By Sarah Byrnes
An underlying insight in the community resilience movement is that individuals can have the greatest impact locally; i.e., closest to home. But what is local, and what is home?
Here in New England, many of us are coming to see that none of our towns are resilient until all of them are. We recognize that we are nested within larger systems of culture, climate, and exchange, and that many life-sustaining systems are larger-than-local. Our drinking water is managed regionally, and so is energy production, waste management, and many of the “invisible” aspects of our lives. When considering how to make these systems resilient, we must think on a broader scale.
In other words, home is much bigger than the town we name in our mailing address.
It’s certainly possible to think about preparing for the threats of the future—such as climate change and financial collapse—by creating walled-off enclaves of resilience. It’s the “bunker” approach to security, and many in the 1% are already doing it.
But such an approach is morally abhorrent. It’s also impractical. Equity and social justice are intrinsic to true resilience. Gated resilience that is only for the well-off breaks down when neighboring towns try to get basic needs met under challenging conditions. Many argue that inequality itself drives our sense of economic insecurity—especially among the very rich. More walls and more inequity will only exacerbate the cycle of fear and separation.
That’s why we aspire to create a New England that welcomes all neighbors in need—whether from the town next door or around the globe. New England’s regional activists also aspire to support a regional economy, since we believe this scale strikes the best balance between efficiency and resilience. Regional trade played a role in many low-energy, pre-industrial cultures to meet needs that could not be met locally. We’re thinking about a “Whole New England Catalog”—reminiscent of the Whole Earth Catalog from the 1960s—both as a creative way to showcase what’s already produced regionally, as well as to tell some great New England stories.
Last, and perhaps most important, we are getting to know our regional neighbors. New Englanders have gathered together at several region-wide gatherings to share stories and inspire each other. We’ve learned about everything from permaculture and herbal medicine to state banks, co-ops, and online outreach from each other.
The basic truth is that we’re enriched by our connections. We want to enhance the web of relationships among us, and heal the divisions of race and class that have separated us. With resilient relationships in place, we’re hopeful that New England can truly thrive—no matter what the future brings.
Sarah Byrnes is the Co-Director of the New Economy Transition in New England, a program of the Institute for Policy Studies. She supports the local “Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition” pilot program and work to enhance the resilience of the New England region as a whole.