In the last two years two of the greatest changes to Seattle’s landscape have been the Seattle Sonics’ transplant to Oklahoma City and the instantaneous vanishing of Washington Mutual. Although the absence of the Basketball team that had anchored a large portion of my childhood memories affected me on a personal level with disappointment and defeat, the immediate ubiquity of Chase Bank’s glaring blue that began peppering Seattle along with their pretentious attempts at local branding in the fateful fall of 2008 proved to be more disturbing than the Sonics’ departure. This distaste surprised me somewhat since I had no personal attachment to the bank itself. After slowly building a formidable national bank for over a century, holding assets in the range of 328 billion dollars, and constructing the Washington Mutual Tower—the second highest building in Seattle—Washington Mutual has by now become a mere memory to be subsumed by JP Morgan Chase and the WaMu tower has been dully renamed the 1201 Third Avenue Tower.
Both of these circumstances express the frailty of our institutions and the desperate ends money drives them towards. It seems that the shake-up of the bank system has made a lot of Americans question just where the safest and most viable location to store their finances would be, a question which seemed almost superfluous until 2008 when the Financial Districts’ facades of stability came crashing down to expose the severe flippancy with which American money had been dealt. Now that a lack of trust in large financial institutions is common, many are exploring other banking options available to them. A more sustainable alternative to traditional banking institutions that has attracted a lot of private and corporate account holders are Credit Unions and Community Development Banks. These financial cooperatives offer investment opportunities that directly fund and support creating underserved populations and environments. With a traditional bank you offer up your financial capital to the whims of capricious investors without being able to determine whether one personally would even choose to support dubious ventures such as Mountain Top Removal mining which entails eradicating the vegetation of entire Appalachian regions and then blowing up the underlying mountainside in order to extract the ecologically inefficient coal beneath. As fate—or cold cunning—would have it, JPMorgan Chase happens to have underwritten loan and bond deals in the range of 8.5 trillion dollars of its clients money for the major Mountain Top Removal businesses, ensuring that more and more of the Appalachian landscape disappears (http://itsgettinghotinhere.org/2010/03/30/mojo-jpmorgan-chases-war-on-nature/).
Community investing on the other hand empowers you to extend your financial assets to ventures as various as independent media outlets, more environmentally sustainable businesses, or just and affordable mortgages for low income families. If you are interested in taking a closer look at some of the options available http://www.communityinvest.org/ provides many helpful and detailed resources to guide you through re-allocating your funds in an ethically responsible manner that might help us all maintain some of our deteriorating cultural and natural landscapes.