Tagrecession hacking

Slate: How cities should deal with squatters

On the supply side, local governments should penalize owners who stockpile vacant housing, perhaps by imposing increased property tax rates on properties left vacant, and by moving aggressively to seize vacant properties when the owners fall behind on paying those taxes. On the demand side, governments should expand homesteading programs that permit and help low-income people to take over vacant housing—but only after it finds its way into city hands.

To be sure, these programs were only marginally successful in the 1970s, in part because of lack of funding, but also because of the difficulty of restoring abandoned urban properties to habitable condition. The housing that is becoming vacant during the current downturn, by contrast, is relatively new and should be easier for homesteaders to repair. The federal government should also move quickly to protect those in financial trouble from foreclosure and eviction by requiring foreclosing banks (many of which are themselves receiving taxpayer bailouts) to rent out foreclosed homes to their former owners at fair market value. In fact, as this letter to the editor in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday correctly observed, allowing owners to remain as renters in their foreclosed homes helps safeguard the value of the houses—which is good for the occupants, good for the banks, and good for the housing market as a whole.

The sudden increase in squatting shows that the housing market that is out of kilter. The solution is not to chase squatters off, but to bring the market back into balance by helping them find a place to call home.

Full Story: Slate

(via The Agitator)

Artists, Foreclosures and the Ruins of the Unsustainable

Although it is small consolation in the face of overwhelming economic strife in Detroit and elsewhere as the foreclosure crisis continues, this story gave me a real feeling of hope and renewal. To me, this example and other corresponding cases – like the artist-driven re-imaginings of shopping malls and big box stores seems symbolic of an even larger cultural shift. The arts community isn’t just moving into one downtrodden urban neighborhood; rather, they’re taking on the ruins of the unsustainable. They’re taking on big box stores, shopping malls, and grid-connected homes in the car capitol of North America. And they’re not just creating new art. They’re seizing the opportunity to turn old shells of buildings into independent, renewable energy-powered, 21st century-ready spaces.

What I’m most eager to hear next is that creative pioneers are conquering McMansions in the suburban hintersprawl. As Bryan Walsh wrote recently for Time Magazine, “The Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech predicts that by 2025 there will be a surplus of 22 million large-lot homes (on one-sixth of an acre [675 sq m] or more) in the U.S.”

Will subdivisions be turned into workshops and performance spaces? Or possibly into small-scale agricultural communities, or enclaves for artisan food-production? At the very least, will they become denser, transit-connected and less car-dependent … and what will drive that?

Full Story: WorldChanging

Squatter cities as the cities of the future – TED talk by Robert Neuwirth

See also:

The Sudden Stardom of the 3rd World

Top 10 Tools for a Free Online Education

10. Teach yourself programming
9. Get a Personal MBA
8. Learn to actually use Ubuntu
7. Get started on a new language
6. Trade your skills, find an instructor
5. Academic Earth and YouTube EDU
4. Teach yourself all kinds of photography
3. Get an unofficial liberal arts major
2. Learn an instrument
1. Learn from actual college courses online

Full Story: Lifehacker

And of course, also check out Personal University

(via Robot Wisdom)

Sustainable Industry: Retraining America’s Workforce

In the energy sector, utilities are especially struggling to lure young people to an industry that’s plagued with a somewhat outdated stigma. Peter Darbee, CEO of San Francisco-based Pacific Gas and Electric (NYSE: PCG) in January 2008 told the San Francisco Chronicle that within five years more than 40 percent of the utility’s 20,000 employees will be eligible for retirement. Almost half the nation’s utility workforce will be nearing retirement age by 2016, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
Overall, job seekers with college or technical training will have the best shot at filling utility positions. Computer systems analysts and data analysts are expected to be among the most in-demand workers, in addition to employees with the training to help utilities expand their renewable energy portfolios, according to the Labor Department.

When it comes to training a workforce for a rapidly changing economy, the country’s nearly 1,200 community colleges are at the center of it all. PG&E has even partnered with community colleges to develop its PowerPathway program to train future employees.

With shorter programs and lower tuitions—about $2,360 on average nationwide—than four-year schools, community colleges present fewer barriers to entry for students than private technical colleges or even big, state universities. Plus, many technical and career programs are designed to train and certify workers for in-demand fields in less than a year compared to conventional four-year degree programs.

Full Story: Sustainable Industry Magazine

Sacramento Tent City Reflects Economy’s Troubles

sacramento tent city

Job losses, home foreclosures and a deepening recession are sending scores of newly homeless people into a makeshift camp along the banks of the American River in Sacramento, Calif.

The tent city, spread over an area the size of several football fields, has local officials scrambling over how to handle the area’s homeless crisis.

More than a year ago, a handful of homeless people staked out the site on the northern edge of downtown Sacramento. Now there are more than 100 tents and anywhere between 300 to 400 people living without running water or sanitation. Their only protection from the elements is nylon tents and plastic tarps.

Full Story: NPR

(via Sloppy Unruh)

Let them fail? I wish.

Douglas Rushkoff’s latest Arthur column has been making rounds in the blogosphere since it was posted yesterday. It’s a good read, but strikes me as naive for an old fogy like Rushkoff. I don’t have time to reply in depth, but briefly:

1. I question his claim that people made more money in the middle ages. Yeah, maybe if you landowner and not a serf. I think that was not the point of using this as an example, but it makes him sound like a silly back to the middle ages type.

2. It would be nice if it were a possibility to actually let the economy fail. But too many entrenched interests (backed up by guns and bombs) have too much riding on this. Just “letting it die” won’t be an option.

3. Even if it were, it wouldn’t be a very pleasant process (though it might be necessary to build something better). I think the financial sector does a lot more than Rushkoff is giving them credit for.

4. He’s assuming all trade can and should be local.

The real problem is how much we’ve come to rely on the FIRE sector of the economy – or actually, how much they’ve coerced us into relying on them. There are a number of movements afoot to create more resilient communities, less dependent on the FIRE sector, oil, and other things that exist outside the control of individuals. This is a good thing – but there are a few problems:

A. Will they be allowed to operate or will they be shut down by the police? Alternative currency is particularly vulnerable to government intervention. Grey water systems are illegal in most states and cities. And so on.

B. Can these systems be implemented fast enough to absorb the shock of the crumbling economy? Or will they be brushed aside by more aggressive, less democratic totalitarian movements?

C. Can they scale?

D. Can they avoid becoming just as corrupt as what preceded them?

Problems A. and B. are directly related to problem 2. above.

Solutions are always welcome at the Recession Hacking Wiki.

Gardening Industry Sees Boom as Families Grow Their Own Veggies to Save on Groceries

With the recession in full swing, many Americans are returning to their roots — literally — cultivating vegetables in their backyards to squeeze every penny out of their food budget.

Industry surveys show double-digit growth in the number of home gardeners this year and mail-order companies report such a tremendous demand that some have run out of seeds for basic vegetables such as onions, tomatoes and peppers.

“People’s home grocery budget got absolutely shredded and now we’ve seen just this dramatic increase in the demand for our vegetable seeds. We’re selling out,” said George Ball, CEO of Burpee Seeds, the largest mail-order seed company in the U.S. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Gardening advocates, who have long struggled to get America grubby, have dubbed the newly planted tracts “recession gardens” and hope to shape the interest into a movement similar to the victory gardens of World War II.

Full Story: AP

(via Cryptogon)

Artists rebuilding Detroit

Looks like #d09 is already under way:

Buying that first house had a snowball effect. Almost immediately, Mitch and Gina bought two adjacent lots for even less and, with the help of friends and local youngsters, dug in a garden. Then they bought the house next door for $500, reselling it to a pair of local artists for a $50 profit. When they heard about the $100 place down the street, they called their friends Jon and Sarah.

Admittedly, the $100 home needed some work, a hole patched, some windows replaced. But Mitch plans to connect their home to his mini-green grid and a neighborhood is slowly coming together.

Now, three homes and a garden may not sound like much, but others have been quick to see the potential. A group of architects and city planners in Amsterdam started a project called the “Detroit Unreal Estate Agency” and, with Mitch’s help, found a property around the corner. The director of a Dutch museum, Van Abbemuseum, has called it “a new way of shaping the urban environment.” He’s particularly intrigued by the luxury of artists having little to no housing costs. Like the unemployed Chinese factory workers flowing en masse back to their villages, artists in today’s economy need somewhere to flee. […]

But the city offers a much greater attraction for artists than $100 houses. Detroit right now is just this vast, enormous canvas where anything imaginable can be accomplished. From Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project (think of a neighborhood covered in shoes and stuffed animals and you’re close) to Matthew Barney’s “Ancient Evenings” project (think Egyptian gods reincarnated as Ford Mustangs and you’re kind of close), local and international artists are already leveraging Detroit’s complex textures and landscapes to their own surreal ends.

In a way, a strange, new American dream can be found here, amid the crumbling, semi-majestic ruins of a half-century’s industrial decline. The good news is that, almost magically, dreamers are already showing up. Mitch and Gina have already been approached by some Germans who want to build a giant two-story-tall beehive. Mitch thinks he knows just the spot for it.

Full Story: New York Times

LaidOffCamp San Francisco

From his perch on a balcony high above the floor of a dimly-lit nightclub, Chris Hutchins looks out over a sea of long faces and grins.

He’s happy because he’s found his calling.

Hutchins isn’t surveying a crowd of boozing hipsters, but rather a mass of over 300 recently laid-off workers from the Bay Area’s technology industry. They assembled here Tuesday for LaidOffCamp, a free, day-long conference for the recent victims of the souring economy: the unemployed, the self-employed and the freelancers eager to fill their suddenly uncluttered schedules.

Full Story: Wired

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