Posts Tagged community

Sustainable Alachua County

Posted by on Friday, 13 February, 2009

Up to this point in my life, I’ve labored under the false assumption that nobody around me was interested in sustainability, local economies, environmental improvement, and so on. Oh sure, I do come across the occasional Sierra Club member through get-togethers with Emily’s colleagues and professors. But for the most part, I look around myself at the multitudes of Hummers and missing recycle bins on trash day, and think I’m truly alone.

I say “up to this point” because all that changed tonight. I attended a community stakeholders’ meeting for Sustainable Alachua County (sorry, no link yet), which is apparently in the process of trying to refocus and find its identity. Before tonight, I’d been to several Saturday classes at INDIGO (a local green building supply store), but I had no idea how many organizations exist in Gainesville that orbit around that central concept of ‘Sustainability’. There must have been two hundred people in the room tonight, and many of those were representing small organizations with a tight focus on this or that environmental, social, economic, or other issue in town. The meeting lasted two hours, of which we spent at least an hour brainstorming different initiatives we would be interested in pursuing in different categories like local economy, civic engagement, education, energy, water, food, and so on.

It was incredible. The conversation in that room generated so many ideas that we found very quickly that we had to limit the brainstorm to a few prominent ideas in each subject that we could use as a springboard to get started. Three hours later, I made it home, after spending quite a bit more time after the meeting talking about ideas with other stragglers. As I write this, my mind is swimming with new ideas, and I find myself a little drunk on the sheer potential represented by that many people, all chipping away at so many different angles of this one central problem of how to make our community more sustainable. We never even really defined that word, instead relying on everyone’s intuitive sense of its meaning to lead them into the groups where they could address what they saw as the biggest problem. This was a degree of self-organization that I’ve never seen before in a group of people. There was no awkward shuffling around looking for a place where you would belong; there was no last guy to be picked for a given team. After 20 minutes brainstorming in a large group about the broad issues we thought we should tackle, everyone seemed to know where they could be of the most use to the group.

I can’t wait for the next meeting. In fact, I’ve already talked to one of the people at tonight’s meeting, and I really think we’ll be discussing the issues of our group much more before that next meeting. I feel like this is what I’ve been training for, this is where I can finally use the skills I’ve built in my career, and the knowledge I’ve gained through so many books and you, dear Internet.

By the way, my group is in charge of the civic engagement topic. The upshot of tonight’s meeting was that there are a ton of organizations in Gainesville, most of which are operating below the public consciousness. What we really need is a way to sort of “fold in” the content on several registry websites for these sorts of organizations, along with the ability to allow organizations to directly manage information in cases where they aren’t listed in another registry website. I’m guessing this will take the form of a site serving three broad categories of activity: Buy/Shop/Use, Volunteer/Provide/Sell, and Organizational Communications. The idea of folding in is to make use of content from other registry sites where possible without the need to completely replace them and compete with them. That way, they can continue to operate according to their own agenda, and can still share information with our site.

If anyone were to read this post, and have an idea of how we might put a site like that together, I’d be very interested to hear about it.