“Exuberant Episodes of Import Replacing”
by Susan Witt
Jane Jacobs died two days ago on April 25, 2006, just short of her ninetieth birthday, her son by her side.
The 1983 Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures program was my introduction to the extraordinary intellect of Jane Jacobs. In her lecture, “The Economy of Regions,” she argued for regional economic diversity, complexity, and interdependence. She imagined a myriad of small industries producing for regional markets—industries that depended on local materials, local labor, local capital, local transport systems, and appropriately scaled technology to conduct their business. She pictured the fruits of this regional industry spilling over to support a rich cultural life in the city at the hub of the region. This bustling creative energy would then foster innovation and industry, filling in the “niches” of the economy.
“Cities don’t work like perpetual-motion machines,” she said in her lecture. “They require constant new inputs in the form of innovations based on human insights. And if they are to generate city regions, they require repeated, exuberant episodes of import replacing, which are manifestations of the human ability to make adaptive imitations.”
In the question period following the lecture Jane Jacobs was asked how best to foster these regional economies. Her answer was, “with regional currencies.” She called regional currencies one of the most elegant tools for stimulating and regulating production and trade in a region.* When Bob Swann, co-founder and first, long-time president of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, heard this, his eyes lit up and his knees trembled. He was a staunch advocate of local currencies. Was Jane Jacobs a partner with him in this advocacy? He couldn’t wait to pursue the topic with her.
When we drove Jane back to the airport after the lecture, Bob had his chance. He talked eagerly about the role of regional currencies in shaping regional economies. We described the Self-Help for a Regional Economy (SHARE) micro-credit program that the Schumacher Center had helped to launch in Great Barrington as a way for a citizens group to gain experience in making productive loans to small businesses. SHARE was our first step in an initiative to launch a local currency.
As she got out of the car, Jane Jacobs turned to Bob and me and said, “You know that $500 honorarium for speaking? Would you take it and open a SHARE account for me? I want to participate, and that way I’ll stay informed about what you are doing.” She said it with a twinkle. She knew how it would delight us.
That was when I first experienced the great warmth of spirit of Jane Jacobs. She championed “ideas that matter,” but she also championed the people putting those ideas into practice. In her book Systems of Survival she uses the Socratic-style dialogue to discuss issues. One of the characters describes in detail how the SHARE program works, and in Dark Age Ahead she points to the Schumacher Center’s work with community land trusts as one of the positive indicators of the renewal of American culture.
During Bob Swann’s last years, as he struggled with failing health, handwritten notes from Jane Jacobs cheered him. And her unexpected phone calls have cheered and encouraged me.
The world has lost a great intellect. At the Schumacher Center we have lost, in addition, an advisory board member and a dear friend. I can think of no finer way to honor her than for us all to foster “exuberant episodes of import replacing” in our local communities.
* Jacobs would have rejoiced to learn of the initiation of a local currency, BerkShares, in the Great Barrington, Massachusetts, area on September 29, 2006.
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Excerpts from “The Economy of Regions”
Third Annual E. F. Schumacher Lecture, October 1983
by Jane Jacobs
Like most of you, I assume, I see much hope in the use of the small and intermediate technology Schumacher advocated. Furthermore, small and intermediate technology is quite as necessary, valuable, and constructive in the economic life of cities as it is in rural and village life and in currently rich countries as well as poor ones. The use of large and expensive capital-intensive equipment has become so mindless and rococo that it leads to mechanization poverty, meaning that it actually doesn’t pay its way in direct and indirect costs but makes us poorer. Nuclear power plants are an extreme example, but in principle so are many types of equipment now being used for agriculture.
The standard diagnosis of the trouble with supply regions, abandoned regions, and clearance regions as well as stagnated and declining cities is “not enough industry.” To be sure. But the standard prescription for the deficiency is “attract industry.” What are these industries that can be lured and hooked? Where do they come from and why?
For the most part they are industries that originally developed in cities or city regions but are no longer tethered there by localized markets or by everyday dependence upon multitudes of producers and services close by….
The very freedom of location that enables these industries to leave city regions for distant regions means freedom from local markets and freedom from symbiotic nests of other producers. Therefore, their presence does nothing, or little, to stimulate creation of other, symbiotic enterprises. This outcome becomes starkly obvious whenever these transplants pull up stakes and leave for yet a different location, perhaps one with still cheaper labor or still lower electric rates. What they leave behind when they move are merely economic vacuums, very different from what they left behind originally in the cities or city regions of their origin. And as long as they remain in a region with a transplant economy of this sort, they produce only little and only narrowly for the local economy itself. Their markets are distant. In effect, such transplants shape a kind of industrialized supply region incapable of producing amply and diversely for its own people and producers as well as for others.
Many of the processes at work in natural ecologies and in our own economies are amazingly similar. I shall mention only two, although many other similarities are obvious. In a natural ecology the more niches that are filled, the more efficiently the ecology uses the energy it has at its disposal and the richer it is in life and means of supporting life. Just so with our own economies. The more fully their various niches are filled, the richer they are in means for supporting life. . . .
In a natural ecology the more diversity there is, the more stability, too, because of what ecologists call its greater numbers of homeostatic feedback loops, meaning that it includes greater numbers of feedback controls for automatic self-correction. It is the same with our economies…
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The full text of Jane Jacobs’s 1983 Annual E. F. Schumacher Lecture, “The Economy of Regions,” may be purchased in pamphlet form from the Schumacher Center for a New Economics and may be read in its entirety on our publications page, free of charge. It also appears in People, Land, and Community: The Collected E. F. Schumacher Society Lectures (Yale University Press, 1997).
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A talk given at the June 2006 BALLE Conference in Burlington, Vermont
by Judy Wicks
The community where I live and work in Philadelphia was almost torn down by developers back in the 1970s. It was during the fight to save our block that I first learned of Jane Jacobs, the legendary urban activist and visionary. This spring Jane passed away, just shy of her 90th birthday, so I thought I would pay a small tribute to her through some of my remarks this morning.
There are so many reasons why I admire Jane Jacobs. To mention a few: She hated one-way streets, and she loved local beer. As a schoolgirl she was sent to the principal’s office for blowing up paper bags and popping them in the lunchroom. Later in life she was arrested on charges of second-degree riot and criminal mischief for disrupting a public meeting about the construction of an expressway. I’d like to share some thoughts about ways in which her vision for creating vital communities and prosperous local economies has been an inspiration to the local-living-economy movement and about how her work touched my own life thirty-five years ago.
The first time I walked onto the 3400 block of Sansom Street in 1972, I was enchanted. The narrow tree-lined street with a row of charming, if somewhat run-down, Victorian brownstone houses provided a little oasis in the midst of the unfriendly institutional buildings surrounding it. Most of the old houses around the University of Pennsylvania were being torn down and replaced by modern high-rise dormitories and office buildings, strip malls, and parking garages. In contrast, the hundred-year-old houses on Sansom Street, with a few small businesses on their first floors, were human scale—quaint, homey, inviting.
Later that year I moved into an apartment at 3420 Sansom, future home of the White Dog Cafe, and soon learned that the entire block had been condemned to clear the land for a shopping mall. How could it be that those lovely brownstone houses would be demolished and the local business owners and residents forced out to make way for chain stores and fast-food restaurants? I was outraged! That must have been my first BALLE moment.
I eagerly joined the Sansom Committee, the local community group organized to fight the demolition and save our homes and businesses. I was twenty-five, and this was my first experience with social activism and community organizing. My first act of civil disobedience (but not the last) was when I lay down in front of a bulldozer that came up the back ally to begin tearing down the buildings from which the businesses had already been evicted. The Sansom Committee was seeking a restraining order because we had developed an alternative to the proposed shopping mall. It was Jane Jacobs’s fight to save her community in Greenwich Village and her vision, articulated in her classic book, Death and Life of Great American Cities, that inspired our committee to try to save and restore our block.
From her home above a candy store in the West Village Jacobs observed what she described as the “intricate sidewalk ballet” of urban life, the complex goings-on day and night—shopkeepers opening up in the morning and closing down at night, the continual comings and goings of residents, people heading off to work or school and coming home again, then heading back out for leisure activities, people walking to local stores and restaurants, housewives chatting on the stoops, children playing hop-scotch and jumping rope.
Jacobs wrote about the importance of mixed use, of communities that prospered from a diverse and lively mixture of residential and retail. People lived and worked in the same community. Work, school, leisure, and home life were integrated in dynamic and enjoyable communities. Jacobs challenged the top-down urban-renewal movement imposed by governments in the 1950s and 1960s when whole neighborhoods were razed; vibrant communities and thriving personalized local businesses were destroyed to build sterile high-rise office buildings and housing projects. She pointed out the way housing projects were segregated by class: low-income units plagued by crime, moderate-income developments that were dull and gray, and luxury housing that was vulgar display. Uses and activities were segregated so that residential areas were separate from offices and retail stores, creating dead times when no one was around. This separation severed the relationships that were the foundation of community life.
Walkable communities were replaced by the suburbs, where housing and shopping malls were destroying rich farmlands in exchange for what Jacobs termed “cheap parking.” People no longer worked in the same community where they lived; work life became separate from home life. Physically separating home life from work life leads to a compartmentalization of values. Business schools tell students, “Leave your values at home when you go to work.” You teach your children the Golden Rule at home, but at work “Gold Rules!” No wonder people are unhappy with their lives. As Bill McKibben pointed out last night, it was in the 1950s, during which time people were separated by migrating to the suburbs, when happiness in our society began its decline.
Eventually the Sansom Committee won the fight to save the 3400 block of Sansom Street from the wrecking ball, which gave me the opportunity to purchase the house at 3420 Sansom Street. Jane Jacobs’s vision of vibrant urban life had become my own. I wanted to “live above the shop” in the old-fashioned way of doing business that Jacobs had described. In 1983 I opened the White Dog Cafe as a coffee and muffin take-out shop on the first floor of my house, where I have now lived for thirty-five years. Today the White Dog has grown from the muffin shop to a full-service restaurant with over two-hundred seats, and it occupies three of the brownstone row houses. Our gift shop, the Black Cat—selling unique local and fair-trade crafts, books, and novelties—occupies a fourth row house. The other row houses are home to a number of locally owned, independent businesses including three other restaurants, a coffee shop, newspaper and magazine shop, real-estate office, and hair salon.
On Sansom Street I found my place in the world—another BALLE moment—by committing to place. Merrian Fuller likes to use this quote from Gary Snyder: “Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.” By living above the shop on Sansom Street I was able to watch my own sidewalk ballet and grew to understand firsthand how a healthy mix of residents and shop keepers, of students and nonstudents, of young and old—a wonderful diversity of people—added to the vitality of my neighborhood and to the success of my business. I also discovered the special role we play as proprietors in building the interwoven relationships that make up community life.
A friend once asked me if I ever had a moment of pure joy and gave as an example a time in her life when she was gardening and a butterfly landed on her hand in the sunshine. What immediately came to mind for me was something very different. I thought of one of our summer block parties when I was dancing out in the street to a reggae band. I looked around me at the sea of people dancing—my customers, employees, friends and neighbors, teenagers, a few youngsters and seniors. I saw people of different races, backgrounds, and ages all having fun together. It was a genuine urban scene, and I felt elated. That was my moment of pure joy.
Living and working in the same community has not only given me a stronger sense of place but a different business outlook. There has to be a short distance between the business decision-maker and those affected by the decisions; this is a basic principle of the local-living-economy movement. When businesses keep growing larger and larger, the distance between decision-maker and those affected grows greater so that many CEOs rarely have personal relationships with those affected by their decisions. And, of course, publicly traded corporations are required by law to serve the financial interests of stockholders above all else. As a small business owner I am more likely to make decisions from the heart, not just from the head, and they are more likely to be in the best interest of those around me whom I see every day—employees, customers, neighbors, suppliers. Business is really about relationships with everyone we buy from and sell to and work with. Money is only a tool.
Jane Jacobs talked about the importance of human scale, whether in architecture or enterprises. Yet business schools teach “grow or die.” Bigger is better rather than small is beautiful. As a society we are taught the false premises that economic growth benefits everyone and that success is measured by material gain. In fact, continual growth is destroying the planet by using up more natural resources then can be regenerated, and it is the rich who are getting richer while the share of wealth for everyone else is declining.
I made a conscious decision to stay small and learned to grow in other ways than the physical. The Earth Charter says, “When basic needs have been met, human development is primarily about being more, not having more.” And as Bill McKibben said last night, “It’s not about belongings, it’s about belonging.” Rather than constantly growing our size, sales, and profits, we can grow by expanding our knowledge, consciousness, and creativity, deepening our relationships, increasing our happiness and well being, and having more fun in our communities rather than thinking that happiness comes from having more stuff and taking vacations to distant places.
I like these lines from Walt Whitman’s “A Song of Occupations”:
Will you seek afar off? You surely come back at last,
In things best known to you finding the best, or as good as the best,
In folks nearest to you finding the sweetest, strongest, lovingest
Happiness, knowledge, not in another place but this place,
Not for another hour but this hour.
Jane Jacobs saw cities as the natural eco-system for human beings; what works in nature is also what works in the human-made environment. As in nature, the parts of a city are interconnected and interdependent, not separate. Our strength comes from diversity, not from sameness and monoculture. Jacobs understood that the vitality of the city is lost without the interdependence and diversity of its people and architecture. Her obituary in The New York Times said that her “prescription for cities was ever more diversity, density and dynamism—in effect to crowd people and activities together in a jumping, joyous urban jumble.”
I learned a lesson in how cities can mirror the sustainability in nature when I attended a program of our Sustainable Business Network (SBN) in Philadelphia. Each month we have an educational seminar presented by a different “building block” of a local living economy so that we learn from one another and find ways to do business with one another. This particular seminar was given by the sustainable-landscape building block. I didn’t know much about sustainable landscaping before I went to the program put on by Dale Hendricks, an SBN leader and owner of Northcreek Nurseries.
The presentation included slides that gave examples of both a sustainable and an unsustainable landscape. The slides of an unsustainable one showed the plants separate from one another in a manicured style with no wild areas between them. Everything had been done in a controlled and regimented way, just as the city planners were doing when Jane Jacobs challenged them, just as industrial agriculture does, for that matter. The slides of a sustainable landscape, on the other hand, showed a diversity of plants growing together helter-skelter; sharing the same space made natural habitats in which insects pollinated the plants, with birds and other creatures making up the eco-system. Here the plants were thriving. I imagine Dale’s sustainable landscapes of plants, insects, birds, and critters as jumping, joyous jumbles!
Jane Jacobs wrote not only about diverse and lively neighborhoods but also about regional economies and the importance of producing goods locally with local resources and local labor for local consumption. Today, as we face the dual challenge of fossil-fuel-induced global warming and peak oil, Jane Jacobs’s vision for both walkable communities with rich community life and vital local economies with local production is more significant than ever.
Cheap oil has been the lifeblood of corporate globalization, making it possible for multinational corporations to ship products from distant places where labor and natural resources are easy to exploit. Corporations have pressured governments, especially in the United States, to provide subsidies for exported agricultural products so that they have an unfair advantage when competing with local growers of products such as corn, wheat, and cotton, putting small farmers out of business in less developed countries as well as in the United States. As a result, once thriving local economies have been destroyed by cheap imports. Now people around the world, including in our own communities, have become dependent on large corporations to provide the basic human needs of food, clothing, energy, and building materials, which are all shipped long distances. This unnecessary transportation of goods around the globe is a major contributor to global warming. The solution is clear: we must reduce shipping by developing community self-reliance—with local energy security, local food security, and interdependent local economies to provide our basic needs. This is what Jane Jacobs described as “symbiotic nests of local producers.”
Jacobs wrote about the importance of “import replacements” and how cities prosper when business people use their ingenuity to replace imported goods with those produced locally. Susan Witt, Executive Director of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, who is here today, was a friend of Jane Jacobs, and she recently quoted Jacobs as saying that successful regional economies required “exuberant episodes of import replacing.”
Here’s where we, as BALLE business people, are so critically needed today. We must use our entrepreneurial energy and creativity by starting businesses to replace imports, thus helping our region to be more self-reliant. We need many “exuberant episodes of import replacing.” Rather than expanding our businesses beyond our own region by creating chains or national brands in the cookie-cutter format of the industrial era that require long-distance transport, we should turn our attention as creative innovators to the needs of our community.
What imports can we replace to make our communities more self-reliant? We should look within the essential building blocks of a local living economy such as:
Locally grown and processed food
locally grown fiber crops and textile production
locally designed and made clothing
green building and building materials
renewable energy production
recycling and reuse
earth-friendly cleaning supplies
health and well-being
local arts and culture
Where are the opportunities to replace imports in these areas of community self-reliance? Where are the gaps in our local economic systems that we can fill with new businesses? How can we use our entrepreneurial abilities to build a stronger local economy while achieving financial sustainability at the same time?
Zimmerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor is a perfect example of this model of growth and innovation. Rather than a chain of Zimmerman’s a “community of businesses” has been created, with a creamery and a bakery that close economic loops in the local economy. Paul Saginaw from Zimmerman’s is speaking in a break-out session today. There is also a panel on local energy systems. Panelists like Nadia Adawi of the Energy Cooperative in Philadelphia are working to close the gap in local energy systems. Nadia will talk about recycling grease from restaurant grease traps into fuel and starting a biodiesel filling station. And in a keynote tomorrow we’ll be hearing from Omar Freilla, who is creating worker-owned manufacturing businesses in the South Bronx by utilizing waste materials.
If a company already has a brand sold beyond the region, can production be decentralized into multiple sites so that local supplies and labor are used for local consumption, thus eliminating long-distance shipping? A successful example of this is Seventh Generation, the Burlington maker of green cleaning products, which is manufacturing locally wherever feasible. We need new models from established leaders of what responsible business means in this unprecedented time of environmental crisis.
Our movement is not only about addressing the environmental crisis but just as much about addressing the social crisis of a growing concentration of wealth. When local companies spread their brands across the county, growing larger and larger, they are often bought up by multinationals. Even companies that have been models of social responsibility are adding to the concentration of wealth: Odwalla juice was sold to Pepsi Cola, Cascadian Farms to General Mills, Ben & Jerry’s to Unilever (although that was against the founders’ wishes), Stonyfield Farms to Dannone, and Tom’s of Maine to Colgate. The socially responsible business movement needs to recognize that we have been using the old paradigm of continuous growth to measure success while neglecting the important issues of place, appropriate scale, and broad-based ownership. Democracy depends on there being many owners. The more owners, the more freedom.
When I think about the urgent challenges of peak oil and climate change and what we must do as communities to prepare ourselves, I imagine scenes from a movie in which the people of a town come together with a sense of urgency to prepare for a coming storm by passing bags of sand from hand to hand and piling them up to protect the entranceways, or they prepare for the invasion of a foreign army by rushing in supplies of food from the countryside. Competition is no longer an option; everyone is looking for ways to work together, acknowledging that we need one another to survive. That is how I imagine us now in BALLE communities, moving from being a competitive society to a cooperative one, recognizing our interdependence as a regional economy, building a “symbiotic nest of local producers” that will mean our survival as fuel becomes both unaffordable and unusable in the face of global warming.
As it turns out, we actually have the model of a country that has already met the challenge of living with less oil, and that is Cuba. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the tightening of the U.S. embargo Cuba’s supply of oil, including oil-based fertilizers and pesticides, was suddenly and drastically reduced. Cubans call this “the special period,” the time when they struggled as a society to avoid starvation and reach the point of local self-reliance. I was in Cuba five times in the 1990s during the special period and saw firsthand how Cubans responded to the crisis. Most dramatic was the creation of community gardens everywhere possible. People changed careers from teachers, soldiers, and doctors to become farmers.
Education was a major factor. I visited a high school where students were taught community self-reliance. They learned to make their own clothes, even their shoes, grow their own food, grow medicinal plants and learn how to use them. They even learned how to make wine for their high-school graduation celebration. But most of all, Cubans survived the special period for one reason: theirs is a culture of cooperation and sharing. What we must do as BALLE leaders in our communities is develop a culture of cooperation in order to build community self-reliance.
My most significant BALLE moment came when I moved from competition to cooperation in my own business. I already knew about the brutality in the factory raising of chickens, and for a long time I had been buying only cage-free chickens and eggs, but I was not aware of what was involved in the factory farming of pigs until I read about it in John Robbins’s book, Diet for a New America, back in the 1990s. There I learned about the barbaric way pigs are raised in confinement with unspeakable pain and deprivation, unable to move, standing on slats above a lagoon of their own excrement, which goes on to pollute the community water supply, never feeling a breeze of fresh air or a ray of sunshine.
Though very social animals, they are never able to touch one another, socialize, or lie in big piles of pigs as they love to do. The sows are artificially inseminated, prohibited from building nests and caring for their young as their instincts tell them to do. Their babies are taken away prematurely, and the process is repeated over and over. Pigs are not machines; they are intelligent, sentient beings with feelings and emotions like other mammals. To treat them in this cruel and inhumane way is a violation of nature, a betrayal of our sacred trust as stewards of the land and of farm animals. It is institutionalized cruelty, and it is destroying our own humanity.
I realized that the pork I was using in the White Dog must be coming from factory farms, as almost all pork does. I knew I could not go on participating in this evil system, so I went into the kitchen and took all the pork off the menu—the ham, bacon, and pork chops—and our chef set out to find a new source. A farmer who was bringing in free-range chicken from Lancaster County started bringing us pork raised by his neighbor in a small-scale, traditional way.
Next I discovered the terrible way cattle are raised and how important it is that they have a diet of grass as they were meant to have instead of being forced to eat corn and even ground-up animal parts. We found sources for local grass-fed beef, and eventually all the meat and poultry on our menu was coming from small family farms where animals are treated with respect. We finally had a cruelty-free menu, and that would be our market niche. I wanted to be the best, the only restaurateur in town who could make this claim.
But then I thought, “Judy, if you really do care about those animals, if you care about the environment that’s being polluted by industrial farming, if you care about the family farms being driven out of business, if you care about the consumers eating meat full of hormones and antibiotics, then you do not want to keep this as your market niche but will share what you have learned with other businesses, including your competitors.
I was doing the right thing within my own company, but that was no longer enough. I had to move from a competitive mentality to one of cooperation in order to build a whole local economy based on humane and sustainable farming. I found a way to share my knowledge through the Fair Food Project. Founding director Ann Karlen will be speaking in a break-out session today. For the past five years Ann has been providing consulting services to restaurateurs and chefs on how to buy from local farmers, not just for meats but for produce and other crops as well. She has helped hundreds of restaurants and stores locate farms to supply them so that our region has become known for its local food system.
I asked the farmer who was bringing us pork if he would like to expand his business, and he said he would. “What’s holding you back?” I asked. He needed a refrigerated truck, so I loaned him $30,000 at a 5% return, and he bought the truck. This led to another BALLE moment when I realized that the most important use of my capital was local investment. I soon divested myself of all stocks and invested my savings in a local reinvestment fund, where I receive a “living return”—a modest financial return along with the return of living in a healthier community.
I increased my business’s charitable giving from 10% to 20% of profits, putting half of it in the White Dog Cafe Foundation to support Fair Food and the Sustainable Business Network, our local BALLE network. Customers have also contributed substantially over the years.
Another opportunity for cooperation in our movement is a political one. Community self-reliance offers a meeting place of the left and right, of liberals and conservatives. Liberals value community and collective endeavors; conservatives value self-reliance and individualism but often undervalue the importance of working collectively for the good of all. Community self-reliance combines the values of innovation and creativity found in self-reliant entrepreneurship favored by the right with the values of cooperation found in community life favored by the left. Community self-reliance is something we can all commit ourselves to working on together. Ours is a movement that can, and must, be embraced by all, a way of doing business that is not only beautiful in the loving relationships it builds but is essential to our survival in a changing world.
Jane Jacobs believed in the interconnectedness and interdependence of life. She saw that diversity is what makes us strong. She regarded ingenuity as coming from the “close-grained juxtaposition of diverse talents.” Diversity increases creativity and innovation. As entrepreneurs we must work consciously to build an inclusive economy so that we can all benefit from a diversity of talents and ideas and the opportunity to contribute our gifts.
As we build a new economy of local businesses, this is the time to make great strides in attaining economic justice. It’s important that we help those who have been left out of the industrial economy to find ownership opportunities in local living economies. As business people we can buy from companies owned by women and minorities, hire from those communities, mentor young entrepreneurs, start a mentoring program for high-school students, develop “sister” relationships with minority entrepreneurs in our field (as we have done with our sister restaurant program and as Laury Hammel, BALLE co-founder and co-chair,, did by partnering his sports club with an inner- city tennis club).
Jacobs believed that our human-made environment must be on a human scale, providing for the organic, creative growth of enterprise. Her archrival was New York City planner Robert Moses, who represented the philosophy of top-down control, of regimentation and separation rather than the organic intermingling of people and activities. He had a plan to build a highway that would cut through Washington Square, destroying Greenwich Village. It was Jane Jacobs who led the opposition. When Moses spoke at the public hearing about his plan for the highway, he stood gripping the railing as he looked down from the balcony and proclaimed that his plan was favored by everyone: “Everyone,” he said, “but a bunch of…of… of… a bunch of mothers!” And with that he stormed out of the room. Although he meant his words as an insult, in fact they were the highest praise. And he was right. Jane Jacobs was acting like a mother, a mother protecting what she loved, her beloved Greenwich Village with its beautiful sidewalk ballet. It was love that caused her to challenge the city-planning system that was destroying communities.
In my own experience it was my love for animals that motivated me to challenge the industrial farming system and begin building a local living economy in my region. At its heart, our movement for local living economies is about love. And it is love that can overcome the fear many may feel in the hard days to come. Our power comes from our love of place, from our love of life, from protecting what we love—people, animals, nature, all of life on our beautiful planet Earth. And I would add, for the entrepreneurs among us, a love of business. Business has been corrupted as an instrument of greed rather than one of service for the common good. Yet we know that business is beautiful when we put our creativity, care, and energy into producing a product or service needed by our community.
Our materialistic society has desensitized us to the suffering that underlies our industrial economic system. We must open our hearts to feel the suffering of women and children laboring in sweatshops or enslaved in chocolate production, the suffering of migrant workers in slaughterhouses and on pesticide-soaked industrial farms, the suffering of the people of Iraq, of Nigeria, of the rainforest tribes, everywhere that there are natural resources and especially oil to exploit and fight wars over. We must open our ears to hear the cries of the pigs in crates, of animals in laboratories and in the fur industry. We need to hear the cries of the whales, of the polar bears, of the trees, of the natural world that is dying around us.
The energy and passion for all we must do in this movement will be provided by simply allowing ourselves to love what we love and in so doing find our place as humans in the family of life—in the jumping, joyous jumble of life.
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