The answer is local! But…what was the question? Actually it’s pretty amazing how many questions are answered with this simple statement. I know some would say…how naïve! Local is where we sleep…go to the mall…eat fast food or perhaps purchase processed food to heat in the microwave…and send our kids to day care or school or soccer practice. Of course, this is an exaggeration…but I believe we’re pretty unaware of how many of our current, systemic problems stem from the erosion of local community life. I’m certainly not saying we should all become hermits in our local communities…turning completely from our national or global economies, and the benefits they avail us. I do believe we’ve lost our sense of balance where local answers are trusted and valued alongside some of our national or global answers. The answer is local…for many questions.
Jobs and unemployment! Small businesses provide goods and services that are customized to the tastes and needs of the community. They employ local workers at living wages. Their profits stay in the community rather being siphoned off to people far away who produce nothing. They encourage personalized customer service, and they provide guarantees and warranties with integrity and timely response.
Sustainable food production and distribution! Many local communities and neighborhoods have the capacity to grow quite a bit of produce…in neighborhood gardens, small-plot farms and community supported agriculture (CSA). Supermarkets and local restaurants can contract for produce with local sources, so transportation costs are minimized and freshness is maximized. Farmer’s markets can provide an easily accessible hub for local producers…and they provide a great opportunity for neighbors to enjoy their community together. Local employment in small business agriculture adds to the job pool for another layer of job opportunities.
Accountability in government! Accountability in politics works best in local communities. Local politicians have to serve their constituents in tangible ways…and, if they don’t serve well, they’re voted out much more often than state or national politicians. Local politics is generally focused on local needs without as much partisan ideology entering policy or ordinance decisions. Most of all, local politicians are accessible on a daily basis…so neighbors can get answers quickly and accurately without slogging through several layers of staffers in a distant office.
Crime prevention! Neighbors can get to know each other…and this can add a level of protection in local communities. Crime thrives on anonymity…so neighborhoods where people know everyone else are just not good prospects for criminal activity. Community life also includes a host of enrichment opportunities…at local libraries, with youth learning and sports programs, in local service projects, etc…where young people find positive activities with role-model adults rather than being left without any guidance.
Education! Education is most effective when the whole community is involved. Parents, businesses, civic organizations, health professionals, public safety departments, religious groups, etc…all of these components of a community can contribute to a comprehensive educational system. These kinds of connections make education relevant to students…they can see how their education can help them to become contributing members of a community…and good citizens in local governance.
Quality of life! In the TV series, Cheers, a local bar became a national symbol for a place ‘where everyone knows your name.’ This is possible in our communities and neighborhoods. A sense of belonging and the development of trust among neighbors add to the quality of life most of us desire deep in our hearts. Some of us have been fortunate enough to experience these feelings personally…many others know they’d like it, but don’t know how to achieve it. It’s not magic…spend time with your neighbors; be interested in each other; help each other as much as you can; be committed to decisions in your local community where everyone comes out a winner.
The answer is local! I have many more examples of how this simple statement applies to our current challenges. As we look for solutions to some of our biggest and most complex problems, look local first for a few answers that can be implemented quickly, inexpensively and efficiently. In my experience when local initiatives are tried first, our view of the problem changes…including more perspectives. What’s more important…when we get engaged on a local level to solve our own problems, we’re looking then for state and national partners in problem-solving…and not depending on someone else to rescue us from personal responsibility. The answer is local…with almost every public question.