CoTown

City life has its drawbacks: noise, lack of access to nature, and high cost of living. Maine is full of affordable properties in beautiful areas, but they are often far from critical mass of people, group activities, and intellectual stimulating work environments.

To create a Cotown, an organizing group would work with locals to choose a small town to be the creative economy engine for the area. The town should be less than two hours from a major airport, have amny vacant properties, and adjacent natural areas. Locals would have to be enthusiatic about bringing 50-200 new residents to the town. The project would work with the town to get access to)some buildings and some land, and to do local asset mapping, and create a dream list of all the types of people and skills the reinvigorated town would have. Then, create an international competition to bring people with those skills to the town. It would be frames as a 2-3 year fellowship with a grant of live-work space for the duration. Locals would review the applications and make decisions. The new residents would be required to give some number of hours per month in community service- volunteering their skills and energy to the local schools, town, parks, and developing good relationships with locals in the process. There would be at least one full-time person who would manage the process, coordinate volunteers etc. After the three years, hopefully many new residents would choose to stay on and attract widening circles of friends and family.

FarmFit

Manual labor has been given a bad name, mostly due to people working long hours in poor conditions without proper exercise science. Those of us who can afford it end up working out with trainers, or spend the weekends in the mountains. Why can’t we create businesses that use physical labor and trainers, Crossfit style? Maybe it would be enough fun that people would put in their labor for free!

Some possibilities:

FunDigg – group class digging foundation and ditches; focused on squats and upper body symmetry.

SpinBus- weld together some bicycle parts onto a chasse, and offer bus service during the morning and evening commute. Perhaps 8-10 cyclists with a coach could move an additional 4 or 5 people? This shouldn’t be any slower that a typical bus!

Farmfit- All varieties of farm activities monitored by a fitness coach. Perhaps this could work with the next idea. .. the cowork farm! Kind of like this, but with a team, and a coach!

What other industries could be run with human labor in this country if the labor itself was close to free?

GreenBlocks

Wouldn’t it be great if you could get from one end of the city to the other by bike path? What if in front of your house or building was gardens instead of parking?

The problem: difficulty creating new greenspace in developed urban neighborhoods.

The solution: create a competition to find the block most willing to redevelop their street as a greenway and build them a park! The street becomes gardens with just a strip of pavement for bikes, pedestrians, and emergency vehicles. Access to driveways could be kept, or not.

In the glorious future: greenblocks can be connected into greenways. Perhaps some of them can become skiways in the winter!

Funding: $10,000 for part-time volunteer or paid coordinator for one year to design and manage project, and to facilitate neighborhood groups that are most enthusiatic to work out any concerns. $90,000 to convert street, less if it’s a street that’s going to be torn up anyway. Can use funds allocated for street rebuilding, parks, and/or community development. Foundation and resident fundraising, as well as resident labor, could also be used.

NeighborMatch

2011 Update: A group I’m working with got a $10,000 CDBG grant from Cumberland County to study the feasibility of creating a Homeshare Matching program here much like HomeshareNow in Vermont. The group started meeting in August 2011 and hopes to have a pilot up and running in fall of 2012.

On using online technology to help groups form residential communities, community projects. Like SecondLife, but for real.

One part of the website would be advanced social media technology that allows users to make complex groups.  Users could create quizzes like on okcupid.com to find out what traits are intolerable in neighbors, or what trade-offs they’d be willing to make. Users could propose and rate ideas to see what variation would be most popular.

You’d need to allow users to narrow a search for an immediate neighborhood, but also participate in designing a city-wide amenitity, and also learn from the international efforts that are happening. If we were to start in specific places, like Craigslist did, you can have people on the ground creating the face to face community that jumpstarts the online one. But, who knows? If you made it national or larger, many communities might start to use it and quickly generate the examples that could accomplish goals more quickly than expected.

This type of site could be funded by developers who would want to purchase the contact information for users to build actual communities. You could also sell ads that would match user information since it would be the most personalized real estate information on the market!

Last, I envisioned another piece that would allow people to actually build their home & neighborhood virtually online with other users, so they could experiment with the amount of square footage they could afford and decide on location/transportation and private/common amenity tradeoffs. A basic level would just have sliders that allows peple to adjust private vs public square footage, price, size, finish quality, and neighborhood. A more sophisticated version might include a visual piece, fitting into a  Sims or SecondLife platform.
Ideally, it would feel like a game where people return over and over and get to develop their vision online, and might actually find other “players” who perhaps they might eventually live with. Radical!

MiniBusinessMachine

After LeaderShift I started thinking about how many young people there are with smarts and energy, but no money or connections to experience and capital. And those with experience and success are busy, but might be willing contribute time to get new enterprises off the ground.

Solution: create a website that connects people with good business ideas (eg create an environmentally-friendly engine-free lawn care company), with people with planning abilities, (a board with people who have business experience, marketing experience, and startup capital of $1000), people who are willing to volunteer a few hours a month coaching the start-up (the businessperson, management person, and general interest person), with investment ( 5 people at $200/each), with people with time and energy on their hands to be the new entrepreneur (MECA drop-out who wants to stay in Portland).

Projects could developed in a wiki sense to essentially build a business plan online that would list the people and resources needed to make the project a reality, and then other users could volunteer to fill those posts like on prosper.com. Other similar websites are kickstarter.com (used to raise money for small non-profits and businesses), and National Innovation Marketplace which matches inventors, investors, and manufacturers for a fee.

For example, for a particular type of project you might need multiple types of skills or interests; ie 50 investors at the $1,000 level, 20 investors at the $10,000 level etc. You might also have different roles: to build a new village, you need 5 people who are willing to be teachers, 3 childcare providers, one baker, one person to run a coffee shop, another to run a coworking space, one coordinator willing to work for $15,000 for 6 months, someone with tax credit experience etc. Once a group “fills” and is matched with a mutually desireable location, with sufficient investment, a membership meeting is called.Once all the categories (idea, board-members, budget, investment capital, job applicants) are ready, the board can convene to evaluate the idea in person and decide whether to choose a entrepreneur to start the endeavor.

EcoLofts

Updates: 2008 and forward I was invited to contribute development of these ideas to 645 Congress Street, High & Danforth, and the Oak Street Lofts.

Over 25% of all households are one person living alone these days, and in urban areas that number is sometimes over 60%! How can we create efficiencies of households, ensure good meals and casual social interactions for those who want them? What’s the most green and efficient way to live in an urban setting that doesn’t compromise privacy, community, or quality of food and light?

Ecolofts is micro-cohousing. It’s a condo association where each person has their own room or two, but shares a large common kitchen, guest room(s), and other activity rooms. It’s a step up from a housemate household in that the design ensures private access, and you can actually own your own unit plus part of the common space.