Buses full of fresh fruit and veg in Toronto, "community-led homes" across the UK. Your systems in your hands


No matter what the political shifts at the macro level - whether national or continental - we want to keep an emphasis in A/UK on local initiatives that emerge from communities. Sometimes, the imagination and energy of local citizens incubates solutions that will inspire bigger legislative or institutional reforms. How does “the system” get into your hands, rather you becoming its object?

Two initiatives today show how what seem like the products of implacable big systems - the distribution of food, and a home you can value - can be meshed with the agency of communities.

From Toronto, here’s the Mobile Good Food market (video to the left), running since 2010, which involved converting old public buses into mobile markets for fresh vegetables, for low income neighbourhoods. Here’s the story:

It started out as a collaboration between FoodShare Toronto, the city of Toronto, and United Way Toronto. They came up with the idea to take an old bus and convert it into what is now a mobile food market.

Everything from broccoli and lettuce to apples and onions are available when the bus comes to town, twice per week. Because the costs involved by the bus have to be taken care of, food prices aren’t much lower than what might be found in a supermarket. However, at least families have the opportunity to purchase higher-quality, nutrient-dense food when the bus visits.

Mobile Good Food Markets address the need for fresh, quality produce in food deserts, neighborhoods where a grocery store is nowhere in sight or too expensive for residents. In their current model of development, some neighborhoods don’t receive adequate transit service or people don’t own cars and the local grocery store is just too expensive or far away. Mobile markets offer a low cost place to buy quality produce while meeting neighbours close to home.

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Next, an attempt to install a new concept of house-building into the heart of the dysfunctional housing sector in the UK: “Community-Led Homes”. Here’s their pitch:

Let's get straight to the point: through community led housing normal people can be in control over their own homes, lives and communities.

The media covers housing in such a way, that we'd all be forgiven for thinking there's no way out of this situation. Continuing headlines of housing targets missed, dodgy landlords, Dickensian conditions, block after block of empty luxury apartments (etc. etc.) can create a sense of hopelessness.

However, community led housing is already having a hugely positive impact on communities and lives across the country. It's proved that another way is possible and that there is hope. 

The movement has been borne out of people all over the country who have reached the limits of their own frustration with the housing situation (either their own, their children's or the community's) and have decided to take matters into their own hands.

Communities have power

People have power. Community led housing isn't about giving people power, it's a mechanism for people to take power and create something better. 

So, why community led housing? 

  • Because homes that are genuinely affordable to rent and buy means communities aren't displaced, young people can have security, village shops and schools remain open. And because the prices are protected in perpetuity, future generations will benefit from them too. 

  • Because homes that are designed by local people are built with their friends and neighbours in mind, not profits. They'll be high quality and truly consider what people really need to be able to live happily and independently. 

  • Because house-building has been dominated by a few traditional methods for too long, and their failure means normal people are bearing the brunt. Community led housing is for everyone. It's built with people in mind, everyday life, the environment, a more sustainable future.

What is interesting about their take is that it gathers a plurality of approaches under one philosophy - it’s not “one size fits all” as a model. Cohousing, Community land trusts (CLTs), housing co-operatives, self-help housing, are all given equal consideration. There are useful guides on how to do it, make it happen and how to join their movement.