Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ready to Save the World? Three Ways Your Local Weekly Newspaper Can Help!

Newspaper Dispensers
In Building Blocks, we looked at six practical components we could use to help design a life of intent.  One of those components was increasing knowledge and awareness of your community and the world around you. This component incorporates the permaculture principle of Observe & Interact (see here for the list of other permaculture principles).

Here’s where your local weekly paper comes in!

Now, you’re probably wondering how seemingly mundane tidbits such as wedding and birth announcements or coupon inserts will lead to personal enlightenment and help you save the world!  However, here are three ways your local weekly can be a powerful and invaluable tool for doing just that:

1. What’s Going On in Your Community?

Obviously, a weekly reports local news stories, but of particular interest for our purposes are the civic association columns. They’re a really great source for news and insights about issues of importance to the people in a community. They also highlight activities and events that association members organize to enhance the quality of life for themselves and their neighbors.  Due to my schedule, I am not able to attend my association’s monthly meetings, so I look forward to reading about them in the paper (Bronx Times Reporter). In addition to the civic columns, I of course enjoy reading any articles about green initiatives, but really, anything reflecting the care, commitment and pride residents take in where they live or work is also of interest.

Last year I was thrilled to learn that a member of the Locust Point Civic Association (Chrys Napolitano), in conjunction with Stoneledge Farm, was starting a CSA in her neighborhood, one of only two operating in the northeast Bronx.  CSAs (or community supported agriculture) allow smaller, local or regional farmers to sell their harvests directly to consumers (for more information see Building Blocks – Health & Fitness, but in particular, Just Food's site).  Chrys has also begun writing a biweekly column called Food for Thought, where she discusses sustainable food production, gardening, and how, as consumers, we can be more mindful about our food choices.

I find these two developments to be very exciting, and are just a couple of the many things I’ve learned reading my local weekly.

2. Who and How is it Getting Done?

My local weekly also regularly features articles about the efforts of local officials to address various issues. These types of articles will help you to keep up with what they are doing year round, and not just at election time.  They are often your first and last lines of recourse in getting a matter resolved.  From initiating or passing legislation, to allocating or advocating for additional funding to jump-start a project or initiative, they play a critical role in helping a community to function effectively.  This is especially true of problems that are persistent or recurring in nature.

One such situation involved a battle between a community group (the Pelham Parkway Preservation Alliance) and the city over how many trees would need to be removed to make way for a major road repair and improvement project.  This story unfolded in the paper over a period of about three years.  However, through the determined efforts of both sides, a mutually satisfactory solution was eventually reached.  Many more trees were preserved than originally specified in the city’s plans, while also accommodating construction needs. And again, this is just one example of information I gained by reading my weekly, reflecting what's possible when different constituencies work together to resolve a problem. See? Contrary to popular belief, you can fight City Hall and your local paper shows that!

3. How and Where Can You Spend Your "Green" Locally?

My local weekly regularly features articles about existing or new small businesses operating there.  As I will continually emphasize, economics is a key factor in a community’s health and resilience.  Local small businesses can be significant drivers of employment and entrepreneurial opportunity (see Saving the Mom & Pops: Ten Ways to Support Small Independent Retail Stores and Keep Manhattan Vibrant), so a decision to patronize them is a great way to contribute to your own community’s vitality while also reducing your carbon footprint!  Many of the businesses written about are often family owned and have been operating in their neighborhoods for years, maybe even passed down across a generation or two.  The proprietors always express great pride and enthusiasm about the goods and services they provide, and why they feel you won’t be disappointed if you shop at their establishments. Their success in turn attracts new businesses, whose owners often cite this positive atmosphere as one of the reasons they feel they too will be successful.

Shopping Local - Bryant Park

Finally, you might not have considered this, but your local weekly is itself a local institution in need of your support! As is the case with mine, some of the paper's staff may have grown up or currently live in the community.  Additionally, in my area, membership in one’s neighborhood civic association entitles you to a subscription to the paper.  So this is a convenient and easy way for me to circulate some of my own green locally, support my civic association and access all the great information the paper contains.  Looks like a with intent trifecta to me!

I hope you are beginning to see that there's far more to your local weekly than meets the eye. It is a huge window allowing you to observe who, what, where and how things get done in your community. As you get into the habit of reading it, you will eventually begin to see how you can connect and interact with your community in ways that are personally meaningful.  Caring about something is far easier when you’re familiar with it, and making good or better choices, including those related to the environment, are ultimately a natural consequence of caring.

Changing Your Intent

Observe & Interact: What You Can Do Right Now!

  1. If you already read or are a fan of your local weekly, give a shout-out here or on Facebook. Not yet acquainted with your local weekly? What are you waiting for?! Check it out and report back!
  2. Leave a comment here or on Facebook, about one thing you learned about your community that you didn’t know before, or an activity that you have or will participate in as a result of reading your local weekly.

Happy reading!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Three More Building Blocks: Spirituality, Philanthropy, Arts & Culture

Building Blocks of Intent, building blocks graphic
In last month’s five-part “Living With Intent” series, we looked at three underlying philosophies for creating an eco-intentional lifestyle: permaculture, cradle-to-cradle and feng shui. Then, last week we looked at three basic building blocks you could use to expand on that foundation and begin creating your own unique approach to living with intent. This week we’ll look at the remaining three (spirituality, philanthropy and arts & culture).

1. Spirituality

Let me be very clear in saying that it is not my intent to prescribe, in any way, the manner in which anyone chooses to pursue his or her spirituality. Whether that ends up being through formal religious affiliation and worship of whatever denomination, or one’s own personal practices or observances, that is best left up to each individual to decide.

However, what I do want to emphasize is the need to realize and understand that there are consequences to the actions we take, and we need to give them our mindful consideration, as much as possible. A spiritual base helps us to do that by infusing our thoughts and actions with a sense of moral respect and regard for the wellbeing of others and the world around us.  When coupled with an impulse towards service, you have a very powerful tool for building a life of intent.

2. Philanthropy

Philanthropy can be thought of as the material manifestation of one’s spirituality.  Unlike organizations in the private sector, consider the almost impossibly, contradictory imperatives under which non-profits (and more recently, social enterprises) typically operate:
  1. they address problems (both locally and globally) of often staggering magnitude or dimension, such as the alleviation of conditions associated with issues like poverty, the environment or injustice, to name just a few
  2. as a result they have limited discretion in the selection or make-up of the "markets" they serve, as dictated by their underlying missions
  3. particularly in the case of non-profits, they have relatively modest or uncertain sources of revenue, without benefit of market driven forces to ensure their ongoing viability, in order to meet the first two challenges!
Echo sculpture
Non-profits and social enterprises are often at the forefront of building, repairing and sustaining community. Therefore, supporting them affirmatively acknowledges and makes tangible the spiritual principles by which we aspire to live, and is an inherent act of intent

3. Arts & Culture

Finally, we come to arts & culture. Now, you may not have previously thought about the arts as being particularly green or sustainable, but they are an extremely important component of eco-intentionality. For one thing, cultural organizations and institutions are themselves often structured as non-profits or social enterprises, the significance of which we just looked at in the preceding section.

Additionally, as I have continually pointed out, economic health (see Center for an Urban Future’s "Creative New York", 2005) plays a critical role in a community’s vibrancy and resiliency, and the arts deliver that in spades. Earlier this spring the Municipal Arts Society’s (MAS) hosted Arts Forum: Building Resilience Through the ArtsMAS President, Vin Cipolla noted in his remarks that
Arts and culture unite communities—they provide the glue that brings neighbors together and are a key ingredient in the recipe of neighborhood pride, cohesion, economic activity and vibrancy,”  and that artists regularly “. . .cross disciplines, foster neighborhood growth, activate creativity and engage in social activism,”
You can view video of the full panel discussion here.

But most importantly, as McDonough & Braungart have also noted (see Living With Intent - Part 3: Cradle-to-Cradle), deprivation and austerity only get you so far.  Such an approach has little to offer in the way of long-term motivation or incentive for most people.  The artist, on the other hand, provides society with beauty and delight, which are far better incentives for keeping people happily engaged with the world around them.  Additionally, the unique perspectives that artists bring to living can also offer creative solutions to the persistent problems and challenges we face.  For this reason, more than anything else, I believe arts & culture to be as green a tool as any we might typically think of as such, when it comes to creating a life of intent.

The arts are truly the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Three Building Blocks of Intent: Health, Knowledge & Skills

building blocks graphic
Figure 1

In last month’s five-part “Living With Intent” series we examined three underlying philosophies for creating an eco-intentional lifestyle: permaculture, cradle-to-cradle and feng shui. This week we’ll turn our attention to several basic building blocks you can use to expand on that foundation to begin creating your own unique approach to living with intent. Obviously, there are an infinite number of blocks from which to choose and as many ways to combine them. However, I’ve chosen six, as illustrated in Figure 1, that I believe will be particularly useful for this purpose.  Three are described below (health & fitness, knowledge and skills) and then, next week we'll look at the other three (spirituality, philanthropy and arts & culture).

1. Health & Fitness

You have only to read a newspaper or turn on the television to be inundated with the latest news of the obesity and diabetes epidemics, as well as the associated cardio-vascular conditions plaguing today’s society.  However, we can each take steps to avoid or reverse that trend for ourselves by increasing our dietary intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and reducing processed foods and red meat, which all tend to be high in fat, sugar and salt. Does this mean we need to eliminate all traces of these items from our diet?  Of course not!
Union Square Farmers Market New York, NYHowever, a more healthy balance among them is probably needed.

Several alternatives to the supermarket, for purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables, include farmers’ markets, participation in a community garden or CSA membership (community supported agriculture).  As community based solutions, they're a little more environmentally friendly and have the added benefit of helping to strengthen local/regional economic systems.  Here in NYC, Just Food and GrowNYC are just two of the many organizations providing information about these and other aspects of the local food movement.

Getting more exercise is also critical to improving our health.  Did you know that gardening, besides being a valuable skill and just plain fun, can also be a great form of exercise? Yup! All that bending, digging and hauling soil around gives you a real workout! This is another great advantage to participating in a community garden, if you can.

Alternative methods of getting around town, such as cycling or walking, can spice up a drab exercise routine, while reducing your carbon footprint.  With the growing popularity of bike sharing programs across the country, cycling is becoming an increasingly viable option for many more people.

Citi Bikes - Times Square

As for walking, you can pretty much get started whenever you want.  It doesn't really require any fancy, expensive equipment, or special expertise.  All you need is comfortable clothing and a good pair of sneakers, and it can be suitable for people of all ages and various fitness levels.

So put on your walking shoes or hop on your bike and check out your local green market! Or. . .do something else.  As long as it gets you out of the house and moving!

2. Knowledge

They say knowledge is power.  Whether it’s increasing awareness of what’s going on in your community, learning who to turn to for help if you need it, or gaining a better understanding of the public policy, laws and other regulations impacting your neighborhood, having this type of information will help you connect and figure out how to get more involved.

3. Skills

Knowing how to do things goes hand-in-hand with knowing what's going on. It also supports personal and community resilience.  I'm sure you’re probably saying to yourself “I’m already on overload. My brain can’t take in one more thing!”  And, unfortunately, in today’s information intense society, there always seems to be something new to learn or figure out.  So where to begin?  The list below is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good starting point:

Skill Lists - building blocks graphic
Figure 2
These skills would be great to have under any circumstances, but are particularly useful in the wake of a catastrophic events or situations where critical infrastructure or power/energy sources have been disrupted or have failed altogether, over extended periods, as in Hurricane Sandy.  They will allow you to begin meeting in part, some of the basic necessities of daily living a little more quickly. The good news is that you don’t have to learn all of these things yourself!  You can build a network of other people who have the skills you lack.

JarsTherein lies the strengthand beauty of community— helping and supporting one another, AND the essence of what it means to be resilientthe existence of mutually beneficial inter-dependencies among community members.

How can you go about getting the necessary training to boost your knowledge and skills?  Well, there are many options available.  For highly technical skills (e.g. medical or the trades) a rigorous, formal, degree or vocational program might be necessary.  If you are building on existing skills, a certificate program or workshop may fit the bill.  For skills like sewing, gardening, or basic composting, informal classes (or series of classes) will probably be fine.  Many local organizations and governmental entities often sponsor free or low-cost events providing such instruction.  Join their mailing lists to keep abreast of their activities.  You can also visit your local library and research topics of interest.  Finally, quiet as it’s kept, your local weekly newspaper is an invaluable, tool for getting the 411 on these and many other things going on in your community, and I’ll be discussing it in depth in a future post.

These first three building blocks have been of a practical nature.  The next three speak more to several psychological aspects of creating a life of intent.

Stay tuned and see you then!