Sunday, July 1, 2012

Community Psychologists: Boosters for the Local Economy

Every so often, it’s helpful to take a step back and realize how many intriguing community ideas are out there. Creative, feasible, and potentially powerful ideas. Tested and replicable ideas, ripe for the taking. And simple ideas – sometimes so simple that you might wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
But with the Web, you needn’t think so hard; you mostly need to know where to find good ideas and put them to use. In other words, there are many available ways to do business in the community; both figuratively – or in the case of this blog post, literally.
For example: In this presidential year, where jobs and the economy are dominating issues, we might consider ideas community psychologists could apply to boost the local economy. I can mention three that recently crossed my path:
* Do you have a favorite local business? If so, you can get together with others to support it, in an organized way, by being part of a cash mob. Just mobilize your friends and neighbors, agree on a date and time, and show up at the store with cash in hand. Then simply spend money, hopefully on items of value to you. Cash mobs, a flash mob spinoff, have become something of a national phenomenon. More at
* No cash to spend? Then invent your own. Many of us have become familiar with homegrown currencies, such as Ithaca Hours, or BerkShares, in Massachusetts (, and Another very simple ideas was Downtown Dollars, in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, where merchants sold Downtown Dollars at a 50% discount to Ardmore area shoppers, who could then spend those dollars at local stores. See
* Got a business idea? Then pitch it. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, five contestants had five minutes each to pitch their best business idea to a local jury, with prizes of up to $5000. One idea that caught my eye was a creating a “signature sandwich” for Grand Rapids, to put it on the culinary map. (See Could you do something like that where you live?
These ideas just skim the surface, without yet touching on individual creative ideas some of your acquaintances have probably had. What an asset it would be to have a useful compendium of these and other community ideas – but that’s for another posting.
Can community psychologists be “job creators”? Not directly, as a rule.
We don’t hear much about our colleagues starting businesses – although they, and we, could. True, most of us may not aspire to become Captains of Industry, or even CEO’s; but we can surely support local businesses, encourage new ones, and apply our knowledge and skills to create a local economic climate where community psychology values will take hold and flourish. 

Bill Berkowitz
University of Massachusetts Lowell