AXIS Performance Advisors

Demystifying sustainability

Time the new currency

Copyright 2009 AXIS Performance Advisors

Recovering Our Communities: Making Time the New Currency

by Darcy Hitchcock

Courtesy stockimages,

Courtesy stockimages,

Social capital, the strength of the relationships that bind us, is key to weathering this economic storm. The sliver lining of this crisis is that some people, at least, have more time on their hands and that time can be invested into building a better community. The average work-week has dropped. “According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of employees who normally work full-time but now clock fewer than 35 hours a week because of poor business conditions climbed 72% in November 2008 compared to November 2007”* and it’s bound to be worse now. My husband is one of many who has taken advantage of voluntary time off. Of course, some are flat laid-off and that is no fun; I can tell you that from experience. But all these situations give us time to reflect on the Buy more—Go into debt—Work harder—Buy more cycle we’ve been in for decades now. I’ve seen a number of different data points that indicate that our society is shifting mores. Money no longer makes the world go around; people do!

  • More people, especially those who have lost their jobs, are volunteering their time instead of donating their money. (Even Forbes Magazine was touting this. See
  • A morning TV talk show featured time banks where people ‘pay it forward’ with time instead of money to get what they need. (Go to for more information on these.)
  • Cash-strapped local governments are backfilling social services with volunteers and they’re not just stuffing envelopes. A number of communities are supplementing their police force with volunteers. (See for more information.)

Creating social capital is easier than you may think. Ten years ago, when my husband and I bought a house in Portland, I was dismayed to find out that many of our neighbors didn’t know one another. I thought we’d moved to the city to be around more people, but instead we’d just moved to an area where the houses were closer together. I asked around and no one seemed concerned. “People are busy.” “They have friends elsewhere.” After biding my time for about a year as the new kid on the block, I hosted a Northwest Earth Institute discussion course. I admit that it took some gumption. I worried, What if I invite people and no one comes? I really didn’t care which course we did; I just wanted to corral some of my neighbors long enough that they’d get to know one another. At the end of the 6 weeks, everyone said, “Wow, this was great! We should keep getting together.” It evolved into what is now a quarterly potluck. And the same people who just shrugged before are the ones who come the most. At our New Years Eve potluck one of our neighbors was talking to a couple who had recently rented a house. She kept saying, “You’ll never want to leave. This is the best street in all of Portland.” Then she turned to me, “Don’t you think so?” I smiled. It didn’t take much to get it started, but it didn’t happen by accident either.

You might think, So-what; they know one another now. Big deal. But these connections help us solve problems:

  • When we found out a flasher was working this area of town, we informed everyone via email and people posted signs of the police sketch along the sidewalk. That kept him away from our kids.
  • When one of our elderly neighbors got a compression fracture, the neighbors took care of her. I cleaned the cat box; someone else picked up groceries; someone else drove her to the doctor.
  • Our relationships even help people who don’t participate in any of these events. One man on our block recently had a stroke. Few people have had more than a couple words with him in years, but we’re picking up his mail, visiting him in rehab and watching his house.
  • We also learn about assets and skills people have. One family is raising chickens. Someone else has bike tools. Another is an expert in native plants. I grow produce, some of it in the front yard for the neighbors to pick. These may be useful skills in the new economy.
  • Even outsiders know about us. The new people who move onto this street—renters and owners—often have heard about the sense of community and get quickly introduced at our potlucks. Two years ago, a handful of us were chatting on the street and a car drove up. The woman stuck her head out and said, “I hear everyone knows everyone on Failing Street. I’m looking for a teenager by the name of ___ who baby-sits and I think she lives on Failing. Anyone know her?” We did.

The bottom line: Social capital makes your community more resilient and a whole lot more fun. It’s also safer. The list of neighbors I maintain helps people connect but is also an emergency management tool should we ever have a fire or other problem. It includes home and work numbers as well as the names of kids and pets.

Do you want to improve the social capital of your neighborhood or workplace? I have two suggestions:

DragonflyHost your own discussion course—Consider using the new discussion course called Dragonfly’s Question: Principles for ‘the good life after the crash. Unlike the Northwest Earth Institute courses (which I also recommend), this course is based on fiction—a novella—that draws people in and shows them how a wide array of principles could actually be applied. Woven into a sweet father-daughter story are such concepts as smart growth, bus rapid transit, green streets, distributed energy, rainwater catchment, waste to energy, district heating, precautionary principle, urban agriculture, and co-housing alternatives. The book includes the story and a chapter-by-chapter discussion guide. Go to to learn more.

Attend the Sustainable Community Development: Economic Renewal 101 course through the International Society of Sustainability Professionals—Gwen Hallsmith and her co-author Hunter Lovins will be teaching a class based on their LASER economic renewal process. This class will be held during the month of July with a webinar and assignments you complete on your own time each week. Gwen will lead the class and share her experiences from Montpelier VT (including innovations like local currencies). Hunter will be a guest speaker and will help design the class. Go to for more information on this course and others in the professional certificate series.



© Copyright 2009 AXIS Performance Advisors, Inc. All
rights reserved.


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