Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Local Public Radio Network Celebrates Places

Our local public radio is running a series on places in their coverage area. WCMU Radio is travelling around to towns in central and northern Michigan and producing on-air stories about them. They haven't made it above the bridge yet, but I expect they will. Take a listen to learn some of what makes some of the communities in northern and central Michigan special. Go to http://www.wcmu.org/radio.asp and take the 'On The Map' link.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sustaining a Place

Sustainability has specific meanings for different people, but in all cases it’s about doing things in a way that you can keep doing that way over a long time.

For fisheries managers, it’s about staying within the system’s abilities to produce fish, i.e., not taking fish faster than the system can restore them. Likewise for forests, grasslands, wetlands, lakes and streams and agricultural systems – it’s all about using the resources at a rate that does not imperil the future of the resources. Sustainability is not a new term for managers of biotic resources. Sustainable multiple use has been a guiding principle for generations of fisheries and wildlife managers, foresters, rangeland managers, and farmers. In the same way, environmentally minded people talk about living within the ability of our local and global ecosystem to continue to provide the resources we want and need.

For not-for-profit organizations, sustainability is specifically about keeping the stakeholders engaged and thinking positively about results so that donors and volunteers keep donating their time, talent and money and so that new donors and volunteers can be recruited.

For a business, sustainability is making sure that cash flow is reliable over the long term. (Selling $20 bills for $15 is not a sustainable business model). Likewise for a family it’s about not depleting the bank account faster than it can be renewed.

For an urban planner, sustainability is about creating neighborhoods that last. To a rural planner, it’s about building rural communities that last, which often means keeping current residents (including youth) and recruiting new residents.

My training is in biotic resource management, which also involves rural sustainability. Vibrant rural communities are more likely to want to conserve their local biotic resources and sustainable use of biotic resources, as opposed to boom and bust, helps sustain local communities.

Sense of place ties into sustainability. Recent research confirms that development of a sense of place serves all the dimensions of sustainability described above. People with a strong sense of place are more likely to volunteer for local conservation projects (but see Sidebar, below). Likewise, volunteering helps them build their sense of place. In that regard, sense of place builds social capital which helps make the place more sustainable. It’s a positive feedback effect. Local businesses benefit, too. One research project showed that people with a strong sense of place are more likely to support local businesses. I haven’t seen any research on the converse, but I would think that people with a more positive attitude about their place may be more inclined to engage in entrepreneurial activities there. I don’t think it takes research to show the negative of that. Clearly if a place is not seen to have a future, few people would invest in a new enterprise there. Nor would anyone encourage friends and family to invest there.

In my reading informal research on rural sustainability projects tied to place-making, I ran across a very cool project in South Dakota (see www.reimaginerural.com). They’re helping youth re-imagine their community.

Two recent newspaper articles give me reason to be optimistic. The agricultural economy has seen growth through this latest economic downturn and youth volunteerism is up with youth feeling connected to their communities. There’s some dots to be connected there. Perhaps one example of connecting those dots is the growing farm-to-school lunch programs. It supports local ag, but it could be a good placemaking strategy, showing young people that there is a future in the local economy.

It’s about letting youth know they have a choice. They don’t have to leave to achieve. The Re-Imagine Rural project, as do other rural development groups, makes a case for rural schools including encouragement of rural entrepreneurship. Tapping the imagination of youth, along with local support for entrepreneurship should help make rural communities more sustainable. It won’t work if we just think ‘wouldn’t it be nice if we got some more entrepreneurship going.’ Communities need to actively support it. Michigan State University is helping communities do that with the Creating Entrepreneurial Communities Project (http://www.landpolicy.msu.edu/modules.php?name=Pages&sp_id=484)
Two communities to the south of us signed on to that program. I’m eager to see how it works out.

SIDEBAR: Awareness alone is not enough.
While a strong sense of place may spur people to volunteer in local projects, such awareness is not enough. Potential volunteers may need further support. Becoming a volunteer is a change of habit and people sometimes need to follow a process in changing a habit.

By analogy, think of public health efforts to get people to exercise more, to eat better, or in other ways to make healthier lifestyle choices. These efforts often use a state of change model that recognizes that people need information, but then need to contemplate making the change, then plan to make the change, then try the change, and then maintain the new behavior. To enhance the success of people trying to make that change, public health agencies provide support at each step, including fostering a general sense of community support for the change.

Research shows that volunteerism can be enhanced by providing support at each state of change someone goes through while becoming a volunteer. If you're trying to increase volunteerism, you need to foster a positive attitude in the overall community towards volunteerism and let potential volunteers know that there is a whole community that will help them along the way.

Monday, December 6, 2010

local authors

You can tell you live in a desirable place by the fact that people want to write books about the place. In our case, a steady stream of good books about the Great Lakes/North woods continue to come out by nationally distributed writers in works of non-fiction, poetry, literary fiction, and category fiction.

Along with the nationally distributed writers are the local authors. Maybe there's something about our place that just brings out the desire to share a story.

This past weekend, our public library held a local authors' bookfair. Works of history, natural history, anecdotal accounts of life in the area, childrens' books, literary fiction were all represented by a dozen local authors. Only a few are nationally distributed authors, at least so far. Writing is not their primary source of income. Rather they are motivated by their desire to share their stories of our place. Thanks to the library staff and program committee for providing this opportunity to get to know our local authors better and thanks to our local authors for their labors of love. I've read most of them (and bought one I hadn't) and appreciate the points of view they bring.

S don't limit your reading just to the bestseller lists or just to what network TV talk show hosts suggest. Get to know your place better through your local authors.

Friday, December 3, 2010

let the wild rumpus begin

just got in from skiing at least part of the campus loop thanks to the 10" or so of snow we got in town yesterday. (I declared it too windy yesterday for me to go skiing -- what's nice about having reliable snow is that one can wait for the better conditions of a tomorrow. When I lived in kansas, we had to go out that very day for snow fun because that particular snow wouldn't be there long.)

i was crowded by appts before and after so could only do the first 2/3 of the loop. but it seemed like the full 3/3 in terms of workout. guess it has been about 6 weeks since the end of running season, and let's see ,thanksgiving eat fest was still in full swing just a week ago, so OK i have some getting in shape to do.

monday i'll have the 40 minutes it takes me do to the whole loop in trail breaking mode.

last summer, the students put up a disc golf course that matches up in several spots to the xc ski loop. we should have a biatholon but with disc golf instead of rifle shooting. any takers?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

still waiting for the first ski-able snow

We had a few inches of snow on the ground the other day and I was tempted to ski the campus loop. But the campus loop has a few short but steep downhills that can be tricky to stay upright on. It hurts to fall when there's not enough snow so I chose not to try it. I also rationalized that the snow wasn't cold enough and would make snowballs under the skis. Then it rained and the snow went away. That's about the third time I found myself saying "we'll be looking at snow now" only to have my hopes dissolve with the rain. Tonight we're supposed to get a good snowfall and it's supposed to stay cold next week, so soon enough it will be ski season. Otherwise, it's the stationary bike which is really not much fun at all.

Snow is nice where people know how to live with it. I think most of us up here see snow removal as a legitimate role of local government and don't gripe about paying taxes to support snow removal. I know I'm always glad to see the snowplow come through and when I get a chance I tell the snowplow driver that. We've even been known to give the driver cinnamon rolls, just to thank them, not to try to get better service. I'm glad there are still people willing to get up in the middle of the night and go out in the cold to clear the roads just as I'm glad there are still people willing to go out in a storm and climb a utility pole to restore power.