Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Repair Café

The Repair Café
Bill Berkowitz 
University of Massachusetts Lowell 

 …So many good ideas are out there for strengthening local communities and building community life, it’s hard to know where to begin. Here’s one among many that’s recently come my way. First the idea, and then an idea about collecting more ideas.

Recently, Amsterdam started its first Repair Café. According to a New York Times article last spring (May 9), “People can bring in whatever they want to have repaired, at no cost, by volunteers who just like to fix things.”  It could be a coffee maker, a lamp, a vacuum cleaner, a cherished piece of clothing, or something that’s one-of-a-kind.  Why throw it out if it can be fixed or mended?

Think of the advantages: less trash in landfills, less expense for the owner, a chance for repair persons (often but not always older or retired folks) to both feel and be useful. Plus the social benefits: “What’s interesting for us is that it creates new places for people to meet, not just live next to each other like strangers “ said the director of a Dutch foundation, which gave the Repair Café a grant as part of its Social Cohesion program.

The concept is so very simple. More than that, it’s inexpensive, exportable, and, in a small way, joyful. One wonders why there aren’t Repair Cafés in every community, including mine and yours.  All it takes is a little desire and organizational ability, two qualities that we community psychologists should have in abundance.  And what a community service (and/or research project, journal article, conference presentation, or eye-catching video) that could be.

Here’s the larger idea, though.   Many ideas related to this one – innovative, sustainable, low-cost, non-technical, simple to implement, easy to adapt – percolate through our communities.   We don’t do a good job of collecting them; but then again, neither does anyone else.

So can we envision a national Clearinghouse of new community ideas – one that would collect and disseminate new community ideas from across the country and world, and that anyone could contribute to or borrow from?

At the Chicago Biennial, some of us began conversations about such New Community Ideas, which among other things led to a Community Ideas column in The Community Psychologist, certainly a good first step. We’ve seen a few other of these ideas on this blog.  But a bigger and more ambitious next step could be some serious thinking about what such an Idea Clearinghouse might look like and how it could actually get off the ground.

I wonder if any of you blog readers have thoughts along these lines. If so, perhaps you could share them here. And perhaps we’ll have a chance to elaborate on this idea further in a future blog post.

1 comment:

  1. Bill, love this concept, and even more, the vision for a clearninghouse of new community ideas. We are considering new capabilities whereby the Community Tool Box could be a place users may more easily share ideas and connect with one another. Might that be a good place to "house" this online exchange of community ideas? What do others think?