Taking the Long View
Think global, act local: The Papamoa Library & Community Centre and the green-star rated offices of Sharp Tudhope Lawyers, both in Tauranga, are examples of buildings designed to minimise their impact on the environment during construction and in operation.
By Gord Stewart
Doing it Right – Locally
“Think globally, act locally.” Almost a cliché now, the phrase’s origin is disputed but the meaning and ‘vision’ captured in it are as clear and important as ever.
The original phrase “Think global, act local” is attributed to Patrick Geddes, a town planner in Scotland, circa 1915 when his book Cities in Evolution was published.
Some say the currently popular phrase was coined for use in the environmental context by David Brower as a slogan for his Friends of the Earth organisation when it was founded in 1969. There are other claims on the phrase as well.
But never mind. The important thing is to understand that the way we live, work and play in our own community has not only local but far-reaching impacts. So we need to live, work and play accordingly.
Progressive towns, cities and regions around the world have taken the phrase to heart. In so doing, elected officials, business leaders and local volunteer groups are helping to create more livable communities – improving the quality of life of current residents and the prospects of generations still to come.
One particularly inspiring example is Oberlin, Ohio. A city of 10,000 with a poverty rate of 25 percent, it is situated in the U.S. “Rust Belt” not far from Cleveland and Detroit.
The Oberlin Project, as it is called, is a joint effort of the city, Oberlin College (a small tertiary institution), private investors, local corporations and regional development agencies to improve the resilience, prosperity, and sustainability of the local community.
Launched in 2009, its aim is to revitalize the local economy, eliminate carbon emissions, restore local agriculture, food supply and forestry, and create a new, sustainable base for economic and community development.
Current goals include: creating one of the first climate positive cities in America; supporting business ventures in energy efficiency and solar deployment, food and agriculture; and the sustainable use of local resources. It is also working to conserve 8,000 ha of green space and develop a robust local foods economy to meet 70 percent of the city’s needs.
The Project is further focused on integrating sustainability into education at all levels. With all of this, it wants to serve as a model that can be replicated in other communities.
David Orr, the Oberlin Project’s founder and visionary, says that it is one of a growing number of locales striving for integrated (or full-spectrum) sustainability, in which each of the parts supports the resilience and prosperity of the whole community.
Orr notes that other examples of the same approach include the Mondragon Cooperative in Spain and the Transition Towns movement, which originated in Britain and has spread around the world.
A non-profit group in my own rural community is doing its small part using the Transition Towns model as a guide. Our focus is on energy conservation, sustainable living, and a strong and resilient local economy. We do our best to cater to local interests and serve community needs.
Educational workshops – growing your own food, bottling food for winter, how to get your power bill down, that sort of thing – are popular. Film nights draw interested residents. The local college and intermediate school are generous in allowing use of their facilities. The community newspaper helps spread the word.
Our Eco Home Tour – featuring a local home with many ‘green’ design features – drew more than a hundred visitors. Many of them were looking for ideas for their own renovation or building project.
Our Green Buildings Road Trip to nearby Tauranga was organised in cooperation with the local district council. It saw our mayor, deputy mayor, three councillors and three staff members tour public and commercial buildings well-known for their sustainability features and to hear from those who designed, own and operate them.
The Road Trip provided food for thought for Council as it embarks on about $12 million of construction – an events centre in one town in the district and an office-library-events complex in another. The decisions they make will have a significant long-term impact on both ratepayers and the environment.
Our Transition Towns group looks forward to further efforts – all geared to help people in our local community understand the environmental challenges we face, care about them, and take action.
Gord Stewart is an environmental sustainability consultant. He does project work for government, industry, and non-profit organisations.
The Oberlin Project – www.oberlinproject.org
Transition Towns – www.transitionnetwork.org