Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Gathering Community

First, I would like to profess my undying LOVE and ADORATION for Bill McKibben. If you have not read any of his books ..well..get thee to your library. There is a fair amount of doom and gloom in our world these days. Bill Mckibben is focused on LOCAL solutions. Yes, he recognizes the many challenges we face with resource depletion and climate change. But he also recognizes the extreme value in a "small group of thoughtful people" and how they can change the world. (thankyou Margaret Meade)

Second, I would like to direct you to this article.

I was fortunate to live in Portland Maine for 14 years. I moved there in the late 80's during the recession. The downtown area was dying. The mall area was growing. Several large department stores were closing downtown. We lost the 5 and 10. Soon, if you wanted to buy underwear you had to go to the mall.

Portland also had a great philanthropist in Elizabeth Noyes who bought several building downtown, brought an LL Bean outlet store to downtown, encouraged the construction and operation of a public market that featured local farms and local food purveyors. Not all these efforts were successful but they did serve to spur a renaissance in the downtown that is evident today.

Portland has, also, always had a farmer's market downtown on Wednesday mornings and Saturday mornings in a Public Park. Every spring, I would look for the first farmer to appear with apples from the prior season and pussy willows. By the time I had moved in 2003, one could get farm fresh eggs and CSA shares delivered to the market.

There were many other things about Portland that helped to create a sense of community. I had a community garden plot. I belonged to Maine Time Share Network. Portland still had a branch library footsteps from my door. I lived in a neighborhood with a great playground, and small local beach where I met other mothers and made friends with neighbors.

Moving to the country has been a vastly different experience. Not that I expected it to be the same as Portland, it is after all the country. But unlike a Dexter, a town 40 miles from here that has become a transition town, my little hamlet is a dying town. Our local library does not have a story hour for preschoolers. When a proposal to start a farmer's market was presented to the local development committee it was turned down because "we don't want the farmers to have to compete with hobby farms". We had a fire a couple of years ago that burned down the hardware store and several other small businesses. It devastated our downtown. The town was fortunate to win a significant block development grant. There was a special town meeting to decide on whether the town should purchase the land where the fire occurred. At that meeting there were comments made that would just get your head shaking such as,"since the fire, the traffic on main street is so much better why should we develop it?" I'll tell you why we should develop that land. Because, I only live 1.7 miles from down town. I can walk into town easily. but if I want something as simple as a rubber belt for my vacuum cleaner I have to get in my car and drive 20 miles to the nearest hardware store. A new hardware store has opened in town and the local lumber yard is not happy about it because he now has competition, again.

I think what gets missed when, as a community, we resist new ideas is the social fabric that gets woven and strengthened. When the library has a story hour, new mothers network, become friends, swap clothing and return the help to the library that serves them. Our children learn that they are nurtured by their community When we live in a rich agricultural region that grows mostly corn; not having a farmer's market means that local farmers would not even consider growing crops that could be brought to the local market but instead feel compelled to grown only commodity crops. When we have to leave our community for basic needs we do not build up relationships with the leaders of our community, keep much needed dollars in our own community, and insure that we are served by these businesses in the long term.

Matt Simmons believes that we reached peak oil production in 2005. Recent estimates predict that we will experience energy shortages by 2015. Building strong communities is not just a nice sentiment from a fringe movement but actually vital to insuring that our communities can weather the coming challenges that we all face.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

Yep. To all of it. If we hope to survive in a lower energy future, it will only be at the local level that it is possible. We have to start building/rebuilding our communities - regardless of where they are.

Incidentally, my local public library is one of our favorite places. It's so cool to walk into a place where they know us ;).