Sustainable Communities in a Sea of Apathy?

At a round table discussion/employment pitch about building sustainable communities, two non-profit organizations came to speak about the objectives of their programs. Here I will focus on the organization Evergreen. The spokesperson talked about schoolyard greening initiatives that they help to fund and organize mostly in urban centers. There is a need for school children to have more than just concrete, gravel and grass around them when they spend a lot of time in the schoolyard and more importantly out in the sun. Evergreen aims to add tree cover as well as spots of interest and discovery, that teachers can use to incorporate lessons about science and the environment.

As part of its mandate, Evergreen does not do the schoolyard greening them selves. They provide the funding, workshops for the community and experts to help design the final plan and work with stakeholders to make sure the plan will be feasible. The residents provide the physical momentum and are expected to implement the plan, and provide the maintenance and support needed down the road. One thing that wasn’t surprising, but disappointing none-the-less was that the organization comes up against much resistance from the communities they work in. Residents would rather Evergreen do the greening projects, instead of being active participants themselves. When the project is complete the community supports it and has more of a vested interest in what they have created, but this does not change the fact that it is hard to get the public support to begin with.

This made me question why this is the case, as it is not an uncommon occurrence. Why to we resist responsibility even when given the tools and a fail-proof environment? Why to we not take accountability and action? Are we so used to our social and governmental systems doing everything for us that we don’t remember how to self motivate and self organize? Is this lack of motivation inherent in us? Is the “capital vice” of sloth so widespread? Perhaps it is simpler than that. Perhaps people are afraid of what they do not know. Perhaps in this case, the community feels that they do not know enough about science or plant care to help in a productive way (the same way I feel when I get a plant that I don’t know how to care for).

Regardless, for sustainable communities to really work contributors, players, and advocates are all needed. How do we achieve participation and support with all people (not just the same old converts) when it seems like this desire or commitment has been lost from our collective memory?

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