The Recovery

In Protecting, Punditing on 1 June, 2010 at 11:07 pm
must have been a furlough day

Denver Jobs, yeah right

Is it just me or doesn’t it seem that “recovery” should actually begin with us recovering some relative level of sanity. Case in point: why would Denver waste money and space (and reputation, perhaps) with the booth above at last month’s The People’s Fair?  Is there not something wrong with this picture?  

‘Nother case in point: today’s lead story in an industry trade rag  “A quirky dynamic is at play these days at the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs)—borrower scrutiny is at an all-time high, even as credit conditions begin to loosen…” GSEs = the much maligned Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, now in some form of receivership. So, no joke, the INTEREST ONLY loan is back with these bailout-sucking responsibility-shirkers. What’s the definition of insanity? Hum.

“We learned that borrowers were willing to pay a little extra for more options, so we enhanced the CME product by increasing flexibility,” says David Brickman, vice president of multifamily CMBS and capital markets at McLean, Va.-based Freddie Mac.

The company believes that a certain volume of borrowers will gravitate toward the same combination of waiver requests over time. Brickman likens it to pizza—plain cheese pizza was all that was offered initially, with toppings being individually selected. But the company will track which combinations of waivers are most popular, and may offer a pre-packaged option, akin to a meat lovers or veggie pizza.

Yeah, I’ve got your cheese right here.

Funny thing about this new form of borrower scrutiny, it’s not happening in alignment with the Dates and Deadlines in our purchase contracts. No, it’s happening whenever the lender feels like it — whether or not final figures have been verified, docs have been drawn and the closing file has been fully, mutually executed at the closing table. Just last Wednesday I had a residential sale go fully through closing — and after all documents were signed and notarized the lender refused to fund. They blame it on “QC.” Any attorneys want to contact me? Journalists? How’bout a few legislators?

Here’s a crazy idea: what say you we we try a little lender scrutiny once we finally figure out that olives and anchovies won’t fix what’s broke. Yeah, and I’ll take that “to go.”


Evolution of Necessary

In Planning, Planting, Producing, Protecting on 9 December, 2009 at 1:54 am

the snow must go on...Denver workshop

With current economic conditions being what they are, many of us are reevaluating “necessary.” I was passing through one of those generic big-box, infill malls the other day (no point in saying what city I was in because every one of those malls has the same stores anyway) and I noticed that the grounds maintenance person was so diligent in tidying the walk in front of a shop that he was using his gas-powered blower to blow the few remaining leaves from the tree branches. I would have loved to post here a video of this, but I was too slow on the draw — you’ll have to take my word for it.

This was just one of many recent “is this really necessary?” moments I’ve paused to consider. Those leaves would have fallen regardless of human intervention. The season is even called fall. It seemed a strange allocation of resources: time, gasoline, effort to do what nature would have done in short order anyway — and for free (!) without payroll tax, without petroleum use, without grinding blower noise. Is it time we all take stock of our homes, our businesses, our habits and identify those places that we can save resources without even compromising outcome? And, in doing so, we may find we even improve our quality of life.

I’ve been thinking this fall, too, about composting. This is one area in which, nature will do it for us — but our little bit of effort and forethought can greatly increase the beneficial results. Leveraged resource use is how we should all be thinking.

Will Allen, MacArthur genius grant award-winner and founder of Growing Power, was recently in Denver sharing his insights about enriching soil through vermiculture (worms) and composting. Although other soil-builders have differing philosophies and methods, Mr Allen sees composting as the critical Step 1. No one can argue with his results. He’s not only built up soil quality to increase garden yield, he’s even seen his methods increase grades and graduation rates (though that’s food for another post!).

Critical to a good compost is alternating layers of carbon and nitrogen, that is: pulpy woody matter and fermenting green matter. Lawn clippings, pine needles, wood chips, sawdust, vegetable food waste, weeds, even paper and cardboard are all beneficial contributors to backyard composting. Although meat and dairy can be composted, in a dense urban setting (such as I write about) these high-protein materials may cause odors  less amenable to backyard enjoyment and problematic to neighborly relations.

Tomorrow I’ll post images for a step-by step visual primer in the assembly and filling of a backyard, no-turn compost system. If kept adequately watered to promoted beneficial organism growth, the full box will result in valuable, rich compost in approximately 8 months without needing to be turned over manually. To harvest finished compost, simply remove one side of the pallet frame. We assembled the pallet using just baling wire. Although not demonstrated in my photos, be sure to line pallets with hardware cloth (a tough wire mesh) and build a cover with mesh and 2×4’s. The hardware cloth will keep out animal pests — a critical consideration for composting in the city.

Here’s another person’s version of a slightly different approach to building with pallets:

[Note: Please get permission before taking a business’ pallets. Most businesses reuse their pallets but may let you take broken or otherwise unusable ones. Just because they are set outside, doesn’t mean “finders keepers.”]

Slow Money, Coming Fast

In Planning, Protecting on 6 October, 2009 at 8:48 pm

Friends of Slow Money

This week a grassroots movement is sprouting. It’s about fixing America’s economy from the ground upstarting with food.

Check it out at Friends of Slow Money.

If we’ve been in touch recently, you may be aware that I’m a founding member of the Slow Money Alliance, and that I’ve been in and out of town lately networking with folks supporting this powerful movement. Please consider a $5 contribution through the above link to show your support. Let’s make a statement about our priorities of creating sustainable communities and sustainable economies. It all begins with us – take action by clicking on the above link or read more below. This Time Magazine article describes our first national organizational meeting held last month.

Woody Tasch, founder of the Slow Money Alliance, has been Chairman Emeritus of Investors’ Circle, a nonprofit network of angel investors, venture capitalists, foundations, and family offices that, since 1992, has facilitated the flow of $130 million to 200 early-stage companies and venture funds dedicated to sustainability. He is president of the newly formed NGO Slow Money. Woody was formerly treasurer of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation. He is an experienced venture capital investor and entrepreneur and has served on numerous for-profit and nonprofit boards. He was founding chairman of the Community Development Venture Capital Alliance, which supports venture investing in economically disadvantaged regions.

From the Time article:

Could the trouble with money be that it’s…too fast? Sure, you may think, it leaves your pocket too fast. But Woody Tasch, a longtime investment professional and founder of the Slow Money Alliance, is talking not about anyone’s spending habits but money as a system: as money increasingly functions as electronic blips shuttling from screen to screen in speculative transfers, it becomes divorced from its effects in the real world and less reflective of actual wealth. The result, he says, has been bad for our economy, the planet and the individual investor. The antidote, according to Tasch, is expressed in the subtitle of his book, Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Farms, Food, and Fertility Matter….

The individual businesses he’s zeroing in on may be small, but Tasch is thinking big: “We’re setting out to build an organization of one million Americans to invest in food systems around the U.S.” He envisions “catalyzing investments of $25 million a year or more as a first step.” Though he is only now starting to raise money, Tasch says the response to his model has been “extremely heartening.”

Slow Money differs from traditional socially responsible investing in that the partnerships are deeper, as the Alliance works to build not just a firm’s profitability but also supportive structures. For example, rather than just lending money for, say, a farmer’s barn, they would look at the farmer’s other infrastructure needs, such as storage, retail outlets, transport to markets, etc. Also, inherent to the model is the notion that part of the “return” is the social and environmental benefit a company represents.

And continue to watch this space to explore with me how concepts of slow money and restorative economies impact our urban areas, too!