Sunday, December 8, 2013

We're all in this together !


Frustrated at the apparent lack of care for the environment by big business, governments and 4WD owners? Tired of biking it to work for an hour in 45 degree heat, peak hour traffic, hair looking hideous thanks to your helmet, while your boss arrives in the air conditioned comfort of his Lexus? Caring for the environment sure can be a frustrating business in a day and age of seemingly mixed environmental values.

If you can relate, rest assured, you are not alone in feeling frustrated by the wary pace of mitigation of climate change and peek oil issues.  Quite naturally, the western world will struggle to give up the apparent comforts and luxuries they have grown accustomed to and now view as 'their right' in a developed country. Often the attitude to change is “my little bit can't hurt” and “everyone else is doing it” or even, “I'm not changing until they do!”. Clearly what is needed is the recovery of the sense that our lives are necessarily and beneficially tied to the well-being of the earth, that the earth and it's inhabitants form one vast “commonplace”' (Wirzba)

 What is needed is a change in attitude - from 'my little bit can't hurt' to 'my little bit can help' – a move from individualism to communal effort on local, national and global scales.  How do we help and encourage people to think communitivly, and step away from the 'He's not doing it, so why should I?' attitude? How do we change, and what do we change into?

Western cultures tend greatly towards the individualistic in nature. It permeates our thinking patterns – the consumerist 'keeping up with the Jonses', the desire to 'increase our economic portfolio', 'Getting what you want out of a relationship', 'How to win friends and influence people' are prime examples of individualistic thought patterns; it pervades some of our career choices – personal trainers, image consultants, life coaches ; and impacts on our life goals – be my own boss / retire independently / spend the kids inheritance. Individualism effects the way our communities do (or do not!) function and unfortunately, it has even been linked to our proportionally high suicide rates.2.  Individualistic societies are thought to have evolved from the values of the ancient Greeks who emphasized individual heroism. What our local communities and our global community need most at this time in world history is not an individual hero, but rather, a heroic effort to turn a individualisticly minded cultures into a community  minded culture.

In the battle to 'save the planet', the individual's green approach has been to become individually self sufficient – growing our own food, generating our own power through solar and wind, 'reduce, reuse, recycle' in somewhat of a 1960's 'bomb shelter', save yourself if disaster strikes style. Although these undertakings are necessary at all levels, without a change in attitude at a basic cultural level, discouragement will set in at the lack of progress overall. Frustration arises at those around not 'lifting their game', and the successes gained from those who achieve green self sufficiency are negated by those who are not participating. Individualism is further exacerbated by the green vs. not green attitudes generated in our communities – can you see the fabric of individualistic western societies unravelling? The answer for our communities,  in the face of climatic upheavals, and the rupturing of our developed world fabric by the coming peak oil crisis, would appear to be the consideration of the Amish question “What will this do to our community” in all we endeavour to undertake to fix the situation.3.

We have established the importance of changing our community attitudes as a first step. The role of creating momentum for attitude change would quite obviously fall to government and media organizations to start the new 'attitude snowball' rolling downhill - to cause the public to want this change. So what then needs to be physically changed? What will be so attractive in this change? What would an 'ideal' collective, community attituded society, with the sustainability of the earth as a primary focus, look like?

The media has done a fine job in making us aware of what is required to combat global warming. We know that industries with a heavy reliance on oil need to be overhauled and fast. Electric and natural gas powered cars rolled out, plastic alternatives created, MAJOR overhauls to the public transport systems available as well as attitudes towards their use are but a few. Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from heating and general electricity usage, establishment of renewable energy providers are some more. And educating the public to create less waste, re-use what they have, and consider more thoughtfully how they use the resources currently at their disposal round out some further options. These strategies can be undertaken individualistically, as is currently happening, or they can be undertaken with a holistic view towards long term lifestyles, advancement of social structure and cultural growth. Successful changes in response to climate and peak oil must be done quickly, positively and proactively. Reactive solutions rarely work adequately in the long term.

These positive and proactive solutions can arise through the urban and regional form our cities take. What makes a person love and care about the place where they live? A sense of belonging, a connection to community, opportunities for personal and community growth, strong sense of cultural identity, a united purpose, direction and inspiration. The models of Urban or Eco Villages exemplify the restoration of cultural fabric to a point where residents care about the success of their community and ultimately their local environment.

Strategies for resilient, Eco style, connective communities are firstly, to localize a high density community hub, making transportation via 'green means' realistic. We are not talking community hubs in the form they take now – the environmental millstones of Chadstones, Eastlands and Highpoints in Melbourne. We are talking localized places of meaningful work, employment, schooling, shopping and community interaction. Places where a community of residents can effectively walk, bike or take public transport to and from each day. A place where residents can receive all of their basic lifestyle needs. Incentives need to be made available for big businesses, schools/universities and industries to spread out from conglomerate areas, in order to fuel a more even dispersion of employment across cities. In conjunction with this, small urban villages should receive assistance to develop their own cultural fabric to make their village an attractive, joyful place to belong. Public open spaces reflecting their particular natural environment, utilization of local art, design and architectural identity, community gardens, outdoor entertainment facilities, clubs and interest groups etc all contribute towards a unique urban village culture....who would want to be a part of an urban village that contained nothing but factories and industrial sites? Spreading these sites around and building local cultural fabric would go a long way towards minimizing travel distances for employment and social activity, thus making walking or riding feasible for a variety of uses.

Urban villages can also build upon skills or resources their particular area has and use this resource to trade with other urban villages in close proximity to them. For example, one village might be made up of quarter acre blocks, allowing residents to produce quantities of organically grown food. This can then be traded or exchanged in some form, with a neighbouring village that may have a higher density population and plenty of buildings for the installation of solar panels, creating more electricity than they can use; Or using all the high density roof space to capture water and pipe it to neighbouring urban villages. This is also another way a community can build its cultural fabric, lifting its individualized self sufficiency to a more community based model. It also removes the individualistic attitude that  'we've got to do it all ourselves and be 100% self reliant', which is a total impossibility for many small urban communities that simply do not have the space or resources to successfully do that – this is a local community attitude on a slightly more regional scale.

Shopping can also take on a more locally based flavour – with the advent of peak oil and higher postal charges as a flow on, eBay is not going to be king of the castle forever ! Communities may find local clothing designers and creators flourish in their village like never before, along with craftsmen of all kinds, chefs and pastry cooks, local newspapers, organic grocers and food co-ops not only cutting down on transportation costs (and carbon emissions !) but also on middle men, poor quality goods and lack of variety. Once again, urban village identity is increased, jobs are created, diversity is developed and the urban village becomes a place to belong, to connect, to be collective rather than individualistic.

Our governments can do so much to get things rolling – incentives for business relocation to spread employment load around; introduction of a far better, urban village based public transport system; support of renewable energies – solar and wind for all new homes and incentives for existing residents, clubs, businesses and community buildings to switch; support for manufacture of electric cars and creation of battery exchanges for this purpose; establishment of aesthetic walking and bike tracks with complimentary 'best route' services (see in London 5), the options are creatively limitless.  And dare I suggest that a return to local, even Urban Village governance, would actually increase the social strength of our communities, cause swifter and more determined action on climate change, and once again provide for a more positive and pro-active approach to all issues threatening communities?

There is so much that can be achieved, and the bottom line is, even if climate change and peak oil were not threatening factors, this model of urban form is so attractive as it creates a community of connection and belonging, participation and purpose, that it is a worthwhile endeavour in itself. In this model there is no need for people to give up their 'rights' and 'luxuries', but simply, to modify them for a far better outcome, both individually and holistically. The 'right' and the 'luxury' of purposeful, worthwhile work, of belonging, participation and community, of a non fear driven society petrified by climate futures, without compromising those 'essential modern luxuries' like heating, housing, tasty food, and viable, practical transport.

A community minded culture is a culture with a purpose, with support systems and a resilient attitude to life's onslaughts. To some it is a step backwards towards pre 1950's urban-ismm, even pre 1950's  rurality, and yet to others it is a way forward to a simpler, gentler environmentally friendly way. Whatever the case, it requires great but worthwhile changes in our urban form dynamics, but even more so at a core level, changes to our attitudes and the expectations we have of our societies and of our planet. We must begin by giving up any idea that we can bring about these healings without fundamental changes in the way we think and live. We face a choice that is starkly simple: we must change or be changed. If we fail to change for the better, then we will be changed for the worse.4.


1.Wirzba  Norman, Introduction - The Art of the Commonplace, 2002

2.Brookes David, New York Times 14 August 2008 

3 & 4. Berry Wendel, Sex, economy, freedom and community, 1992

7.Newman P, Beatley T, & Boyer H. (2009) Resilient Cities: responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change

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