A Look at Bitcoin Circular Economies Around the World - Bitfinex blog
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A Look at Bitcoin Circular Economies Around the World

From its humble beginnings, the mission and purpose of Bitcoin as a peer-to-peer payments technology and an inviolable form of money that cannot be manipulated or inflated, has inspired small communities to whole cities to create Bitcoin circular economies. Lugano’s Plan ₿ and Bitcoin Beach are the most well known Bitcoin circular economies and have inspired many other similar efforts around the world. Even before these initiatives however, there has been a rich history of people trying to use Bitcoin as money at a grassroots-level. Let’s take a look.

Lazlo Proved BTC Could be Used as Money in Real Life

With Bitcoin Pizza Day right around the corner on the 22nd of May, it seems fitting to start this article off by mentioning Lazlo Hanyecz, and his historic first purchase with 10,000 Bitcoin and the fabled two Papa John’s pizzas. 

Lazlo made the first ever real world transaction with Bitcoin, which many Bitcoiners at the time saw as the much needed official coronation of its status as a true new form of money. Ever since then, Bitcoiners, many of them guided by the cypherpunk vision of building a parallel free and accessible market, have tried creating grass-roots driven Bitcoin economies in diverse locations around the globe. 

Lugano’s Plan ₿ and Bitcoin Beach in El Salvador have by far been the most successful and most widely known Bitcoin circular economies, but they are not the first. There have been quite a few attempts prior and it is an interesting piece of Bitcoin history to take a look at.

Many of the first attempts at building Bitcoin circular economies started out small. A few like-minded Bitcoiners inspired their local bar or coffee shop and a few other merchants in their local communities to begin accepting Bitcoin, some employees began opting to be paid in Bitcoin. Maybe they even had a Bitcoin ATM. It started out from humble beginnings.

Within a little more than a decade however, there are now many different communities with significant local merchant adoption, who accept Bitcoin and Lightning Network as payments.

A Walk Down Memory Lane: Early Circular Economy Efforts

Room 77

Room 77 was an early Bitcoiner hang out in Berlin, Germany, which was a bar that had good food and gained fame in the early days of Bitcoin as “the first brick and mortar business to accept Bitcoin in the world”. Room 77 began accepting Bitcoin as a method of payment as early as 2011. One of the regulars also produced the first-ever Bitcoin Android mobile wallet. The cypherpunks that frequented Room 77 also made an effort to onboard various merchants in the surrounding area. Sadly, Room 77 is no longer open.

Paralelní Polis

Paralelní Polis is a nonprofit organisation and educational space which takes its inspiration from the political philosophy of Vaclac Benda, a Czech Mathematician who resisted communism. Paralelní Polis has been around since 2014. It has a famous “crypto-only” coffee shop, coworking space, hosts an institute of cryptoanarchy, and regularly hosts educational events and talks about Bitcoin, crypto, cryptoanarchy, encryption, activism and related topics.

Bitcoin City

Arnhem is a city in the Netherlands that’s known as “the world’s most Bitcoin-friendly city”. In 2014 a few local Bitcoiners began an effort to onboard the merchants of Arnhem to accept Bitcoin. The project launched with 15 local businesses and has only continued to grow. You can now buy a wide range of products and services with Bitcoin and Lightning Network at a lot of local businesses.

Bitcoin Valley

The Bitcoin Valley in Rovereto, Italy, is the name given to a project created by Marco Amadori and InBitcoin. Since 2015, Bitcoiners in the Italian village of Rovereto have onboarded a significant number of local merchants, bar owners, hoteliers, property owners, to accept Bitcoin for goods and services and even rent. For a time they even convinced the local government, which accepted Bitcoin for taxes. In Rovereto it is possible to get by spending only Bitcoin.

The Importance of Bitcoin Beach

While early attempts at creating Bitcoin circular economies were definitely successful, none of them managed to quite capture the world’s attention in the same way as Bitcoin Beach, in El Zonte, El Salvador. Bitcoin Beach began in 2019, when local community members and Mike Peterson began raising donations in BTC for a circular Bitcoin economy project in a small surfing village on El Salvador’s Pacific coast. 

The project quickly caught the attention of the Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, and became the inspiration for his historic Bitcoin legal tender law, the government’s Bitcoin office, and the new economic system being built on Bitcoin in El Salvador. Bitcoin Beach was in the spotlight and became world famous overnight. Now, it’s arguably the world’s most popular tourist destination for Bitcoiners.

Bitcoin Beach currently boasts more than a hundred businesses that accept Bitcoin, some locals earn in Bitcoin and Bitcoiners from all over the world come to enjoy the beautiful beaches and spend their Satoshis. Bitcoin Beach’s wild success both domestically and internationally has inspired similar projects around the world. Thanks to Bitcoin Beach’s Bitcoin circular economy whitepaper, they have open sourced the blueprint, and shown anyone how to follow in their footsteps.

Plan ₿, Lugano

In March 2022, the City of Lugano in Switzerland, succeeded Bitcoin Beach to become the most successful introduction of a Bitcoin circular economy with the launch of Plan ₿. The brainchild of Tether, the company behind USDt, the world’s largest stablecoin, and the City of Lugano, it is an impressive initiative to integrate Bitcoin, Lightning Network, Tether, and Lugano’s own LVGA token into every facet of daily life.

The fact that it has been embraced by the city government demonstrates just how far-sighted the local administration has been in understanding the benefits of integrating Bitcoin into the economy. Lugano is described by Switzerland Tourism as Switzerland’s third most important financial centre and an important conference, banking and business centre. With the launch of Plan ₿, it now has an additional dimension, attracting Bitcoiners from around the world.

It is setting up a CHF100m investment pool for startups to develop blockchain and Bitcoin technology as well as to promote the relocation of existing businesses to bring expertise, know-how and people to Lugano. It also plans a 3m CHF investment fund to develop tools and solutions to help local businesses integrate Bitcoin, Tether and LVGA payments.

Plan ₿ has also collaborated with three universities and is offering over 500 grants to students who want to upskill and learn about blockchain and Bitcoin technologies in its Blockchain for Business initiative, and every year hosts a summer school for anyone who wants to learn about Bitcoin and peer-to-peer technologies and their ability to bring financial freedom and freedom of speech.

A huge network of merchants that is continually growing now accepts payments in Bitcoin, Tether or LVGA, and all public services including city taxes can be paid in crypto. Plan ₿ has even committed to supporting sustainable Bitcoin mining.

Bitcoin Communities That Have Been Inspired by Plan ₿ and Bitcoin Beach

Bitcoin Ekasi

Bitcoin Ekasi is a Bitcoin community and circular economy project started by the non-profit Surfer Kids, a community aid project which teaches surfing to kids in Mossel Bay, South Africa. Bitcoin Ekasi has onboarded several merchants in the local community and even pays some of the surfing instructors’ wages in BTC. Inspired by Bitcoin Beach in El Zonte, Bitcoin Ekasi has become the first Bitcoin community and local economy project in Africa.

Bitcoin Jungle

Bitcoin Jungle, also inspired by Bitcoin Beach, is Costa Rica’s grass roots Bitcoin community and circular economy project. Bitcoin Jungle provides Bitcoin education, resources & technology to the local community, onboards local businesses to accept BTC and provides services and assistance to visiting Bitcoiners. They even have their own fork of Galoy’s Bitcoin Beach wallet, specifically geared towards Costa Rica, called the Bitcoin Jungle wallet.

Bitcoin Lake

Bitcoin Lake is yet another project which takes its inspiration from Bitcoin Beach. Bitcoin Lake is located in Panajachel, Guatemala on the shores of Lake Atitlán. Like similar projects, Bitcoin Lake focuses on onboarding merchants, offering education and spearheading Bitcoin focused initiatives. Bitcoin Lake also uses waste energy to mine Bitcoin which will be distributed to the community.

Praia Bitcoin

Praia Bitcoin is another Bitcoin Beach, this one located in Brazil’s coastal village of Jericoacoara, and takes its inspiration from the original. Praia Brazil has pioneered the local use of Bolt Lightning Network NFC payment cards, which children in the community use to purchase fruits and vegetables. Praia Bitcoin also pays out grants in Bitcoin to community members, works with local schools to provide Bitcoin education, and onboards merchants.

Montanha Bitcoin

Montanha Bitcoin is located in São Thomé das Letras, Brazil. It’s a newer Bitcoin circular economy project but they’re off to a great start working with local schools to provide Bitcoin education. They’re also working to implement a similar project as Praia Bitcoin, using Lightning Network, Bolt cards, and distributing Satoshis to children so they can buy fruit from local vendors who accept Bitcoin.

Harlem Bitcoin

Harlem Bitcoin is a decentralised Bitcoin community located in Harlem, in New York city. Harlem Bitcoin organises regular Bitcoin-only meetups, provides Bitcoin education and educational resources, and is working to create a local Bitcoin circular economy, by onboarding local merchants.  

It is inspiring to see so many Bitcoin projects and initiatives sprouting up around the world. It only bodes well for further adoption. If you know of other Bitcoin initiatives, let us know.