agenda for the city of the future

Community wealth building

Urban dwellers decide on the economy. De right balance of citizens, gouvernment and market keeps value and well-being within the city, the district and the neighbourhood.

These are the results of dozens of conversations, discussions and exchanges of Cities for Change.  Door uiteenlopende deelnemers en organisaties uit Amsterdam en andere steden in Europa.


Local residents, municipal services, local businesses, social enterprises, cooperatives, civil society organizations and networks in the district work together in sustainable partnerships. According to alternative power relations between Amsterdammers, local authorities and the market. This will create inclusive, democratic neighbourhood economies, and keep value and well-being within the city, city districts and neighbourhoods. Value and well-being are plural: employment,(mental) health, social networks, education, nature, safety, equality, justice and so on.

'Why is the greenery in a neighbourhood maintained by a company in Lisse? Then the money goes to another city. Why not by a cooperative of local residents?'Mahmoud Kabir, strategic advisor Stichting Studiezalen

'Why is the greenery in a neighbourhood maintained by a company in Lisse? Then the money goes to another city. Why not by a cooperative of local residents?'Mahmoud Kabir, strategic advisor Stichting Studiezalen

'New residents and new-industrious people come into the neighbourhood from outside. The assumption is that a district will then become more wealthy. We turn this around: We work from the needs within the district.'Najah Aouaki, urban strategist and economist


  • Power should be more shared. At least bottom-up. Through strong neighbourhood networks and neighbourhood alliances, residents gain more of a say over the economy. A Socio-economic City Council or District Council unites these alliances and networks. This includes a representation of local residents, social organisations and social enterprises from the neighbourhood, larger social organisations(welfare, housing, care, education, trade unions), local government, business and research.
  • From public-private to public-civil. Instead of mainly working together with private market parties, the municipality seeks out organised residents in the neighbourhood (see the point above). In public-civil partnerships, PCPs – in which the C may stand for collective, civil, community, cooperative or commons. With special attention to essential services such as care, water, energy, food, education, housing, public space, public transport and mobility. public-civil partnerships, PCPs – in which the C may stand for collective, civil, community, cooperative or commons. With special attention to essential services such as care, water, energy, food, education, housing, public space, public transport and mobility.
  • The local always takes priority. The municipality and so-called anchor institutions (institutions that are tied to the city or district, such as universities, colleges, housing corporations, emergency services, care institutions) purchase services and services locally, and no longer from companies outside the city. This model of community wealth building has already been tried and developed in Preston in the UK and Cleveland, USA. In the Amsterdam Venserpolder, residents and self-organisations are already engaging in community wealth (& health) building.
  • Every neighbourhood is different. And the needs of residents are leading. Creating any form of neighbourhood prosperity is different because of the physical place, circumstances, culture, resources and politics. The strategy should help to restore or develop the city – based on the demands and needs of residents. Cooperation and sustainable relationships between residents, government, cooperatives, local entrepreneurs, customers and networks are crucial. As is the principle of inclusion: work or opportunities for groups that are disadvantaged, excluded, marginalised and exploited. They are given priority.
  • Time is key. For everything above, the following applies: no isolated, temporary projects, but long-term trajectories and structural financing to build a local neighbourhood economy.


'New residents and new-industrious people come into the neighbourhood from outside. The assumption is that a district will then become more wealthy. We turn this around: We work from the needs within the district.'Najah Aouaki, urban strategist and economist

Which problems are the recommendations an answer to?

There is no lack of wealth, it is merely unevenly distributed. The same goes for control and power. In the current model, large private enterprises benefit from and influence policy. A lot of the money earned in the city flows out of the city. Large companies, international investors and speculators make profits that ends up in bank accounts far away on housing, childcare, energy, transport, care, tourism and so on. This financial extraction is yielding seemingly high growth rates: Amsterdam's gross domestic product (GDP) is rising. Seemingly, because a large part of that growth only ends up with a small group.

More recommendations: the municipality of Amsterdam audaciously takes big steps

  • With a so-called local incubator to develop a neighbourhood cooperative for each urban district within a year. These incubators promote cooperatives and mainly work with key figures from the neighbourhood, organisations and social enterprises.
  • By removing care, energy, education, housing, public space and other essential services from the sphere of public procurement and tenders – market principles do not apply. By applying a broader interpretation and dealing more and creatively with national and European procurement rules. Or to set up a tougher lobby.
  • With a sophisticated strategy for community wealth building. Anchor institutions such as universities, colleges, housing corporations, emergency services, healthcare institutions and the municipality itself purchase goods and services locally. And where goods or services are not locally available, worker cooperatives are set up.
  • With a strategy that advantages local companies, cooperatives and social initiatives – instead of big companies. Through active support and long-term trajectories. And applying conditions and obligations to invest value and money in the city and its districts.
  • With municipal real estate that is accessible and affordable for local initiatives. At least below the market price, and (almost) free if necessary. Neighbourhood collectives are given priority when awarding spaces for social purposes.
  • With a dashboard that measures and monitors the multiple value creation, also at district level, and in a manner that is understandable for the residents of a neighbourhood.

With alternative forms of financing, such as:

  • a municipal investment fund or a collaboration of social private and idealistic funds. Where social initiatives and networks can apply for structural funding.
  • a publicly managed local bank that is open to cooperatives and local projects that are not only about profit.
  • mechanisms that allow the proceeds to flow back to the city, directly to residents and to new investments in the neighbourhood.
  • subsidies (including the large subsidies for renewable energy) or tax benefits for companies that flow back to the city (now or upon realisation of future profits), rather than out of it to benefit shareholders and investors.
  • by reforming existing programmes such as the Amsterdam Entrepreneurs Programme and Amsterdam Impact in such a way that they benefit the democratic, local neighbourhood economy.

How Amsterdammers in Noord, Nieuw-West and Zuidoost are shaping their own neighbourhoods

Where do you start with an inclusive neighbourhood economy, how do you use community wealth building for that? Cities for Change put the spotlight on routes being taken in three districts: the Banne in Noord, Venserpolder in Zuidoost, and the Wildemanbuurt in Nieuw-West. Given the inequalities – social, financial, in education and work, in access to power and control – the need for a local and just economy is greatest in the districts outside the A10 ring road. These areas also boast very active and inspiring neighbourhood collectives.


Flexible method

Each district had its own trajectory. After all, the Banne is a completely different type of neighbourhood with different residents and needs than the Wildemanbuurt, which, in turn, is very different from Venserpolder.

Community wealth building is not a blueprint, but above all a flexible method. The method comprises involving key figures from the neighbourhood and groups with a large constituency, experience and a strong organisation. Components are (usually): research into the needs of the neighbourhood and of neighbourhood groups, the potential in the neighbourhood, the story of the neighbourhood, the role of the city district its in, other stakeholders and themes around which residents want to become active.


'You give people the tools to claim the economy themselves. Investments in a neighbourhood now often go to businesses. Who can leave after three years.' Najah Aouaki, urban strategist and economist

In the Wildemanbuurt it was mainly about ways to 'hack the system'. By actors such as Stichting Studiezalen, Samen Wonen Samen Leven, Homebase. The biggest question was: how can the needs of businesses and the strengths of residents be joined together? Concretely, there was a focus on green spaces and young people wanting to become entrepreneurs. The city council has embraced the new direction towards a more social, sustainable neighbourhood economy. Even if still lacking practical and political interpretation (like, for example, inserting it into the master plan for the neighbourhood).

In Venserpolder , the women of Going Social, Bloei & Groei, Bernadetta Zorg and Stichting SES investigated new economic scenarios. Linked to practical examples such as a cooperative neighbourhood supermarket or a social employment agency for young people in the district. The district council has pledged to remain involved, including with financial support. The management of the master plan for Zuidoost also intends to embrace this way of working.

De Banne is about informal neighbourhood networks, professionalisation and a permanent, physical place for movement Verdedig Noord (Defend the North). The district authorities are not (yet) connected – that requires more mediation. Verdedig Noord says it greatly benefits from theories, models and ideas, and is looking for support to concretise these for their local context.


'Avoid sitting at a table where you have no ownership. Avoid proving yourself all the time. Set the agenda.' Writer and rapper Massih Hutak of Verdedig Noord

The most important lessons

  • Time is of the essence. You cannot redesign an economic system is an afternoon. Neighbourhood groups, key figures, local government and other stakeholders need time to explore new concepts, build trust, develop networks and alliances and strengthen organisations.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Local wealth creation or community wealth building is an experimental method. It is about the demands and needs circulating in a district and taking these as the starting point to work on change. What a local government wants, for example, is not necessarily relevant to the citizens' collective.
  • Language is crucial. Neighbourhood groups, civil society and civil servants speak a different language. Connectors and exchanges between citizen collectives and civil servants are needed to understand one another and to gain insight into working methods and obstacles.
  • Countervailing power. For real innovation, investing in counterpower is needed to challenge the existing order and systems. This does not always follow the standard paths.

'Now I come to the alderman. The ultimate intention is that the alderman will come to me.' Lilian Panka, Bernadetta Zorg, care organisation from the bottom up in Venserpolder

The trajectories were initiated by the Fearless City Amsterdam programme of the municipality of Amsterdam and coordinated by Thomas de Groot (Commons Network Foundation) and Najah Aouaki (independent urban strategist), supported by UvA researchers James and Daglar and colleagues from the Fearless team. At the end of 2018, the Fearless programme introduced the model of community wealth building in Amsterdam in their talks with aldermen and civil servants. At the end of 2019, it was one of the topics at their conference The Future is Public-De Stad van Morgen. The model also surfaced in various council motions and project proposals and in experiments in the Banne, Venserpolder and Wildemanbuurt.

How can the success of the city be turned into a success for all Amsterdammers?

Amsterdam is seen as a success story. But the city and its inhabitants experience considerable inequality: socially, financially, in education and work, in access to power, in wealth, neighbourhoods that are unaffordable for people on low incomes and neighbourhoods housing large groups of poor people.

Neighbourhoods such as Nieuw-West, Zuidoost and Noord have large groups of residents who cannot keep up with the success of the city. This has everything to do with democratisation: why is it not possible to include residents? And with economic policies: why can't these groups benefit from economic growth?

Community wealth building combines and problematises both by proposing a different economy: for and by the people, so that local residents become aware of their strengths and can make a start to gain control over the economy of their neighbourhoods.


Democratised green areas & benefits for the neighbourhood – an example

The municipality has now awarded the green maintenance in one of its districts to a large company from outside Amsterdam via a tender. With flex workers from a temporary employment agency, this company aims to carry out the work as efficiently as possible, even if this is at the expense of biodiversity.

The alternative is a democratically organised cooperative association, in which the entire district has a say. Every local resident is co-owner, and money that is earned flows back to the residents. This neighbourhood cooperative sets biodiversity, not efficiency, as the highest goal. In addition to maintenance, the gardeners and green maintenance staff can teach the neighbourhood children about biodiversity, climate and sustainability. Money, employment, knowledge all remain in the neighbourhood: to the benefit of the neighbourhood, the residents and the green spaces.


The model of community wealth building in brief

Community wealth building is a model for 'democratising' the local neighbourhood economy in an inclusive way – aimed at making local communities economically stable by retaining more money and wealth on local neighbourhoods.

There is not one designated approach, but rather a collection of working methods in which local residents, local entrepreneurs, local government and networks work together without being primarily guided by 'the market' or the national government. The model was developed in the United Kingdom and in the United States to breathe new economic life into cities where industry had moved away. In the Netherlands we would say 'shrinking regions'. Also read The Value of the City


The most important components in community wealth building

  • An analysis of the district. Where is the money being earned, where is value extracted and what route do capital flows take? Also: where do opportunities lie, which communities might start a neighbourhood cooperative, are there public gardens that can be converted into vegetable gardens, are there buildings that might be acquired? And so on.
  • The anchor institutions. These are institutions that are tied to a city or region, such as colleges, universities, healthcare institutions, housing corporations, a power plant or even a port. When they recruit staff and suppliers locally and purchase services and goods locally, money remains in the city and its districts. In this way, these institutions can be drivers for renewed economic development in a community.
  • Driving change. The municipality or province acts as a catalyst to drive the new development in a district. For example, by setting up a new community centre, entrusting the management of a vacant building to a neighbourhood collective, buying up pieces of land, tendering for services to social initiatives, encouraging decent working conditions, setting up a local cooperative bank to finance community initiatives. As well as through various forms of democratisation in which essential services such as a power plant, local care services and the like are taken back into collective ownership. This might take the shape of a cooperative, a public-civil partnership, or a collective structured along the lines of a democratic association.

Continue reading, listening or watching

Climate & energy

Community wealth building


Amsterdam doughnut economy

Public space

Digital democracy

Translocal collaboration