The speeding BART train whips out of the transbay tube, solar panels and spectacular street art fly by. We find ourselves in the center of alternative thinking and cutting edge green technology. Welcome to Oakland, California.
We are here today to speak with radical thinkers, people trying to rethink local micro-economies with a circular solution, and aid those struggling in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. What we discover not only applies to one neighborhood, but a global world of agriculture, human capital, and industrial technology.
As we wait outside the BART station, a man wearing a blue Eaze tee-shirt delivers legal cannabis to a car before me. The police officer waiting outside nods a pleasant hello. We are truly in another world. I realize how different the thinking and culture here is compared to the east-coast world in which I was born.
Lynne Wardell pulls up to the station and we tour West Oakland. It is a community in constant change. Tech companies are moving in, poor people are moving out. Lynne and many others fear Oakland might lose its culture.
RentJungle states the average cost of a one bedroom apartment in West Oakland is $2997 per month!
We arrive at The Bottoms Up Community Garden, an ember of hope in our rapidly changing world. “I’m working on a way to keep human and financial capital circulating within a local economy,” Lynne tells us. This circular approach to economics could have enormous impact.
Wealth is moving towards “The 1%”, as the Occupy Wall St movement has called it. BBC and Oxfam state that for the first time in 2016, the richest 1% own more than 50% of global wealth. This creates enormous social, financial, and political problems that will only grow more dire as Earth’s population moves towards 10 billion humans.
Lynne believes the solution could be hidden in the neighborhoods all around us.
We enter the community garden to talk about redistributing material and financial wealth to those who need it most. I am introduced to Seneca Scott, who works in the garden and is passionate about helping the community.
“We are the community,” Seneca explains, “A few amount of people- doing a lot.” The work of just a handful of people in a community garden is enjoyed by hundreds, bettering the surrounding neighborhood.
In this prototype for a Circular Economy, waste scraps from nearby restaraunts are used to feed chickens. Their manure fertilizes the gardens. Meat, eggs, and vegetables are produced at very little cost.
A circular economy also produces very little waste and allowing for an even distribution of wealth.
What is so interesting about the Bottoms Up Garden is that it also acts as a cafe, providing a positive revenue model for the garden. This approach can be scaled and applied to almost anything. Waste is turned into capital.
“This is our high tech,” Jason Byrnes explains, one of the garden’s organizers. The technology growing our food is just as important (if not more) than the high technology in our computers. “To me it is a technology we are loosing.”
Modular Bee hives sit atop aquaponics equipment. A solar panel leans against the chicken coop, awaiting installation. The garden is in a constant state of growth.
Food, power, water, I think to myself, All they are missing is Internet.
We sit down for tea and an omelette made from ingredients grown just a few feet away. Oakland Hip Hop music plays in the background.
Lynne ponders the future of her community, “I’m focusing on how to redistribute the wealth created here, back into the neighborhoods around us.” After working in the corporate world for years, she now focuses on helping those in her community. Her approach is creating sustainable networks of people to create and participate in local economies.
These circular approaches to social, financial, and material wealth will have implications far beyond the gentrifying neighborhoods of Oakland.
Focusing on local economies first can be used to deploy internet and solar in developing countries. It can help us rethink farming, manufacturing, and human capital. Most importantly, revenues should stay within a community. If revenues leave the geographic area, communities become damaged.
As global wealth moves away from the lower class, new solutions must be sought or the next billion people on Earth will be born into a world of poverty and political unrest.
Jason Byrnes works the gardens, taking waste within the community and transforming it into social, economic, and caloric value. “8 people work here, yet hundreds come by and enjoy [the garden].” The creation of these types of jobs and social value are crucial as we move into the 21st century.
Automation and artificial intelligence will replace jobs moving forward. The gap between rich and poor will continue to grow. Los Angeles has something like 40,000 homeless, Lynne tells me. We have to see this not as a nuisance but as tremendous social and human capital that we can utilize to create a better world.
It is people like Lynne and Jason and Seneca that give hope to the future of humanity. Our future will be filled with problems and hiccups, but also filled with millions of young and old people looking to tackle human social problems head on.
The community excitement for green technology here in Oakland is inspiring “Make it so people can’t ignore it,” Jason tells us. With colorful art and enthusiasm everywhere, these shifts in local economies are difficult to ignore.
Here in Oakland gentrification could tear the community apart. There’s no fighting it, there’s no stopping it. “We have to work with it,” Lynne explains. Change is an inevitable part of life.
We drive by construction sites, abandoned buildings and underpasses filled with homeless.
The community is changing rapidly and Lynne wants to make sure it is for the better. The spirit is certainly there.
“If we can get two or three vacant properties, we can do something big!”
These ideas in neighborhood economies will not only spur a revolution in green technology, but it very well might impact the future of the Internet and energy as well.
For now the future is uncertain, but new and old technologies are converging with powerful ideas. Whatever happens next… It will be exciting.