Thursday, August 30, 2007

Chapter 5: Celebrating Assets and Creating a Vision

In this chapter Hallsmith identifies the process by which a community can gain an understanding of its inner workings to develop a more sustainable way to meet its needs, as well as ways to create a comprehensive plan that addresses the needs of the present generation and protects resources for future generations. Hallsmith provides several examples of communities that have created comprehensive plans and tastes of the results from their plans.

The one question that lurked in the back of my mind as I read this chapter was, “Is it really possible?” This is a question for which I have no answer, but one I hope will become more apparent in the decades to come. Hallsmith’s lofty goal of creating community plans that require pooling resources and working together for the greater good does not address the basic and insidious value of selfishness that exists throughout humanity. While she does note the presence of “profit-at-all-costs, consumption-driven ideals” in Western society, she does not address the more basic need and desire that drives such a lifestyle (94). As noted in The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, biology may create the basis for putting the needs of oneself, and one’s genetic relatives above others. Breaking down the evolutionarily created boundaries to cooperation among large groups – when there is no immediate danger – has been an ongoing struggle of human culture, and one for which I am skeptical.

Chapter 6: Envisioning a Beautiful World

At the opening of the chapter, Hallsmith states the need for a community’s vision to “reflect principles that will insure the continued health and vitality of the plant to support the goal of sustainable cities.” The author discusses the Earth Charter and the Melbourne Principles in this chapter, and relates them to the social system, the world of power, the economic world, and the physical environment. Hallsmith defines the Earth Charter as a sort of Bill of Rights that includes the rights of nature; a vision for the planet; an international treaty, written by the people. She calls it “a vision for ways in which all our needs can be met,” tying the patterns and needs of natural systems into the patterns and needs of the community throughout her discussion. However, I wish there had been more of a discussion of how we can practically apply some of these principles in the fields of design and planning - perhaps this is addressed in yet another chapter.
Throughout her discussion, Hallsmith stresses respect and care for the community of life-in all its forms, as outlined in the Charter, as a critical part of working toward sustainable, democratic communities. She reminds the reader that relationships are interdependent, as are systems, including ecological systems, and stresses the value of all parts of the system, regardless of their intrinsic value to human beings, because they are integral to the functioning of the system. She also states that families need to be strengthened, as “so many government policies today erode the family.” I’m not sure that I can agree with her on this point, as it seems unsupported by examples; she goes on to mention work vs. school schedules, welfare, and social security. She also discusses health care, sustainable education, lifelong learning, and the use of media to increase social development and raise awareness of ecological and social challenges.
When discussing the political system, Hallsmith points to power, justice, equitable access, and conflict resolution. She cites fundamental freedoms as providing the opportunity to realize one’s potential, but reminds us that freedom of action comes with responsibility to care for the environment and hold actors responsible. The author calls for the elimination of discrimination – political, social, and economic equity, and universal access – not only physical, but access to information on environmental matters. She also suggests demilitarization to a level of defense, and putting those funds toward peace and ecology, supporting environmental protection..
In her vision for the economy, the author suggests the eradication of poverty, equitable distribution of wealth among nations, increased resources, and social and economic justice.
Eventually, Hallsmith addressed the physical environment, which I felt had been essentially bypassed, aside from her use of terms like “sustainability” and “environmental protection.” She calls for the support and rehabilitation of natural systems, for the protection of biodiversity, for environmental conservation. She urges a cautionary approach, particularly when information is limited or predicted results are unclear or uncertain, in order to prevent harm. Hallsmith also suggests imposing a “burden of proof” upon those who claim their actions will cause no harm, and holding them liable for the consequences. The author briefly addresses housing, energy, and transportation, then promotes the use of environmentally sound technologies for the production of local goods and services, suggesting the internalization of the cost (environmental and social) or goods in their pricing. She also includes water, communication (between cultures and worldwide), and waste processing as things that are also imperative to the creation of a responsible, democratic, and just society.
Hallsmith brings in the Melbourne Principles for Sustainable Cities as a way of interpreting the Earth Charter. These essentially bring in the main points from the charter, and also encourage the minimization of a community’s ecological footprint, empowerment of people, cooperative networks, using ecosystems as a model for healthy and sustainable cities, and good governance.

Chapter 10- Initiating Action

At the beginning of Chapter 10 (Initiating Action) Hallsmith asks an important question: “How do we initiate action so that our vision can become a reality?” She answers this question by explaining that we must first identify what we want to change and then note all of the links that our challenge shares with the environment around it. At the most basic level, Hallsmith asserts that we can initiate change as long as we understand the many links that join together the actors involved, the resources that are available, the constraints that we face, the values and mindsets that guide the population, and the innovative opportunities that exist. After considering all of these connections, we can form a plan.

Each of the following topics discussed in Chapter 10 caught my attention and pertains to our work in this class:

1) Develop a plan that allows for and encourages feedback from the community. As a class, I think we have already set a standard of open communication that allows for feedback. In our project groups we must do the same by listening carefully to feedback from the community and then by processing this feedback appropriately—whether we disregard it, modify it, or incorporate it fully into the plan. We must foster an environment where it is okay to make mistakes and where people feel respected and valued.
2) Think in terms of processes. I usually regard economic costs as the most important factor in my decision making process. Yet Hallsmith encourages us to recognize that all aspects of life are connected and that we cannot rightfully separate one category (say economics) from another (say the environment). In my group, I need to consciously make an effort to place the same value on natural and social processes as I do on economic processes. I must force myself to recognize the relationship between each of these areas.

I also have a few thoughts to share after reading this section:

We wonder why sustainability does not gain the respect and attention of popular culture, but the answer is simple; sustainability requires people to adopt a new paradigm—one that might challenge everything they believe in. We are not only asking people to change their habits, but we are selling them a belief system. On another note, Hallsmith argues that all members of society should engage in dialogue and in the planning process in order for us to reach the best and most sustainable solutions. This dialogue, however, does not happen easily. Not only do people hold fundamentally different beliefs from one another, but they usually make decisions based on their own personal interests. Perhaps our job, then, is to bridge the gap between these conflicting interest groups and find common ground where everyone can agree.

Project Team Community Gardening

Welcome to the Community Gardening Team. Your first task is to get to know community gardening, and a few community gardens in Ithaca. You can get to know community gardening by listening/watching/reading the below backgrounders. You can get to know Ithaca Community Gardens by visiting their website. The second garden information is as follows :

People's Garden Project - (First Baptized Church of Christ, 412 1st st., Northside)
Jhakeem Haltom haltomj at gjr dot tstboces dot org 342-5323
Pastor Ronald Benson

Your Community Gardening Backgrounders are found at the following websites:

Machetes and Marigolds

American Community Garden Association
(scroll down to videos section)

Your resources for "ground-truthing" on Thurs the 6th will be found at the following websites:

Garden Mosaics Neighborhood Exploration

Garden Mosaics Garden Inventory

Read the instructions, download the forms, get photos, etc in advance of Thurs!! Remember, you are responsible for taking initiative-take the ball and run with it!