Bonnie Linden, head of TimeBank Santa Cruz, works in her garden (Photo by Chip Scheuer)
As the global economy continues to ebb between obstinacy and upheaval, the potentially prescient among us are taking measures to strengthen local resilience however possible.
Time banks are one such way, and Santa Cruz now has its first. It works like this: for each hour you spend doing something for a member of the network, you earn a TimeCredit. You can then spend that TimeCredit by receiving services from any other TimeBank member.
“We have so many community resources hidden in plain sight,” says Bonnie Linden, the freckled fireball behind TimeBank Santa Cruz, which launched earlier this year. She is sitting in her garden, past the pumpkin vines and cherry tree, collecting beet seeds for another project of hers, a seed library. “Everyone has something to offer,” the 62-year-old says. “The TimeBank is a way to link people and resources for a more vibrant, resilient community.”
Time banking has grown steadily since the 1980s, picking up particular steam in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown. There are now close to 400 time banks sprinkled across the country, according to TimeBanks USA. And that number appears likely to increase globally, with time banking and other forms of barter on the rise in crisis-hit countries like Spain and Greece.
But it’s more than just a reaction to economic adversity. Time banking has captured the imaginations of those looking for ways to engage each other more as humans and less as consumers.
How do you change the structure of the way we interact and exist as a culture? Mark Kohr, who started two time banks in Berkeley, one at each of his children’s schools, has been asking himself this question for years. “I realized the way we use money now destroys our environment and causes violence. We’re competing for scarce resources,” he says. “But a time bank operates from a perspective of abundance. Everyone has needs and everyone has abilities.”
So if you’re a musician like Jayme Curtis and would like your lawn mowed and computer fixed, you might offer ukulele lessons.
“It appealed to me right away, especially the idea that everyone’s time is equal,” Curtis says from her home in Felton. She’s currently having a skirt tailored by fellow time banker Marylou Lamb. “I just made a new friend this way. She lives right up the street.”
Among the 85 current members, a motley palette of neighborhood knowledge and professional skills are on offer: from guidance making a home-brewed Italian liqueur to haircuts, massage, graphic design and bike repair.
Linden wants to continue building the project beyond this network of neighbors, looking to more established time banks for inspiration.
“Dane County TimeBank [in Madison, Wisconsin] has really inspiring programs,” she says. “They’re our model. They are the guru.” By working with non-profit organizations, the Dane County TimeBank has been able to incorporate health services, build a “Youth Court” that now serves as an alternative to the juvenile justice system and create a home weatherization program.
“Why don’t we have those things?” Linden asks as bees from her two backyard hives forage behind her. “They’ve become a hub for non-profits. We want to be that.” The Bike Church is the first such organization set to join.
Non-profits can offer space and expertise, and the TimeBank can, in turn, rally people for large group projects such as local food sovereignty or palliative care. “As you can see from Dane County, there’s enormous potential here,” Linden says.
She mentions a policy study in England; the researcher, Dr. Gill Seyfang, concluded that timebanks can lead to carbon reduction. If participants are able to meet deep-rooted needs for belonging and recognition, and feel valued by the community, they are less likely to rely on material consumption.
“Consumption is used to boost esteem,” Seyfang writes, “to feel part of a community, to express ourselves and to connect with others—even when this consumption undermines other needs such as personal safety or ecological sustainability.”
Linden believes the timebank model has the potential for social change on many levels. “These little old ladies in mobile homes are able to get chores done they couldn’t otherwise afford,” she says. “Traditionally, kinship groups, extended family or public service agencies would provide that. But our public safety net is falling apart. A timebank mends the social fabric, creates relationships of trust that folks can rely on.”
With economic turmoil likely to continue, trust and community spirit could prove vital in providing for our individual needs.
“It is really about connecting socially,” Linden says. “People often live very isolated lives, especially as adults.” For the first time in human history, great numbers of people, of all ages, are choosing to live alone. In the last 15 years, there has been an increase of around 80 percent worldwide in the number of solo dwellers, according to the market research firm Euromonitor International.
“We are not that conscious of our money system now because we’re in it,” says Kohr. “It’s like religion—we see no alternative. But money’s a funny thing,” he continues. “And work—work’s a funny thing too. We have incredible ways of being efficient. There isn’t enough work for everyone.”
“We need to change the way we live, study what we love, joyfully engage with this life and stop competing as consumers, or our jobs and our industry will keep destroying the planet.”
A TimeBank Santa Cruz orientation and mixer will take place Aug. 18 at Frederick Street Park from 2pm to 5pm. Open to the public. Visit http://santacruz.timebanks.org for more information.