Creating More Free Time by Design for Civic Innovation

Guest post by Alex Lavidge. 

Kindred to Abraham Maslow’s famous “hierarchy of needs,” have you ever seen a visual model suggesting that, for civic innovation to reach its potential, having time we can spend at our discretion is at the foundation?

 Such a reference could help both existing and emerging community leaders prioritize and develop strategies that would maximize their impact.

 Having spent a few years of my life in my 20s volunteering full-time while working as a self-employed professional on the side for hundreds of community-building efforts and social entrepreneurship initiatives, three questions kept emerging that led me to think a focus on designing systems that help us save time is at the core of civic innovation:

 1. How do we foster community design for walkability?

 When we lived in Knoxville, my fiancée and I calculated that we each both drove approximately 40 miles a day. Living in North Chattanooga now, we both feel like we have an extra 40 minutes in the morning and another 40 minutes in the evening. Since our current apartment boasts a walkscore over 70, we are within walking distance of our places of work, exercise, shopping, friends, so we are able to give back and volunteer with our free time toward the community in ways we care about.

 What other proposed efforts, like a light rail system, could we be discussing that might enhance the average walkscore value of businesses and residences across the city of Chattanooga?

 2. How do we lay the groundwork for collaborative consumption?

 Collaborative consumption is a broad movement that asks “what can we share as a community in order to reduce the burden on each individual?” Here in Chattanooga we share bicycles, whereas some cities have carsharing programs, and thousands of other examples exist.

 The “sharing economy” is exciting because it is environmentally responsible, and it increases the rate at which people save money (which has been declining since the 1980s).

 Given that Americans are now working longer hours to make ends meet, would reducing typical living costs through collaborative consumption efforts also increase their free time to give back for civic innovation and community participation?

 3. What are ways we can encourage responsible access to capital?

 Besides designing communities that save us time, and creating collaborative sharing systems that save us money, what are other ways we can work towards creating systems that bear opportunities for those passionate about civic engagement to earn additional income?

 In addition to providing entrepreneurial support, how can we help others learn about opportunities in sales, investing, as well as online education?

 Tracking discretionary time per Chattanoogan, in our efforts to enhance civic innovation, could be a bold first step toward an inclusive and comprehensive hierarchical model that, together as a community, we could build together to help us reach our potential.


 In May 2011, Fast Company magazine showcased Alex Lavidge as an example of a "brilliant urbanite helping to build the cities of America's future." He is a frequent guest speaker at regional universities, entrepreneurship conferences and various professional associations. You can find him on twitter via @alexlavidge.

“three questions kept emerging that led me to think a focus on designing systems that help us save time is at the core of civic innovation”