By Contributor on February 20, 2012

By Gar Alperovitz

Cities are financially strapped today, but many are adopting innovative strategies that offer much promise.

From Lowell, Mass., to Berkeley, Calif., cities have discovered they can make better use of the millions of municipal dollars that temporarily sit in bank accounts. They do this by choosing where to place deposits based on banks’ willingness to relend those dollars to meet local community development goals. This stimulates local economic development without placing new burdens on taxpayers.

Direct city ownership of land and businesses is another successful approach. Republican and Democratic mayors alike are involved in efforts ranging from land development to Internet and Wi-Fi services. In many cities, profits from municipally owned electric utilities also help finance other services and thus reduce the tax burden.

In Los Angeles, for example, the Department of Power and Water contributes about $190 million per year to the city’s revenues.

Still other cities have created new businesses to promote local economic development. Hundreds of municipalities, for instance, generate revenues through landfill gas recovery, turning the greenhouse gas methane (a byproduct of waste storage) into energy. Others have established programs to make equity investments in local firms and share in their success. San Diego, for instance, has invested $2.5 million in an “emerging technology” fund targeting small businesses in low-income communities.

Cities can harness other public assets to nurture the local economy. For instance, the ability of city governments to use the municipality’s purchasing power to keep business dollars circulating locally is vastly underappreciated. Utilized wisely, city purchases can provide a revenue-neutral way of supporting the development of community-anchored businesses: directing city contracts to firms structured in ways that keep jobs in the city.

In metro Cleveland, for instance, the purchasing power of the city’s existing “anchors” — not only hospitals and universities, but also local government itself — is providing a long-term market for a network of green worker cooperatives built in some of Cleveland’s poorest neighborhoods. This initiative not only builds the tax base; it also reduces the demand for city social services.

In an age of increasing fiscal crisis, we need comprehensive city-level economic planning. Strategies such as these may offer the only way out of the bind.

Rather than impose austerity, cut back on city services, and pit taxpayers against public employees, enlightened city managers can utilize these strategies to strengthen and unify their communities — not weaken and divide them.

Gar Alperovitz is the Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland and the co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative. His latest book is “America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy.” He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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