August 7, 2009

Trade Ya! My Tractor for Your Alpaca

I don't even know where to begin. There has been an explosion of new websites where people can trade, borrow, lend, share, and barter all kinds of stuff and services. I started to browse them tonight, landing first on BarterQuest, where you can post things that you have and things that you want, and look for a suitable exchange. I clicked the first category of goods, "Agriculture," and much to my delight, the first barter offer that I saw was for alpacas! I think it would be wonderful to raise alpacas, for many reasons. The listing offered to trade an alpaca for a 40 horsepower tractor with a backhoe attachment. Darn! I don't have a tractor to trade.

But my disappointment faded as I explored deeper into other swap and barter sites. I'm especially thrilled to know about Neighborrow, where you can create "Neighborrow-hoods" and borrow and lend items with people who live near you. Probably no one in my neighborhood will lend me an alpaca, but that's ok.

Next, I explored:

  • PriorAttire, where you can trade in children's and teens' clothing

  • Swap Baby Goods, which includes baby clothes and other gear, like strollers and toys.

  • Zwaggle, where you can share, trade, and swap kids gear, and receive redeemable points (or "zoints," as Zwaggle calls it).

  • SwitchPlanet for trading DVDs and Books

  • Swap a DVD, an "Online Movie Club"

  • SwapStyle, a "fashion-savvy website is for women who want to keep their wardrobes fresh and stylish, without the large price tags."

Add to this list sites I discussed in a prior blog post, including SwapTree and LendAround.

There are plenty of other exciting websites to discuss, including sites that go beyond simple trades, and foster deeper community-building at the neighborhood level. I'll have to blog about these another time, but in the meantime, take a look at rBlock and Bright Neighbor.

August 4, 2009

Picture the Sharing Revolution, Part 3: Our Streets

What will our world look like when the sharing revolution takes to the streets? First of all, in a world where there are carsharing programs, neighbors sharing cars, carpooling, dynamic ridesharing programs, bikesharing, and better public transportation, each household could probably get by with one car, as opposed to 2.28, the national average. That would mean half as many cars parked on the streets, much less traffic, and a lot of potential to get rid of some streets.

Why cut out some of our streets? There are many reasons, and here's a few:

  1. Isolated neighbors. The more traffic on a street, the less likely parents will allow their kids to play outside, the less likely neighbors are to have ever met each other.

  2. Sleepless nights. People get a better night's sleep when they live on a quiet street.

  3. Runaway water. Streets interrupt the natural flow and percolation of water by creating impervious surfaces. Fewer paved streets would allow water to penetrate the soil, reducing storm floods and polluted run-off, and promoting healthy groundwater supplies.

  4. Hot hot hot. Asphalt absorbs the heat, contributing to the urban heat island effect, and tempting people to fry eggs on the pavement to see if it really works.

  5. Crash. Wider streets make people drive faster, which makes for more accidents.

In many cities and suburbs, neighborhoods have grid layout. Here is a picture of this rather uninteresting design:
Street grid graphic.jpg

Now what happens if you take that grid and plunk a park down in the middle of some of the intersections? You get a neighborhood full of fun parks that are also quiet because they are surrounded on four sides by cul-de-sacs (see graphic below). You get many more quiet streets (in grey) and relegate the thru-traffic to a few streets (in black). These aren't just typical cul-de-sacs where it feels like a private and isolated dead-end road. Pedestrians, bicyclists, skaters, and scooter-ers can all pass through easily. Does this look like a fun neighborhood?
Street heaven graphic.jpg
Grey = Quiet Streets; Black = Busier Streets; Green = Fun Parks!

Ready to transform our neighborhoods? Check out these great resources:

August 3, 2009

Bike-Sharing Comes to San Francisco--Temporarily

Over the past weekend, shared bicycles were available in San Francisco's beautiful Golden Gate Park. A state-of-the-art pay station spent five hours in the park on Sunday, allowing riders to swipe a credit card or use a prepaid pass to take one of the bikes out for a spin.

Users loved it, and city employees, including Mayor Gavin Newsom, are enthusiastic, but it was only a one-day thing. Mayor Newsom's plan to start a pilot bike-sharing program in the city by the Bay has been stalled out since he announced it in January, hampered by criticism that it was too small to succeed and by fears of vandalism and theft. 

Sunday's bikes were part of the "Bixi" system--a blend of the words "bike" and "taxi"--that is currently in use in Montreal. Let's hope it, or some form of bike-sharing, catches on in more cities soon.

August 2, 2009

Upcoming Sharing Solution Events

Come hear authors Janelle Orsi and Emily Doskow discuss ways we can live more sustainably by sharing resources of all kinds - sharing a car with a neighbor, sharing yard space for food cultivation, starting a tool lending library, forming cohousing, childcare co-ops, community-supported agriculture programs, and more. All book talks include a fun cartoon presentation depicting how sharing will save the planet! We hope you can make it!

Book Talk at Vroman's Bookstore
Janelle Orsi presents The Sharing Solution
695 E. Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA
Friday, August 7, 2009, 7:00pm

Book Talk at Foster City Library
Janelle Orsi presents The Sharing Solution
1000 East Hillside Blvd., Foster City, CA (650-574-4842)
Monday, August 24, 2009, 7:30pm

Book Talk at Books, Inc., San Francisco
Janelle Orsi and Emily Doskow present The Sharing Solution
2251 Chestnut Street (Marina neighborhood), San Francisco, CA
Tuesday, September 29, 2009, 7:30pm

Book Talk at Broadway Books, Portland, Oregon
Emily Doskow presents The Sharing Solution
1714 NE Broadway, Portland, OR
Monday, October 5, 2009, 7:00pm

Book Talk at Dimond Branch Library, Oakland
Janelle Orsi and Emily Doskow present The Sharing Solution
3565 Fruitvale Ave., Oakland, CA
Tuesday, November 17, 2009 at 7:00pm

July 15, 2009

The Carsharing Revolution Comes to Utah

The Salt Lake City Council approved a new ordinance this week allowing a carsharing company to start operating there. The city code had to be amended to make it happen, but U Car Share will start serving Salt Lake City residents within the next three months. U Car Share is a subsidiary of U-Haul, meaning it's probably more profit-driven than mission-driven like some of the original carsharing companies. But hey, it's one more city with a carsharing program and that is a good thing.

July 9, 2009

Picture the Sharing Revolution, Part 2: Driveways

Today, the average household has about 2.28 cars. If every household gave up one car and met any transportation gaps with carsharing, carpooling, bicycling, and public transportation, we'd free up a ton of driveway space. Here are some thoughts about what people can do with all of this newfound space:

  • Driveway Movie Theater. My partner pointed out that with a long extension cord and projector, we could turn our driveways into good old-fashioned outdoor theaters (not "drive-ins" mind you, because no one will be driving). Wait until sunset, cover the garage door with a sheet, set up some chairs in the driveway, fire up the popcorn popper, and press "play."
  • A Mural at Every House. Garage doors are great spaces for murals, and murals are a wonderful way to bring communities together and make the world a more beautiful place.
  • Chalk Art Studio and Gallery. Along the same lines of beautifying the neighborhood, you can turn one driveway into a chalk art studio and gallery. Keep a bucket or two of good chalk around, and let the creativity flow. A sloped driveway would be especially good for this, because it makes for easier viewing by awestruck passers-by.
  • Skating Rink and Skate Park. Create a barrier at the end of the driveway so that no one rolls into the street, install a grinding rail, and set the kids loose to skate to their hearts' content. (With proper supervision, of course, and only if everyone is using wrist guards and helmets. I'd also recommend knee, elbow, and -- oof -- butt pads.)
  • Basketball Court. That's a no brainer.
  • Parking for the Neighborhood Electric Cars. You can use one driveway as a charging station for the shared electric vehicles in the neighborhood.
  • Container Herb and Vegetable Garden. Install a container garden in one driveway so that all neighbors can all come grab a sprig of oregano or rosemary when a recipe calls for it.
A note about removing driveways: Another option is to remove all or part of a driveway and put in a garden, lawn, or playground. But before you convert parking land to park land, check your local zoning laws and get permission from your city. In many neighborhoods, it's a requirement that each house have a certain amount of driveway space. This is how cities control crowded street parking conditions. There's a possibility that your driveway is larger than your zoning law requires, so it may be worth checking into the possibility of partial removal.
July 7, 2009

Picture the Sharing Revolution, Part 1: Garages

A sharing revolution will transform everything about our world -- it will transform our streets, our neighborhoods, our work, even our garages. Especially our garages. This is Part One of a series. I'm going to start, piece-by-piece, examining what our world would look like once the sharing revolution takes hold.

Starting with garages.

More than half of all U.S. households have them, and more often than not, they are like GIANT CLOSETS -- filled to the brim with stuff we use infrequently: lawn mowers, weed whackers, ladders, snow blowers, sports equipment, tools, junk you've been meaning to get rid of but haven't gotten around to yet, etc.

But to a sharing neighborhood, each garage is 400 square feet of pure potential. If everyone on a block gets together and consolidates their stuff (getting down to one lawn mower on the whole block, for example), if they get rid of some cars and plan more carpooling and carsharing, have a huge neighborhood yard sale, repurpose each garage, and give everyone access, the neighborhood could be transformed into a virtual resort. Picture a block where 8 neighbors repurpose their garages:

  • Garage #1: The Gym. Drawing from neighbors' existing equipment, put in the stationary bike, a treadmill, an elliptical machine or two, weights, and so on, and give everyone access during reasonable hours. Cancel your gym memberships and save some money, too.
  • Garage #2: The Music Room. Soundproof the heck out of one garage, roll in a piano, put in a drum set, DJ's decks and a disco ball, and the neighborhood garage bands will be off and rockin'. Sometimes open the garage door and have a dance party in the driveway.
  • Garage #3: The Workshop. Consolidate tools, workbenches, and other useful items into one garage. Be sure to carefully label everything or take inventory so you don't forget whose tools are whose. All neighbors can come to repair broken household items, or do wood working projects.
  • Garage #4: The Rec Room. Give it a cozy feel with some carpeting and couches, fill it with toys, games, and a ping pong table, and let the fun begin!
  • Garage #5: Art Studio. This would be a place for folks to share art supplies, spread out with their art projects, and store their works in progress.
  • Garage #6: Stuff Library. This is where you store that one neighborhood lawn mower, and any other items that neighbors are willing to lend to each other -- bread machines, sewing machines, camping gear, volleyball net, and so on.
  • Garage #7: Dry Goods "Store." Neighbors who want to save money could make bulk orders together and store goods in once place, and maybe come up with a ticket system for dividing expenses. For example, neighbors could buy 500 rolls of [recycled] toilet paper and store them in Garage #7. Each time a neighbor needs to stock up, he or she can go in the garage, "pay" 4 tickets per roll, and take home what is needed. It's like having an informal grocery cooperative on your own block.
  • Garage #8: The Library. Carefully label your books and DVDs and shelve them here. Come up with a system for checking items out. Add a couch or two, and the library becomes a quiet place for anyone to come, relax, and get lost in book land.
This all sounds like a huge and possibly daunting project, but the idea can start small. You can start by teaming up with one neighbor. Store things in one neighbor's garage and turn the other neighbor's garage into a gym or rec room. When it feels right, propose the idea to another neighbor, and turn their garage into a workshop, and so on. Then add another neighbor. And another!
July 5, 2009

Sharing Revolution v. Big Grey Cloud

With all the excitement around the release of The Sharing Solution, I have been daydreaming lately about the sharing revolution. The sharing revolution. Hmm... that seems to merit capital letters: THE SHARING REVOLUTION!

That's better.

We are on the brink of something exciting, something with the power to transform our world. I love to imagine the near future, when people everywhere share cars with their neighbors, start local tool-lending libraries and childcare cooperatives, do regular mealsharing with friends, and form casual cohousing arrangements in every neighborhood. What's more, the value of all of these things is somehow greater than the sum of their parts, and the potential of it all makes me gasp.

First of all, I've seen all those tiny green sprouts popping up all over the place. They are everywhere: sprouts of hope, new technologies, new attitudes, social justice, green collar jobs, and community building. They are sprouts of community gardens, solar panels, bicycle lanes, buy-local initiatives, recycling programs, fair trade, microlending programs, restored creeks, and so many other beautiful things.

Okay, granted, there's a huge grey cloud making it hard to see these little sprouts. It's true that the economy, the environment, war, unemployment, evictions, foreclosures, homelessness, contamination, water shortages, businesses closing, and the disappearance of fish in the sea, to name a few, make for one very large grey cloud (VERY LARGE GREY CLOUD).

But the sprouts are most definitely there. What I'm wondering is: When are these sprouts going to grow enough to overtake the grey cloud? Seems to me that if they grow just enough, they'll create fertile ground for more growth, and more, and more! But for now, their growth is frustratingly slow. Too slow?

I could think of ways to speed them up, but many ways require change mostly beyond my control. There are top-down changes, like getting the government to put money into green-collar job creation, instead of, say, prisons. But I'm not holding my breath -- and I'm not expecting our government to catalyze the growth of the sustainability movement (though I truly appreciate that our President is on the right track).

What about all those millions of people with wonderful ideas, great intentions, and the will to change the world? The grassroots! Couldn't they (I mean, we) get this new green revolution going? Unfortunately, with the way things are going, I'm worried that we won't. So many of us are overworked, burnt out, struggling to make ends meet, and worried a lot about our own survival right now. It's not easy contending with a large grey cloud.

But I only say all this to emphasize the importance of the missing ingredient: Sharing! Or, perhaps I should say: SHARING! Sharing has the most potential to add momentum to the changes already taking place, getting us to the tipping point where a sustainable and socially just world is truly possible. Sharing is not just the fertilizer that helps those green sprouts grow bigger. Sharing is more like a catalyst -- one small ingredient that you can add to the mix that makes everything just explode.

The power of sharing is unique in a handful of ways:

  • Sharing, unlike recycling, is naturally contagious. Sharing opens up a pattern of generosity and mutual caring that breeds on itself. A lot of other things we do to change the world aren't quite so viral. One person reducing his or her waste, for example, may or may not inspire a neighbor to do so. But offering to let your neighbor use your basketball hoop or eat strawberries from your patch opens up the flood gates of generosity.
  • Sharing is self-serving, so we'll want to do it. Sharing helps us meet our needs more efficiently and cheaply, and sharing our snow blower with a neighbor might mean that she will let us use her hot tub. (Yessss!) Sharing builds community, which makes us happier people, and cooperation has been shown to release endorphins. So there's no need to force anyone to share -- people will naturally start doing it to enjoy the benefits.
  • Sharing reverses the drain on our time, energy, and resources. For those of us who are spread way too thin, sharing saves resources, money, time, and energy, thereby freeing us up to garden, compost, recycle, hang our laundry, ride our bicycle, volunteer, advocate for social and environmental justice, and do things to help ourselves and the planet. We'll all get a little more rest, the support of a community of sharers, and the strength we need to get all the sprouts growing. In short, sharing gives the grassroots the time, energy, and resources we need to grow a better world.
  • Sharing connects all of our isolated world-changing acts and boosts their potential. As I noted, the sprouts are everywhere -- people planting urban food gardens, composting their food waste, and installing solar panels. But many of these are things we do in isolation -- and when we can find the time and energy. Sharing adds the element of community, which boosts the potential and the impact of everything we do -- neighbors can get together to jointly purchase or bargain for solar power, or they can start a neighborhood compost project. It's more efficient, and each additional person who joins the effort compounds the benefit to the earth and to the others in the group. Much of what we do to save the world can be done better if we organize and cooperate, and it can be much more fun that way, too!
  • We don't have to wait for someone else to hurry up and do anything. We don't have to wait until our government starts a new program or provides needed funding. We don't need to change the laws. We don't have to wait until a scientist invents a solution. We don't even need to form a nonprofit or fundraise to get started. We just start sharing. Today.
  • Every single one of us can share. I've been known to say things like: "I can't afford to make a donation;" "I don't have time to volunteer more;" and "I don't know how to install solar panels." It's all true. But it's hard to say, "I can't afford to share," or "I don't have time to share," or "I don't know how to share." Sharing is something that everyone can do. Even a curmudgeon, even a poor person, even a busy person. I think the hardest part is getting started, then ironing out the details, understanding everyone's expectations, and figuring out the logistics. But my friend Emily Doskow and I just wrote a book to help everyone through that part. So otherwise, there's nothing stopping any of us from sharing.
  • Sharing is a clean and easy way to get rid of the big grey cloud. Somehow or another, we need to get rid of that cloud. Otherwise our future looks like, well, a big grey cloud. There are all kinds of approaches to this -- some folks reform the system, lobbying, advocating, and making changes bit-by-bit. This is an important thing to do, but it's way too slow. Others propose bringing down the system in one fell swoop, which usually involves an uprising, or a full-blown violent revolution. I can only imagine that this would be messy. Very messy. The system has very large weapons, and even if we do succeed in taking out the system, we will then be faced with the task of rebuilding something on top of a big mess. Fortunately, we really don't need to remove the system before we can start replacing it. Even while the grey cloud is still hanging out, we can start sharing, nourishing our local economies, going organic, and creating rewarding green-collar job opportunities. The spouts of our new system will simply overtake the cloud with time.

First, there's the "grow or die" economy -- where companies must compete in order to survive, grow in order to compete, and create increasing demand for their products in order to grow. And the best way for a company to sell a lot of a product is to create a culture of "self-reliance" and "convenience," convincing all people that they should have one of their OWN. This culture of "self-reliance" is so ingrained in us that it would feel awkward asking the guy in the neighboring apartment unit if he would like to share a vacuum cleaner. Vacuum manufacturers would want us to believe that we should each have a vacuum, or even two.

Second, there's the fact that, until recently, we could maintain this lifestyle without actually seeing the impact of it. Now we have seen how perpetual growth is eating away at the planet's natural resources, melting the icecaps, and undermining a stable economy. Now the images of factory farms and third world sweatshops have made their way into our minds, and we are all searching for a more compassionate and sustainable way.

In the meantime, we have gotten out of practice with sharing. Sharing and cooperation are arguably as old as civilization itself. But today, much of the sharing and cooperation we do are managed by the government or businesses via incredibly complex systems of global cooperation. As consumers, we mostly just experience the end-products, such as electricity, water, manufactured goods, and food. So while we benefit greatly from cooperation, we have lost the ability to do it directly and face-to-face. In this sense, we are a vulnerable culture. We are blinded to the harms that our consumption inflicts on the world, and we are not prepared to meet our needs if or when the complex system crumbles.

So we might as well roll up our sleeves now, gather our friends, family, and neighbors, and get creative. Solar power cooperatives, neighborhood rainwater catchment installations, a cooperatively owned water purification system, community supported agriculture, neighborhood fruit tree harvests... The possibilities are endless and they will completely transform our world. That's why it's a sharing revolution. Not a trend, not a movement, but a REVOLUTION. Goodbye grey cloud. Sharing is here to save the planet.

June 30, 2009

Why Are Chickens Leading the Sharing Revolution?

Now that The Sharing Solution is officially released, Emily and I have spent much of the past few weeks talking - on the radio and in bookstores - to people about sharing. I love it when people respond with their sharing stories and ideas, many of which will ultimately make their way on to this blog.

But I NEVER would have guessed that one of the most frequent comments we hear is: "Oh, my neighbor and I have been thinking about sharing chickens!" The first time I heard this, it was charming. Cool idea, I thought. But now we've heard it again....and again....and AGAIN! Chicken sharing, chicken clubs, coop-building parties, and all kinds of people who are really putting the "coop" in "cooperative."

Chicken sharing actually makes a lot of practical sense. Let's say you, like most people, eat eggs, and you are thinking about getting chickens (and by that, I really mean hens; roosters make noise, not eggs, and they are often illegal to keep in high-density residential areas). If you live in an urban or even suburban area, this could meaning devoting a significant portion of your yard to building a coop and giving the chickens a little free range. Many people wouldn't go to all of this effort for just one or two chickens. But what if you get 15 chickens, have a coop building party with seven of your neighbors, and start taking turns caring for the chickens? You could even take down part of a fence so that the chickens can have more space to roam into your neighbor's yard. Each neighbor is assigned one day of the week to feed the chickens and collect eggs.

What do you get? Fifteen hens will produce, on average, around 7 dozen eggs per week. This means that each neighbor will have a dozen fresh and delicious eggs. If that sounds good, take a look at, which has all kinds of great resources to get you started.

Chicken sharing is very much in line with the movement to eat fresh, local, organic, and sustainably produced food, so it makes sense that many people are turning to chicken sharing. And I imagine that chicken sharing will naturally lead to other kinds of sharing in the neighborhood. If I had a dozen or more eggs per week, I'd probably make a few quiches and share them with the neighbors, which might lead to more regular meal exchanges. Maybe we'd plan a monthly brunch potluck. Maybe start a shared vegetable garden in another neighbor's yard, and start cooperating to compost all of our food scraps. Maybe start a dog-walking rotation, or a child care cooperative. The possibilities are endless.

So I still don't know which came first -- I just know that both the chicken and the egg are at the forefront of a movement, and that every neighborhood with a chicken club has already hatched a small sharing revolution.

June 9, 2009

The Sharing Solution: Come to Our Events!

Want to hear more about The Sharing Solution and even join the conversation? Here's a listing of some of our upcoming radio shows and bookstore readings. Hope you can be there or tune in!

Listen to Emily and Janelle
Tues., June 9, 5:30 pm PT
With Jonathan Rowe, KWMV  "American Off-Line"
Point Reyes, CA

Listen to Janelle
Wed., June 10, 6:30 am PT
With Jan Miyasaki, WORT-FM "The 8:00 Buzz"
Madison, WI 

Listen to Emily and Janelle
Wed., June 10, 9:05 am PT
With Frankie Boyer, WROL, WSRO "The Frankie Boyer Show;"
Boston, MA

Listen to Emily
Thurs., June 11, 9:30 am
WGDR "Relocalizing Vermont,"
Plainfield, VT

Listen to Emily and Janelle
Thurs., June 11, 4:00 pm PT
Jeff Farias

Sharing Solution Launch Party at the Berkeley Ecology Center
Friday, June 12 at 7:00pm
2530 San Pablo Avenue
Berkeley, CA

Listen to Emily
Sun., June 14, 12:30 p.m. PT
KKUP, "The Wimmin's Music Program"
Santa Cruz, CA

Listen to Emily and Janelle
Tues., June 16, 5:00 pm PT
With Jean Ponzi,  KDHX "Earthworm"
St. Louis, MO

Reading at Laurel Book Store
Thursday, June 18 at 7:00pm
4100 MacArthur Blvd. (Laurel District)
Oakland, CA

Reading at Copperfield's Bookstore

Thursday, June 25 at 7:00pm
138 North Main Street
Sebastapol, CA

Listen to Emily and Janelle
Mon. June 22, 11:00 am PT
With Patricia Raskin, "Positive Living" Voice America

Reading at A Great Good Place for Books
Wednesday, July 8 at 7:00pm
6120 LaSalle Avenue (Montclair neighborhood)
Oakland, CA

Listen to Emily and Janelle
Thurs., July 9, 8:00 pm PT
With John Ford, KAOS
Evergreen, WA
Listen to Janelle
Mon, July 13, 10:00 am PT
With France Kassing, KDVS 90.3 FM
University of California - Davis

Listen to Emily and Janelle
Mon., July 13, 6:00 pm PT
With Jone Devlin, KPFT (Pacifica) "Lesbian and Gay Voices"
Houston, TX
Reading at Diesel, A Bookstore
Wednesday, July 29 at 7:00pm
5433 College Avenue (Rockridge neighborhood)
Oakland, CA
May 26, 2009

Cash-Strapped States Find Sharing Is One Solution

Once in a while, someone hears about The Sharing Solution and says, "That's SO California!" To the contrary, sharing is catching on all over the place, as the New York Times reports in an article about sharing between state and local governments. Minnesota and Wisconsin, for example, are sharing everything from fish to sign language interpreters, saving up to $20 million over the next two years, as demonstrated in the Wisconsin Minnesota Collaboration Report.

Other states are sharing, too. In New Jersey, one county closed its juvenile detention facility, saving millions, and sent the detainees to a neighboring county. In Missouri and Pennsylvania, cities and boroughs voted to consolidate into other counties or towns to save money on services that otherwise would be duplicated. As the economy continues to struggle, we feel sure more and more people, organizations, and entities will catch on to the sharing solution.

May 25, 2009

Coming Together at the Seams (or "A Stitch in Time Saves Nine or More People from Having to Buy Sewing Machines")

sewing.jpgA friend of mine who is a landscaper recently told me about his plans to spend an afternoon at a local sewing center, patching up his denim work pants and mending various articles of clothing. His line of work subjects his clothes to a lot of wear and tear, but without his own sewing machine, he has a hard time giving them the durable repairs they need. He was on his way to Waterside Workshops, a nonprofit in Berkeley, CA, that has a Sewing Program open to the public. During their drop-in hours, anyone can come and use an array of sewing machines or other equipment, get sewing advice, and chat with others about sewing for $5 per hour.

It would be wonderful for every community to have a public sewing workshop. It would encourage people to repair damaged clothing rather than throw it away. It would also help us all develop our skills, give us a space to socialize with others, and save many resources -- both personally and for the planet.

Along the same lines, it would also be great if every community had:
  • A public woodworking shop
  • A welding center where anyone can go to repair broken metal items
  • A bike repair station where we can use specialized tools to repair our own bikes, like the Missing Link in Berkeley, where I once replaced my brakes
  • A place where we can go learn about and change our own car oil, transmission fluid, and so on
  • A tool lending library
  • Large commercial-scale kitchens that people could use for the day if they are helping to cater a one-time event or do a fundraising bake sale. Shared kitchens, such as Kitchen Chicago are also great for small-scale food enterprises.
There are probably plenty of other great ideas along these same lines. If you have any ideas or would like to tell us about a cool community program of this sort, please email us at sharing (at) janelleorsi (dot) com. Thanks!
May 24, 2009

The Sharing Solution Featured in East Bay Express

The May 20 issue of the East Bay Express weekly newspaper includes an article by Matthew Craggs about The Sharing Solution and its authors.

May 23, 2009

Free the Cans! Working Together to Reduce Waste

trash can photo small.jpgIn a blog about how people share, it's worth the occasional reference to the bizarre ways that people DON'T SHARE. Is it safe to say we live in a society that places great value on independence, private property, personal space, and privacy? Even sometimes extreme value? Is that why people at an 8-unit apartment building in Oakland, CA have separate caged stalls for eight separate trash cans? I know it's not nice to stare, but I walked by these incarcerated cans and could not help myself. I returned with my camera, so that I could share my question with the world: Why can't people share trash cans or a single dumpster? Or, at the very least, why can't the cans share driveway space?  

The Zero Waste Movement has come to the Bay Area and it calls for a new use for these eight cages. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Turn two of those cages into compost bins. Fill one with grass, leaves, and vegetable scraps, let it decompose for six months, then start filling the second bin in the meantime.
  2. Put in a green can, which is what Oakland uses to collect milk cartons, pizza boxes, yard trimmings, and all food to send it to the municipal composting facility. If your city doesn't do this yet, tell them it's a great idea and they could be as cool and cutting edge as Oakland.
  3. Put in one or two recycling cans for glass, plastic, cardboard, paper, aluminum, etc.
  4. Put out a FREE STUFF box for unwanted clothing and household items. The neighbors could sort through it each week, and later put it out on the curb for passers-by to explore. Take what's left to Goodwill or a comparable donation spot.
  5. Put in a few small bins for various items that can be recycled, such as batteries and electronics, which can then be taken to an electronics recycling center every month or two. Styrofoam can be brought to a local packaging store or ceramics business that accepts used packaging material. Or, if you accumulate a bunch of plastic bags,take them to a store or to some other place that accepts used ones.
  6. Put in ONE trash can. By the time you compost, recycle, re-use, redistribute, and take a few other measures to reduce your waste, you'll have almost no trash each week.
  7. Install a bicycle rack or locked bicycle cage.
  8. With the leftover space, put in a container garden and a bench where neighbors can gather and chat. A much more pleasant alternative to the garbage can jailhouse ambiance, wouldn't you agree?
May 21, 2009

Sophisticated Stuff Sharing

Sharing can be a simple as lending a book to a friend, but opportunities are arising on the Internet to share more things, more often, and with more people, including those you don't know. There are at least two new websites which provide an interface for more sophisticated sharing of "stuff."

First, there's SwapTree, where you can obtain free books, DVDs, music, and video games from others by offering things of your own to swap. And while the word "swap" may conjure up an image of a two-way exchange, a more sophisticated "swap" might look more like this: Bradley receives a book from Max, who receives a CD from Reggie, who receives a DVD from Susan, who receives a video game from Bradley, and so on. With SwapTree, you enter information about items you have to offer, and click on items you'd like to receive, and you are then presented with a list of all the items you could potentially receive in exchange. When a swap is confirmed, SwapTree sends you a mailing label with the recipient's address and pre-calculated postage (which can be quite cheap using the media mail rate). You don't even have to go to the Post Office. In the meantime, you wait for your new goodies to arrive.

Another potentially useful website, in beta stages of development, is Lend Around. This is a system to allow you to lend items to friends, keep track of where they are, and easily find out what your friends have that you can borrow. Right now, LendAround members can lend and borrow DVDs, but it sounds like there's plan for expanding the categories of borrowed items.

What I'd love to see is a website where neighbors or friends can create a network and post all types of household items they own and are willing loan to others. This could include tools, appliances, electronics, sporting equipment, and so on. It could even include immobile items, such as a hot tub. The owner of the hot tub could indicate when they are willing to let others use the tub, and people could schedule use of it with the website. If you know of such a site or are planning on starting one of your own, I'd love to hear about it: you can email me at sharing (at) janelleorsi (dot) com.