Copyright 2009 AXIS Performance Advisors
by Darcy Hitchcock
Social capital, the strength of the relationships that bind us, is key to weathering this economic storm. The sliver lining of this crisis is that some people, at least, have more time on their hands and that time can be invested into building a better community. The average work-week has dropped. “According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of employees who normally work full-time but now clock fewer than 35 hours a week because of poor business conditions climbed 72% in November 2008 compared to November 2007”* and it’s bound to be worse now. My husband is one of many who has taken advantage of voluntary time off. Of course, some are flat laid-off and that is no fun; I can tell you that from experience. But all these situations give us time to reflect on the Buy more—Go into debt—Work harder—Buy more cycle we’ve been in for decades now. I’ve seen a number of different data points that indicate that our society is shifting mores. Money no longer makes the world go around; people do!
Creating social capital is easier than you may think. Ten years ago, when my husband and I bought a house in Portland, I was dismayed to find out that many of our neighbors didn’t know one another. I thought we’d moved to the city to be around more people, but instead we’d just moved to an area where the houses were closer together. I asked around and no one seemed concerned. “People are busy.” “They have friends elsewhere.” After biding my time for about a year as the new kid on the block, I hosted a Northwest Earth Institute discussion course. I admit that it took some gumption. I worried, What if I invite people and no one comes? I really didn’t care which course we did; I just wanted to corral some of my neighbors long enough that they’d get to know one another. At the end of the 6 weeks, everyone said, “Wow, this was great! We should keep getting together.” It evolved into what is now a quarterly potluck. And the same people who just shrugged before are the ones who come the most. At our New Years Eve potluck one of our neighbors was talking to a couple who had recently rented a house. She kept saying, “You’ll never want to leave. This is the best street in all of Portland.” Then she turned to me, “Don’t you think so?” I smiled. It didn’t take much to get it started, but it didn’t happen by accident either.
You might think, So-what; they know one another now. Big deal. But these connections help us solve problems:
The bottom line: Social capital makes your community more resilient and a whole lot more fun. It’s also safer. The list of neighbors I maintain helps people connect but is also an emergency management tool should we ever have a fire or other problem. It includes home and work numbers as well as the names of kids and pets.
Do you want to improve the social capital of your neighborhood or workplace? I have two suggestions:
Host your own discussion course—Consider using the new discussion course called Dragonfly’s Question: Principles for ‘the good life after the crash. Unlike the Northwest Earth Institute courses (which I also recommend), this course is based on fiction—a novella—that draws people in and shows them how a wide array of principles could actually be applied. Woven into a sweet father-daughter story are such concepts as smart growth, bus rapid transit, green streets, distributed energy, rainwater catchment, waste to energy, district heating, precautionary principle, urban agriculture, and co-housing alternatives. The book includes the story and a chapter-by-chapter discussion guide. Go to Lulu.com http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback_book/the_dragonflys_question/6254827 to learn more.
Attend the Sustainable Community Development: Economic Renewal 101 course through the International Society of Sustainability Professionals—Gwen Hallsmith and her co-author Hunter Lovins will be teaching a class based on their LASER economic renewal process. This class will be held during the month of July with a webinar and assignments you complete on your own time each week. Gwen will lead the class and share her experiences from Montpelier VT (including innovations like local currencies). Hunter will be a guest speaker and will help design the class. Go to www.sustainabilityprofessionals.org/workshops for more information on this course and others in the professional certificate series.
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