Five years ago, we all gushed and oohed over how the Internet had shrunk the world, bringing Moscow as close as Massachusetts. Now, in reaction against growing globalism, we celebrate the local, buying carrots from nearby farms, and furnishings made from local materials. Local currencies are emerging as well.
Hyper-localized currencies have been popping ever since the economy went sour—not surprising, since local currencies also gained popularity during the Great Depression. Five local Massachusetts banks have developed Berkshares (above)—there are 185,000 paper notes are already in circulation—each of which is designed by a local artist. California's Humboldt County has distributed $130,000 in currency since 2005, and Canada's Toronto Dollar (below) moved $90,000 worth of currency in the past year.
Douglas Ruskoff, author of Life Inc.,a condemnation of corporate culture published in June, advocates the use of local currencies as a way of preventing national companies from sapping value from neighborhoods without reciprocating. "... if you start using alternative currency for your entertainment activities, you are supporting your community rather than having your resources drained to Hollywood or some DVD manufacturer or liquor distributor," he told Flavorpill.
There is no law forbidding the use of alternative currencies. The Ithaca Hours (above) has been used by more than 500 businesses in Ithaca, NewYork, since 1991.
Brooklyn may be the next to come up with its own currency. Last month, seven artists calling themselves the Brooklyn Torch Project put out a call for graphics to be used in a new paper currency that would provide "Brooklynites with a tangible medium of exchange that will circulate and support the resident community." According to The New York Daily News the group has received designs that would replace the traditional presidential portrait with a kielbasa, a mustache, a woman holding a finger to her lips, an ice cream cone and a man with lightning bolts shooting out of his eyes. No word on when a final selection will be made. In the meantime, Daily Intel nominated the above design featuring Brooklyn writer Jonathan Safran Foer.
As Alison Arieff pointed out last month in her blog for The New York Times, good design brings clarity out of confusion. Given the chaos of our financial lives, the troubled national currency, which assumed its basic form in the Great Depression, is ripe for reworking. A brand consultant named Richard Smith held an online competition for a redesign the summer. The submissions can be seen here. The winning design, by Kyle R. Thompson, is above.