Oct 242016
 

Newtown, Powys is a part of the emerging new world, just like everywhere else. This world is globalized, computerized and interconnected. This is a fast changing reality, where jobs, careers and industries don’t stay in a way they used to be.

The therm “connection economy” was coined by Seth Godin to describe the new economic reality where the connections between the nodes in the system have as much value as the nodes themselves (i.e. businesses, charities, social enterprises, groups, individual people). To stay afloat in this world we need to build connections.

Currently what we have is a haphazard system of people with skills, aspirations and needs. People organize into businesses, enterprises, families, voluntary groups. Some services provided and needs formed by individuals, some by groups. And each individual is a conglomerate of skills and interests which, in turn, develop and evolve at a different pace… 20161024_063525-picsay

We need to connect all that efficiently in a manner similar to how Uber connects taxi drivers and people in need for a taxi ride or Amazon connects people in need of a thing with people selling that very thing. The task is a bit simplified if we only look at Newtown and the area.

So this is about

  • an efficiently working,
  • up to date

local job / skill matchmaking system built for both

  • short term and long term
  • cooperation and collaboration of
  • individuals and whole businesses/groups who need to be able to
  • specify what can they offer and
  • what do they need,
  • do they want to pay / be paid – or, if they want to volunteer / attract volunteers, what are the rewards (e.g. moral satisfaction from really helping someone in difficult situation, learning a skill, making friends, having fun, etc).
  • This system has to be up to date, fit for urgent needs, so, for example, if in a cafe their usual cleaner is ill on one day, they can quickly find replacement for that time.

The system doesn’t need to appear overnight but might be developed gradually, starting, for example, with a skill database for a group of volunteers. The Newtown and Area Culture Coop is already collecting data on local people willing to do translations from variety of languages.

Apart from needs and offers this system should have shared pool of

  • ideas for collaboration, which may or may not develop into businesses or voluntary groups.

For example, if I want to be a part of an art cafe team I’ll post the info on people’s skills/interests I am looking for to make my dream happen. The Ernesto Sirolli’s idea that nobody can start a company or business alone goes well with using this type of skills and ideas database. So people who make a product, sell it and look after the money can find each other almost instantly.

There are already several job/skill matching systems, on a local and global level but I think there’s a good niche for something new and more “wholesome”.

Mentors and advisers. It is excellent to have them around but they can’t always do everything for everybody – you really need one per one person! And even for Newtown and the area it is impossible to keep in one’s person head all the existing and new opportunities and connections which could benefit a particular person or business. Mentors could use this new matchmaking system for their work. I had some experience  with a Government funded  service called Antur Business which is aimed at those interested in starting a new business. The support was for a limited time only and then I was on my own again.  I know this is the issue of money and I am sure most businesses would share the profits when they start getting them. Then the mentor truly becomes a collaborator in the business.

LinkedIn. A good place to store information about your skills, experience and aspirations. It would help a bit if everybody in town were actually using it continuously.Very few people do. If you to say you are looking for a job it asks you to choose from a limited set of old fashioned industries. But what if you want to spend a few hours a week cleaning anywhere in town while, say, writing your PhD? Or to do an occasional translation when there’s a need in the area for somebody with your language skills?

JobCentre Plus. I knocked on their door once just to see what they are doing. First they asked if I have a visa. I panicked thinking which county they are talking about. Apparently this one. No, I don’t need a visa. Then they said “Go and get your benefits”. But I am not entitled to any. And then I literally was sent home to go look into the government database online. You would think, what is the point in having a huge building in town, wasting electricity and paying staff their salaries? I don’t know, maybe somebody had better experience with them than me. I didn’t feel like ever coming back.

Universal Jobmatch founded by government. No matter how much you try to limit the area you are searching for (Newtown) you’ll get a long list of jobs from Cardiff and Newport you have to go trough. The jobs themselves are very limited in their definition and occurrence. For example, I couldn’t even find such a job as “cleaner”. Not grand enough? It is certainly not a tool for close knit, everyday local cooperation I am thinking about. This system has no tools to cater for small, odd jobs, freelance and commissions.

Indeed (and probably other similar online job search services). Has significantly more local jobs and better search. It is good that people can search their jobs by a keyword, for example “creative” or “research” – so you don’t need to stick to particular industry. It is partly duplicating LinkedIn without its fun parts: social media connections and pictures illustrating what one actually does. Your skills don’t seem to connect to the job recommendations given to you by the site, which is odd. And of course this is only suitable for traditional full-blown jobs, not going into cooperation, volunteering, odd jobs, lifelong learning, freelance and combinations of all this. If we to build a new matchmaking system it would optimally include all traditional local job postings but also be much more than just that.

Facebook. This is only can work for you if you are lucky enough to open the right page at the right moment and somebody posted a job you can do. This is not a proper database.

Streetbank offers free sharing of skills and things. Currently there is 22 neighbors sharing 3 things in Newtown area… Honestly I can’t imagine this growing unless we live in a free economy or there’s Basic Income for everybody. Although is it very nice to give and receive for free, people still need income to pay for food, heating , etc. So they will rather go to Ebay or some means of searching for paid work and who can blame them?

Time bank and Do-It only cover volunteering.

Word of Mouth. Knocking on the doors as several people told me is the way to find jobs in Newtown. When I had a shop at the Ladywell centre I’ve seen desperate looking people walking into all the little shops asking for jobs. Knocking on wrong doors. This is a waste of time and energy. Perhaps if somebody knows lots of people locally and keep an up to date mental map of needs and demands they have more chance of finding a job this way, unlike any newcomers or just shy people.

Going 100% online. Buy supplies, make something and ship without ever going to town. It seems to be good solution for many people but it it is likely to deprive them of truly belonging to the place and building real off-line friendships. We are not built to live online. Plus they are going to compete with people from other parts of the world where life may be cheaper and this race to the bottom is impossible to win. Rather than engage in this it often is more rewarding to collaborate and cooperate with real people locally. 

(Please let me know if I missed something – do not want to duplicate what is already working).

For some people the prospect of continuously doing freelancing, odd projects and jobs must be quite scary. There is an opinion that  some of us naturally need more novelty and variety than others. There is also an opinion that the times changed and everybody will have to cope with more uncertainty, no matter what they preferences are. As Seth Godin put it:

“Where did all the good jobs go? They didn’t head to other countries or even down the street. The good jobs I’m talking about are the ones that our parents were used to. Steady, consistent factory work. The sort of middle class job you could build a life around. Jobs where you do what you’re told, an honest day’s work, and get rewarded for it. Those jobs. Where did they go? The computer ate them.

This change may come to Newtown slower than to New York, but it will come and we better be ready. I think many people may need organized help with registering as self employed. From my experience this is quite straight forward, as is filling the tax form once a year. And people need reassuring that they don’t pay taxes unless they earn above the threshold.

To be working this system needs funding. It needs boots on the ground + software (ideally both for computers – a WordPress plugin? – and a phone app). Is there a grant for this? On the other hand there may be a small payment for each successful match which will feed the system once it is established, so this might be a social enterprise / business?

Developing this way Newtown may become a first truly Connected town. Good old days may be gone but it is time to start building a Good New Town.

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Oct 042016
 

Here’s my contribution to the debate

Many small scale experiments for a more resilient future

Now that we have an opportunity to rethink the future of agriculture, land management and the life of rural communities in Wales, let people to experiment and to find out what will work. There is no need to play havoc with all of the rural economy at once but please allow innovation and initiative on a small scale, as long as there is no clear and obvious risk to people, animals and the environment. There must be people willing to experiment, creating all sorts of new businesses, eco-villages, homesteads and seasteads, various intentional communities. Give them a good fighting chance then take evidence-based decisions, not affected by fads or overrated opinions of the most vocal of lobbies. Even then, no government should ever place all eggs in the same basket (be this sheep farming or timber). Diversity in business models and lifestyles improves the resilience of any economy just like biodiversity helps ecosystems to survive changes and hard times.

alexfarmboysmall

Why the contribution is important

Presently there are lots of things going wrong with our lives. Our towns are surrounded by countryside but people may feel very distant from it. The farmland creates backdrop to their lives but is inaccessible due to lack of footpaths, public transport and human connection to the farming community, lack of internet – and lack of interest too. This is not a healthy relationship. The people are suffering, stuck to cities and towns with ridiculously small gardens and manicured parks. People need real nature and countryside for mental and physical health. People need fresh quality food, need connection to the land and to the community. So, we need our intelligence to develop a way of living in harmony with nature, surrounded by nature everywhere where we are. I am thinking in the direction of sustainable small scale farming, food forests, “garden cities”, decentralisation, edible landscapes, living roofs and walls, passive houses, forest farming, green burial sites, silvopasture, permaculture, aquaponics, real community gardens serving real communities, etc. – whatever works. I believe human activity and flourishing could be conducted within a healthy ecosystem made of us, our stuff, wide variety of plants and animals.

I am an artist and a geographer interested in creating a prototype semi-rural intentional community (an eco-village, an eco-block or an eco-neighborhood), an ongoing experiment for a better way of living, more sufficient and efficient, closer to Nature, working with the help from newest technology. An open lab of an honest, creative and compassionate life, strong friendly community, better health and well-being. Doing research into reintroducing wildlife, into more efficient food production and waste recycling systems, into automation, working on the new ways to get energy, new building methods, new educational systems, restoring useful agricultural and building practices from the past, and so on. People of various interests and abilities creating better lives for themselves, their friends, neighbours and families, ultimately, for the whole Earth. In the world obsessed with divisions this should be a place of honest enquiry, free of prejudices and any party rhetoric.

What we need is relaxing of planing permissions and other regulations for experimental / alternative communities, eco-villages, or self-built houses; we need land and we need grants. It is vitally important that public money won’t go to some smoke screen / green wash projects for clever bureaucrats but to real people building real future. There also should not be any exploitation of vulnerable and gullible “volunteers”, like in some modern social enterprises. People who will be living and working in those future communities are also the best candidates for building them.

The wast green spaces of Wales are treasures. We have a chance to make them also different to all other rural parts of the world in being a magnet for innovation and future-friendly experiment, brain-and skill- gain rather than drain, place for openness and cooperation, honest work for common good.

 

If you are interested in participating, please join the New Good Town project athttp://goodnewtown.uk/ and our Facebook page athttps://www.facebook.com/groups/goodnewtown/

by AlexandraCook on October 04, 2016 at 11:27AM

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Sep 192016
 

An eco-village need maximum efficiency to prevent wasting of any of its resources. This actually implies that it should be run by a AI, who constantly monitors all of the systems. It may look a bit dystopian, but if this AI can’t switch off the life support or lock the doors (usual fiction pitfalls!), plus there is a back up manual way of running things smoothly, why not? Why not use the technology which would save energy and time? Good for people, good for the environment.

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Jul 202016
 

Good New Town (ecovillage) Manifesto ideas

http://www.facebook.com/groups/goodnewtown/

The purpose of the community is creating a better way of living, more sufficient and efficient, closer to Nature, and with the help from newest technologies. Living a honest, creative and compassionate life, building a strong community, improving health and wellbeing. Making edible landscapes and wildlife habitats. Learning. Finding true calling. Creating better lives for ourselves, our friends, neighbors and families, for the whole Earth.

  1. The community as a whole should stay away from all dogmas, political, religious, social, dietary, ecological, spiritual, etc. This should be firmly placed in our constitution to prevent future take-overs by any individuals. The community needs to be build by friendly, honest, diverse people (with many different opinions of their own), open to many ideas and experiments and ready to do the hard work involved. The main criteria in choosing the common course of actions should be “Does it work for us?” and “Is it beneficial for people and the environment on both the small and on the big scale, now and in many possible futures?” but not “This is what our kind of people normally do”. We should try to show an example of better co-existence, devoid of name-calling, smear campaigns, plotting and bullying.
  2. We will respect freedom of expression and freedom of speech. Expressing an opinion, unpopular with the others, should not be considered an offense and should not be feared by anyone. Everybody should be willing to listen, to try to understand and to learn from each other. To stay together we need to learn to be patient, compassionate, rational, open minded and objective. Everybody should have the right to express their opinion even if they don’t have a loud voice. No idea affecting the community should be ratified without scrutiny.
  3. Cooperation should be built into the community structure. For people wanting to live a completely hermetic life there’s no reason to join an ecovillage! Yet we all have our need for privacy, for a room of our own and a (small) secret garden. We all also have different requirements for social life, some needing company more than others. There should be plenty of sharing, various common spaces and tools which would save everybody on buying their own. There should be regular working meetings in various sub-groups and plenty of recreational (optional) get-togethers. The aim is to fight isolation and loneliness at the same time as providing privacy, all in balance.
  4. We don’t know what the future brings. The community should be built flexible and capable of existing in different circumstances: technological boom, economic collapse, increasing population, decreasing population, trade, self sufficiency, etc. We should work together developing a number of efficiently working systems of energy, food, social dynamics, etc – with backup plans too.
  5. This is going to be a living experiment, a living lab, a prototype, and its achievements need to be shared with the world. Everybody will decide how open they are going to be, but there should be enough information to attract visitors, (investors?), prospective new members and sponsors. We will need accurate, scientific publications and presentations about our progress, and proper research conducted. The research on the site could be about community forming, nutrition, exercise, wellbeing, reintroducing wildlife, food production and waste recycling systems, automation, developing creativity, solar panels and other ways to get power, new building methods, new educational systems, restoring some ancient agricultural practices, and so on.
  6. This should not be an isolationist “town”. It needs to be connected to the world in many ways, especially benefiting from new ideas and radiating our own ideas in return.
  7. We should affirm that all of us have talents, and all in a different way. We can’t build the stable community without variety. Some will be better at generating new ideas, other at developing efficient methods of work, etc, there always will be people more skilled at particular crafts and activities, working on different schedules, people with different physical abilities. Everybody is a conglomerate of several strengths, developing at different paces. We should respect this and help everybody to contribute in the best way. We also should keep in mind that the speed and ability of adaptation to any new circumstances vary significantly among us.
  8. Exposure to nature is very important to our wellbeing. This includes fresh air, fresh food, plenty of space to walk, work and play, low levels of light pollution and noise pollution. Yet the location should be within a good public transport network, easy to visit for car free people (who could also be a significant part of the ecovillage’s population).
  9. We need to develop a yearly calendar of celebrations and special rituals, acceptable to people of various views, celebrating Nature and seasons, creativity, friendship, stages of life, cooperation, curiosity, love, work, connection to the world, to lives and achievements of people before us. This is essential for building a strong community with good emotional connections.
  10. New members should be accepted after a trial period of time, on the base of loving the project and willing to cooperate, to help, to learn, to listen, to work hard. If people feel they do not belong anymore, it should be easy for them to leave. Eviction would be the last measure for people absolutely refusing to cooperate. There should be a well thought voting system for various issues, for example people get evicted after 5 warnings each issued by more than 70 per cent of the members.
  11. We should work on a “unschooling” education system, without forgetting that some kids need much more structure and authority than others. All of them need a lot of space and time to play outside!
  12. There should be a very clear, transparent financial record for the community funds, everybody should be aware where grant and donation money are going to. Inviting volunteers should be done tactfully, carefully, without exploitation. Prospective members should start as volunteers. People dreaming of creating they own intentional communities should be encouraged. As for others, they need to be asked regularly if they still interested to help, making sure there’s no exploitation of vulnerable people, who often are reluctant to say “no”. If volunteer activity contributes to any financial gain, either for community of for its members, everybody should be aware of this. Ideally, I would rather see cooperation than volunteering, where people clearly gain for their efforts be it knowledge, enjoyment, food, accommodation or money.
  13. It would help people if they feel more in charge of their lives and connected with their neighbours. They hopefully will live in a community knowing and valuing their talents. The production of (at least) significant part of food, energy and water will be happening all around them. The culture of sharing, helping and listening will be encouraged. People will be able to say their word in any important local matter. All this should give the sense of belonging, security and responsibility. There should be less clutter in homes as people know there always will be some community safety net. There will be lots of exchanges with similar experimental communities around the world too.
  14. There hopefully will be many opportunities for work, both inside and outside the “village”. The inside part could include: growing food and other crops, creating surplus electricity, accommodation, hosting events, research, teaching, arts and crafts… Outside jobs could be anything either done within commuting distance or online. Every person/family should be able to decide what suits them best. There could be a system when everybody works certain amount of hours for the community, still doing whatever they love, for example, web design, plumbing, animal care, working in the community shop, counseling, etc, to get free electricity, fuel, childcare, food and water, access to shared tools and facilities, e.g. workshops, gym, library, sauna. This should be a fair, very efficient and transparent system.
  15. The building should be made durable, healthy (for people and environment) and with greatest possible variety plus ability to personalize them later, so people escape feeling of being a part of a caged hens installation with everybody living in identical houses. There should not be such thing as unused monoculture lawns, but playing fields, playgrounds, spaces for gathering and resting, meadows, pastures. Roof should be green, or used for solar panels, or flat, used as rooms when the weather permits. Trees and bushes around houses should bear fruit (they also provide blossom in the spring!), nuts, firewood, branches for basket making or be useful for people and wildlife in some other way. Multiple use of space would be among our values, as well as zero waste and working with nature rather than against it.
  16. Like any community, we would benefit from being a good mixture of people of all ages.
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Dec 182015
 

Be gentle with all things of nature for everyone

Often we can hear that it is the modern “civilized” humans that exploit and destroy the nature, while the indigenous cultures lived in good 800px-Panneau_algonquinbalance with the land for many generations. Was this always the rule? The way in which the latest extinction of megafauna happened suggest otherwise.

Outside the mainland of Afro-Eurasia, these megafaunal extinctions followed a highly distinctive landmass-by-landmass pattern that closely parallels the spread of humans into previously uninhabited regions of the world, and which shows no overall correlation with climatic history . Australia was struck first around 45,000 years ago,[30] followed by Tasmania about 41,000 years ago (after formation of a land bridge to Australia about 43,000 years ago),[31][32][33] Japan apparently about 30,000 years ago,[34] North America 13,000 years ago,South America about 500 years later,[35][36] Cyprus 10,000 years ago,[37][38] the Antilles 6,000 years ago,[39] New Caledonia[40] and nearby islands[41] 3,000 years ago,Madagascar 2,000 years ago,[42] New Zealand 700 years ago,[43] the Mascarenes 400 years ago,[44] and the Commander Islands 250 years ago.[45] Nearly all of the world’s isolated islands could furnish similar examples of extinctions occurring shortly after the arrival of humans, though most of these islands, such as the Hawaiian Islands, never had terrestrial megafauna, so their extinct fauna were smaller.[28][29]

An analysis of the timing of Holarctic megafaunal extinctions and extirpations over the last 56,000 years has revealed a tendency for such events to cluster within interstadials, periods of abrupt warming, but only when humans were also present. Humans may have impeded processes of migration and recolonization that would otherwise have allowed the megafaunal species to adapt to the climate shift.[46] “

Stone age humans, as close to nature as anyone could be, were bringing the destruction as soon as they could, everywhere they spread. All our ancestors did it. Only then, when perhaps the easy prey was gone, the balance in new ecosystems eventually was established. That’s how Nature works. Any species suddenly received an advantage would spread till stopped by famine, predators and disease.

Only now, when our intelligence has grown enough, we started to think about future. We don’t want to spread till we have to starve because there’s no more resources. We want to study and save other species, even ones which have no nutritional or aesthetic value for us.

There’s no need to do human-bashing. We’ve been very “natural” so far in our desire to spread and conquer. Then our intelligence happened, completely naturally too. Perhaps other intelligent species will rise on this Earth later. We don’t really know if they are going to be gentle with their environment. For us, it is time to search for the new balance on the new level.

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Dec 082015
 

It has been less than a year since I’ve got obsessed with an idea of creating an ecovillage in Newtown, Powys. At the 2014 local environmental charity’s Christmas party I still remember pestering people about starting an art and craft center. I think that would be a great endeavor, but it wouldn’t be enough for me. Just selling handmade and, hopefully, promoting creativity… “Hello, I am a local artist, would you like to buy a painting from me?” Is this how I want to spend my life? Not inspiring.

Building an ecovillage requires a lot of knowledge and creativity. Every new one should be a step forward towards… turning ecovilsystems[1]everywhere into an ecovillage. An efficient system of people, their creations and nature. Not a hippy hermitage but a part of the town for anybody willing to live by its rules: be more integrated with ones neighbors and with the Nature.

I am an introvert and by no means I am asking people to live all their lives in public view. I know the value of the room of one’s own and of a secret garden. But I also know too well the feeling of deep isolation of modern world. I want to build a social structure which would encourage the neighbors to became good friends or the friends to become neighbors.

I agree with Kevin Kelly that we can’t build an Utopia but we should always strive to build this work in progress, a world just a step better than it was before, – the Protopia. Our Good New Town growing on the side of the existing one. Happier, healthier, greener. So the rest of the town would follow.

We already have a lots of this Future shoots growing through the fabric of Present. What we need is to study the evidence with honesty and attention. We can’t afford to be dogmatic or to blindly follow what was done before. And this sounds really exiting form me, both as a scientist and as an artist. I want to read, to visit places and to talk to people. I hope to write about my discoveries on this journey in a way that would inspire more to follow. Let me know how I am doing.

 

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