Ownership and the Decay of Community
How building owners speed the collapse of a small town and how to solve the problem:
Storefront for Rent: Prime Location - Main St. 1200 sq. ft. $2500/Month
The property owner believes that the building on Main Street, where all the tourists stroll, is well worth the monthly rent he is asking…
After all, it has been rented at that price or close to it for many years. A business can profit from such a choice location in a small coastal town just north of San Francisco, where tourists travel for weekends, weddings, wine & music festivals and outdoor activities in the coastal waters and forests. He knows the building has value. At least he thinks it has value. It once did…
Now, like many of the storefronts and buildings on Main Street and in the town, it is empty and has been for over a year or more.
To the community, the empty storefronts have only a negative value…a destructive value.
At first glance the mid nineteenth century structure is beautiful and quaint. The “For Rent” sign triggers a quick rummage through thoughts of what type of cute shop might flourish in this darling town of artisans, B&Bs and the stream of tourists who visit. Though these thoughts quickly turn to the practical: Who has the money to invest in opening a shop?
There certainly is no shortage of ideas and creations to fill the empty space, yet…the mind hesitates and questions:
Wasn’t there a cute shop in that space a couple of years ago? What was it again? Oh, yes, household goods with old-world charm. There was a lovely woman who owned the shop. What ever happened to her? I hope she is okay.
If she did not make it, why would anyone else? Who can risk filling the space of a failed business? Doesn’t that failure mean that the location, the town, the idea of cute shops is slowly dying?
Well, maybe she was not a very good business person. There are other shops here, on the two blocks that make up Main Street, that are surviving.
Yet, the more you look…wait, about a quarter of the storefronts and buildings are empty and for rent or sale. This tells a slightly larger story - paints a bigger picture.
One must conclude that tourism and economic activity have been slowing and have taken value out of the town as businesses shutter their windows and vanish.
Did this need to happen?
The answer is no, definitively, no!
The loss of value, to the entire community and the individuals who owned the businesses and those who owned the property, was lost to a misunderstanding of human need, activity and value.
Lets break it down into a few smaller pieces, add some history and explain the real actions that exasperate and speed decline and then provide a very real and simple solution.
Commercial land and property owners are in the business of making money by renting space and facilities.
Shop and business owners are in the business of making money by providing goods and services.
If the combination of the two is successful, then everyone “profits”, including the patrons who visit the specific location.
So, the building owner says, ”My location is so good that people come here and spend money and thus, I am providing a great value to my community by owning and renting out the building for a profit.”
The business owner says, ”My services and goods are so great that people come here and spend money and thus, I too, am providing value to my community through economic activity.”
The visiting patron says, ”My visit is so wonderful because I spend money and bring value to this community while enjoying all it offers.”
The value in all cases is money exchanged, taxes paid, employment generated, social activity, etc.
In truth, it is not one or the other but, rather like the soil, the flower and the bee - all need each other, it is all interdependent.
If we remove any one element (bee, flower, soil or tourist, business, building) the entire system of activity and value exchange fails. The elements of this system are so entwined that success or failure depends on each element doing its part. This means that it is in the interest of each to support the others.
Here is where the current ideas of pyramid structured power and value measurement fail to provide the necessary support for success in a system of market created value, rather than activity based value. Market value says the building and its ownership hold a base market value. Activity based value says the building and its ownership are valued based on the activity and value production they facilitate. (The soil only has value if it provides for the plant which provides for the animal which provides for the soil. The building only has value if it provides a place for people to create and share value, which in turn provides added value to the community, by which we measure the value of the building.)
In our current market based society, when it comes to economic activity on commercial property, the property owner is at the top of the pyramid. History and law have given the property owner the feeling of ultimate power, ownership. (“I own the valuable land and building in the best location!”) If the activity on his land or in his building does not bring him value, as measured by currency exchange, then he will bring an end to that activity and offer the space to a business that does provide the money he demands. Conversely, if the business owner does not receive the value expected by the location, the business closes or moves. If the tourist does not receive the value expected by visiting the location (i.e., the shop offers nothing desired or does so poorly or is empty) then the tourist will go elsewhere in search of value for his money. Only the property owner retains what is considered value from the relationship if it fails completely or in part. This leads to the false notion that the property is “king” in the equation. (Ask someone if they would like to own the mall, have a shop in the mall or visit the mall; most will reply, “Own the mall” because it is has the highest perceived value in our current system)
Back to the point…
A shop closes on Main Street, due to slow sales after a couple of years of recession. The building is now empty. The tourist sees zero value in this empty building, even if it is located exceptionally well, with a view of the Pacific in a quaint seaside town. At the same time the property owner sees value in the same building where the tourist sees none. (This is the bee arriving at an empty piece of dirt, no flower, no point…)
The tourist reports to family and friends and announces across the world wide web, that Main Street has very little value to offer. So, fewer and fewer people visit. The decay of a tourist based economy of artisans, service providers and small town businesses decreases rapidly.
Meanwhile, a small group of young men spill from a local tavern to hang on the porch of the empty building on Main Street, seizing the value of the location and view for an evening of improvised guitar strumming. The owners sign, “For Rent $2500” still sags in the window.
The owner will hold out for a business, that must be coming, any day now, to pay his price for the value he owns and controls. This attitude and system is destroying and will continue to destroy the community as a whole!
As the land owner clenches his fist around his ideas of value, the real value to the community is dying. If only he would open his hand and take action toward building shared value in the community, things could be very different.
The loss of each business has decreased the resources available for an endless list of community needs - from donations to local sports teams and the local Recreation Center for activities and classes, to local income and taxes, to the ability to attract tourists to the town as a whole. Every member of the community loses value as they fail to work together to maintain the overall value of the community. These are real daily losses that create hardship, struggle, unhappiness and decrease the group’s ability to educate their children, maintain the physical and environmental areas of the community and transform their future.
As each commercial property owner views their interests as individual and each community member views the loss of businesses as, “just the way it is”, our ability to create value in our lives decays.
The solution is simple. Greed is in the way.
Stop waiting for money and start building and preserving value!
The building owner places an ad in the local paper, puts up fliers and postings on the web and spreads the word that he will allow a business, group or individual the use of his storefront for one year at any amount, that can be paid monthly, to the person or group that proposes the best idea (according to the property owner) for the use of his space.(Or preventatively, allowing current struggling businesses to remain in buildings on these terms.)
Why this is good and why it will work:
There are many businesses and activities that can bring value to a community; selling goods to tourists, teaching people to paint landscapes, connecting local farmers with buyers, providing spaces for art, etc. The list of ideas can be endless. If an idea works, then the value to the business or group, the community and the property owner is clear and real.
People come, value is exchanged and as the value grows or at least exists, the appreciation for the process that provided the opportunity receives social praise. This social boost spurs cooperation and the creation of even more value to the community and all those who participate.
The building owner reading this is asking, “but when do I get paid? That’s my building!”.
Answer: You get paid everyday and in every way. Here is how…
- Appreciation of the entire community and all the other businesses on Main Street and in town; because, sharing your value creates or maintains the exchanges that keep the town alive.
- The new business or group can agree to share monetary profits or provide an exchange for the use of the building. This can grow in time and can be adjusted as is fairly agreed upon by both parties.
- The building itself will be better maintained while in use. Empty buildings, like empty streets, like empty towns, decay.
- Taxes potentially collected from new activity benefit the entire community.
- Employment or a place to exchange and share value provides for members of the community, who also share value with further exchanges, activity, taxes and spending.
- Local activity fosters continued local activity. If people find the shop that was once there is gone, then they will use the internet and never return. The building will forever remain empty as the desire and habit of shopping locally declines.
- Maintaining the overall value of Main Street and the town will help maintain the other businesses in the community, some of which may rent from you!
- By preserving and growing the value of the commercial community, the value of homes and surrounding areas are insulated from the same decay that threatens Main Street.
- The same effect of preservation protects the school system and local infrastructure from decay by providing the needed value and resources.
- Your action becomes a model for others to follow and find ways to boost the entire community and further allows you to live in a place of value or at least “own” a building in a town that has value.
Life is not a game of which the singular goal is to acquire currency. Life is an experience which provides us access to the immeasurable benefits of shared experience, exchange of value and all the other endless and wonderful human capacities of the spirit.
To own is a burden and a responsibility. As an owner, more than any other person in our society, it is your burden to avoid greed and shortsightedness. (Imagine a farmer who owns hundreds acres of land yet will only grow food for his family.)
Most land and all buildings are owned either by people, companies and corporations or government. It is the duty of owners to share the value they possess with the group. To not do so is to harm the group.
Some ways of sharing this value are growing food, renting space, providing for community members, etc. This value should not be limited to currency only. In these times, when currency and economy are incongruent with the needs of society, it is critical to find new and innovative ways to share fundamental value in real exchanges with those around you and those who interact with your community.
In past times, people have taken up arms against land owners. Time and time again, they rose up to battle what they felt was an unfair control and possession of value. This form of violent revolution is unnecessary and a path to regressive behavior between humans.
What is necessary, is “owners” taking responsibility for the value they legally own and control and making sure their personal desire for wealth or currency does not stand in the way or even cause the destruction of communities large and small.
This is a call to action: If you own an empty building, fill it.
Find a way to create a fair agreement with an entity that will provide value to the community as a whole and allow the exchange of value and social activity to take place on your land and in your building.
We all know, in our hearts, that it is right to work together to build healthy, happy communities that create and share. Holding what is yours, waiting for someone with money to show up, is a form of greed in our struggling society. It is the soil refusing the seed and starving the bee.
The value of our lives is at stake.