Cities around the world are leading efforts aimed at creating complementary currencies, some of which are physical while others are digital. These currencies are designed with the aim of investing in sustainability, fostering active citizenship, building more cohesive communities and promoting local economic development. The currencies also go by other names such as social currencies, alternative currencies or civic currencies. Though cities have been issuing their own legal tender long before the internet or blockchain technology, the movement is being jumpstarted by the rise of digital currencies.
Civic digital currencies are distributed in various ways. As an example civil servants can get paid either fully in the local social currency or partially. The entire salary of the Mayor of Bristol is for instance paid in Bristol pounds. Businesses and residents are also in a position to buy the civic currency using the national tender and then use it to buy local services, pay fees and taxes.
In parts of Toronto such as Gerard Square and St. Lawrence Market, Toronto dollars were accepted by local businesses. The value of one Canadian dollar was one Toronto dollar and residents could use it for their local shopping activities. In every dollar ten cents were allocated to support community projects such as assisting the homeless or the unemployed.
Besides charitable causes some cities also allocate a certain percentage of their civic currencies in the promotion of social innovation as well as investing in local sustainability and environmental projects. Rotterdam in the Netherlands for instance launched Nu-Spaarpas in 2000 with a view to creating incentives for eco-friendly and sustainable behavior and purchases among the citizens.
Rewards were given to consumers when they behaved in an environmentally-friendly manner such as recycling or purchasing products which were made in a sustainable way. Consumers could then redeem these points for products and services that include public transportation passes and tickets to events.
Berkeley city in California is using blockchain technology to allow investors to purchase the virtual currency of the city to fund municipal bonds. The money generated from the crowdfunding exercise will be used to pay for street plantings, ambulances, homeless shelters and affordable housing. Just like with other civic currencies owners of the coins issued by Berkeley can make purchases at participating business enterprises.
The future of civil currencies promises to be even greater. Cities such as Barcelona for instance are contemplating the use of these currencies to incentivize civic participation and citizen engagement in urban democracy by rewarding the involvement of constituents. This is similar to what happens in the United States where individuals are compensated for their time when they participate in jury service.
As an example Toronto dollars have been given to recipients of welfare who volunteer at nonprofits and other charitable organizations. In Costa Rica a virtual civic currency has been developed and is built on the Ethereum (ETH) network and is awarded with a view to supporting investment in change agents and civic leaders.
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