So I’m finally back in the saddle again—my apologies for abandoning the blog for 5,000 years. I’m likely going to ramble a bit while my head is still spinning with all that I’ve been up to, so bear with me. Bottom line: I firmly believe that the best way to keep up one’s enthusiasm and energy is to do cool stuff outside of your routine and comfort zone (i.e. volunteer on all those projects that will never pay you) and travel whenever possible. Chicago is a huge city with a zillion things happening, but it’s damned difficult to have perspective on what’s really happening in the rest of the country when I’m here in my big, urban bubble with my big, urban ideas. During the month of August, I spent a couple of weeks traveling down south again, and then way up to northern Idaho looking at different initiatives and talking with people who were doing all kinds of green and/or preservation work. Perhaps the coolest thing is that many of the people engaged in these activities probably wouldn’t necessarily describe it that way (and/or don’t WANT to describe it that way)—a good sign, in my opinion, as it makes me think that preservation and environmental upgrades are less and less becoming unusual projects.
As I’ve discussed at (mind numbing) length, part of the problem with both historic preservation and green initiatives is they often seem inaccessible to people. Either the work or products are too expensive or there is some stigma attached to them. I remember reading about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely flattened by a tornado that decided to go green when it rebuilt. Some residents left and others had ethical qualms with the change as they worried it was promoting some kind of radical tree-hugger agenda. Yes, my eyes want to roll, too, but hey, life is different there. The resident of Greensburg who lead the green charge instead pitched his idea as “good old-fashioned thrift and independence.” Yeah, he basically Palin-ed it, but it totally worked, so good for him. In fact, the more I think about it, this man is a damned genius.
Idaho is another place that doesn’t exactly take kindly to outside advice and ideas about how one should live their life. Property rights are a huge issue and people don’t like to be told what to do. Period. Barns and properties crumble constantly, there is no visible application of building safety codes, and there seems to be little concern from neighbors or government regarding this. It’s just part of the culture, and obviously rural areas don’t need as much regulation as densely populated ones because if that building falls, fewer people will be smooshed by it. At least that’s why I assume there is more regulation in larger cities. At any rate, I was fortunate to stay with a couple I know from doing restoration work a few years back with the University of Oregon—Kathryn does preservation work just over the Washington state boarder, and Ron manages three state parks in northern Idaho. They both do amazing preservation work, and the state parks that Ron manages are also incorporating all kinds of useful green measures, though unlike many green initiatives, they aren’t advertising it to the world and patting themselves on the back in a public way. Not all state parks do this kind of work, believe me, but Ron’s smart enough to understand the benefits and is respected enough locally to make them happen—a golden combo. I’ll talk more at length about those initiatives in another blog, but wanted to make the point that it matters what kind of language you speak to people.
I’m still sorting out everything I’ve seen over the past weeks, but it seems to me that the only way to make headway in communities is to understand your audience, speak a language that is comfortable to them, and then show them the benefits in a way that matters. Governmental regulation is scorned by so much of our country–a more local and sensitive approach just makes a heck of a lot more sense and progress. Some places want to hear about job creation, but aren’t interested in the idea that they are using less oil. Some places might think it’s tacky to discuss saving money and would rather discuss environmental benefits. Some states have more severe water shortages, so focus on how various strategies will result in water saving measures. Whatever. Just make whatever needs to be done make sense to those who live there. I’m an urbanite, through and through. I like jargon and I like being “right,” but I tell you what, I also like results and expanding my understanding of the world. And seriously, people who think they know everything are rigid, annoying, (and wrong), so they are wasting their breath and everyone else’s time. So let’s check our egos or comfort zones at the door and get it done. Time’s a-wastin’.