By Steve Austin
I’ve been thinking about economic development in American communities. I always come back to the positive effects (!) that both peak oil and climate change could have on our local economies.
My key points are: that soon, distance will cost a great deal of money, and that a global price on carbon will penalize polluters and reward efficiency. Both of these will return jobs to the U.S.
Both spell the end of economic globalization as we’ve known it and a return to the importance of local communities as economic drivers.
I think the much of the economic development discussions in American communities still focuses, wrongly, on thier place in the global economy.
All that does is place communities the mercy of global corporations and the economic forces that do not have our best interests in mind. Most community economic development experts see thier citizens only as fodder for the global corporate workforce, rather than humans. Kinda like the generals of World War 1.
Often the “leaders” of the economic development process in most communities are nothing more than agents for the economic-colonial powers that have taken root in thier communities: banks, corporations, law firms, carbon fuel corporations, consumer companies, etc. They only think of what they can do to please the corporations, with the hope of gaining some return that benefits our citizens, I guess.
I think they do this, most of them, with the best intentions of helping local people.
But it doesn’t help.
Such a strategy does nothing to ensure that any community is truly sustainable over the long-term. And these discussions never mention the elephants in the room: peak energy and an imperative to reduce carbon use dramatically and quickly.
The answer to both challenges is the same thing: a locally scaled economy. Our commerce must be at the scale of neighborhoods rather than that of the globe. Our food system must be designed to provide for us first. Our educational system needs to respond to what type of learning is really needed in the coming years. Our transportation system must be re-imagined to place transit and human power at the forefront of planning.
This is the rational response to the new realities. Please feel free to share your thoughts.
1. Put local first in every decision made in our communities by supporting locally produced food, energy, products and services, businesses, investments, arts and local media.
2. Build a place based economy. Work to only create jobs that cant be outsourced and that use local materials and talents to create an economy that will last.
3. Reskill our workforce . We need technology training suitable for 21st century manufacturing certainly, but in our lower energy future, other skills will be vital as well. All things food related will be vital – food, growing, storing, preparing. We need to support energy engineers and entrepreneurs – from biofuel makers to battery testers to efficiency experts. We must value round timber builders and potters and chimney sweeps. Education will to change; the notion of everyone going off to college to get a liberal arts degree will disappear.
4. Foster local markets. Create places and networks for local people to sell the things to whcih they’ve added value.
5. Increase local self-reliance and resilience. Safeguard local food and water supply, protect floodways, create local energy, increase energy efficiency, husband local resources of soil, timber, minerals.
6. Improve our places. Plant trees and flowers, create parks, put art on display, fix neglected infrastructure, clean up – give people proof that we are planning to stay.
7. Encourage alternative transportation – make it easy and safe for people to get around our cities on foot and bike. Encourage local shared transportation.
8. Let land use happen. Houses are more than that these days. They are factories, home offices, mail rooms, warehouses, communications centers. Small businesses should not be segregated by zoning from where people live to encourage walking and biking; we shouldn’t have to use a gallon of gas to get a gallon of milk.
9. Strengthen our communities. Host more fun communal events. This doesn’t have to be expensive – people love gathering together! And cherish one another – EVERYONE in your community has a stake in making it the best it can be – everyone.