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Plan for Replacement

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One of the several small shops next to available space in the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. The ability to rent kitchen space as well as retail space as small as 100 square feet is allowing new companies to be created.

One of the several small shops next to available space in the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. The ability to rent kitchen space as well as retail space as small as 100 square feet is allowing new companies to be created.

Everything comes to an end. The dinosaurs of the Jurassic, the Pony Express, Google, and even the chair I’m sitting on either have or will come to an end; if I do not have a replacement for my chair when its time is up, I will be left sitting uncomfortably on the floor. Organizations will falter. Businesses, no matter how well run, will at some point in time fail. Bands will break up. Even the most powerful and respected organizations will at some time cease to exist. Atrophy is universal. In the long run, preservation will not work: the only long term strategy is replacement.

While replacement has different requirements depending on what needs to be replaced, it is almost always an incremental process. Multi-national corporations do not appear overnight. Bands, even the most corporately devised, have small beginnings. Effective community organizations take years to grow into an established force. Rather than focusing on creating large existing organizations, there needs to be a focus on creating the right conditions for small organizations to emerge and organize. The best way to do this is to remove barriers to entry.  Barriers to entry, is defined by Investopedia as “The existence of high start-up costs or other obstacles that prevent new competitors from easily entering an industry or area of business.” Barriers to entry can be removed or lessened in many different ways.

Replacement of Music

If you listen to the radio long enough, you will hear new musicians. This does not necessarily mean that your town created anything. The most likely scenario is that your town simply imported culture from outside. The same can be said for all of the bands coming through the thousands of performing arts centers across this country. Performing arts centers do not create culture: they simply allow the distribution of culture that is already established.

New musical culture is created in thriving music scenes. These music scenes do not need performing arts centers since they have dozens of different bars, restaurants, cafes and venues that allow for a large pool of musicians to play, form bands and develop followings. Their success isn’t simply in the ability to attract great musicians, nor is it in any inherent musical talent of the local residents. The success is in the fact that these musicians are able to interact on a large scale which allows for the easy creation of new bands. This easy ability to create bands is enhanced by the large variety of venues which allows for easier access to larger numbers of fans. The barriers to entry into the music scene for new bands is significantly lowered in this case.

 Replacement of Artists

Art has significant similarities with music. Though collaboration is not as necessary, working within an artistic community is. The ability to bounce ideas and get inspiration from other creative people allows for artistic communities to thrive. Additionally, many tools of artists can be prohibitively expensive thus necessitating sharing: a kiln can easily cost a couple thousand dollars, and I have no idea how much metal working tools would cost. An individual starting off in the arts world is unlikely to be able to afford this equipment. However, if the cost is pooled amongst many artists, the costs become much more affordable. Currently Gallery Aferro in Newark is working on an expansion that will allow for  the creation of several things, including workshop and lab spaces for different media that operate on a co-op/membership model. Here artists will be able to access equipment without having to purchase it themselves. This lowers the barrier to entry for these types of art, and when combined with the collaborative nature of Gallery Aferro, will result in a much stronger and more vibrant art scene in Newark.

Replacement of Restaurants

In Morristown, NJ, there is a restaurant that doesn’t quite live up to its name: The Taco Truck. This is the flagship store for a small chain of restaurants that got its start, in case you can’t guess, a food truck. It still has food trucks as well as kiosks in addition to the brick and mortar shops. Food trucks aren’t simply a hipster fad; they are a low capital way for new restaurants to start. The capital requirements for starting up a food truck (food carts even more so) are significantly lower than for opening a brick and mortar restaurant, the mobility allows these new businesses to find the best locations, and finally, this allows the business to develop a customer base before making a much larger investment. Once again, barriers to entry, this time for entry into the restaurant market, have been lowered.

Replacement of Food Manufacturers

Many restaurants are creating niches selling locally processed foods. However, to do so, there need to be local places doing the processing. Incubator kitchens allow individuals and new businesses to rent out industrial quality kitchen equipment. The Incubator Kitchen at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market rents out time at different spaces with equipment that includes 60 quart mixers, fryers, slicers and ovens. This business model allows people to make new products while meeting health codes. While there may be some regulations that are fully unnecessary, it seems that the regulations regarding the safety of food preparation are probably important. The additional cost of these regulations are significantly lowered by the use of kitchen incubators.

Replacement of Industrial Manufacturers

Affordable access to equipment can help more than artists and cooks. Urban living necessitates small spaces, and the workshops suburbanites have in their garages and basements are unfeasible. Whether someone is a handyman, engineer or inventor, access to tools and equipment is essential for these activities. Different models to provide this access exist. On the more collaborative and grassroots end are hackerspaces such as NYC Resistor and Noisebridge, while on the corporate side are places like TechShop. In each case, they are typically funded through monthly membership fees and allow access to communal tools. The lowered barriers to entry have already resulted in several new products and innovations including the prototype for the square and makerbot. Both of these innovations have lowered the barriers to entry in regards to accepting credit cards and 3d printing.

Replacement of Professional Service Businesses

Shared equipment also can help the white-collar sector. Many start-ups are finding that working out of co-working spaces is beneficial. Co-working spaces allow people to work together in common areas, privately in conference rooms and allow for the use of larger equipment such as copiers. Other services are available for small businesses (the other small businesses working there). The ability to connect with individuals and companies allows for small firms to easily acquire the essential business services they need without having to hire someone they are unable to support. This also allows for collections of firms and individuals to provide mutual support for each other as they grow.

Surviving Atrophy

Accepting the fact that our institutions, organizations, artists, and everything is transient in nature allows us to focus on replacement. While our wealth (cultural, social and financial) is only temporary, we have the power to create new wealth. This is particularly important because our economy is going through an incredible transformation as a result of the continual revolutions in technology. Jobs that once dominated the workforce now barely exist and the major jobs of the future may not yet exist. Entire industries will be created. New movements in art and music will evolve from some point of inspiration. If a town wants to harness this energy (and it must if it wants to extend its temporary survival), it must focus on replacement.


One thought on “Plan for Replacement

  1. Pingback: Flemington’s Strangl Factory Forges a New Creative Economy | the urban prospector

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