Davis Dollars is UC Davis graduate Nick Barry’s idea for making the already strong Davis community even stronger.
The idea is fairly simple. People or businesses would buy 10 Davis Dollars for $9.50 and use it for something locally offered. Skilled people offering services would post on DavisDollars.org – currently under construction – for others to find and buy the product or service.
The concept of community currency is not a new one, but remains rare enough that the introduction of Davis Dollars would put Davis on a small but growing list of cities that have branched off from traditional money like U.S. dollars and credit cards for local exchanges.
“For example, you might buy some [Davis Dollars] … then look around for someone who can help you with economics tutoring, or bike repairs,” Barry said. “This means, of course, that you need not ‘buy in;’ you can ‘earn in’ by simply offering your services for Davis Dollars.”
Proponents of Davis Dollars point to Davis’ strong sense of community as one of the qualities that make it a good city to launch an alternative currency, and believe its coherent geographic boundaries help tangibly unite its citizens.
Nick Williams is the president of Anacostia Hours, a local currency organization in Maine that helped inspire Davis Dollars. He considers Davis a good setting for this kind of community-based project. Anacostia Hours’ success has helped provide Barry with a model for how Davis Dollars would work.
In an interview with Metro Connection Radio, Williams says that 60 to 100 people each year sign up in the relatively small city of Anacostia and spend their Hours on local stores and on each other, for small services that enhance the “communitarian” aspect of the currency.
This is the principle that inspired Barry to attempt Davis Dollars.
The economics of Davis Dollars are less important to the team than the social and environmental benefit of such local exchanges, said Nuseng Cha, a senior economics major who is interning for Barry.
“We’re trying to focus on things like front-lawn gardens and other green services,” Cha said. “We’ve spoken to a number of businesses downtown and they are interested, but there is hesitation as well.”
The sources of the reluctance are varied. Some businesses can’t support a community currency because too many of their payments are made outside the city. Others have such small margins of profit that the small discount on Davis Dollars can result in a loss when exchanged for U.S. currency.
Cha pointed out another possible problem: competition.
“Downtown businesses also use the Downtown Davis Gift Card,” said Cha. “When we talked to some of them, they mentioned that the card wasn’t being taken up as quickly as originally hoped, so maybe that makes them nervous about trying another similar idea.”
Regardless, the Davis Dollars team is continuing its project and has plans for several pilot launches in the next few months.
Interested readers are encouraged to check out davisdollars.wordpress.com for more information. People who would like to become involved with the project should e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
BRIAN GERSON can be reached at email@example.com.