Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Project: Urban Poverty and a Community-Based Solution

Inner city Baltimore is characterized as an area of extreme poverty, crime, and a distinct lack of opportunity. More houses are condemned than inhabited, people live far below the poverty line, and many drop out of education and resort to crime due to a lack of other opportunities. Incarceration for minor offenses exacerbates this problem, as even after serving time they are unable to find useful work that pays a living wage. This cycle of poverty, under-education, crime, and violence undermines the thousands of underprivileged children, teenagers, and adults who are unable to extricate themselves from their situation.
Small businesses moving into the community often employ people from outside the community, and only serve to remove what little money there is from the local economy. Crime and other factors increase the cost of doing business locally, and solutions based on individuals outside the community quickly shutter in the face of these difficult challenges.
Here’s my proposal.
Community crowd-funded co-op Brewery
To create a local business to help revitalize the inner city Baltimore community and provide it with a sustainable source of socioeconomic growth in a challenging urban environment.
A community run and owned business would provide a source of economic growth and civic pride to its inhabitants. While other business models are possible, the concept of a locally owned brewery has multiple points of appeal.
  1. It is a product that can be tailored to the local flavor, reflecting the community it originates from. The community creates the brew it wants.
  2. The project does not require participants to have higher education – only a willingness to work on a project that pays them all dividends.
  3. Micro-brewing has a national audience, and beer is appealing to large group of individuals who specifically seek out new, unique flavors.
  4. The cost of starting a brewery is relatively small, and can quickly scale - Many individuals ALREADY brew their own beers, and this process just opens it up to the community at large.
  5. As a project run by and for the community, it need not discriminate based upon employment status, education, or criminal record – factors that often prevent gainful employment.
  6. Being community owned and operated keeps the economic benefit local, and gives each individual a stake in the company’s wellbeing, thereby lowering the risk of crime and vandalism against the institution. Community control means it becomes self-policing.
  7. By giving individuals the ability to provide useful, constructive work with a defined, visible benefit, we can remove the feeling of helplessness and replace it with a sense of agency that their own efforts can energies can bring them success, regardless of their disadvantages.
  1. Seed money needed to create the project.
  2. Marketing to the product outside the local community requires extensive effort and/or press involvement.
  3. Any project needs a board of organizers to direct efforts to where they are needed. The establishment of this board may prove a problem.
  4. The original concept is to create a “shareholder” system, where the amount of effort worked by an individual directly coincides with his relative share in the company. Creating a system to track and record this effort across multiple involved parties may be difficult.
  5. As a locally-run NPE, there may be legal and governmental challenges involved in setting up the organization and running it.
  6. Distribution of money/benefits among the shareholders may be an issue.
Other notes:
  • Could be initially crowd funded with the kickstarter + shareholder concept – monetary donation of minimum wage=1 hour worked for the purposes of determining share? This allows individuals to choose to fund the project either a detached sponsor who receives a singular, defined benefit, or to participate as an actively engaged member of the community who is interested in its day to day wellbeing.
  • Would require demolishing/construction costs to create a suitable space for brewing.
  • Could be coupled with a “community garden” type concept where we use local green spaces for agricultural resources (hops, barley, etc.) used in the process of brewing. This becomes another source of constructive work for the community with additional economic opportunities.
  • The addendum of a green space communal garden can help to bring better nutrition through cheap local produce as a farming co-op, especially important because impoverished inner city locations are known for a distinct lack of fresh produce.
  • Additional opportunities for things like solar farms and wind generation become possible to make the whole community more self-sustaining.

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