2021 In Review: There Are Ways of Doing Things Differently When It Comes to the Economy

2021 In Review: There Are Ways of Doing Things Differently When It Comes to the Economy

Worker power was one of the main themes of The Bottom Line’s reporting in 2021. (Photo by Oscar Perry Abello) At the very end of “Debt: The First 5,000 Years,” author David Graeber writes, “all these things are human arrangements and that if democracy is to mean anything, it is the ability to all agree to arrange things in a different way.”

Looking back at 2021, arranging things differently turned out to be the theme of the year for our economics coverage at Next City. At every level of the economy, from the very bottom all the way up to the Federal Reserve, doing things differently has been on full display.

Getting Real About Commercial Real Estate

This year we reported a lot on communities finding ways to do commercial real estate without relying on the conventional model of developers taking ownership of land and stacking capital to generate the highest possible financial returns.

We covered Seattle’s new Cultural Space Agency , a city-sponsored entity similar to a housing authority but instead dedicated to developing properties on behalf of arts and culture organizations from Seattle’s Black communities, indigenous communities and other communities of color. Rather than a conventional setup where the mayor picks who runs the agency, the communities it serves pick who runs it.

In New Orleans, we covered the Crescent City Community Land Trust helping a third-generation 100 year-old Black-owned business finally break ground on revitalizing its home , nearly destroyed during Hurricane Katrina. Community land trusts have mostly popped up over the past few decades as an ownership model to decommodify housing — taking it off the market permanently so that it can remain permanently affordable and accountable for meeting community needs. Crescent City is one of several community land trusts across the country that are taking the model back to its roots in protecting the ability of Black people to have some measure of economic self-determination, in addition to a stable, affordable place to live.

This year we also saw the Commongrounds Cooperative breaking ground in Traverse City, Michigan. The owners of this newfangled real-estate co-op are a combination of the businesses who will soon be moving into the space as well as their customers, workers and other supporters. Even the eventual residents of the new apartments going in above the commercial and community spaces can choose to buy-in and become part-owners of the building.

The Evolution of Worker Power

Worker-owned cooperatives are not new to our economics coverage at Next City. This year we caught up with a few we’ve covered in previous years, including ChiFresh Kitchen , CERO , and the growing network of food industry worker co-ops in Baltimore . In addition to organizing against corporate behemoths like Amazon and Starbucks, workers across the country are continuing to build on this different model for business ownership as a way to take back power over the means of production.

But worker-owned cooperatives continue to face a distinct disadvantage in terms of access to capital for startup and growth. During the pandemic, thousands of cooperatively-owned businesses got access to something they never had access to before: loans backed by a guarantee from the Small Business Administration. Congress could make co-op access to SBA loan guarantees permanent beyond the pandemic, but legislation remains in limbo. In the meantime, this year we reported on the progress of a national network of worker co-op lenders created by and for worker co-ops .

The worker co-op model also ventured into one of the most competitive markets in cities today — the ride-hailing app market, where Uber and Lyft have been duking it out and trampling over the taxicab industry in the process. Early this year we covered the launch of The Drivers Cooperative , the first ride-hailing app company created by and owned by drivers. Its app, “Co-Op Ride,” opened to the public on May 30, and we even caught up with the co-op later in the year for an episode of the Next City Podcast .

No businesses have seen more turmoil during the pandemic than restaurants, bars and coffee shops. Some food industry workers, as in Baltimore , turned to the co-op model years ago as an alternative that can restore dignity and humanity to their workplace. This year we covered the first acquisition by the first-ever worker-owned cooperative restaurant group . It’s an attempt to take a page out of the private equity playbook — buying up a whole portfolio of distressed businesses — but flipping the model on its head so […]

source 2021 In Review: There Are Ways of Doing Things Differently When It Comes to the Economy

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