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 092016
 

We are humans. All our friends, mentors and family are. And we are here, dominating this planet. If we never developed, would other intelligent species took over the planet one day? Could dolphins, elephants, crows, chimps, dogs or perhaps rats give rise to a new civilization? Would they be “gentler” with the Nature and each other than we have been? We can not know at the moment.

For all our sins, we are the only force so far which could potentially save life from a global disaster like an asteroid strike.

Wishing for our civilization to disappear, I think, is an immature way of thinking happening sometime withing environmentally aware community. I too might have been like this – when I was ten.

In the book “Ecovillage at Ithaca” (a useful record of an ecovillage development and a part of my ever growing list of potentially useful books for creating new ways of living)

Liz Walker starts with describing her young son’s attitude, his wish for humans to “just die of” because of species disappearing at an incredible rate. She herself, although shocked, could see his point, as “at the beginning of the 21st century, we face a world that is falling apart at the seams“…

Is it? Or we humans just intrinsically like tragedy, our media picks up on this and paint us a, alas, desirable picture of “our world … drenched in the blood of seemingly endless warfare” and “miserable living conditions for much of the world’s population“.

If we wont to build a real better future, we have to deal with facts, not the ever-changing media theater. Violence, disease and poverty are the enemies of our future. What has been happening to them?

First, I would recommend the well known Steven Pinker’s book

where he meticulously proves the diminishing of violence through the history and talks about the reasons for this.

Here you can find the data on the global decrease of poverty.

Historical data shows that global life expectancy has increased drastically over the last couple of centuries, with substantial long-run improvements in all countries around the world” – according to Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser. Is this data good? Let me know if you find otherwise.

Life is wonderful. One of its miracles is the ability to recover. There have been a series of devastating mass extinctions throughout the geologic history of our planet.  In some cases up to 60 percent of species were gone. Of course, it took Nature from 20 to 100 million years to recover the biodiversity (see

 

for more information). We may argue, that the life would never evolve to be so inventive and resilient if not for those extinction events, but we don’t need another one. According to WWF at the moment we might be loosing between 0.01 and 0.1 percent of all species per year which is 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. We took over the planet, this changed all the ecosystems… Bit since we realised what is happening we ought to change. It could be that the knowledge itself makes it impossible for humanity to avoid the coming change.

Living this change, this is the purpose of the Good New Town project. It has to have solid foundation: verifiable data. Doom and gloom might induce some people to act – for a while. Only complete honesty can sustain the movement.

So let’s question every piece of information coming to us, examine the evidence and try to accept the world as it is.

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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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May 132016
 

The spring brings changes – like any other season. I’ve been maintaining this site and the Facebook group for a while but haven’t encountered much active enculturecooptitl1pethusiasm. Perhaps, it needs to be developed in a different way. With Plaxy we’ve been working on ideas to create a group of curious, open minded and forward-thinking people in Newtown and Mid Wales in general. The first attempt was called International and Creative Friendship circles, then she came with idea of the Culture Coop – in connection with what Robert Owen had started. This group will hopefully help to promote interest in the new forms of living too. Please join us on Facebook and, even more important, at the meetings and events. Future we want never come unless we work on it.

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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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Sep 142015
 

A family can’t be, as they start and split, kids grow up and move, partners unfortunately outlive each other. Some people just want to stay single. There should be a recognizable community all people could belong if they wished. Workplaces change, more and more people work from home. Yet everybody needs to live somewhere.isolation1

I think to feed the hunger of belonging, all places of living should have real active neighbourhood communities, so nobody feels isolated and not cared for.

This may not necessary be called an ecovillage but still should exist. It won’t happen overnight. We all need to get used to the idea of being friends to our neighbours and moving into a neighbourhood, into an intentional community, not just buying an affordable house, – as a step towards a happier future.

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Sep 042015
 

In his article “Britain’s Dangerous New Tribalism

As long as the group ideology is not dogmatic and people are free to leave I see this as a positive trend. Hopefully the time will come when people will be able to decide where exactly to live based on where like-minded people are living. This is a way to form friendly neighborhoods, real intentional communities everywhere.

 

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Jul 262015
 

We would like to create an eco-village on the outskirts of Newtown. The town will grow – it would benefit from growing in the right direction.

We would like to create a happy, beautiful and efficient place, a model for future semi-rural developments: powered by renewable energy, surrounded by edible landscapes, both wildlife- and people friendly. Unique yet organically connected to the town.

We would like our inhabitants to produce a significant amount of their own food but without taking a large amount of their time, hence allowing them to work within a wide variety of jobs.

We want to address the modern sense of isolation by creating a prototype of future community: caring, locally close-knit but also participating in global life and its newest developments, educated and open minded. We want this place to be healthy, future-proof and resilient.

Please watch this space, meanwhile join our Facebook group.

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