Sustainability challenges in Richmond

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I recently met with a local organization involved in environmental education efforts to talk about the status of sustainability education in Richmond and Wayne County.  In preparing for that conversation, I put together a list of what I see as some of the challenges our community faces when it comes to becoming more sustainable and self-reliant:

  1. Most high profile community leaders and organizations aren’t modeling awareness of sustainability issues, sometimes even at a basic level.
  2. Almost all development and expansion efforts continue to incorporate a car-centric model of transportation and community zoning/planning.
  3. Most of the focus on environmental education is targeted at individuals instead of at businesses, factories, and government organizations, the latter groupings being the ones that tend to use the most resources.
  4. The notion of conducting “green business for green living” has been widely adopted as a goal, but also significantly watered down in its impact, often to the point of minimal actual benefit.
  5. Sustainability-oriented efforts and organizations are fragmented and overlapping, despite valiant efforts of a number of projects to bring them all together at the same table.
  6. The status of and appropriate use of natural resources has been made into an emotionally charged political or religious debate, which often leads to an avoidance of the topic for fear of offending.
  7. There are basic educational challenges in the community about the question of how food is produced and where it comes from.  For many people, food is effectively created at the grocery store.
  8. Some people seem to feel that solely by financially supporting one environmental organization or another, they’ve “done their part” for sustainability efforts in the community.
  9. Our ability to transform the community mindset about sustainability issues doesn’t seem to be keeping up with the realities of peak oil, climate change and economic despair.

(These are some locally specific issues on top of some other challenges I've already identified, e.g. our personal fears around sustainable living.)

So, what are some paths forward that might address some of these challenges?

  1. More organizational collaboration and communication.  It might be hard, it might be messy, but it has to happen.
  2. More effectively mobilizing community members who care about these issues and who can have an impact on decision-makers
  3. Asking corporations / factories / governments to participate as much or more than individuals in making Richmond and Wayne County more self-reliant.
  4. Clearly defining sustainability and environmental concepts and terms, to avoid watering down or misapplying them.
  5. Creating strong advocacy efforts, or better fund the existing ones
  6. Bringing in speakers from other communities with success stories, real life experiences, practical suggestions that we can begin implementing today.
  7. Work to untangle the science of sustainability issues from the emotional, religious, and political connotations.
  8. Continue education about issues of peak oil, climate change and economic trouble, and how they impact our community.

That's one set of challenges and possible solutions that I see.  What are the challenges and solutions you see in your community?

4 thoughts on “Sustainability challenges in Richmond

  1. Chris:

    I think your observations are spot on. To avoid the "partisan entanglement" issue I would suggest looking at the "radical center" where economic vitality and sustainability overlap. For example, what about establishing a green enterprise zone similar to what a similar town in Ohio did (was it Manchester)? How about working with the canal by-way association to establish a greater sense of place and appreciation for the natural and cultural resources of the region with an eye toward increasing tourism in the area? Or, community gardens and No Child Left Inside initiatives for our schools and after school programs? Or, a more vigorous "buy local" campaign? These kids of initiatives build coalitions, not divisions and concentrate on building goodwill and momentum without buzz-words (like Peak Oil) that turn people off (even if they might be "true").

  2. Good points, all Chris, especially #7. After watching the documentary "Food, Inc." I would really like to know where the food that is in my local grocery stores comes from, especially the meat. Maybe there would be a way to get that information into the community?

  3. Hmm. And how will this play with the vast number of unemployed, and underemployed, in our community? Since this is -- dare I say it? -- a large, if not the largest, portion of our population, can we find a way to suggest why they should (sorry) even care about this? Can we borrow some lessons from Van Jones? Greening the rust belt, perhaps?

  4. Cooperative efforts such as Community gardens are examples of projects which re-connect us. Since many of our problems stem from our separate-ness (from each other, and from nature), then these efforts which re-connect us may hold the most long term benefit. I agree. The solution is messy, but we must keep at it, acting on behalf of the seven generations to come, and healing the wounds carried forth by the seven generations past.
    Thank you for your most welcome approach to this, Chris.

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