Archives for posts with tag: free market

free store amsterdam

I’ve noticed the existence of many  ‘wegeefwinkellen‘ in Amsterdam – free stores!

A free store is a simple space, attended by an individual or group, where a wide variety of stuff — clothing, dishes, books, toys, outerwear — is available to take, for free. You can also drop off your unneeded things at a free store, but you don’t have to. There is no exchange necessary at the free store. In this way, free stores are effective mechanisms for the redistribution of the abundance of stuff in the world.

I love the concept of the free store. It has the same principles as the Really Really Free Markets in Halifax, Toronto, and I’m sure many other cities around the world, that I wrote about last summer. I noted in that post that, to make a real impact on the way we engage with our cities — the city as a social gathering place and not  solely a market place — a city needs permanent infrastructure to host free markets.

Well readers, Amsterdam’s wegeefwinkellen are just that. Permanent free stores – solid, reliable places for the free exchange and redistribution of the abundance of things in the world.

Most of the free stores I’ve experienced in Amsterdam have been related to some sort of broader social project. Most commonly, they are in squats, or former squats. There’s one at the bottom of my staircase in the former-squat I’m currently staying at.

My favourite free store however, hands down, is a little wood structure at the gate of the Buurt Boerderij – the Neighbourhood Farm in Westerpark, in Amsterdam’s west. The Buurt-Boerderij is a lovely urban farm, surrounded by industrial, residential, rural, green and commercial cityscapes. Its medium size fields are planted in rows and   grazed by goats. There is a cafe and bar in the farm house, with a large patio that stretches toward the fields and onto the land, where small groupings of tables and chairs invite endless hangs.


Hangs, at the Buurt Boerderij


The Buurt-Boerderij, from what I can piece together, is run in conjunction with a therepeutic mental-health centre. The residents of the centre, which sits beside the farm house, tend to the farm’s gardens, animals, and kitchen. They also attend and organize the free store: a lovely little, well-maintained place, that always offers something, if you need it.

One thing that I really learnt on my last-Autumn travels to north-west Europe was that cities are inescapably market-places.

That is their primary function and social purpose, manifested in their built form. They are gathering spots where people can exchange goods and services. We can look at the history of cities, and in their DNA see that the world’s biggest are river- or ocean-side ports, a phenomenon geographers refer to as “break and bulk points”.  Modern cities are often at the shores of rivers of a different sort: highways and traffic corridors, where routes between several major cities converge.

Of course, the magical elements of unpredictable urbanity follow from market-cities, but these are only happy coincidences. A city is about dollars and cents. There is no town without a money-town. $ $ $ and all that.

This sort of irked me on my travels. I grew frustrated that the only thing I could do in each European city I visited was buy things and food, essentially. This is probably an obvious fact to most — but my romantic notions of the city and urbanity fogged the economic realities of the places I visited. I grew tired of only interacting with people over dollar exchanges — it felt inauthentic, ungenuine, not conducive to real connections.

The Really Really Free Market is perhaps a solution to the modern $$$-City.

It can be stripped down to its tagline: “No money. No barter. No trade. Try a new economic model: sharing!”

And, according to its organizers, it is “basically, its a bazaar, a celebration, and a community space for sharing- where people bring what they have to give, and take what they need. Kind of like a potluck, but for goods, services, skills, ideas, smiles”.

I love this concept.

There is an idea circulating these days that there is in fact abundance in the world, and it’s the political/social/economic structures that cause inequality and poverty, not a lack of resources.

Simply put, there is no real need to buy everything. There are so many goods and services lying fallow in our city’s neighbourhoods — there just needs to be a place, a system, to activate this surplus, and re-distribute that abundance.

The third iteration of the Really Free Market in Halifax (following successful stints at the Khyber and George Dixon Centre), is planned for August 12, from 11am to 3pm at the Bloomfield Centre. It’s great that it’s become a semi-regular thing, but, for this “revolutionary” economic model (i.e., sharing) to really change the way we interact with our cities — making them less of a money-market, and more of a social gathering place — is to make this a regular thing, dedicate space to it, rely on it more and more while buying less and less. We already have channels of communication that are facilitating this movement: craigslist and kijiji free sections, free-cycle websites – this is great, and we can build on it: such as a city officially accepting this economic model into its planning, its bureaucracy and systems.

It’s a fantastic idea that will undoubtedly spread throughout the world as we face the realities of depleting resources and the inevitable consequences  of years of social-environmental neglect.

Plus — I designed the flyer for the event ! I based the type on the beautiful, old and rusty Bloomfield Centre sign, and the building featured on the front is the iconic view of the Centre from Agricola and Bloomfield streets.

See you there!

August 15, 2012,  UPDATE!

Turns out, there’s now a weekly Really Really Free Market, in Toronto! Every first Saturday of the month, at Campbell Park, in Toronto’s west-end. This is surely the first steps toward permanent Free city infrastructure.

See you there, when I’m there!