Skip navigation
Share via:

Pitch

Local government needs a parallel citizen organization which helps provide a 360 degree perspective.


Description

Summary

REVIEWERS: MODIFICATIONS ARE DONE IN ITALICS!!!

word cloud

“Throughout history, the really fundamental changes in societies have come about not from the dictates of governments and the results of battles, but through vast numbers of people changing their minds, sometimes only a little bit.” – Willis Harman

Local governments are faced with a need for economic growth in order to supply revenues for the growing costs of doing business.  This growth can be part of a 'business as usual' mentality that actually contributes to degradation of the local ecology.  To balance this perspective, I propose the formation of interest-based, citizen formed special interest groups which act to fully inform local issues.

These groups would be parallel to the existing City Boards and Commissions, and would be able to focus on issues not normally accessible to City based interest groups.  They are government for the people, by the people.

I strongly believe that cities around the world are facing just this kind of quandary: how do we act in ways that increase resiliency and on behalf of generations to come, when short term profit is required.  How do we unhitch ourselves from unconstrained growth when that is what local governments perceive as normal?


What actions do you propose?

“Creating the world we want is a much more subtle but more powerful mode of operation than destroying the one we don’t want.” – Marianne Williamson

It is clear that an appropriate response to Climate Change must come from many layers of society.  One of the layers is the response from local government.  Local Government may 'need' to wear blinders when it comes to responding to Climate change: we have a classic case of competing requirements.  The city needs revenues but these revenues may contribute to climate degradation.  A classic example is Boulder's cap on housing growth to 1% while allowing uncapped job growth.  For every job created that has no associated housing, we have a potential in-commuter.  With 60,000 daily sole occupancy in-commuting vehicles and their associated carbon footprint, we have our work cut out for us.  By balancing the ratio of jobs/housing, we can build densely within an urban growth boundary that encourages easy access to nature in a rising tide of urban sprawl (please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_growth_boundary).  This actually is an old idea that needed to be regulated here in the US.  On my first visit to Europe I noticed the preponderance of compact villages, which was pointed out to me, protected the valuable agricultural land.  Another consideration is how the city could attract the young millennial entrepreneurs who are looking for affordable, hip, walkable and socially engaging living environments.

We also have a 100 year legacy of automobile dominated culture fueled by fossil fuels.   This automobile dependency is reflected in our local governments zoning regulations which currently favor single use development which also is based on cheap fossil fuels allowing increased vehicle miles traveled.  We have zoning which requires businesses to supply parking, and we have zoning which requires homes to have garages to store automobiles.

It is my understanding that fossil fuels were a transition between fire and renewable energy, but we got stuck.  Fossil fuels, and the industrial revolution have now resulted the Green technological means of replacing much of the need for fossil fuels.  However, just as Power Utilities are in the business of selling energy and not saving energy, the petroleum industry has held to the profit of fossil fuels despite the mounting evidence of the massive cleanup we are facing for generations to come.

Citizens are smart, and acting as a group with the associated diversity of interests, citizenry is a renewable resource.  Local government is often guilty of thinking and acting as if citizens, given the opportunity, will do the wrong thing.  I say, having many eyes would avoid Local government doing the wrong thing: such as right sizing Folsom or some of the developments that have been planned or completed in the name of tax revenues.

My sense is that given the system approach, with its acknowledgement of emergent self-organization, it will not be difficult to bring citizens together and find ways to let 'birds of a feather flock together'.  In fact we have known methods such as Open Space Technology or World Cafe that do just this.  In fact, I believe one of the hidden assets of this kind of process is the experiential discovery of our collaborative powers.

It my sense that these groups will offer valuable information about issues on the table as well as make recommendations for issues not yet on the table but which should be given consideration.  For instance, I see the formation of a 'Local Food Interest Group' forming which works to establish Centers of Urban Permaculture Excellence.

Another example would be transportation.  A citizen based Transportation Special Interest Group would be able to convince the City that right sizing a street such as Boulder’s Folsom Street would create hazardous conditions which would be ill advised  A citizen based group also could make recommendations like households which reduce their vehicle count would be given an Eco Pass for each vehicle removed.

The Natural Resources Special Interest Group could make recommendations that home owners be given incentives for reducing lawn watering and maintenance, and that the statutes that allow law enforcement to ticket homeowners growing unruly front yards might have outgrown their usefulness. 

I also see the organic growth of interconnected networks forming between the citizen based interest groups.  As I have shown an appropriate response to Climate Change requires collaboration between transportation, housing, business development, the Planning Board and neighborhoods.  It is very likely that regional Special Interest Groups comprised of like members from adjoining municipalities would also be welcome.

In order to build an organization that can exert the kind of grassroots clout required, I propose forming a new Transition Town organization.  I have checked with TransitionNetwork.org, and they have referred me to TransitionUS.org about the possibility of having a second Transition Town organization here in Boulder.  TransitionUS is very interested in seeing a new Transition organization here and would support us in our effort.  They also would broker relations with the current Transition group which has repurposed itself into Local Food Shift.  This new Transition organization would be able to count on the TransitionUS to help guide us through the growing pains of a new organization, using a proven methodology which already embodies the mission this proposal advances: we would not have to reinvent any wheels and we would have support from an organization dedicated to our goals, with quite a body of experience to draw upon.  There are over 1000 Transition projects registered.  Many are quite open about their process.

In fact, TransitionUS has been busy creating a workbook aimed at small groups wishing to take the first steps.  The small groups they target are neighborhood scale, and allow small successes to build into real political clout.  The Transition Movement is all about citizen awareness and participation driving local government’s vision because citizens are capable of the kind of innovative and collaborative thought that a local government longs to hear.


Who will take these actions?

Here is Boulder, we have a history of citizen engagement.  Here are some examples:

  • ·         1874 A handful of citizens guaranteed the necessary matching funds to purchase land for a state university (CU).
  • ·         1898 Citizens acted to purchase the Chautauqua grounds.
  • ·         1910 Acting against a proposed amusement park on the summit of Flagstaff Mountain, concerned citizens spoke out, creating long-range plans to protect Boulder's mountain backdrop from development.
  • ·         1959 Two professors, Al Bartlett and Bob McKelvey, decided to protect our mountain backdrop from development of subdivisions and hotels; the result was the Blue Line Charter Amendment (see http://bcn.boulder.co.us/basin/news/blueline.html)
  • ·         1961 Boulder citizens voted to grant water and sewer exceptions to NCAR
  • ·         1967 PLAN-Boulder activists petitioned the Open Space Amendment.  
  • ·         1971 Boulder citizens voted to grant a Blue Line exception to the Flagstaff House
  • ·         1971, when the City Council had many 140-foot-tall buildings planned for downtown and base of Flagstaff, law student Ruth Wright wrote the 55-foot Height Amendment to the charter.  
  • ·         1987 Open Space tax is increased.
  • ·         2007 Climate Change Tax: Boulder Sustainability Manager Jonathan Koehn states: "For a number of years, there was a grassroots movement by residents and activists in Boulder to develop a Climate Action Plan ...."
  • ·         2014 Boulder Municipalization.  Boulder’s municipalization effort is the culmination of several decades of consideration, research, outreach and educational efforts to build support among elected city  leadership and Boulder voters...
  •  

I would like to point out that these examples of resistance to unbridled growth have arisen in an emergent and self-organizing manner.  For instance, here is a discussion on the history of our citizen initiative known as the Blue Line: RECOLLECTIONS OF THE ORIGIN OF BOULDER’S BLUE LINE CITY CHARTER AMENDMENT.


What are the key challenges?

It is clear that we have a changing paradigm: we are moving from a consumer society to a collaborative society.  We are moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

It is clear that when paradigms change, the change comes from below and not from above.  In fact, there is resistance to change at a top level because of the disruption to the status quo.  There is a mistaken resistance due to the cost of change.  But we down here ask what is the cost of not changing?  How many disruptive climate events does it take to ask if a change might not be in order?

Our main obstacle is 'Business as Usual'.

Beyond this we have organizational challenges of keeping diverse interests united into Special Interest Groups informed of progress, able to contribute given their voluntary nature, and keeping the proceedings transparent to other Special Interest Groups.

This ‘working in a vacuum’ is not unique to this proposal: the lack of cohesion has been noted by Bill McKibben (FIGHT GLOBAL WARMING NOW) and Paul Hawken (Blessed Unrest).  Paul Hawken had a website, WiserEarth (see Wiser.org) which posited that the number of non-profit organizations around the world equaled over a million.  He went further and tried to provide collaborative possibilities.  However, WiserEarth.org closed in 2014.

To fill this void I propose forming a non-profit organization whose mission is to make registering and searching for collaborative connections between registrants as easy as registering with something like LinkedIn.  So if your group does food gleaning, you would register your organization under Food.  In fact, you could consider the service a LinkedIn for activist groups.  I have done the research, and setting up a non-profit, under the umbrella of something like the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center would cost less than $1000.00.  The development to enable such a site is well known and could be fashioned from an online product catalog, in this case, the products being activist organizations.


What are the key benefits?

“Humans are only fully human when we are involved with each other, and the majority of us find happiness most easily through collective achievement. If we join our neighbours in the adventure of building a local economy that supplies and supports us all, true happiness, deep joy, is waiting to be found.” – Richard Douthwaite (1996)

The key benefits I see are:

1.    The ability to affect change using the tools of participative democracy.

2.    The harnessing of resources we already own, ourselves.

3.    The ability to move toward a reasonable future.

4.    The ability to pass on a better world to the generations to come.

5.    The ability to respond to any climate disruptions through establishing local networks and local resiliency.

6.    The harvesting of true wealth through the sharpening of community connections.


What are the proposal’s costs?

“At present, we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it GDP. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it.” ~Paul Hawken

As written, the costs would certainly be under $2500.00.  Most of this would be as a result of providing a service that allows groups to connect with groups sharing their interest.  Since we would be operating as a non-profit we would have the ability to accept donations as well as offer scholarships for those in need.  Transition is actually built on a set of attitudes, one of which is to consider that funding is a poor substitute for enthusiasm and community involvement. 

I believe one of the special interest groups will be what we think of as classic 'development' or fund raising.  There is the idea that through our community resources we can find ways to fund ourselves.  Since we are participative I would imagine all sorts of ways of funding ourselves would surface.  I am sure a citizen based organization such as this should look for non-profit status so that it could attract funding from businesses.

I would like to see farmer's markets, arts and crafts marts, cottage food producers, and music and dance celebrations helping to raise funds not unlike the Four Mile Fire Benefit Music Concert.  In fact, I could see working with aid organizations such as United Way as an avenue.  The community will reveal the local community based philanthropic organizations that we can work collaboratively 


Time line

“To save the planet, we do not need miraculous technical breakthroughs, or vast amounts of capital. Essentially we need a radical change in our thinking and behaviour.” – Ted Trainer

I believe Climate Disruption gives us a short term goal of 15 years (2030) and 35 years (2050) which scientists tell us are benchmarks for degrees Celsius warming.

Short term, I would like to see a pilot project developed around a citizen based group tasked with providing a City Board or Commission with recommendations.  This would be our bootstrap project, and through the learning we would tackle others areas of interest.  In this period we would be forming a Transition town leadership focused on a Transition Town unleashing event.  The timeline for building up to the unleashing is well known in the Transition timeline.  Part of this phase involves networking with existing groups with collaboration first and foremost.

Mid term, I would like to see organizing work toward a kick-off event.  The kickoff event would be something in the way of an Open Space event where people with passion can make connections with others with the same interests.  This kick-off event would be the Official Transition Unleashing event.  Our leadership will have prepared the ground much like a gardener prepares their soil.

Long Term, we would use our local experience to build a regional Transition organization, because we know an appropriate response needs to come from below with help from neighboring communities going through similar growing pain.


Related proposals

Value not set.

References

“Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.” – The Earth Charter 2001

I can offer you references ranging from spiritual practice, engaged buddhism, collaborative practices, permaculture, Urbanism, Design, Transition Movement, Slow Food Movement, Urban agriculture, Climate Research, Ecological studies, Inter-generational sensitivities including the seventh generation and more.  I can elaborate for a Final proposal.

Here are some examples

  1. The Geography of Nowhere James Howard Kunstler
  2. Home from Nowhere James Howard Kunstler
  3. The Long Emergency James Howard Kunstler
  4. Pedestrian- and Transit-Oriented Design Ewing, Reid, Bartholomew, Keith
  5. Cities for People Gehl, Jan
  6. Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream Duany, Andres, Plater-Zyberk, Elizabeth, Speck, Jeff
  7. Thoughts on Building Strong Towns, Volume 1 Marohn, Charles
  8. Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change Newman, Peter
  9. Carbon Zero: Imagining Cities That Can Save the Planet Steffen, Alex
  10. Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change Calthorpe, Peter
  11. The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals And Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World Senge, Peter M., Smith, Bryan, Kruschwitz, Nina, Laur, Joe, Schley, Sara
  12. Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist McKibben, Bill
  13. Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future McKibben, Bill
  14. City 2.0: The Habitat of the Future and How to Get There (TED Books) TED Conferences
  15. The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream Is Moving Gallagher, Leigh
  16. The Limitless City Oliver Gillham
  17. Boulder & Broomfield Counties Labor Migration Profile http://bit.ly/1gxf0wm
  18. Recent Trends in U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks http://1.usa.gov/KRunFh
  19. Boulder & broomfield Counties Labor Migration Profile.pdfBOULDER & broomfield COUNTies Labor Migration Profile.pdf
  20. Transition Handbook.  Hopkins, Rob
  21. The Power of Just Doing Stuff.  Hopkins, Rob.
  22. Bioteams. Thompson, Ken.
  23. People and Permaculture. Macnamara, Looby.
  24. The Permaculture City. Hemenway, Toby.
  25. Collaborative Intelligence.  Markova, Dawna.
  26. So Far from Home.  Wheatley, Meg.
  27. Leadership and the New Science.  Wheatley, Meg.
  28. Finding Our Way.  Wheatley, Meg.
  29. Starfish and the Spider. Brafman, Ory.
  30. The Smart Swarm. Miller, Peter.
  31. Bee Time, Lessons from the Hive. Winston, Mark.