Observing the Movement

Earth_on_FireIt’s as if there is a house on fire, on top of a hill and as some people walk by, they look up, see the house on fire and they jump into action  — urgent, passionate action to do something.  They might pick a strategy, say a bucket, and run to the nearest well to fill the bucket and up and down the hill they go, with impressive energy and courage.  Simultaneously, on another side of the hill a different person becomes aware of the fire and jumps into urgent action, yelling to others that the house is in peril and grabbing a nearby vessel and running to a pond, unaware of the individual on the other side of the hill and the other passionate individuals and small groups on still other sides of the hill expending their energies with different strategies — running so hard, some on the verge of becoming, or, already, burned out.  Unaware of each other, they are all unaware that years before there were concerned individuals who knew fire would come to the house and worked on planning a community-wide response.

It may be that what is needed to save and repair the house is not only passionate individuals, acting with urgency, implementing diverse strategies (food security, watershed restoration, renewable energy projects, resource conservation, civic actions and more), but also a wholistic strategy that connects and relates these projects and actions, helps prioritize and leverage energy, helps prevent burnout and expose opportunities to share resources and be more effective.

To design and implement an effective transition in your place, in your region, from consumer culture to producer culture, from insecure centralized dependence, to secure decentralized interdependence, from scarcity to abundance, from petroleum party to permanent culture, it may be important to invest time and energy into observation — walk around the hill, ask around, what has been done before? What worked?  What did not?  What might be prioritized and leveraged?

If your place is San Francisco, there is a significant amount of documentation that might be quite helpful to digest as we walk around the hill and get to know each other.  It might help us all from wasting energy in re-thinking, or re-creating ideas, policy positions, programs and projects that have already been conceived or are currently operating.  I would highly advocate reading the following documents, if you are planning a project, drafting policy or joining a transition initiative in San Francisco:

The San Francisco Community Congress (1975)

A Green City Program for the San Francisco Bay Area and Beyond (1983)

Sustainable City (1996)

Blueprint for a Sustainable Bay Area (1996)

San Francisco Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force Report (2009)

By including such documents in our observation, we are not necissarily agreeing with all their conlusions or strategies, or accepting them as perfect or complete.  They are, by no means, the only set of documents that contain valuable assessment data for redesigning policy, strategies and systems in San Francisco.

For example if one were to be assessing food security and food systems policy, one would likely focus on comparing the Food and Agriculture goals and strategy recommendations of the Sustainable City document and the Urban Planting Chapter from the Green City program, the Food Security section from the Peak Oil Preparedness report and, in addition, read the full 2005 San Francisco Collaborative Food Systems Assessment.

In addition, one would likely also research local food policy positions from other regions, like Toronto. Reading such documents in the context of the current state of policy and its efficacy while assessing the many organizations and projects underway might provide a method to map relationships between the needs of a functional system and the yields of potential and existing projects and programs. This might help uncover ‘waste’ energy and help us prioritize our efforts for the least change for the greatest effect.  Perhaps we can quench the flames and and enjoy the shade of the fruit trees on the hill.