This piece has been co-authored by Indy Johar & Marie-Sophie Banville, with the contribution of many other Dark Matter Labs team members.
Financing the transition is not about money, it’s about value.
Our current economic system is wired at its core with mechanisms and models that accelerate the accumulation of private wealth through the cannibalisation of public and common goods. We build our cities with outdated models that fail to encapsulate the spillover assets, liabilities and value produced by our civic assets. Just think, for example, about the role a mature tree plays in a city. It filters pollutant gases, cools the air between 2 and 8 degrees and regulates water flows. For free. How come a tree still appears as a cost or a liability on municipal balance sheets? Or think about land, much of the value it stores is a direct reflection of our collective endeavors and our relentless efforts to build better civic infrastructures, such as green spaces, public transportation, libraries, etc. How come we still allow traditional private property to run the show and structurally privatize collective wealth? This is, as argued elsewhere, nothing less than state sponsored speculation.
Earlier in November 2019 in Toronto, we had the privilege to share with a broader audience a vision for the future of finance, which supports an environmentally and socially just transition for our cities. The Future Cities Canada Summit and the Social Finance Forum were compelling platforms to share the emerging Civic Capital approach. The sessions fused perspectives from Indy Johar of Dark Matter Labs, Bruce Katz of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab and Anastasia Mourogova-Millin of the McConnell Foundation, offering an insightful perspective and a fundamental shift in the way we understand and organize value –how it is created and shared– and what this means for the deep architecture of a just transition.
This discussion revealed opportunities for new ways of working that could powerfully combine to solve the interconnected challenges of our times. As Anastasia Mourogovo-Millin, one of our forward-thinking partners from the McConnell Foundation, put it so clearly, “we don’t need more money or new money; capital already exists and flows abundantly within existing markets.” The Digital Age unlocks our capacity to recode our contractual bureaucracy. The notion of value can now be understood as fractional, real-time and many-to-many, enabling us to unbundle property rights, aggregating risks and redistribute value, whilst ensuring the legitimacy of our interventions. This opens the way for new financial, regulatory and legal tools that will allow us to rethink the risks, time horizons, value creation and the way multiple actors can work together.
Who will lead the way? Our bet: Cities
Before we dive deeper into what these tools could look like, it is paramount to acknowledge that these new mechanisms, no matter how sophisticated and powerful, only truly come alive and, perhaps more importantly, become legitimate, when woven into community priorities and their aspirations for the future.
Cities and places are also where the need and legitimacy of change are the greatest. As the brilliant Bruce Katz stated, cities are increasingly faced with “the responsibility for addressing some of the world’s hardest challenges [...], often without compensating resources or structural authority.” They need to be the forefront of our shared futures by “thinking like systems and acting like entrepreneurs.” Leadership of cities around the world can unlock the potential of a new generation of financing instruments that speaks to the shared urgencies of our time. As Lisa Helps, the Mayor of Victoria, eloquently puts it “cities should stop talking about the power we don’t have and start talking about the power we do have.” The power to orchestrate the unleashing of the new civic economy is definitely in reach. Cities must grab it now.
Civic Capital : Enabling the bureaucratic revolution
In collaboration with innovative cities, we all have a role to play to make this bureaucratic revolution a reality. We need technical experts, financial hackers, procurement and insurance geeks, passionate advocates, community organizers and visionaries of all kinds. To gather these key players, we are thrilled to launch with our partners today the Civic Capital Movement, a global shared platform to explore, test, prototype and experiment with the tools of the future economy. We developed the Civic Capital approach alongside Community Foundations Canada, Evergreen, MaRS, McConnell Foundation, MIS and many other enlightened partners, thinkers and practitioners over recent years. The movement is supported by Future Cities Canada and McConnell Foundation.
At Dark Matter Labs, we are excited to reveal here our commitment to focus on the development of these open-source tools to grow this movement with our partners and build this revolution:
1 - Smart commons
In collaboration with the Centre for Spatial Technologies, we are developing a platform which brings together smart contracts, property value data and distributed ledgers to better redistribute the value captured by land and democratically reinvest it towards more sustainable communities.
2 - Trees as infrastructure
We are developing a city wide model for nurturing our urban forests as live public infrastructure. Using smart micro-procurement contracts and system accounting for distributed tree planting and management, and a mass participatory deployment framework that reshapes how humans are looped into the project, we aim to acknowledge and ‘link back’ the true contribution of natural assets in cities.
3 - Streets, beyond roads
Around the world, roads often represent the lion’s share of a structural municipal infrastructure deficit. Understood exclusively through their connective function, roads have been mostly financed as mere transportation infrastructures. We aim to develop a system finance model that reflects the multidimensionality of value and urban functions embedded into roads. Could we, for example, leverage the potential of the algorithmic city to design streets that self-finance based on the data revenue they generate?
4 - Civic data trust
Challenging the traditional divide between public and private, the so-called “urban” data are emerging as a new class of commons. Asking who owns the predictive value of the city and the infrastructure that sustains it, we aim to develop a civic data trust model that encompasses the pooling of urban data, the algorithmic commons and, perhaps more importantly, the way this upcoming class of civic assets is shared.
5 - Flooding: Overflowing of values
Mobilizing a new generations of digital bureaucratic tools and multi-actors financial structures, we aim to deliver an outcome-based financing model to tackle the pressing issue of flooding that deliberately captures future assets values and crystallizes the avoidance of future risks. Stay tuned to learn how preventing flooding leads to reduced children asthma rates...
Evergreen's Civic Capital, a Future Cities Canada initiative, will be launching soon to kick-off the experimentation phase of this exciting movement!
Join us in the Civic Capital Movement? Visit www.civic.capital today to be part of this emerging community, learn more about this approach and download a booklet that contains 100 inspiring case studies.