Building communities in times of economic crisis

I’ve been reading about how people are coping with the Great Recession. Here in Australia things are not as bad – so far the fear is worse than the reality. In the United States and other countries things are much worse – house values have dropped by 30% in some areas, banks are foreclosing, unemployment is rising and shop shelves are empty.

My friend Erin, who lives in Florida, told me about her optometrist who is only working two days per week because people are putting off getting their eyes checked. At the time that she told me this a couple of months ago this seemed outrageous to me, a wearer of spectacles since I was 10, but it makes sense. You put off going to the optometrist, the dentist, the doctor, the pharmacy, if you have to pay for it yourself and you can’t.

What can we do in such times as these? When the government can’t (or doesn’t) help us we have to help ourselves, and each other. Here are some ideas for how we can do that. I was reading messages from a mailing list on Positive Psychology recently and was led to a blog written by Tom Munnecke, who lives near San Diego in California. I’d read it before, and I am now even more struck by how relevant it is, and how useful it could be.

Some of the suggestions are:

Create a neighborhood bulletin board where folks can list reminders, and needs and offers (one retiree offers homemade cookies for lunches in exchange for dog walking; college students might swap auto-detailing for home cooked meals).

Map the resources of skills and offers (science tutoring by a neighborhood retiree, revolving cooking classes, transportation pooling) and keep it circulating in the neighborhood using flyers, emails and bulletin boards. Amateur Photographers in one neighborhood might supply family sittings & portraits; in return they gain both recognition and remarkably creative portfolios and scrapbooks.

Put up a bookcase in a shared community space (Laundromat, Church hall, Doctor’s office) for a Bring One/Take One of books, magazines and videos.

Closet Shopping Sprees require that everyone bring five or more clean garments, and then take away the equivalent, or simply enjoy passing them on.

If every family begins to list what truly nourishes their family and nurtures their sense of identity, of belonging, of hope and of contribution, we can then share our lists and weave together a web of support based on these things.

There are many others, and I recommend reading the post here. It is interesting that the ideas came about from a conversation – not from one person alone.

I also like his Top 10 Ideas for making the world a better place. Some of them are specific to the United States – we have already removed “pennies” (one cent pieces) from circulation and changed to metric measuring here in Australia. Vote-counting is not the issue here that it is in the States either. Positive language, including the cost of disposing of excessive packaging in the pricing, and seeing ourselves as “good ancestors” being observed from the future; these are all ideas that can be useful everywhere.