What is the 'Elm Street Economy'

The Elm Street economy is a contemporary economic movement that encourages self-sufficiency on a regional, citywide or neighborhood basis. The movement rejects globalization and promotes many alternative ideas instead, including renewable energy, decreasing personal consumption, and the use of alternative means of exchange, such as bartering.

BREAKING DOWN 'Elm Street Economy'

The Elm Street economy postulates that an increasingly complex and globalized economy is inherently unstable, and that greater economic security and well-being can be achieved through eliminating economic dependence on others outside of a local community. The term Elm Street is derived as an alternative to the usual Main Street/Wall Street economic dichotomy. Elm Street is meant to symbolize an economy focused on the residential neighborhood as an economic unit. This is in contrast to Main Street, which (as used by Elm Street promoters) is meant to symbolize corporate interests, and Wall Street which symbolizes global finance.

It is unclear how prevalent the Elm Street economy is currently in use as a total system. Rather, the movement is perhaps best understood as a patchwork of the Green movement, urban homesteading, “buy local” initiatives and the new frugality movement. Currently some state and community economic development organizations have initiated Elm Street programs to revitalize neighborhoods and promote local economies. Often these initiatives are paired with so-called Main Street programs, which seek to revitalize downtown areas.

Elm Street Programs Revitalize Neighborhoods

For example, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development manages an Elm Street program that oversees planning grants to communities throughout the state. The program helps communities improve residential neighborhoods alongside central business districts, on the theory that strong local communities support the local economy. Grants help rehabilitate residential housing rehabilitation in older neighborhoods, upgrade Internet access, introduce recycling programs, or establish green markets, street fairs and other local venues for trade.

A Modern-day Agrarian Movement?

In some ways, the Elm Street economy movement represents a return to pre-industrial agrarian societies in which most households grew their own food, made their own clothes and built their own homes. In 18th-century rural America, even professionals such as doctors received barter for thier services, such as food, soap, ironwork and even hard cider made from local apples. To the extent that people used cash, it was for essentials that could not be locally made. Given that most people today live in cities, the agrarian model seems impractical in some settings. However the new Elm Street economy is not a Luddite movement; rather, it seeks to put modern technology into the service of sustainable local economies, connecting networks of urbanites and transforming “bedroom communities” into vibrant places of their own.

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