Here is what the New Economy for our Bioregion might look like: It will prosper through an eclectic amalgam of business, nonprofit, and government innovation, including rooftop solar warehouses, wind farms, and tidal-energy producers; urban and rural farmers, and rooftop apiaries; commercial fishermen, fish mongers, and fish farmers; local farmers' markets, shoreline farmers, and seafood markets; a local water-based transportation system to bring goods to market; suburbia converted to interconnected "front-yard" farms; a local currency used to pay for local commodities; buying and hiring locally; restored and created wetlands serving as nurseries for fish and wildlife and where blueberries and other produce can be sustainably harvested; sustainable forests that are logged selectively with an eye on future production; public-works projects such as sea walls and sea gates as required to protect communities and valuable infrastructure against sea-level rise; an economy of local businesses and micro-industries, including everything from brewers and butchers to cheese makers and toolmakers; from ship builders to bicycle builders; local wind turbine, solar collector, and tidal generator manufacturers and installers; shoemakers and fix it shops; composters and oil recyclers.
Our Bright Green Future will re-create self-sufficiency for the New York City Bioregion, with a mutually supportive connection to the surrounding New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut farms, fisheries, communities and the bounty of preserved wetlands, forests, mountains, bays, and the sea.
How do we create this New Economy and new culture? It is long past time to gather the brightest, most committed people from all parts of the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut/and Pennsylvania Bioregion for a charrette, an open-space dialogue and analysis, to discuss the best, most pragmatic route to a better future for our communities. Working together, we can develop a blueprint, an implementable comprehensive plan based on vibrant sustainable, slow money, small business, main-street economy, focused on local energy and local food, with all of the resulting positive economic, social, and environmental outcomes.
The participants in this great gathering must be many, varied and inclusive. We must invite entrepreneurs and social venture-capital investors; planners and co-housing/eco-village developers; Transition Town advocates, Permaculture practitioners and foodshed advocates; charitable-foundation directors and futurists; students and union members; fishermen, environmentalists and economists; organic and biodynamic, rural, suburban, and urban farmers; academics, government officials, and local business people. All points of view will be needed to come up with implementable visionary ideas that can lead us safely through the impending crises and into A Bright Green Future.
The two seminal questions for the first proposed charrette will be:
1. How can the New York City metropolitan area community develop a food security plan to feed itself from farms within 100 miles of the Battery?
2. Should we commit $10-15 billion to construct wetlands and oyster reefs, enforce flood-hazard building restrictions, plan for a retreat from flood-hazard areas, and appropriately place "hard infrastructure" needed to protect New York City, coastal New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut's vulnerable infrastructure?
Luckily, we needn't start from scratch. Many in our region have thought hard on these issues, and begun to puzzle out solutions. The global Transition movement also offers us models for local sustainability, and represents a promising way of engaging people and communities to take the far-reaching actions necessary to move beyond peak oil, climate change and economic crisis.
Though the path ahead may seem daunting, it is important to remember the past. Not so long ago, New York City and its Bioregion fed itself. Daily, wagonloads of produce rumbled from farmsalong dirt tracks to ferries, and fishing boats docked at wharves, all bringing seafood, meat, vegetables, milk, rum, cheese, and apples to Manhattan markets. The New Economy we create for our Bioregion will likely resemble in some ways that diverse and prosperous regionally self-sufficient economy.
Time is short. If we are to be the designers and stewards of our community's future -- rather than the victims of crises -- we must move quickly and decisively to begin shaping the transition of the New York City Bioregion. Together we can seed a post-growth/post-carbon economy that serves and benefits all people and all of nature, a Bioregional re-localized economy based on renewable resources harvested at nature's rates of replenishment.
I look forward to your response and feedback to this proposal, to your creative ideas and input, and to your participation in one of the greatest adventures of our time, as we seek to make a better life for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our Bioregion.
Andrew Willner is an independent sustainability consultant; for almost twenty years he was the Executive Director and Baykeeper at NY/NJ Baykeeper. Mr. Willner is spearheading an effort to create a Bright Green Future for the NYC Bioregion.
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