LIVING FOR CHANGE 为改变而生
Detroit: The Imagination Economy 底特律：梦想经济
Last week’s Living for Change column on “Bringing Home Our Economy” reminded me of why I am a Detroit business owner (Avalon International Breads), a Detroit homeowner (I live near Wayne State University and the bakery). and a parent of two small children, creating a life for the future and for family in Detroit, even as so many families are still leaving the city for the suburbs and beyond.
The failures of our city are legendary. But we still enjoy certain advantages, the riverfront, a city rich with musicians and artists, great housing stock, lots of vacant land, AND especially the paths not taken.
We have not become magnets for big box stores that deprive small businesses of the human marketing air they need to prosper. Land values in most of the city have not skyrocketed out of reach through speculation. Housing stock has not become so precious that it is off-limits to working Detroiters.
And Detroit it is still a city of 800,000 people, surrounded by a metropolitan region of 3.5 million people, that lacks many of the fundamental aspects of a city.
Seen in this way Detroit is a unique island of opportunity for entrepreneurs, farmers, grassroots leaders, architects, artists, visionaries and homesteaders interested in creating a new path to development based on principles for the 21st Century : sustainability, local economy and community. This is the path that I call the Imagination Economy.
The Imagination Economy is what inspired my partner, Ann Perrault and myself to start Avalon International Breads almost 10 years ago. When I first moved into Detroit, I remembered the words of James Boggs, “We can’t wait for the man to create our jobs or our economy. We need to make our own bread, fix our own shoes, sell our own bikes.”
So in 1996, Ann and I decided to open a bakery in Detroit. We were not business owners, we had little start-up capital, and we had never baked commercially. And yet, from day one Avalon has prospered, showing the strength of the principles of the Imagination Economy:
SUSTAINABILITY: From the beginning, Avalon has been committed to “right relationship with the earth” as one of our three bottom lines. This has meant that we use 100% organic flour, environmentally-friendly cleaning products, and are working towards becoming a zero waste business. This not only benefits the workers, the customers and the Earth, but it is built-in human marketing, as customers share their enthusiasm with others not only about our company’s products, but also about our values.
LOCAL ECONOMY: Sustainability also means that we pursue relationships with local food producers as much as possible, working to create a local network of food production which can begin to build the infrastructure for inner-city food growth and production. In a city with over 800 square miles of vacant land and one of the lowest levels of access to healthy, affordable food for its citizens, local farming and food production must be a key component of the Imagination Economy.
Our customers also appreciate the value of local business. They see our 30 employees, all making living wages, with benefits. They know that we live in the neighborhood and are watching our children grow up here. Moreover, they have watched and supported the other independent businesses that have sprung up around us. Our customers know a good thing and make sure to support it.
COMMUNITY: Ann and I could not have started from scratch just anywhere. New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta all have exceedingly high barriers to entry and tight competition that makes it impossible to learn on the job. But in Detroit, we could pay relatively cheap rent for a raw space near the cultural center of the city. We could create something that was new, different and above all, appreciated. And we could have the best, the biggest-hearted, the most patient and generous of clientele. Our customers have been our teachers, our marketers, and in the hardest days, our cheerleaders. Even as we have worked to support the many visionary projects that exist in the city, our community has always supported us.
SUSTAINABILITY, LOCAL ECONOMY AND COMMUNITY are three pillars of the path not-yet taken in Detroit. A path that moves beyond downtown development, beyond “cool cities”.
The Imagination economy can be an authentic expression_ of who we are.
The Imagination economy takes advantage of the lack of infrastructure and institutions, in order to create a new economy that understands the needs of the 21st Century in Detroit and beyond.
What could the imagination economy look like in Detroit? Let’s use not only our imaginations for the future, but our lessons from the past and start there.