Sustainability Starts With a Sense of Place

One primary goal of activists working for long-term resilience, including those of us in Sustainable Woodstock, is to strengthen local residents’ sense of belonging to a thriving, inclusive community. We believe that effective strategies to deal with climate change, dwindling resources, and uncertainties in the global economy will require cooperation and mutual aid among neighbors.

These are traditional Vermont values, but they are eroded by a culture that pushes consumerism and privatization. When individuals care only about their own wellbeing, and identify and associate only with others who share their interests, then a town or region becomes divided into self-contained, isolated subgroups that fail to collaborate, support or learn from each other.

Of course people naturally associate with others who share common goals or interests. Some of us are drawn regularly to athletic events, others to artistic productions. We join diverse faith communities, or none. We have specific things in common with people whose line of work or level of income is similar to ours. Those who have kids in local schools are brought together in ways that exclude those who do not. And it is more comfortable to associate with people who share our political views or cultural values.

In a thriving community, though, people do not become isolated in these circles because they identify as well with a common good, a larger and inclusive whole. The community is a place that respects and nurtures all the diverse circles, and neighbors are brought together by a willingness to help or learn from others. Sometimes a traumatic event triggers this cooperative spirit, as we saw after Irene.

It is harder to see, but important to understand, that the environmental and economic challenges ahead of us could also put severe stress on our communities that will require a similar degree of neighborly cooperation. The environmental and economic issues that increasingly affect our quality of life should be of concern to everyone in the community. While not everyone is going to devote time and energy to studying global environmental challenges, we should all endeavor to promote the common good, build on our shared interests, and stay open to learning from and cooperating with each other.

The response to Irene’s devastation showed that we can pull together when we need to; our task now is to recognize the need to remain together so that our community will thrive no matter what future crisis, or more subtle ongoing decline, threatens our shared wellbeing. This will be a stronger community when we make more connections among our various circles.

For example, those of us without children at home can take more interest in school events or support young people by mentoring them or inviting them into our workplaces and cultural activities. Families with children, and young people themselves, might spend more time socializing or shopping in the village. And more of us could participate in learning opportunities that many community organizations provide.

Let’s develop a common sense of place that brings us together during tough times as well as our everyday lives.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *