So, on the appointed evening, the wife and I rolled down out of our hollow and across the bridge to Looby Library and Community Center for the Great Green Ribbon Meeting. The lot was full of cars, and we felt cheered by the prospect of a big turnout, but when we entered the basketball court, which was laid out with chairs and tables in expectation of a turnout of a hundred or so, it was pretty much us and the visibly concerned committee members. Whatever people were flocking to the Looby Center for last Thursday night, it wasn’t concern for the future of Nashville. Cindy and I were the only people signed up to speak.
Just as the meeting was set to begin, a small flush of people entered the room, maybe thirty-five in all. Quite a few were old friends from the Bioregional Council or Bell’s Bend; but, here in the heart of Nashville’s ghetto, there were only two black faces.
The meeting began with “citizen input”–and three more people had signed up. I stood up first and talked about the importance of local food, how there are areas, some owned by metro and some owned privately, that could be turned into community gardens or local CSA’s, because whatever development was going to happen there, it probably isn’t going to happen for a good long time, and with people losing jobs, helping people get a start in small farming covers a lot of bases–food sustainability, local economy, putting people to work. I brought up my estimation that it would take five thousand CSA’s to feed Nashville, and emphasized that the city needs to be more open to allowing individuals to raise small animals for food in their backyards, because man does not live by salad alone….I wish I’d thought of that line in time! I said something about putting motion sensors on security lights and turning off streetlights in low-traffic, non-residential areas, like out where I live–Clarksville Pike, Ashland City Highway, and White’s Creek Pike are lit up all night long, when the traffic frequency approaches one vehicle per hour. Firing up all those sodium vapor lights costs a pretty penny, and guess whose taxes pay for them?
I also talked about disaster preparedness, how nobody wants the worst, but we need to prepare for it anyway by having a hospital that can at least function minimally if the grid goes down, and by having a one-month fuel reserve for emergency vehicles and a city fleet of solar-powered electric cars, fire trucks, and ambulances. The Green Ribbon crew took notes and looked interested. I was amazed at how much I managed to pack into four minutes, even if I did forget to say anything about lawnmowers and mandatory mowing.
Cindy presented the idea of creating neighborhood councils that would come up with local solutions to local problems and ease the burden on metro courts and social services. This was probably not what the panel was expecting to hear, but it takes more energy to maintain centralized infrastructure than it does to maintain decentralized infrastructure, whether you’re talking about water and electricity or codes and family court.
Next, a young lady got up and talked very earnestly about getting metro to quit using broad-spectrum pesticides to combat alleged mosquito outbreaks, especially since there has never been a problem with mosquito-borne illness in this area. It was a neat feat of gymnastics to relate this to the topic of sustainability in Nashville, but she hooked it in to biodiversity, if memory serves.
Mack Pritchard was the next speaker. He pointed out that Metro has a tendency to take parks and fill them with buildings–Looby Center, it seems, is in an area that was once called Buena Vista Park–and also emphasized the importance of finishing Nashville’s “Greenways” program so there is a network of walking/bicycling paths connecting all parts of the city. He also mentioned “green streets” paving, which is a new, porous kind of pavement that allows rainwater to soak through into the ground instead of shunting it all off into storm sewers and overloading the system.
One of the two people of color in the room spoke next. He was concerned about transportation. “I ride the bus to work,” he said, “and have to transfer. If the first bus I ride is a minute late, the second bus is gone and I have to wait a half hour for another one. We need to do something about these kinds of things.” Indeed, better public transportation was the first choice of more people than anything else in the committee’s poll, coming in at thirty percent, more than twice the runners up, increased recycling and “increased use of renewable energy,” and three times the next batch of answers, which included more local food, more open spaces, and green building incentives.
Next, it was the city’s turn to talk to us. Jenna Smith, who runs the mayor’s office of sustainability, talked about how the city is instituting recyling in all its offices, encouraging its employees to ride the bus to work, insisting on LEED certification for all new metro buildings, getting ready to do a census of pollution sources, and, yes, Mack, finalizing plans to connect all the greenways.
Next, we broke up into small groups for brainstorming sessions, in which somebody from the Green Ribbon crew sat at each table and wrote down everybody’s suggestions, which were then taped to the wall. We each were given three blue sticky circles, and asked to put them next to the three ideas we liked the best. Well, I’m pretty shameless in some ways, so I voted for my own ideas, then found some sticky circles that had been abandoned and voted again.
Most of the ideas offered were, from my point of view, a little pathetic. Just a little. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with better bus service, outlawing plastic bags, having better parks, instituting “dark skies” lighting all over town (thanks, Manny Zeitlin!), encouraging recycling, outlawing unnecessary vehicle idling and the drivethrough windows that promote it. It’s just that this is a form of bargaining: “If I promise to be a good boy, can I please, please please pretty please keep my comfortable American Way of Life?”
I’m sorry, the answer is no. It doesn’t matter if you make sure the deck chairs on the Titanic are made from recyclable materials that can be recycled once again when they are no longer functional deck chairs. We have still hit an iceberg, water is still pouring in, and the ol’ Titanic is starting to list pretty badly and the hull is riding down in the water. To get off the metaphor, our credit is completely drawn out. There’s nothing more to borrow against, and little likelihood of paying back what we owe already, as the black magic of compound interest pushes our national and individual debt further and further over our heads. It isn’t just individual home buyers who are “under water,” folks, it’s the whole American three-ring circus.
The future is going to be nothing like the past we have always known, because we cannot afford to keep up the pretences that we have taken for granted all our lives. I am doing my best to be materially, psychologically, and spiritually prepared for this, and it still scares the hell out of me–but it’s also the great adventure I’ve always wanted. Ready or not, here it comes.