Tuesday, May 8, 2007

RELOCALIZING AMERICA

JAN SPENCER

In Eugene, Oregon, Jan Spencer is a well known advocate for culture change. He has transformed his quarter-acre suburban property into a permaculture Shangri-la, attracting many visitors. He collaborates with others on projects for culture change. Jan leads bike tours of permaculture sites in Eugene, speaks at public events and writes articles for publication. The following is from Jan's keynote speech at the Lane County Relocalization Conference that took place April 27-28 at two churches:

Economy

A localized economy picks up where market based global capitalism ends. No need to wait! One important principle of a localized economy is that of downsizing many of our resource intensive habits. This is a key leverage point. Reducing what we need and use brings us closer to taking care of those needs from local sources with great benefits to the local economy, the environment and culture change. It also deprives the global economy of revenue.

Also important to keep in mind is that an economy is not only about money. It is about taking care of needs. Many needs can be taken care of without money in creative ways that we are not so familiar with, such as barter, volunteering, local currencies, cooperatives, work trades, avoiding poor investments -- to name a few.

A few easy examples:

Home economics. The home can be an appreciable source of food, energy, water and taking care of one another. Home passive solar design, once built, is essentially free heat. A home with a garden and a bike rider means appreciable transportation energy can come from the back yard. Multigenerational living means young and old can help look after each other. Such a home provides many of its own needs outside the money economy.

Reducing our dependence on automobiles -- a huge key leverage point which can reduce foreign policy misadventures and automobile infrastructure costing hundreds of billions of dollars every year. That money, engineering skill, material resources and youthful vitality wasted on car culture can be redirected with great benefit elsewhere such as environmental restoration, public transit, energy conservation programs, urban redesign to reduce auto-dependency. The latter is particularly vital for local ecnomies. Ending automobile dependence will prevent hundreds of billions in poor investments such as iin car-induced public health costs.

Food

Of all the essentials for survival, food is the furthest along in terms of localization and can be seen as a model for taking care of other needs. At present, there are numerous organizations and advocates calling for localizing and supporting local and regional food production.

One local food group has determined that Lane County can essentially feed itself if current non food crops are replaced with edible crops and diets change to eat substantially less meat. A network of local churches in That’s My Farmer actively support local farms in a highly innovative way. Other organizations can make use of this model.

Local food is a key leverage point. It helps keep money local. It also avoids transportation costs and carbon emissions of food from elsewhere and sidesteps many of the uncertainties relating to oil and climate change.

In a localized food system, we can expect more agricultural work to be done by humans. Imagine people from town spending time on a farm at important times of the season. A new kind of farm - community-participated agriculture.

Relocalizing food will mean crop transitions and developing local markets. Crops for local use can provide energy, medicine and fiber as well.

Agriculture happens in town as well. Since experiencing a drastic reduction in oil imports, Cuba has been forced to relocalize in all areas of economy and way of life. They have gone mostly organic with food production. Remarkable amounts of food are produced within Cuban cities and towns, and the nation has developed the research and education infrastructure to help teach people how to grow food.

Exchanging grass for garden: Food Not Lawns contains enormous potential. Instead of a lawn mowing clientele, I foresee enterprising people making arrangements with property owners to convert all or parts of their properties into food production and share the produce with the property owner. Any surplus would go to a neighborhood market. If you are interested, ask me more, and I would be glad to elaborate on this idea.

People with limited space and mobility can grow food effectively in containers.

Roof top gardens are also a great idea along with open spaces at churches, schools, business and public property with interested people taking care of the plants, trees and harvest.

With a shift in economic circumstance, local food security ideas will become increasingly popular.

Energy

How would energy look in a relocalized economy? First, we should make conservation -- a key leverage point -- an absolute priority. Reducing demand puts managing demand closer within reach. We can avoid much of the need in the first place.

Eugene Water and Electric Board existing energy conservation should be vigorously marketed. Call them to learn more.

Neighborhood-scale methane gas has tremendous potential, as human waste for several blocks is brought together to the neighborhood bio digester for methane gas to provide cooking fuel and provide great fertilizer as a byproduct.

Architecture and design standards can be a great energy saver. Making full use of the sunny south sides of houses and commercial buildings for passive solar are only common sense. Retrofit existing homes with passive solar. All new construction should be with elevated energy conservation and solar standards with non toxic materials.

Many suburban houses with south facing garages can convert their garages into solar spaces by replacing the garage door with glass and transforming the space inside for more productive use.

Local bio fuels need to be a part of the mix for essential services such as on the farm and for fire trucks, ambulances.

Redesigning the urban landscape along with upgraded public transportation should be a high priority so that the use of automobiles becomes much less of a need.

Neighboring cities and towns can best move in a direction where they develop their own more independent economies so they are no longer bedroom communities. Bus and train service between towns needs to be upgraded such as between Eugene and Coos Bay, south to Medford and north to Portland. Imagine: in the 1920s there were twelve trains per day between Eugene and Portland.

Reducing our energy footprint is one of the smartest choices we can make. Understanding why changing the way we relate to energy is vital and will help build the cohesion and consensus for city and regional policies to support goals of relocalizing our energy supply.

Land Use

Land use is an absolutely critical part of both urban and rural relocalization, and is a tremendous key leverage point. Land use is the stage and set for how we live -- intimately related to transportation, energy, public health, the economy and foreign policy. . . Relocalizing the urban landscape means making much better use of what is already here. A basic goal is for towns and cities to be more compact with the goods and services people need -- much closer to where they live.

Goals put forth by a culture of cohesion would include an urban space that is attractive, inspiring, a joyful place to live, work and play. Think of edible landscaping, public outdoor meeting areas, smart design to make best use of solar assets and natural drainage, green spaces, community centers, while protecting best soil for food production. Compact and thoughtful urban design reduces the need for cars and can nurture community cohesion.

Imagine an entire residential block making best use of available space, transforming space currently taken up by automobiles to play-space, gardens, child care areas, small businesses, solar designed bungalows and more. The city of Eugene approves of block planning and should do far more to promote it, in partnership with neighborhood organizations.

Think of attractive multistory, mixed use urban villages built on existing parking lots. Those locations are already commercial, often with existing businesses, bus routes and utilities. The multistory redevelopment can include new goods, services, employment and culture specifically for that location. Rooftops could become gardens to supply the village natural food store. There would be edible landscaping, convenient transit to other centers and downtown.

Suburban renewal. Suburbia does offer useful assets. Think of turning grass to garden, include solar redesign, rain water catchment, extending the growing season with cold frames, removing concrete, and creating community and fun. There are already well over a dozen suburban renewal projects in Eugene where substantial needs of the residents are met by on site resources.

Land use has the potential for being a catalyst and an enormous key leverage point, for culture change. The jobs created by urban redesign would be great for the local economy.

The community visioning, the cooperative planning, the work parties, the benefits to the environment, our local security, and public health would bring people together like nothing before has.

Culture change

A peaceful ecoculture's values could come from the Koran, the Bible, the Torah, from Buddhist, humanist or pagan musings and just common sense. Compassion, modesty, honesty, material simplicity, reverence for nature - all are considered virtues in practically every great philosophy. What a difference if those virtues, rather than expensive "cheap thrills," were the basis for a civilization.

Recall when you've had a powerful experience with your higher self. I hope that’s easy and that the experience was recent. What were the circumstances -- and let’s omit the pharmacology. You probably were not in a hurry. It could have been in a beautiful place, maybe in nature, maybe in a human created space. Could be you were with people you enjoy and have strong bonds with. You may have been involved in some kind of healthy community project or a festival or totally on your own.

Can we take this positive sensation beyond our closest friends. How would it be if we lived in a neighborhood and community where such experiences were far more common because there was a far higher level of cohesion. A place where you knew you had solid elevated ideals in common with many more people around you. In effect, your inner circle of friends was greatly expanded.

This concept is an enormously important key leverage point: healthy, popular and shared values and goals -- a culture of cohesion will make wise choices and moving towards its goals - using its resources and assets in a highly productive way.

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