Postcard From A Transition Movement Hot Zone

March 3, 2009 at 5:15 pm 1 comment

The following is a guest column written for The Oil Drum. Randy White is a municipal sustainability expert, was a member of Portland’s Peak Oil Task Force, and is the Founder of Bright Neighbor, LLC.

Greetings From Portland

It’s no secret that Portland is a pretty radical city. While mainstream America is still learning how to make the leap to full-time sustainability activities, Portland, Oregon is a major hot zone and leader in the human revolution. The intent of this article is to offer an opinion and insight into strategies, collaborations, and technologies that are occurring in our city to solidify life-supporting social constructs.

We All Have Our Problems
Portland is dependent on energy and money just like any other city. With over 500,000 people, we have the 23rd largest economy in the US at $88.6 billion dollars. We have crime, poverty, homelessness, and hard-working people who would love more time off to pursue more joys in life if only they didn’t have debts to pay.

The fact is, not enough people here have the skills, resources, or contribute to the system to say Portland can become a completely self-sufficient city. While science has determined the amount of calories and nutrition needed for human bodies to survive, only each individual can determine what is needed to satisfy each of our own living requirements. Right now, people around the world are searching within themselves to determine what this mother-of-all-market-corrections means in the context of their own life. In countries around the world, people are reflecting on survival, whether it means scrambling to meet basic needs such as food and shelter, or committing one’s life to helping others survive as we dismantle nuclear weapons.

Indeed, finance industries and governments continue to try and figure out how they can game the now collapsing currency market, and around the world thousands of loose-knit social movements and groups are acting together, radically altering the balance between commercial and non-commercial economies. Portlanders are trading sink repair for firewood, worm castings for books, and organizing into sustainability groups, meeting to discuss a multitude of survival strategies. The cool part is that it is in the most relaxed manner I could have imagined. You know something cool is happening when the art community gets involved. To see scholars, artists, chefs, teachers, farmers, faith leaders, bureaucrats and other various communities coming together to discuss survival in a civil manner is surreal. It is also the beauty of the Portland conversation, because empathy, understanding, and cooperation are now winning out over personal greed.

Let’s examine some of the conversations taking place, and how people are organizing to do what we can locally:

Food, Food, Food
Portlanders will practically strip naked and make love to the soil. Our city is full of a diverse ecosystem of people and cultures who love and worship local food, soil, and farmers. The cool thing to ask at parties is “So what do you grow”? Little kids wear shirts that say “I Love My Farmer”. They worship apples – and I’m not just talking about their phones and computers.

As mobile as the city is with its fantastic bus and rail system, we have no problem getting around to all the amazing restaurants that showcase seasonal, locally grown vegetables in their menus. Our chefs strive to use local ingredients, as long as the cost doesn’t put them out of business. Our citizens have one of the highest percentages of CSA subscriptions. The fact is, we love food. So when it comes to loud-mouthed know-it-alls, you can bet Portland likes to brag about it’s success with food.

Using a variety of technologies to list events, food experts are leading the conversation. If you know how to grow food, fix soil, and install edible landscaping, you are all the rage. Take a look at this quick video and you will see what the job of the future looks like.

Presently, Bright Neighbor offers a “Lawns to Gardens” service, helping match people to homeowners willing st share their lawns. We are connecting Gerding Edlen’s newest building CYAN/pdx to Portland land owners to help create more garden activity and boost our local local food system.

Our April 17th kickoff of the Bright Neighbor Community Revolution Tour will include boosting lawn farming production, water harvesting, and permaculture practices throughout the city.

Transportation
This one is real easy. Portlanders either walk, bike, drive, ride, or rail it to and from where they need to be. If you need to get there, you can get there cheap, you just have to consider whether you will be exposed to the elements and how much time it will take. But we know we will get there somehow.

When it comes to fuel supply solutions, some Portlanders have electric vehicles, and many are discovering that you can make ethanol from hundreds of non-food supply threatening feedstocks other than corn. As for ride-sharing, people are getting to know their neighbors to work on cooperative projects and partake in resource sharing. For instance, if you need a ride right now, you can just call up your friends or discover your neighbors via one of the many Internet technologies. You can always use the Internet and phone to find a ride and share resources. The question is which technologies to use will make it easiest for communities.

Fixing our local commerce system
One high-brow conversation among Portland communities is talk of fixing our money system and the restructuring of the economy based on a non-fiat based local currency. The challenge with this movement is an assumption that outstanding debts can or will be canceled or repaid using any new system. The beauty of this movement and conversation is that even if we don’t solve the new riddle right away, the conversation is fascinating and the beer is great. Even thinking about the idea of replacing the world’s current broken money system is exciting in and of itself. The questions being asked have to do with real value, the meaning of real wealth, and property rights. It is being talked about by all political parties, all religions, and all citizens.

We are asking:
Who grows my food?
Who supplies my fuel?
Are my water need secured?
What is worth more, a knife or a variety bag of seeds?
How does the community determine each person’s value?
How do we know who is trustworthy and who isn’t?
How long will dollars matter?
Am I capable of doing what it takes to survive?
What is my purpose if not to make money?

The conversation in Portland revolves around a common realization that our community is quickly developing an entirely new system of accepted social values, logistics, and supply chains. I will end this postcard from a transition hotzone with the opinion that emerging businesses are using a variety of technologies to bring new food supplies into pop-culture at maximum velocity. More of our citizens are contributing real value to the community through hyper-involvement at the neighborhood level, and Portland will continue to lead the way in defining modern community survival trends.

What’s cool that is going on in your city?

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Entry filed under: Activism, Around Portland, Bright Neighbor, Carpooling, Consumerism, Creativity, Economic Collapse, Energy Crash, Gardening, Happy News, How To, Lawn Farming, Permaculture, Solutions, Sustainability, Technology, Trends. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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