Is It Time for Local Cash for Northwest Philadelphia?

Paul Glover, for the Shuttle

Does your neighborhood need more money?

Many of us in Northwest Philadelphia need more, and all of us would benefit when everybody has enough. Were there enough money, widely distributed, everybody could afford organic food, the best health care, weekly massages, solar panels, insulation, music lessons, art lessons, and tutors. 

Perhaps it’s time to start printing our own cash.

With enough community currency circulating in enough hands, new neighborhood businesses could start. Everyone could afford to shop locally. Loans could be made interest-free and grants could help our nonprofits. More money means more jobs, which means less crime, too.

Thousands of area residents have talents that are not rewarded by the formal economy. We can build a trading network which uses its own local paper money. This would be real money because it would be backed by real people, real goods, and real skills. 

So some of us have begun talking about issuing Northwest HOURs for Mt. Airy, Germantown and Chestnut Hill. 

We don’t intend to replace dollars, but to replace lack of dollars.

Money is any token that a group of people agree to accept in trade. And local money is money with a boundary around it. Our HOURs might be worth one hour of basic labor per HOUR or $20 per HOUR. This would provide a measure of monetary value as steady as the clock. An HOUR would remind residents that we are all fellow workers, ready to help one another.

Many cities worldwide are shopping without dollars. Ithaca, NY, began to gain control of the social and environmental effects of commerce by issuing over $110,000 of their own local paper money in 1991. Thousands of purchases and many new friendships have been made with this cash, and several million dollars worth of local trading has been added to the GNP (Grassroots National Product). More than 500 businesses participated.

Baltimore spends B-Notes, Great Barrington, MA, has Berkshares. They’re legal as long as they don’t look like Federal Reserve notes. Not content with Swiss francs, the Swiss trade $2 billion “WIR” yearly. Hundreds of communities nationwide, including Chestnut Hill/Mt. Airy, have used e-credits called Time Dollars. 

Such credits foster neither heartless capitalism nor bleeding-heart socialism, but mutual enterprise. Neighborhoods print their own money because they see dollars come to town, shake a few hands, then leave to buy rainforest lumber and fight wars. Local money, by contrast, stays here to help us hire each other. While dollars make us increasingly dependent on transnational corporations and bankers, HOURS expand commerce that is more accountable to our concerns for ecology and social justice.

An HOURly minimum wage lifts up the lowest-paid without knocking down higher wages. 

Local currencies broaden rather than isolate the local economy. Philadelphia’s 200,000 poor are already isolated. They can hardly afford food, rent, healing and travel. The rest of us struggle to subsidize, regulate and police them. Our middle class will benefit by converting the poor into powerful taxpayers.

So how does this start? Starting a community currency is like starting a co-op or credit union. We begin with those ready to begin. We’ll need seed money for staff, office, printing and Web. Regional money networks must employ energetic networkers. Just as dollars have armies of brokers promoting and troubleshooting circulation, local money needs staff to catalog community capability, then promote balanced spending.

Northwest Philadelphia will lead the city by pioneering neighborhood currency. We are the treasury, and the treasure.

For more information:, 215-805-8330 or And visit our HOUR table the Mt. Airy Village Fair on Sept 11!

Paul Glover is the author of “Hometown Money: How to Enrich Your Community with Local Currency” ( The founder of Ithaca HOURS and other organizations, he taught urban studies at Temple University.