GUEST COLUMN

Building sustainable communities, growing security

Posted March 27, 2011, at 8:08 p.m.

Recent events in the Middle East and Japan have caused many prudent Americans to reflect on our own state of preparedness. This — coupled with the precarious state of our economy — is causing anxiety about the future for many thinking people. As a shift in resource availability and economic turmoil threaten the globalist model, a local community model looks more and more desirable.

Maine is blessed with natural resources on land and sea with which we may sustain ourselves in hard times. More important, we have a relatively recent history of doing just that. In the years since the Great Depression, the sense of community that sustained our forefathers has weakened, but as the ice storm of ’98 proved, it has not died.

Calamity brings about opportunity for a new vision, a new mindset, an improved way of living in relationship to those around us, even if it comes with the sacrifice of certain comforts. The economic, social and spiritual revival taking place in our country right now offers communities statewide an opportunity to reflect on and implement ways of strengthening the ties that bind individuals together in a sustainable way.

The term “sustainable community” has come to mean a community intentionally designed to make a minimal impact on the environment, to promote living in balanced relationship to water, energy use and materials. But what about communities that already exist, those which represent a variety of different lifestyles, desires and means? What about those who are limited financially, unable to make necessary adjustments to their lifestyle that would promote more sustainable living?

It would seem wise to steer a course toward greater awareness of and reliance upon each other — neighbors helping neighbors, local people trading among themselves for food, materials, labor and especially knowledge. We have a wellspring of energy to tap: Our best and most valuable resource is our people.  We are creative, hard-working, well-rounded and dependable.

In Montville as in many area towns, groups of neighbors have come together, gathered this winter around kitchen tables and in public places, brainstorming about how to work toward building a more interdependent, interconnected community.  Our group, Citizens for a Sustainable Montville, is assembling a registry of skills, wares and knowledge held by our residents to better encourage the local exchange of services, materials and intellectual resources. An open public meeting concerning this registry is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 28, at the Montville Town House on the Center Road.

We realize that a vital and vibrant community is not necessarily one that must reinvent itself. We have the foundation of self-government knit into our existence. We know it is one that must focus on commitment to each other and to communicating without being superficial and without animosity, one that is focused on making decisions by consensus, one that is inclusive and open to best ideas, from wherever they come.

Ben Franklin said, “By failing to prepare you’re preparing to fail.” Preparing for the unknown is a daunting task for some; for others it is an exciting challenge with infinite possibility. A community which approaches this task with an ideal of becoming the best possible version of itself and a shared desire to embody the Golden Rule will surely become a community able to support itself economically, socially and spiritually. It will, in times of trouble, sustain itself in peace.

John Billiings is a self-employed mason and Diana George Chapin is a greenhouse grower.  Both are members of Citizens for a Sustainable Montville.

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