How To Make Your Town or City More Self-Reliant and Sustainable

Linda Buzzell-Saltzman, M.A., M.F.T.
Sustainable Small Cities Project, For the Future

If you’d like to work towards sustainability in your community, you might want to start by creating Sustainability Circles – small groups of people who care about the topic in question or have special knowledge or resources. Circle members meet regularly at a member’s home, community room or a coffee shop to discuss the local challenges associated with one of the sectors below. They explore possible solutions and propose practical local actions that would be appropriate for your unique community.

For instance, you might create a “Relocalizing Energy” circle, or a “Relocalizing Business and Jobs” circle or a “Relocalizing Education” circle. Then you could plan a “convocation of Circles” where results are shared with the community at-large and elected officials, non-profit organizations, citizen groups and other community entities are encouraged to take the actions recommended by circle participants.

To survive in a world without cheap fossil fuels and with increasingly challenging weather patterns, we will need to have sustainable local sources of 17 things:

1: Environment/habitat

  • Unsustainable: Polluted habitat for people, animals, plants, fish.
  • Sustainable: Safe, pesticide-free living space and ecosystems throughout our watershed area and local ocean.
  • Local action we could take: pesticide-free parks, banning GMOs or certain pesticides in our city.

2: Food

  • Unsustainable: Factory farming, products trucked or flown in from afar. Animals treated cruelly.
  • Sustainable: Healthy organic food from local farms, backyards or community gardens.
  • Local action we could take: support “Lawns to Food” program.

3: Water

  • Unsustainable: wasting water, polluting water sources.
  • Sustainable: frugal use, water collection and non-toxic recycling of scarce water.
  • Local action we could take: watershed and creek clean-up and protection

4: Air

  • Unsustainable: continued air pollution from vehicles, other sources.
  • Sustainable: high air quality standards
  • Local action we could take: more support for bicycle travel, commuter trains.

5: Shelter

  • Unsustainable: McMansions made of toxic materials trucked in. Suburban sprawl.
  • Sustainable: Green housing and furnishings from local sources.
  • Local action we could take: mandate green building practices in our area

6: Clothing, textiles

  • Unsustainable: fabric made from petrochemicals or toxically grown natural fibers sewn into clothing, bedding or upholstery in Third World countries under slave labor conditions, flown and trucked into our community.
  • Sustainable: local, non-toxic fabric, clothing and textiles sewn under “fair trade” conditions.
  • Local action we could take: encourage local artisans, weavers, clothing manufacture

7: Commerce and trade

  • • Unsustainable: chain stores importing goods from around the globe. Corporations treated as “legal persons” with minimal obligations to the common good.
  • Sustainable: locally owned and operated businesses providing needed goods and services – mostly local but importing a small number of goods we can’t produce here. Corporations must meet “triple bottom line” standards – good for “profits, people (customers/users) and planet.”
  • Local action we could take: require corporations in our area to meet the “triple bottom line” standards – Profits, People, Planet – in order to do business locally.

8: Travel and transport

  • Unsustainable: fossil fueled cars, SUVs, trucks, planes
  • Sustainable: Energy-efficient alternative transport. Commuter trains, bikes, electric vehicles etc.
  • Local action we could take: Resist freeway widening, get train routes expanded to reach our community.

9: Security

  • • Unsustainable: global domination of other countries to obtain scarce resources.
  • Sustainable: maintaining peace and order locally with positive external alliances for mutual benefit. Finding and creating local sources of needed resources before they run out. Good local preparation for possible emergencies due to fire, drought, earthquakes, climate change, food and fuel shortages.
  • Local action we could take: work with local Red Cross, fire and police to prepare for emergency situations before they happen.

10: Science/technology

  • Unsustainable: Develop and use technologies before they are proven to be safe. E.g. GMOs, nuclear, etc.
  • Sustainable: The Precautionary Principle for all new technology: must be proven “innocent” before use.
  • Local action we could take: pass City Resolution supporting the Precautionary Principle

11: Energy

  • Unsustainable: Fossil fuels, including natural gas
  • Sustainable: wind, solar, etc.
  • Local action we could take: start by converting all government facilities and services to sustainable energy, then give preferential treatment to private companies that do so as well.

12: Family/community/society – includes politics, law

  • Unsustainable: isolated nuclear families and singles disconnected from extended family and community at large. Poor community connections of all kinds. Separation between various ethnic and religious groups.
  • Sustainable: building and maintaining strong local connections with everyone in our community. Strong local government.
  • Local action we could take: Regular Town Hall meetings.

13: Health care

  • Unsustainable: modernist, high-tech medicine, no universal health care to cover its costs.
  • Sustainable: integrative medicine using the best of traditional and modern medicine, provided to all in the community who need it. Emphasis on preventive care and health maintenance not just “repair.”
  • Local action we could take: support integrative medicine and investigate how to provide health care to all residents of our community.

14: Dependent care – children, the elderly, companion animals

  • Unsustainable: segregating the community artificially
  • Sustainable: integrating children, the aged, the ill, the animals back into daily community life.
  • Local action we could take: encourage cooperative living arrangements, child care by elders.

15: Education

  • Unsustainable: Factory-model “industrial” schools where learners in lock-step formation must meet arbitrary national standards.
  • Sustainable: Customized learning environments where the best in each individual is nurtured for the benefit of the whole community.
  • Local action we could take: encourage local standards and control for education, resisting conformity to rigid national standards.

16: Arts, entertainment and communication

  • Unsustainable: Passive spectator to distant sources of news, consumer-oriented “entertainment” usually absorbed via TV.
  • Sustainable: Local participation in the arts, live entertainment, news gathering. Parades and events of local interest. Global news from reliable alternative (internet, alternative TV/radio) sources. Global networking without airplane travel, using the internet.
  • Local action we could take: Support “days without television.”

17: Spirit, psyche, culture

  • Unsustainable: “my way or the highway”
  • Sustainable: Mutually respectful diverse ways of connecting with our highest selves and universal spirit.
  • Local action we could take: Community “compassionate listening”/non-violent communication events and inter-faith dialogues.

© Linda Buzzell, fellow at For the Future.

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