Within the community, work is linked with the needs of the community. Once a community has developed its own vision, it will realize what it needs as a community. This becomes the basis for what has real value locally and for identifying what work will be meaningful in the local context. Two initiatives, one current (Transition Communities) and one historic (Chattanooga visioning), provide ideas about some elements of this process.
In thinking about community, we have to keep in mind the wide variety of communities and the resources they have available. The challenge of creating a sustainable community in a wealthy community will be very different than building one in a poor rural community or in a depressed inner city. Local financing through a community bank like the South Shore Bank in Chicago has been vitally important to its renewal. Having federal funds available to all communities on a per capita basis helps to build equity between communities.
This new local community initiative began in Totnes England and is now spreading around the globe. In the U.S., 33 communities, from Portland ME to NE Seattle WA, were already listed as official transition communities by June 2009.
Transition US says: “The Transition Movement is a vibrant, grassroots movement that seeks to build community resilience in the face of such challenges as peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis. It represents one of the most promising ways of engaging people in strengthening their communities against the effects of these challenges, resulting in a life that is more abundant, fulfilling, equitable and socially connected.”
“It all starts off when a small collection of motivated individuals within a community come together with a shared concern: how can our community respond to the challenges and opportunities of peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis?”
Each transition town has its own website where you can get an idea of the activities they are beginning to undertake. Since Totnes has been in existence for several years already, their website http://totnes.transitionnetwork.org/ provides a sense of the spectrum of concerns and activities that can flourish in a transition community. Their website has sections on Building & Housing, Economics & Livelihoods, Energy, Food, Health & Wellbeing, Heart & Soul, Local Government, The Arts, and Transport.
For more on transition towns, you can order The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins from Chelsea Green Publishing in Vermont by calling 1-802-295-6300
What is missing at this stage is consideration of what roles are needed at the regional and federal levels to support these initiatives, eg, broader access to capital, and what is needed to address the inequities in resources between communities. Can these communities build enough political strength to impact the larger system? Also missing is some kind of community visioning process described in the Chattanooga story below.
In the early 1980's, Chattanooga, Tennessee, was a city in despair. Local industry had closed up shop, leaving behind people without jobs and with polluted air and water. A few wealthy families were thought to run the town and with a city council elected at large, most residents felt like there was nothing they could do to change things.
But, as is often the case, a few people refused to give up hope. They opened a storefront office downtown and called themselves Chattanooga Venture. Instead of hiring experts to draw up plans, they went out into the community neighborhoods and invited rich and poor alike to join together in creating a vision for the future of their city. [Read full story]
A Vision For The Commons - Davistown Rising, by Maia Campoamo
Fedco Seeds: A Consumer/Worker Cooperative by founder C.R. Lawn
Redefining Progress has a project on community sustainability indicators and a Community Indicators Handbook which offers:
* Key steps for developing a successful indicator project
* Insights into what we’ve learned in communities large and small, rural and urban
* Case studies of projects that work to revitalize neighborhoods, enhance public health, and improve education, among many other goals
* Profiles of organizations representing a range of approaches to developing indicators, and that are available to share information or exchange ideas
* Innovative approaches toward collaborative efforts and action initiatives
* Listings of resources, data sources, and a sample menu of indicators and categories
* Local and regional application of Redefining Progress's key indicators
The Spirit of Community, The Reinvention of American Society by Amitai Etzioni (Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, New York: 1993, $12) has also been much discussed with pro and con reviews due to its emphasis on voluntarism without much structural discussion. Etzioni is a founder of the Communitarian movement.
The Quickening of America, Rebuilding Our Nation, Remaking Our Lives by Frances Moore Lappe' and Paul Martin DuBois (Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco: 1994, $18) This is written as a group discussion/how to book.
Streets of Hope, The Fall and Rise of An Urban Neighborhood by Peter Medoff & Holly Sklar (South End Press, Boston: 1994, $16). The story of Dudley Street neighborhood in Boston.
Community Economic Development, In Search of Empowerment, Eric Shragge, editor (Black Rose Books, Canada: 1993, $19.95). Tells about efforts in Canadian neighborhoods, along with some more general chapters on local economic development.
This will get you started. Send us e-mail under Let's Talk if you have suggestions for further reading and watch this site for new listings.