Resilient Neighborhoods


By Vernon Huffman

The best hope for long term human survival appears to lie in the development of resilient communities. By applying local resources at a sustainable rate to meet genuine local needs, resilient neighborhoods fit into the natural order, rather than attempting continuous growth based on exploitation.

To locate the boundaries of your neighborhood, it is easiest to map your watershed. Where does the rainwater flow to and from your home? Divisions between watersheds are ridge lines, like a small scale of the continental divide. Watersheds divide into tributaries upstream and combine into larger streams all the way to the ocean, or occasionally terminate in a landlocked lake. It’s generally easiest to walk about within a watershed.

Traditional healthy human communities tend to bunch in villages of roughly five hundred members. Our brains seem developed to deal with communications at this scale. What portion of your watershed would include you and your five hundred closest neighbors? For the purposes of this article, I’m defining that as your neighborhood. If it isn’t already defined as a political district, such as a precinct or ward, you might approach your elected leaders about rearranging political maps to match natural bioregions.

Maybe you don’t like your neighbors. Maybe they don’t like you. But in a really serious emergency, you’d have to rely upon each other. You share a natural water system, which enforces your interdependence. Humans are social creatures. Modern mobility has fractured our natural family and tribal relationships, but that modern system is fragile. What would you do if the complex transportation and communication systems suddenly failed?

I’m not predicting a sudden failure. I think it will happen more gradually, but change is inevitable. Our economic system relies upon continual expansion of consumption of a limited resource base. How long can that last? At what point will it become too expensive to acquire necessities? What qualifies as a necessity? Perhaps you want to have a conversation with your neighbors about this. Like it or not, you’re in this mess together.

Where does your tap water come from? How much energy is consumed getting it to you? How reliable is the source of that power? If the power went out, how would you and your neighbors get enough water to survive? How much precipitation will fall and at what time of year? What systems could you develop to make your neighborhood water more secure?

What about food? How much food is grown in your neighborhood now, compared to the amount consumed? Could local growing provide a balanced diet for everybody? Could you produce enough to share with climate refugees? Upon what imports is your food production reliant? Do you have secure sources of heritage seeds or do you buy hybrids and GMOs from corporations that may not care about your needs? Is your soil healthy, recycling the nutrients upon which people depend?

How much energy goes into the production and transportation of the goods you and your neighbors regularly consume? How much goes into carrying away your waste? Where does that energy come from? How much damage is done to the environment by these processes? What alternatives are available? How much of that crap could you live without?

You’d have to be living in a bubble to believe that our economy and ecology are secure. You and your neighbors may have different ways of describing the threats, but few of us feel really safe. Outside of our neighborhood, upon whom can we rely? Will the politicians in DC or Brussels save us? Do state or local officials have the key to solutions? Are corporate CEOs going to bail us out? Can we count on the innovation of somebody we haven’t ever met?

Maybe it’s time to host a discussion in your home or some gathering place within walking distance. Invite as many of your closest neighbors as will fit. Tell them you want to discuss the potential for making your neighborhood more resilient. Conversation will be easier over food, so maybe you want to make it a potluck. If your neighborhood is ahead of the curve, host a local food potluck.

Please try not to waste energy debating your different world views or rehashing old conflicts. Keep the focus on the future of your neighborhood. Inventory particular needs and strengths. Does anybody have the ability to fabricate tools? What skills can your neighbors apply toward meeting your common needs?

As your culture evolves, you will find opportunities to sing and dance together, develop rituals for births, deaths, and significant events, like harvest. You may learn rites of passage to initiate youth into adulthood. These are common human behaviors that have been diminished in our homogenized culture, but we can take them back!

It all starts with talking to your neighbors.

Vernon Huffman is a writer and activist in Corvallis, Oregon.  Originally published at his blog.

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