“The Bijlmer Euro is a Parasitical Currency that piggybacks on the ubiquity of the Euro as a vehicle for its own mobility. Yet, a Bijlmer Euro is worth more than a normal Euro because it carries local trust and good will.”
– Christian Nold
The Bijlmer Euro – an experimental local currency
The Bijlmer Euro is a conceptual and technical evolution of the idea of a local currency. It is unique in the way its elements and approach are designed for the specific context of the Bijlmer. This area in Amsterdam is often stigmatised as a difficult community, due to the high degree of cultural diversity with over a hundred different communities and mixture of socio economic classes. For these reasons, people outside of Amsterdam South East don’t realise that the Bijlmer is an incredibly dynamic and diverse area which is a centre for specialist food imports and global money transfers. One of the problems of the Bijlmer, is that there is a disconnect between the different local ethnic communities. After many interviews with local people, Christian Nold developed a plan to explore the degree of social and economic connection between these different communities via an alternative currency that would break through cultural boundaries and provide the local community with economic benefits. Nold developed a new model for a Bijlmer currency, the “Bijlmer Euro” which would visualise how money was moving throughout the Bijlmer.
Across the world there are tens of thousands of functioning complementary currencies which many people have not heard about. Local currencies are intended for use in small geographical areas where they are designed to improve the way that local people exchange services and locally-produced goods. The fundamental economic concept, is one of stopping a ‘leakage’ of money out of local areas towards large distant chain stores. By spending money in locally owned shops the money stays within the local network where it benefits the local community in terms of jobs, social contact, cultural identity and encourages shorter supply chains. Interesting examples are the BerkShares, the Toronto Dollar as well as the Transition Town currencies in the UK like the Lewes Pound and the Brixton Pound. There is some useful starting point information about complimentary currencies on Wikipedia.
The issue with many local currencies is that they often require a strong commitment from the users and do not provide enough visibility of the clear benefits for everyone. In many towns that have local currencies there are small signs in the widows informing people that there is a currency but the actual movement of the money and the benefits for the local community are not easily seen. Once the initial publicity of the launch dies away, nobody really knows if anyone is using the currency. The issues are also practical, some currencies that print their own bank notes add a burden onto the consumers and shop keepers of having two currencies in their wallet or till, which they have to exchange at the end of the month. The Bijlmer Euro is a targeted attempt to try to address a number of these issues and provide specific solutions for the Bijlmer as well as innovate the design of other future local currencies.
What is special about the Bijlmer Euro?
The Bijlmer is an interesting context for a new alternative currency since there are already informal money systems in the Bijlmer. Besides the mainstream system of banks and other financial institutions there are informal community savings systems as well as informal money transfer services. These “trust communities” are typically set up around specific cultural groups rather than following the model of local trust. The Bijlmer Euro is specifically focused on the way the participating shops are social hubs for creating connections between diverse communities in the Bijlmer. By networking these hubs we can expand cultural trust networks to be more broadly local. The use of the Bijlmer Euro will encourage the the movement of the currency across identity borders.
The project is unique in the way the technical design of the Bijlmer Euro bank is able to translate the money flows into a visual representation of the Bijlmer. The Bijlmer Euro stickers are created by using the same type of Mifare Ultralight RFID chips that are also present in the single-use OV travel cards. People can make their own Bijlmer Euro notes by collecting single-use OV travel cards that others have thrown away. These discarded cards are useless for transport, yet the RFID tag inside of them is still functioning and can be reused.
A Bijlmer Euro note is created by placing an RFID sticker on top of a standard Euro note to transform it into a Bijlmer Euro. The note is still identifiable as the original Euro denomination as well as a local Bijlmer Euro. Using RFID-tagged stickers one can trace the route that the money is travelling through the Bijlmer from shop to shop, and capture this movement in a real-time visualisation. This offer an opportunity for local people to look at the visualisation and identify their own patterns.
What is the long term plan of the Bijlmer Euro?
The long term goal is to develop a prototype for a global, community run diaspora banking system based on the strength of social relationships between communities across the whole globe. The concept is to setup local currencies in other areas across the globe, where Bijlmer people have strong connections. These local currencies located for example in Suriname, would use the same currency as the Bijlmer. The concept is that these trans-local currencies will be supporting both the local networks of the places where they are physically located but also to create a global network of community solidarity. People in any of those of these places could share resources and send money backwards and forwards to friends relatives and business associates without having to use current money transfer services. This kind of a trans-local currency system could be implemented using the mobile phone technologies that the Bijlmer Euro project is already using for the reader system. In short, we would like to create a community run, diaspora banking system that supports and invests in local communities across the world.
“Some … imagine the aim of economic localisation is complete self-sufficiency at the village level. In fact, localisation does not mean everything being produced locally, nor does it mean an end to trade. It simply means creating a better balance between local, regional, national and international markets. It also means that large corporations should have less control, and communities more over what is produced; and that trading should be fair and to the benefit of both parties. … Localisation is not about isolating communities from other cultures, but about creating a new, sustainable and equitable basis on which they can interact.”
– Ed Mayo