By David Moore
Flowering shrubs and perennial borders are a renewable resource — pleasure and beauty which are free after the first year. (Photos taken March 28, 2009.)
(To see a larger version of any of these photos, click on the thumbnail.)
Always a day late
By David Moore
Flowering shrubs and perennial borders are a renewable resource — pleasure and beauty which are free after the first year. (Photos taken March 28, 2009.)
(To see a larger version of any of these photos, click on the thumbnail.)
In a previous post, I tried to capture some of my thoughts about community development and how we are all in that business (whether we like it or not). And recent events are making me think more and more about the importance of local media in building a truly workable and democratic community.
It looks as though we are going to lose our community radio station, CJMP FM (also known as JUMP FM). The organization which holds the broadcasting license and which has housed the station since it went on the air in early 2003 has decided that it can no longer support the expense of running a radio station. So far this year there have been a few meetings and discussions aimed at finding a way to transfer the license to some new non-profit group, but unfortunately we have recently learned that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) does not allow a community radio license to be transferred. The closest thing to transferring the license would be for the current license-holder to apply to have their license revoked while at the same time endorsing the license application put forward by some new non-profit group. It’s not clear to me that there is enough energy in the community to put together a new license application. So we might lose one possible outlet for the voice of the community. It’s a little bit like losing a species from the web of life.
I was involved in this radio station for a few months after I came to Powell River. I stopped being involved because I felt that the management of the radio station did not accommodate diversity of opinion and did not encourage direct community involvement. As far as I can tell, this radio station has struggled for a long time to find and keep volunteers, although there have been a few stalwart programmers producing some very good shows. It failed to bring in enough money from advertisers, partly because the signal does not reach the whole region and partly because no one knew who was listening and when.
The station is still broadcasting as I write this, although the programming is entirely automated. There are no more human voices coming across the local airwaves. For all we know, this is the end: one day soon, there will be nothing but static at 90.1 FM.
I’ve thought a lot about why this happened. Last week I attended a workshop in Vancouver about making community-development projects more sustainable. Kylie Hutchinson, who led this workshop, gave us a list of 34 factors promoting the sustainability of community initiatives. I won’t run through them all, but some of the ones which really stuck out for me were:
It’s sad to lose an outlet for the creativity of the community. Maybe we’ll get some kind of eleventh-hour reprieve. But at the very least, we should be trying to learn from this situation and finding ways to create community projects with as high a chance of success as possible.
I believe that there can never be too many venues for the expression of different points of view. Here in Powell River we have one weekly newspaper, a few monthly arts, culture, or business publications, some newsletters of specialized interest, and that’s about it. There is not much local content on the radio and television stations we can pick up here. I felt that there were many things not being said in the existing local media, things which are important to me and maybe to other people. And so rather than complain about the shortcomings of the existing media, the logical thing to do is create more sources of information. It’s like complaining that your potato bed is producing only potatoes. Well, go plant some spinach or carrots or something! Don’t blame the potatoes; they’re just doing what they know, which is how to be potatoes.
Bottom line: we need more local media, and not just in written form. There are so many interesting things to hear, to hear about, and to see. We need videos and audio recordings, opportunities for storytelling and just talking. We need more people telling more stories, reporting on the world around them, saying what they need to say without fear of treading on toes. There is too much creativity being bottled up, and we need to let it go.
So, in the continuation of this article (next week, insha’allah), I’ll expand on this and lay out some of my thoughts about creating a more diverse and resilient local media scene. Until we meet again…
By Tom Read
We live in a coastal rainforest region blessed with abundant fresh water. Texada Island alone has at least 19 lakes full of fish, frogs, fresh-water shrimp and many species of insects. This 100-square-mile island also enjoys several year-round creeks, including one that, at this time of year, noisily cascades past our house. Surrounded by such aquatic riches, why did Linda and I decide about a year ago to build a pond on our property?
Reason #1: to try an experiment in raising cutthroat trout, a native local species, and one of our favourite fish to eat. Neither of us is particularly skilled at catching fish in the wilds; we figured having the fish in a pond with an accessible walkway partially around it would tilt the odds in our favour. Our overall concept of a fish pond, however, is to make it as close to natural as possible, so we’re trying an ecological aquaculture approach.
Our friend and neighbor Sheldon, one of Texada’s foremost experts on local fish, has guided and helped us in this endeavour. Thanks to his knowledge, we have stocked the new spring-fed pond with small numbers of local insects, shrimp and other species that, as they multiply, should create an inviting environment for trout within a year or two.
We’ve also added a few buckets of crushed limestone and lots of Alder leaves to raise the water’s pH level and to provide food for the shrimp, respectively. Some local frogs have already invited themselves into the pond, a welcome sign of life in this new body of water. Aside from planting a little dwarf white clover on the walkway, we are letting nature take its course regarding plant life. Already, we see several native water plants taking hold around the pond’s edges.
Reason #2: even in a climate with an average of 39” a year of rainfall, it helps to have a backup source of water for emergencies. If we need to irrigate our still-expanding garden, we can gently tap the pond instead of relying solely on our shallow well.
Reason #3: the pond is beautiful and fascinating and if the weather gets really hot, it’s got deep, clear, cool water for swimming. This pond attracts bees, dragonflies, and birds, along with the aforementioned frogs, all of whom are fun to watch. Just gazing upon the pond at any time of year makes me feel good.
In sum, the pond adds resilience and joy to our lives as it merges with native fauna and flora. I think that’s plenty of justification for its existence here on our island of abundant forest and water.
By Tom Read
If you’ve been paying attention you’ll recognize a new trend across North America and the UK: backyard chicken-keeping. We’ve kept chickens here at Slow Farm off and on since moving to Texada Island in 2000, but now it appears that people in cities are doing the same in ever-increasing numbers. Here’s a quote from a World Watch Institute report last October on what’s happening:
After the trend first gained popularity in London, England, with the invention of the “eglu” chicken house about ten years ago, large numbers of city dwellers began to raise chickens in the U.S. cities of Seattle and Portland, said Jac Smit, president of the Urban Agriculture Network. “It’s no longer something kinky or interesting,” Smit said. “The ‘chicken underground’ has really spread so widely and has so much support.”
Within the past five years, the trend has expanded to cities where raising hens was already legal, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. “Chicken has become the symbol, a mascot even, of the local food movement,” said Owen Taylor of New York City, who knows of at least 30 community gardens that raise poultry, mostly for their eggs.
Well, the saving grace is that most city people probably won’t have roosters, which are not necessary for eggs. They won’t be raising chicks; they’ll just buy them mail-order. No roosters needed. And they’ll probably just kill young roosters and throw them in the trash, keeping only hens.
Although hens can certainly make a fair amount of noise themselves, most of it is during reasonable daytime hours. The cackling and cawing of a hen that just laid an egg is quite something to hear! Unlike our rooster, who seems to be inclined to crow anywhere from 4 a.m. on, the hens start clattering for breakfast about 8 am and do their egg-laying midday.
I think one of the interesting sidelights of the urban poultry trend is going to be what happens when people start letting old chickens go because they can’t bear to kill them. Same with young roosters – take them to your local park in the dead of night and release may be what happens. Should be interesting. Not to mention the manure disposal issue for folks who don’t have gardens. Chicky diapers? Coop-poop-scoopers? And chicken manure, though very rich in nutrients for a garden, can be smelly, especially in the heat of summer
Interestingly, I never realized that the rooster’s crow is more than just a single cock-a-doodle-do. He does that call over and over again, about 5 to 6 seconds between bursts, about 15 times in a row! And he may do it once a day, or six times a day, or not at all. I don’t know if other roosters are as noisy, since this is our first, but he better be making up for it by fertilizing those eggs. Anyway, we’re adapting — at 4:00 am a positive attitude and a pillow over one’s head really helps.
As for the urban chicken trend: I firmly support urban agriculture, including backyard poultry-keeping. Before the rise of industrial agri-food, city people routinely raised chickens, plus other farm animals. It’s great to see a revival of more food self-reliance in cities. I’m keeping an eye on the tipping point for this trend, when urban chickens will become “normal” in North America. But I wonder: will urbanites learn to live with the escapee rooster’s early-morning territorial call? I suppose it’s no worse than sirens at all hours of the day and night.
Maybe. Or perhaps we’ll see more city folk decide that, if they’re going to have to listen to crowing every morning, they might as well move to a place like Texada, where there’s plenty of room for other “rural” activities and creatures such as roosters.
When a forest of say 75 acres is destroyed by clear-cut logging, eliminated are countless, perhaps thousands of birds, mammals and amphibians — from canopy-dwelling thrushes to tree frogs to bats and squirrels — and gone is the habitat that supported them. The sheer number of individual critters bumps up a few orders of magnitude when the insects, slugs, centipedes and spiders are counted. Then there are the micro-organisms in the millions, and billions of bacteria and similar life forms.
Now consider the plant life. Thousands of towering trees are executed and trucked far away to be converted to money and other useful things. Pulverized in this primary timber harvest are the epiphytic ferns, lichens, fungi and mosses which drape on, cling to and beautify the trees where they find moisture and sustenance for life. Ground down and ground up are the shrubs and berries of the under-storey and the wildflowers of the forest floor in their hundreds and hundreds of species. These plants of the forest have evolved by necessity to be shade-tolerant and moisture retentive.
British Columbia has the greatest diversity of plants in Canada. B.C. has up to 800 identifiable species of moss, alone. How many of them were growing in that 75 acre forest that is now the silenced and flattened landscape left behind by the BC loggers today? Could any but a very few survive the glaring sun and harsh exposure of an instant clear-cut? Nature will do her best to heal the wounds and restore a balance over years and years of time. But how many ‘crops’ can be harvested before a healthy forest cannot recover? How long can land subjected to take-it-all and no give-back endure the one sided equation? How can the destruction of an ecosystem be called sustainable forestry? Yet that’s what is claimed by the BC forest industry in the double-speak world we live in today.
It is time to put the term ‘sustainability’ in its proper context: buzzword of the decade. As such, it has a diminishing shelf life and one day it will be regarded as quaint and naive. Sustainability, as a concept, has caught the popular imagination, which is understandable, but it is a sort of inflated myth, destined to fall to earth as the uncertain future progresses. I’m not saying the notion is worthless; it’s just that a ‘sustainable’ plan of action or set of policies assumes a future level of stability or predictability that simply doesn’t exist. The skills most needed by an ever-changing society will be adaptability and a complex of survival strategies.
A look at Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging:
Overall Premise: Build the social fabric and transform the isolation within our community into connectedness and caring for the whole. Shift our conversations from the problems of the community to the possibility of community. Commit to create a future distinct from the past.
The Context for a Restorative Community: The existing community context is one that markets fear, assigns fault, and worships self-interest. This context supports the belief that the future will be improved with new laws, more oversight, and stronger leadership. The new context that restores community is one of possibility, generosity, and gifts, rather than one of fear, mistakes and self-interest. Citizens become powerful when they choose to shift the context within which they act in the world. Communities are human systems given form by conversations that build relatedness. The conversations that build relatedness are created through associational life, where citizens are unpaid and show up by choice, rather than in large systems where professionals are paid and show up by contractual agreement.
Block’s book and interviews discuss many aspects of community and leadership that focus on “possibilities”: the possibility of sustainability, of a society that cares for itself and others, of full employment of people’s talents and skills, to create stronger communities. One very practical focus is on how our meetings can be conducted to create meaningful outcomes. Some of these seem to make so much sense, that I have become really suspicious as to why meetings are generally not held this way. Then again — looking around at all sorts of disabling infrastructure we’ve built for ourselves on every level — it does seem that the ‘full-steam-ahead’ approach has been favored over thoughtful purposefulness.
So, here are some tips on meetings in very short form that I have gathered and paraphrased from Block’s book:
I think that the points above will help facilitate a gathering that goes somewhere valuable.
… our strategies must be more like water itself, undermining everything that is fixed, hard and rigid with fluidity, constant movement and evolution. We are trying to build a politics of process, where the only certainty is doing what feels right at the right time and in the right place… When we are asked how are we going to build a new world, our answer is, ‘We don’t know, but let’s build it together.’
Experiments are only revealed in retrospect to be turning points.
These days we keep hearing about sustainability, although we don’t hear so much about what it really means. It has many definitions, but the main idea is that sustainability refers to the ability to keep doing what you’re doing indefinitely. For example, a sustainable agriculture will continue to produce high-quality foods without depleting the soil of nutrients or polluting the soil, water, or air with toxic chemicals. (A regenerative agriculture will go one step further and strengthen the ecosystems which support food production: it will build soil, replenish and protect fish streams, produce clean water as effluent, and so on. Let’s just say that this is not yet on the agenda.) And when we talk about becoming a sustainable region, we are talking about satisfying the needs of the creatures living here without impairing any of the natural systems which provide raw materials, enable processing and transportation, and otherwise support human and other needs. Sounds great, right? How can you argue against that?
Sustainability — however we define it — is a noble goal, but there is another goal which I think is a precondition to creating and maintaining a sustainable city or region. That goal is resilience.
I find resilience especially interesting because it concerns the human side of the natural systems which serve our needs. Sustainability is largely about the non-human side: we talk about sustainable agriculture, a sustainable economy, and so on. Resilience has much more to do with the ability of humans, as individuals and in groups, to respond to changing conditions around them. For instance, we can think of someone as a resilient person; this means that she or he responds quickly and flexibly to challenges, is able to recover from setbacks, adapts to changing conditions, and so on. Likewise a resilient neighbourhood, city, community, or region.
We often talk about sustainability as though it is something that can be grafted onto current social conditions with only minor tinkering; if we could just do better at recycling, or switch to biofuels, or cut our energy usage, etc., we would be creating a more sustainable city or region (or world). Colour me politely skeptical. In my opinion, the challenges we face are too profound for small tweaks to make meaningful changes; this is why I believe that resilience is a better goal than sustainability. If you work towards genuine resilience — in individuals, in groups, and in the various social networks that comprise the local economy — you will create the conditions for true sustainability. Without working on the human level, you will always be mandating change from the top down and working against the grain.
And so here is where Seedy Saturday enters the picture. For anyone who doesn’t know about the local Seedy Saturday, it is an annual event organized by a committee of our local Farmers’ Institute. We just had the fourth one this past weekend, and it was a roaring success. I manned an information table throughout the day, and I got to talk to many of the people who came through. It’s a really energizing and fun event, and as far as I can tell everyone who walks out the door does so with a spring in the step, a smile on the face, and a pocketful of seeds. And why not? After all, it’s really a celebration of potential: seeds are nothing if not little miraculous bundles of new life in waiting, and here we are organizing a day to pay homage to that wonderful process that allows us to draw our sustenance from the earth. There is something deep and primal about Seedy Saturday.
In terms of its bang-per-buck ratio, Seedy Saturday is a brilliant operation. It costs very little to organize: a volunteer committee of six or so people meet six or seven times throughout the year for at most a couple hours per meeting; so there are perhaps 100 person-hours of meeting time, plus a certain amount of background organizing and planning throughout the year. On the day of the event, members of the Farmers’ Institute and people from the broader community volunteer their time to make the event a success. Admission is a mere dollar per person, which is just enough to recoup the cost of renting the hall and the other expenses. Seed packets are fifty cents. Admission provides access to many local experts, amateur and professional gardeners and farmers, community groups, as well as five workshops during the day. It really is a beautiful social event, and it produces enormous happiness with minimal labour.
What is one of the nicest aspects of Seedy Saturday is that it very directly produces resilience in the community. Individuals wishing to become better gardeners or more self-reliant in food production can come and learn more from their peers and from experts. The pool of knowledgeable and passionate food growers gets bigger and better connected every year. The number of people aware of the importance of saving seeds grows every year, as does the number of people actively growing plants for seed. Community groups form stronger ties to people and other groups. At the most basic level, the community gets to know itself better.
And all of this happens very organically: this is not one of those public meetings that people drag themselves to begrudgingly and full of trepidation. No one feels too shy to ask questions or offer an opinion. It’s like a party built around seeds and growing and food and hope. So it doesn’t feel like activism, or political engagement. But it produces a more active and engaged bunch of people. In effect, it builds resilience into the community by creating a corps of people who are informed and passionate about regional food security, the right to control our food supply, and the importance of self-reliance.
So, my question is this: how can we start to create more events and initiatives like Seedy Saturday? How can we find ways to get people more involved without making it look like work or duty or obligation? In the literacy work I do, we talk a lot about embedding literacy in people’s daily lives. People often don’t want to feel that they’re engaged in some kind of literacy activity (it sounds too much like school); but if you sneak the literacy bit into something that people really want to do on its own merits — like stand-up comedy, storytelling, or a poetry slam — then it’s much more effective and more likely to draw in all kinds of people. In a similar fashion, we need to create the conditions under which the community will become more resilient, individually and collectively, without people having to think about resilience. It should be organic, spontaneous, and answer to people’s real needs. We need to create more public spaces and conversations which are open-ended and free enough to let the community’s true spirit come through. It’s hard to know how to make that happen, but that is the work that will produce a resilient region. We need to stop steering the process so much and start giving people possibilities that allow them to determine the path forward.
I want to return to John Jordan’s comments quoted at the beginning. Here is how he finishes off his letter to Rebecca Solnit (emphasis mine):
Taking control of the future lies at the root of nearly every historical social change strategy, and yet we are building movements which believe that to ‘let go’ is the most powerful thing we can do — to let go, walk away from power and find freedom. Giving people back their creative agency, reactivating their potential for a direct intervention into the world is at the heart of the process. With agency and meaning reclaimed, perhaps it is possible to imagine tomorrow today and to be wary of desires that can only be fulfilled by the future. In that moment of creation, the need for certainty is subsumed by the joy of doing, and the doing is filled with meaning.
By Tom Read
For years, our region has tried to avoid implementing a poorly conceived, oppressive piece of environmental legislation spewed forth from Victoria called the Riparian Areas Regulation (RAR). I’ve written about it in this space before, pondering Texada Island’s fate. Alas, we can dodge this bullet no longer, because the Powell River Regional District, which includes Texada, is finally moving to comply with the RAR. This means public meetings.
The first Texada meeting happened this week. Islanders were invited to a “roadshow” featuring three regional district directors, one staff planner and one consultant. So on a cold but dry Tuesday evening, off we drove to the Texada Community Hall in Gillies Bay, stopping first in Van Anda to pick up an elderly friend who doesn’t drive anymore. Our friend, Phyllis, lives by the ocean and has drainage ditches on either side of her property. She was quite worried about the RAR’s potential impact, and she wanted to attend the meeting to ask questions and express her opinion.
About 25 islanders showed up, a decent-sized group. I had already seen the consultant’s presentation (posted online here), so I knew that he wanted to saddle us with development permits, or “DPs” as the jargon goes. At this point I’d like to remind the reader that our Regional District is one of the very few in BC that deliberately employs no building inspectors or bylaw enforcement officers. We enjoy a greater degree of freedom – and a greater degree of personal responsibility — than other places as a result of this policy. Texada’s Official Community Plan Vision Statement starts with the words, “The Texada Island community is committed to maintaining a spacious, independent and sustainable rural lifestyle with minimum regulations.” And we mean it, too.
So I was feeling a bit resentful at this meeting because our tax dollars were being used to hire a consultant who claimed we had to adopt one of the most expensive, intrusive and therefore oppressive of urban-style land use regulations, the dreaded “DP.” This new regulatory push arrived in the name of protecting the island’s fish and to help our Regional District avoid potential lawsuits (not necessarily in that order).
The consultant lives in the city of Courtenay and served as a regional district planner on Vancouver Island for many years. He spoke in jargon. He gave off an air of “I’m an experienced professional planner and I know what’s best for you.” He kept referring to places on Vancouver Island, (population 700,000) as examples that Texada Island (population 1,107) should emulate. He claimed, over and over, that we had to adopt DPs as the only effective way to protect Texada’s fish. He insisted that only DPs could offer significant protection from legal liability to our Regional District, leaving the vague but menacing threat of potential lawsuits in the air. Most of all he tried to convey his biased viewpoint as having a sense of inevitability, which reminded me of the “resistance is futile” mantra of cyborg conquerors in a Star Trek episode.
Mr. Consultant obviously underestimated Texadans. We politely pointed out to him that nobody protects the fish on this island the way we do. We explained that local residents possessed more common sense than to pay $2,500 or more to a consulting biologist just to determine whether a particular body of water near our property contained fish, as would be required using the DP approach. Mr. Consultant appeared surprised to learn, from research done by yours truly, that a legal opinion on the RAR, paid for by the Union of BC Municipalities, showed that the risk of legal liability for Regional Districts is low.
A glimmer that something good might happen came when the audience told Mr. Consultant that we wanted to hear details about other options for complying with the RAR. The least readable of his presentation slides showed a text-packed chart comparing five different approaches; he had only discussed two in any detail: DPs and the even more oppressive Zoning option. What about the others, we asked? So, with some reluctance, Mr. Consultant gradually explained the less regulatory ways to comply with the RAR, all the while peppered with questions from what had become a very animated audience.
The attending Regional District directors caught the mood, too, as they heard Mr. Consultant concede that there are very real, much less costly and less egregious options spelled out right in the RAR legislation. To cap things off, Texada’s area Director, Dave Murphy, stood at the end of the meeting and proclaimed himself firmly in favour of freedom — there will be no RAR-inspired DPs on our island if he can help it.
As we were leaving the hall I heard someone call out, in a triumphant voice, “who says public meetings are unproductive?” And as we drove Phyllis back to Van Anda, she sounded much relieved, too.
“Decisions are made by those who show up,” goes the saying; this was a night for Texada to shine as a community.
By David Moore
When the overnight temperature dips below freezing, I check the thermometer in my unheated greenhouse to see if my tender plants are at risk. I have a little plug-in heater to turn on if needed. This morning (March 11) I had a delightful surprise. Magic forces had decorated all the overhead glass panels with ferns and feathers formed in the frost.
I grabbed the camera and captured these pics. Then I plugged in the heater and they were gone in a few minutes. So much of beauty in nature is fleeting.
(Click on thumbnail image to see a larger version.)
An unusually COLD spring can have a silver lining.
What do you do? Nowadays, if people ask me what I do — which mainly happens when I go back to Toronto, where I was born and grew up — the closest I can come to a coherent response is to say, “I’m a community developer.” And since I’m still very new to this sort of work, I can still feel the gulf between those two words and the reality of what it is that I am trying to do in my two paid gigs (food security, literacy) and the many unpaid littler gigs and games I’m involved in around the community. But somehow “community developer” sounds about right.
Why do we need community developers? As with so many things in our society, we have taken a bundle of capacities that were once widely shared around, and we have ‘professionalized’ this by converting it into expert knowledge that comes from formal education or from having a job title attached to you because of what you do for your money. And so we suggest that regular folks no longer have that skill — that only professionals do. That sends the message that this is not the sort of work one does for free; it’s someone else’s job to take care of it. And so it goes… all the little things that used to keep a community together have been done away with, outsourced, or turned into problems that only experts can solve. So we have special people like me, called “community developers”, and maybe we think that that means that no one else needs to do that work.
We all need to become community developers. Everything I see going on around me makes me certain that this funny, ill-defined job of community developer is about to start becoming much more widespread. After many years of allowing our communities to slide away from us, there is a renewed interest in rebuilding what has been lost — and maybe to start building some of the things we never had. So right now we have people in the community whose job it is to try to ‘develop’ the community; but more and more we’re going to have people doing this work because it’s the only way to get things done. We won’t be developing the community because we are ‘community developers’, but because the natural result of the work we do and the way we get it done will be stronger community.
Why now? I’ll tell you what I think is going on. (Your mileage may vary.) The market and other major systems at the centre of our society are failing — and they’re failing fast. We have some huge problems staring us in the face which are now starting to cause trouble for our economy and our political structures: namely, climate chaos and resource depletion (peak oil and peak everything-else). And underneath these problems are more basic problems like overpopulation, the failure of Western governments to regulate the financial sector, and rapacious globalized capitalism. And underneath those problems are even more basic ones, and so on and so on until we get down to your choice for Ultimate Source of All the World’s Problems (USAWP). (We won’t go there now, but let’s go there in some future post.)
It’s problems all the way down. I don’t really have one chosen USAWP. And for now the real question is: OK, so we have all of these problems, and we can talk about them or explain them on many levels, from the concrete and superficial all the way down to the very profound and abstract. So what? Aren’t we at the point where it’s just not enough to talk about this or that problem? They’re getting to be a dime a dozen in this best of all possible worlds.
What about solutions? Well, no surprise here: it’s solutions all the way down too. And, like problems, solutions come in different flavours: from the more superficial, quick-fix kind of solutions down to the really fundamental solutions. I’m much more interested in long-term, deep solutions; the kind of solutions that we can call radical (from the Latin word radix, meaning ‘root’), since they go to the root of the matter. Our leaders — both the elected kind and the self-selected kind — tend to think in terms of superficial solutions. (They can’t help themselves; it’s part of the game of leadership that radical solutions are off the table.) But I believe that our culture’s resistance to radical solutions is weakening, because the usual stopgaps are no longer working and everyone knows it. Get ready for the shake-up!
What’s a good radical solution? Getting back to this talk of community development, I believe that one really good place to put a lot of effort is in rebuilding the informal networks of family, friends, neighbours, and associations that go to make up community. One of the reasons my husband and I moved to Powell River was because we could see some of these changes coming and we wanted to be in a place with stronger existing community networks. And we found that here. But we all still need to rebuild and strengthen the fabric of the community. I have some ideas about how to do that; probably you have some ideas too. So how can we rub our ideas together to produce sparks? The trick is to create opportunities for us to come together to have free-flowing conversations about the future we want to build together. We need common efforts, small-scale and low-overhead ones, simple and resilient ones, which bring people together around common goals and create ties of friendship and mutual aid. I see a lot of this going on now, and we need more and more of it.
Developing community is a radical solution. And that is because it is a precondition to many other solutions to various problems we face: without a strong and supportive community, it’s going to be tough to start and sustain projects like regional composting, backyard-sharing, car cooperatives, co-housing, community kitchens, and many of the other good ideas that are out there. I believe that we need to do the deeper work at the level of the community before we can expect success in more specific efforts. This is not to say that we should not work on these specific projects, but we need to make sure that each one of them has a community-building component built into them. Projects that strengthen community networks are more likely to keep going, because they will be continually rebuilding and refreshing the community networks they depend on. Projects ‘airlifted in’ without the full consent and cooperation of the community will not succeed in the long run, because they will not automatically create a community of supporters and champions to keep the project running no matter what. This may sound very basic and obvious, but it is not.
How can we develop community? I don’t have the answer to that. This is a question that we need to work out a common answer to. But I can say that I see a lot of effort percolating around the region, some of it in the area of local food production, but also in other areas that directly respond to the challenges of climate chaos, resource depletion, and an uncertain global economy. I am optimistic that these small efforts and networks are going to start getting bigger, stronger, more ambitious and more successful over the next few years. We all need to involve more people in what we’re doing. Start a little project and hope it grows. Talk to more people. Spread the word. Hold potlucks. Teach somebody something. Keep learning. Find ways to start a conversation in the community — about the community. Never give up the right to imagine a future different from the one presented to us by our leaders. Demand more choices. Keep telling our leaders what we want to see. We need to get rid of the notion that community is something that happens by itself once every individual’s problems have been solved. The opposite is closer to the truth: when we work on community, we solve individuals’ problems: the desire for meaning; the desire to be working and playing with other people; the desire to be contributing to something larger than what one person can accomplish alone.
What are we up against? One of the strongest forces we are up against is the mindset that expects every problem to have a ‘free-market’ or privatized solution. That has become such an entrenched way of thinking about everything we do that to suggest a cooperative or non-profit way of getting things done seems almost laughable. We need to work continually to open up spaces in the conversation for ideas that may seem on the fringe, but which are ideas that have served humans well for hundreds or thousands of years and are still working just fine outside the totally marketized Western world. If power means anything, it means the capacity to control the decision-making processes that determine who gets what. And so we need to keep demanding to be part of the decision-making. No one will let us have that; we need to take it — because it is ours. Remember: it gets harder to marginalize non-mainstream ideas in a time when mainstream ideas are being exposed as fraudulent and destructive. Now it’s time to see who can tell better stories about who we really are and where we’re all headed together.
Whew! I know. That’s a lot to process. But this a kind of high-altitude précis of some of the topics I intend to cover in my weekly ramblings, along with some more down-to-earth coverage of local events and initiatives. As we move into uncharted economic waters, we’re all going to have to learn new skills, connect with new people, and start new projects. And bubbling underneath all of that activity is going to be a rebirth of community and the development of a more resilient regional social network. We’re going to need that in the coming months and years, and it’s everyone’s job to work towards it — whether you call yourself a community developer or not.