have been thinking about the issue of new social techs that allow us to share everyday resources more efficiently – Streetcar being an excellent example: using existing technologies it allows users to approach the logic of Just-In-Time delivery for such a basic parameter of life as private transport, underpinning a much more efficient use of a resource that for most people sits dormant most of the time: the car.

In industry, dormant capital goods represent waste. The same logic applies for many resources, be they consumer goods or business resources, which are merely means to an end – in this case mobility. There are so many examples across many sectors, from books (an obvious one) and gardening / DIY tools (or toys) to office desk space and underprogrammed community halls. If we succeed to intensify their use, we achieve higher living standards whilst minimising waste and therefore, environmental impact. This requires social innovation – the use of social techs to make this possible. The roll-out of public libraries (or public baths, for that matter) in the 19th Century is a good example – a social innovation (clearly not a technical one) which built new institutions in working-class neighbourhoods to improve quality of life. They answered a need in their time by taking an existing concept and creating an organisational and physical infrastructure to create intensified use, enriching the public realm.

I thought that, like Streetcar, the urban bicycle renting schemes of Paris and Barcelona were an excellent example – a new sharing software that combines available technologies to answer a contemporary need, enriching the public realm and laying the basis for a new sharing ethic in our cities, which itself could nurture social capital and underpin a new development cycle in our social-economy, creating new civic institutions …

Yes. But. See last months report on Paris here

They get nicked. Or trashed. Or dumped. Or ‘exported’. The Curse of the Free Rider is everywhere. A New Commons depleted.

So, we have created the institution and the social tech but not found ways to validate and reinforce the collective behaviour norms required to sustain it. The very software of this sharing software failed – (it’s like pissing in the pool, really).

So now what?


Sharing Economy: Art Swap and Project Party

March 6, 2009

Another art project that is part of the East festival that explores alternative economic systems is the Art Swap and Project Party, an experiment looking at the value of art. Participants may choose to swap art for art (or something else of value). The aim is for no money to be exchanged, only value for value. The curators are questioning their subscription role by relinquishing it. Artists are being asked directly the question of value, both intrinsic and extrinsic, in choosing to participate (or not) in the exhibition and the art swap. Viewers, too, have their part to play. To acquire an artwork in the swap, they need to assess value without the benefit of gallery endorsement and pricing and determine their own method of payment. The final part of the project is the documentation of the art swap.

“It seems an apt time given the global economic uncertainty, with the acquisition and prices of art falling. Damien Hirst stirred controversy with his statement that “art is only worth what someone will pay for it”. But to those who refute this by saying that art’s value is intrinsic, there is the question of intrinsic to whom? Intrinsic via the institutional subscription process still leads back to the art market, even indirectly through the need for financing. Joseph Beuys said that real capital is not money but people as the sum of creativity of all individuals. This experiment seems one way to test that.”

Art Swap and Project Party, 5 to 12 March 2009, August Art, Wharf Studio, Baldwin Terrace, N1 7RU.


S-COOP: Alternative economic systems

March 6, 2009


Last night some of us went to S-Coop, the last in Whitechapel Gallery’s Street art commissions. Mexican artist Minerva Cuevas has created a new currency, the S-COOP, which is being circulated by Petticoat Lane Traders and can then be exchanged for ice-cream. You can buy the S-COOP coins for £1.20 or receive them as part of your change from participating market traders. When received as change, you are rewarded for your custom with a 20p discount.

The project is interesting as it explores an alternative economic system. This model dates back to the 1900s when English co-operative societies operated a non state-sanctioned tender (commodity tokens) that were exchanged for goods. Members would go into their society’s shops to buy pre-paid tokens, commonly for specific commodities such as milk, bread or coal, and use the token to pay for deliveries. Some of the advantages were: paying for deliveries without the need for cash and change, budgeting (especially useful when times are hard) and the amount spent would be registered for dividend payments.

blog_co-op-tokens1Cuevas touched on the loyalty reward model with her 20p reduction for customers. In co-operative societies the profits from the shop were shared with their members in the form of a dividend. The profits were distributed in proportion to the amount each member spent in the store. In the 1930s, members would often receive 15p for each pound they spent. The tokens would then be exchanged when the dividend was distributed – on ‘Divi Day’. Over the years each individual co-operative society has adapted the dividend system in different ways. Some use the traditional system, others distribute the dividend to community groups – I think this is what Waitrose does, customers vote for their chosen cause with a token.

The only supermarket in my hometown is a co-operative society and my parents benefit financially – by being members they receive dividend vouchers each year to spend in store (until a recent merger these were approx £600). In addition to the loyalty reward, also operated by other supermarkets, their membership brings a degree of empowerment, eg going to the AGM and challenging the over-use of packing or getting your local store to stop changing the lay-out! May be not operating at it full potential… but in these current times businesses may have to think about the added value they offer to keep customers.