Neal Gorenflo, executive director and co-founder of Shareable, had a very timely experiment planned just before the pandemic hit: a year of living locally. The whole project ended up quite different than expected and a couple of weeks ago he hosted a discussion about local living and the future of local economies after COVID-19 (transcript and audio) which started with Gorenflo relating some of the lessons of the experience, which was followed by a discussion with Jose Ramos (Action Foresight) and Stacy Mitchell (Institute for Local Self-Reliance).
The goals of the project were to connect with neighbours, work with them on projects for the benefit of all, and become a more engaged citizen at the local level. Most of the year ended up being largely about organizing in response to the pandemic, and when things settled down a bit he addressed some of the original ideas.
[A]s I had planned, I switched from a big bank to a credit union, explored our local ecosystem and history, got involved in local elections, explored starting a library of things at a local library, tried on a local identity through civic engagement at geographic scales that was made possible in November with our U.S. presidential elections and also some involvement I had with my Sharing Cities colleagues in Seoul, South Korea.
The two main conclusions I took away from his short talk are, first, that he learned how much he didn’t know about what it takes to be a good involved citizen, including “the enormity the system change that we must undertake.” Secondly, and perhaps most soberingly, he realized that the level of implication he had planned on (an hour a day) was inadequate for the kind of change that the climate crisis and our other systemic problems requires.
I estimated that it would take at least 20 percent of the population spending two hours a day to reach a kind of tipping point for systems change for any local community that we really need to up the civic engagement to get the kind of changes we all talk about.
The first part above is already quite a useful read but I also encourage you to take some time for the second part of the event. I found Stacy Mitchell’s interventions particularly clear and insightful. Her use of the phrase “economies of small scale” seems like a very useful framing for discussions about the importance of local.
We know that an economy that disperses power and decision making and ownership more broadly is also an economy that distributes income more broadly and that has a more equitable distribution of power in terms of who makes decisions. [S]o as we think about how do we have an economic system that matches our notions of liberty and of equality, we need to have something that’s more democratic in form. And that means getting away from concentrations of power and distributing things out. […]
It was a bit disappointing to read Gorenflo and Ramos’ interpretation of buying local vs buying online, and I think Mitchell had a great reflection, one that perhaps too few people had while confined.
I don’t think I bought anything from Amazon in the last year, but found, I did do a fair amount of online shopping from local businesses. And sometimes I could get stuff on their website or I could call them and they would do curbside pickup. So I actually found I could do that a lot and did shop online in some cases from sort of smaller manufacturers that I could buy direct from that aren’t in my community. So not local, but at least scaled at that sort of scale, but somewhere else.