Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sustainable Brookline Conference

Last Sunday a gathering was held at Wheelock College, called Sustainable Brookline. Coordinated by many individuals, most notably the ad hoc Steering Committee for a Sustainable Brookline, its stated mission was to "develop a coordinated strategy for making Brookline a truly sustainable community". Over 60 members of our community gave up their Sunday afternoon to meet, discuss and plan future coordinated actions. Don Weitzman of the Climate Change Action Committee ran the meeting with supreme efficiency, ensuring that everyone present was able to participate and the ideas continued to flow.

Many groups and individuals were represented. Each presented up to three "actions" that would bring Brookline closer to sustainability. Many, many good ideas came forward, some were clearly predictable, doable and valuable such as expanding recycling programs to businesses, others were more innovative and perhaps challenging to implement, such as the Conservation Commission's Green Streets program that seeks to manage storm water flows with vegetation. Building, energy and vehicle efficiencies were all pinpointed by numerous groups. Many spoke of the need to promote alternative transportation including bikes, transit and walking while reducing auto-dependence. Hugh Mattison spoke of the need to interest young people in street tree stewardship through a tree buddy program. The GreenSpace Alliance stressed the education of youth too in it's presentation, clearly thought was given to the need look ahead.

Our actions are intermeshed and carry rippling repercussions. Some of these connections were identified at the conference. Transportation Board policies impact the Bicycle Advisory Committee's planned bike routes. Implementing green building standards will redirect a building contractor's business. As my previous post outlines, our zoning ordinances' requirement for excessive parking has far reaching impacts on the livability of our community. Future discussions will hopefully bring into focus the benefits of promoting localized economies, food production and social structures.

And yet, the purpose of the gathering was no doubt in response to the growing awareness of the need for action to prepare for the changes that will undoubtedly come our way. Sitting in a room full of "environmentalists", (an antiquated term I feel because it now has a history of adversarial politics and "holier than thou" attitudes that have not been particularly constructive), took me back to the original Earth Day, I vividly recall participating in it. I was in grade school, I pinned a "Give Earth a Chance" button on my shirt and we cleaned up our play yard! It seems almost ridiculous that a species living on the planet had to have an Earth Day at all, but there it is, I guess we did. The river just down the street from my school churned and foamed a putrid green with the effluent from the paper mill just upstream. It eventually got cleaned up. I am sure everyone around me had similar memories. I recall too, learning in college courses about the true impacts of our industries and way of life. We studied natural resource economics, world food systems, community environmental field studies and resource dispute resolution, all trying to bring reason and humanity back to the center of things.

In truth we are all in this together, going along for the ride. We are all both part of the problem and potentially part of the solution. It was inspiring to see so many dedicated individuals who were truly trying to put forward positive solutions. I salute each and every one of you.

Perhaps future generations will read over the minutes of our meeting and think, "thank goodness they finally started to get their act together and tried to do something." Or perhaps they will say, "it was too late and they just didn't know it, and the things they talked about didn't make any difference anyway". There were those voices at the conference who urged a more drastic reaction and response. (Like what?, they didn't say.) Fear and panic do not seem very useful. While others spoke of the need to process and adjust. So in the end, I believe it was the middle road that was taken. A call for action within the state of things as we know them, never losing sight of the need to continually push ourselves for further progress.

While I do not have faith in technological solutions alone, as some do, I believe in our ability to adapt, change, evolve, and innovate. Solutions will be combinations of things more intertwined and complex than we can imagine, an infinitely dispersed network of problem solvers will come up with a great many things. So I guess I am a glass half full person. I thank the ad hoc committee for organizing the conference and look forward to seeing the progress we make working together towards a sustainable Brookline.


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