On being human: the need for a community
Humans are gregarious creatures that thrive in a community environment. People have formed and lived in societies for centuries. The need to establish and develop communal spaces is deeply ingrained in our psyche. It is something we, as people, feel compelled to do to fulfill our innate need for meaning, personal value, and belonging.
Societal environments are integral parts of human evolution providing safety, a basis for economic development, and a secure base from which to expand further.
A community can be defined as a gathering of people who use their individual skills to help and support each other, for the greater good of the flourishing society. Communities are based on trust and interpersonal relationships.
But sometimes, communities struggle to thrive and become stagnant and devoid of growth through a combination of internal and external factors such as internal strife, lack of motivation to engage, lack of purpose, or government inability or unwillingness to support the local community.
In today's world, these disadvantaged communities tend to become fringe societies, hotbeds for social discontent, criminal activities, and other undesirable situations.
Recent technological advances have enabled a number of entrepreneurs to do something about the issue of social under-development.
Urban Array: providing the building blocks for a new community
The decentralized nature of blockchain technology introduced a disruptive paradigm shift in the way industry sectors traditionally operate. The trait is particularly well-suited for enhancing new communities, as decentralization is almost custom-made to foster a community-driven environment.
Urban Array is the brainchild of Marquis Davis, a Business and Public Administration graduate with a vision to make communities better through disruption of the traditional top-down community development model, using blockchain and distributed networks to underpin transparency and fair value exchange.
Marquis hails from Chicago, Illinois, and always had an innate drive for social entrepreneurship.
According to Marquis, he chose the name Urban Array because of the term's opposite analogy with urban decay.
An array, Marquis explains, is a term used in computing whereby a set of related elements is arranged in a certain way so they can be easily sorted, searched, and utilized.
From that standpoint, an urban array gathers a series of urban elements (buildings or other structures) that may have been abandoned or derelict and re-aligns them in such a way that they become a new, reborn community.
"Urban Array is a Decentralized Autonomous Social Enterprise that uses decentralized technologies to give regular people the ability to organize, collaborate, and rebuild communities."
Blockchain itself is an arrangement of records, called blocks, which are linked together to form a decentralized ledger. One can then extrapolate that Urban Array provides the building blocks that act as the foundation for these communities.
Promoting ownership across disadvantaged communities
Capitalism is, fundamentally, an economic system that promotes inequality -Annalee Newitz
The issue of ownership has been the focus of decades of economic development, particularly in the openly capitalist framework of the United States.
People long to own stuff, as the capitalist credo dictates that ownership grants social status and recognition.
The opposite is also true, again within the framework of capitalism. Lack of ownership (of properties, vehicles, or mere kitchen appliances, for example) casts a negative light on those community members who may not have the financial means to purchase anything beyond fundamental items.
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This lack of ownership translates into apathy, as those who are renting a property in a disadvantaged community may not feel inclined to do anything to improve or enhance their dwelling, since it belongs to someone else. This same feeling may pervade many households across a locality, which in turn contributes to the stagnation of the community.
According to Marquis, if there is no ownership, there is no incentive to participate in community projects.
"Urban Array's goal is to help communities and groups that government or the ‘market’ don’t adequately reach or serve, by allowing crowd-sourcing of work, resources, capital, and rewards that allow people to have ownership within their communities."
The block that blockchain built
'As long as poverty, injustice, and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest' - Nelson Mandela
The current socio-political situation across most countries in the world is one of marked inequality and class divide. This is hardly a new issue, but recent changes in political leadership across powerful nations have only highlighted a problem deeply-rooted in many worldwide communities.
Nelson Mandela's quote is as relevant today as it was when it was first uttered. Social inequalities mean that different sectors of the population within a given community find it harder (or altogether impossible) to access opportunities for better education, employment, or simple social rewards.
Social inequality exists for many different reasons, but whether it's due to perceptions of nobility, ethnicity, or ascendency in under-developed rural communities, or artificially engineered in dictatorships or pseudo-democratic environments, inequality ends with the same result: resentment, hardship, and propensity to violence.
Urban Array's goal is to stamp out that inequality among under-privileged communities, creating a sustainable community that owns itself in the long run, using the transformative power of blockchain to achieve that goal.
Marquis says that blockchain technology harbors great power of transformation. "With Urban Array, we want to build a model of what blockchain can do and be, now and in the future, using the decentralization feature to share value among community members, with the clear objective of putting equality first. I think this is the ethos of blockchain."
To this end, Marquis and his team have raised a substantial amount of capital through the city of Chicago and have invested that money into the transformation of a city block in Englewood neighborhood, one of the most deprived areas in the city of Chicago.
On Englewood's hopes for a better future
Englewood is located on the south side of the city. The population there is mostly black, has a poverty rate of 44%, and suffers from a high level of unemployment. The median household income is far below that of Chicago's average. This oft-maligned neighborhood became the focus of Urban Array's efforts to create a new community.
Using a large portion of the money raised through the city of Chicago, Marquis' team and community partners, Hanns & Eriving and EGWoode, community-building group and incubation partner, went to work on Englewood. They took over an old city block and restored it to include a cooperative barbershop, restaurants, coffee shop, mind and body wellness center, consignment store, and an architecture firm. While this in itself may not sound that revolutionary, the key here is that those commercial establishments will use and accept the new cryptocurrency that will be launched by Urban Array in the coming months.
In the future, the lessons learned at Englewood and how the neighborhood was revitalized will enable other communities to simply 'plug in' and leverage existing digital assets for their own development.
What Urban Array is doing here is engaging in a pioneering social enterprise that will become the blueprint for similar projects elsewhere, demonstrating the tangible, real-life applications of blockchain technology.
Marquis says that earning the trust of the community was one of the hardest parts of the entire process. Disadvantaged communities are all too familiar with politicians and local government representatives that come in full of talk and low on real intentions for change. So he and his team had to work hard to demonstrate the concept of sharing value among the community through decentralized means and to ensure that community members knew that Urban Array has the local people's best interests in mind.
Urban Array was officially launched in October 2017 and was incorporated in January 2018. It has been operating since March this year, and it's currently in Alpha phase, which means there's still a lot of work to be done. The team are about to launch a Bounty coin that will be tradeable for a digital asset that will operate the entire system come 2019. The wheels of transformative change are in motion.
The long-term goals are to create self-owned, self-contained, and sustainable communities where value is shared and ownership is encouraged. Urban Array is working on templating the process, so it will become easier with every iteration.
"To quote the great Dr. King: 'There is a time… where silence… becomes… betrayal.' And that time… for us… is now!"
"We are pioneers of a globally transformative technology that, if leveraged with a new set of values, can correct many of the issues and suffering the world is plagued with. It is our responsibility as a new generation of leaders to speak up and embrace this powerful technology; one that has the promise of helping us redefine our world.
To build things, anew.
To reform structures of power.
And to move us into an era of transparency, fairness and equality."