Saturday, March 20, 2010

Getting to "How" in Hillsdale

This Main Street thing is getting serious. I referred to it briefly in my last post. The "Main Street" I'm talking about is an economic redevelopment program that's found in about 1800 communities around the country.

I'm part of a group here in Hillsdale (a community in Portland, Oregon) that is trying to earn Main Street status from the Portland Development Commission. Nine Portland communities are competing to be among up to four chosen.

It's a lot of work, including raising $30,000 in the next five weeks and filling out a 35-page application.

Part of the work this weekend has been producing a flier that makes a pitch for the program.

Here is what I came up with:

Why Hillsdale should be
a Main Street Community

Why do the owners of Baker & Spice, Paloma Clothing, Salvador Molly’s, Salon Dirk and the Sunset Office Building all back Hillsdale’s bid to become a Main Street District? Why has the effort won the enthusiastic endorsements of the Hillsdale Business and Professional Association, the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association, the Rieke PTA, and the Hillsdale Community Foundation?

Because the Main Street Program, active in 1800 communities throughout the country, is a sound, smart investment in our business district and our community.
Because, as we all know, Hillsdale has a huge potential to build on its assets:

• The Farmers Market

• Excellent transit service
• New, state-of-the-art library
• Locally owned businesses
• Excellent schools.

Because Main Street will encourage new investment, new businesses and increased patronage in Hillsdale.

Because Main Street will make us a stronger community through organizing cultural events, school and business promotions and celebrations.

Because Main Street will address five much needed areas of attention:

• Economic revitalization and stability in tough economic times
• Local organization and implementation of community development and investment
• Promotion and community pride
• Design enhancement and refurbishing of existing commercial buildings
• Investment in sustainability and the environment

Because Main Street is community controlled through a local Main Street Board of Directors The board oversees the work of a paid district manager.

Because the Main Street manager works with the community volunteers and business and property owners to implement community-based plans in order to move Hillsdale forward.

What we need now: Pledges totaling $30,000 by April 15 (with annual $50,000 renewals for two years.) If chosen in June, Hillsdale would need to raise an additional $20,000 by March 2011. If our community is chosen, the city will provide $72,500 annually. We also need letters of support from you and your organization.

For more information or to pledge, contact Richard Garfinkle
Ted Coonfield or Rick Seifert

I ran this draft by our Main Street task force for comment. One of the most challenging responses was from someone who was fixated on "How?" She wanted to know how we are going to make this happen?

The respondent wasn't satisfied with "Why" and all my "becauses."

The point is that Main Street is the way to "How." If we knew "How," we wouldn't need Main Street. We'd just do it.

Frankly, I'm not even sure we know "What."

And for now, that's a good thing.

The fun will be working together to discover "What" — and "How" to bring it about.

By the way, I'm toying with that stark dichotomy between the values of "Wall Street" and "Main Street." I confess that a fair amount of my retirement nest egg is in "Wall Street." But if I agree with what David Korten writes in "Agenda for a New Economy," I should short "Wall Street," and buy long on "Main Street."

If Hillsdale's Main Street program is to get the $30,000 it needs by May 7 (actually, we have pledges for $12,000 but need pledges for the full amount sooner May 7), a lot of us need to think along these lines. It's called putting our money, where our mouths — and values — are.

That e-mail to me is an invitation. Use it if you are part of this community and would like to make a pledge, or simply make a constructive comment.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wealth versus Livelihood

I always clip and fuss over those stories about the outrageous bonuses Wall Street gives its traders and executives. Likewise top executive salaries at insurance companies, banks and oil companies.

Some of these so-called “leaders” pay themselves 1000 times what they pay their average worker.

Some leadership.

My reaction to these stories is visceral. I usually mutter “thieves” or “scoundrels” under my breath.

I’m not big on shaming folks, but the thought has passed my mind. Then again, there’s no reason to believe that shaming would work.

Life is shamelessly all about them. They’ve convinced themselves that they are worth every cent because ... that’s what the system is paying them.

The System.

Is there a system? What are its values? How can it produce such inequity? Am I part of the system? Are you? Why do we tolerate it?

So, what is this system? What are the alternatives?

I’ve just finished reading “Agenda for a New Economy” which provides some answers. The book by economist David Korten takes on our “money” system, rooted in “Wall Street Capitalism,” and contrasts it with a “living” economy, focused on “Main Street Markets.”

Korten writes that the “dominant driver” of the former is “making money” for the few. The goal of the latter is “creating livelihoods” for all.

It comes down to values. The values that rule our economy today are inhumane to their core, he argues. And as we have seen, deeply flawed and destructive. They are also responsible for mayhem and war abroad.

Here’s a chart in which Korten places aspects of the two systems side-by-side.

I happen to be involved in an effort to win Hillsdale, my community, the status of being a “Main Street District.” Some aspects of the “Main Street Program” (which is an economic revitalization effort sponsored by Portland’s city government) resonate with Korten's values.

Our work here will be worth it if it brings about the change to the “living economy” described by Korten. His book couldn’t be more timely for me. It has given a deeper meaning and impetus to my work for change here in Hillsdale.

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