The community tool yard

I’ve been thinking a lot about how, in a period of no growth, slow growth, and punctuation marks of sudden economic shock dropping the whole society into a “lesser” paradigm from time to time, how people could still have the tools they’d need to have reasonably comfortable lives.

This has led me to thinking about more cooperative forms of ownership.

Condomimums of various sorts and housing co-ops have formed some ideas in this regard. I’m always leery of condominiums, because typically the condominium (or strata, as they’re known in BC) corporation is a bit of a shoestring operation. Fees, after all, need to be kept as low as possible (each unit is also mortgaged, so it’s the combination of principal, interest, taxes and fees that competes with other locations), but high enough to raise the money to maintain the buildings and land.

It doesn’t take too many repossessed units standing empty to ruin the finances of a condominium corporation. 5% would usually manage it, if left for a year or two. Then repairs start to be deferred…

But the shared ownership model does allow for many more common facilities than might otherwise exist. Apartment blocks with indoor pools, hot tubs, full gymnasia, steam rooms and saunas, ballroom sized spaces, common lounges and the like. Townhouse complexes with patios, barbeque pits, sports equipment, and other amenities.

Retrofitting existing neighbourhoods of homes with common facilities, where one becomes a member of a co-op, would be one useful addition.

One smart move would be a consolidated space for tools and their use. This would allow for homeowners to need less personal space, while have space to do bigger projects, with better tools.

Think about it: most of us own tools we’ve used two or three times at most. When you need one of them, it’s needed, but it’s not often needed.

Most of us can’t afford to buy industrial quality tools that will give lifetimes of service in light use. They’re a little too big for homes, and they often need to be set up. So we buy consumer variants, which break easily, and are hard to do big jobs with.

Not only that, but twenty homes in a ten-house-per-side block probably own twenty jig saws, twenty power drills, ten to fifteen table saws, and the like. How many are in use concurrently? On average, less than one — and even when it’s spring project time, generally one at a time would work.

Suppose you had a community co-op that owned tools in common. A real table saw that could cut 4′ x 8′ x 1″ plywood easily. Safety equipment. Industrial drills that won’t discharge after six screws. Lathes (that no one could afford) for turning wood and metal. (It need be no more complicated than the typical industrial arts classroom at a school, but with only one of each type of machine needed.)

The shed would have workspace a house wouldn’t have. Any member of the co-op could use the shed, and the tools.

Now you may ask “why not just go to the Rent-All”? Well, the Rent-All doesn’t come with the space to use the tools, does it? You also have to transport the tools to your home — those of us who either don’t drive, or drive small cars, often find they can’t fit items to carry them away and bring them back — and then find space to work.

What this whole thought experiment is about is improving quality. Shared tools would allow the investment to be in higher-quality products. The space allows for a higher-quality lifestyle — and perhaps, more use of the tools, too, with more projects done. The workspace, in turn, promotes safety, by providing room to work that the typical homeowner doesn’t have. (The building can also be powered effectively, with higher amperage circuits where needed — and a few solar panels on the roof may well make it independent of the grid.)

As this century unfolds, more and more rethinking of what we own vs what we share is going to have to take place. We might as well start looking for opportunities sooner rather than later.


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