Stephanie Hiller

Our world is changing radically, yet we struggle to stay the same. We face multiple threats to our continuance: dwindling supplies of oil, gas, and coal; diminishing access to pure drinking water; strange weather and rising temperatures; spreading pollution and the ever-present threat of a nuclear incident.

How can we respond to these overwhelming challenges and survive? Avoidance will not produce the answers we seek; neither, apparently, will our government. We need to begin to have the conversation, an Open Space dialogue where we can explore the possibilities and begin to create alternatives that will enable us to weather the storm of the coming transformation, nature’s response to the activities of civilization as man has made it.

On July 30, Brian Skeele created one such opportunity for conversation. Hanging on the wall at the Santa Fe Complex was a depiction of his vision of a generic Sustainable Urban Village, a pedestrian-friendly space at its center, where cars are accommodated to a lesser degree. In this “SUV,” walking is the transportation of choice! Solar panels, rooftop gardens, recycled water, community agriculture, and community waste processing rule the day. Shared common spaces compensate for smaller living spaces, encouraging enhanced social interaction. The picture beckons with the possibility that Community might overcome the alienation and loneliness that is the price we have paid for our obsessive individualism, independence and privacy.

Will Brian’s charming, multicolored design answer all questions, solve all problems? Surely it will create new challenges, new problems! Who will sweep the leaves in the fall? Where will we park the family car? What would our relationship be with the larger city? Can several thousand people live together in this village within a city without some form of governance, and if not, what form of governance would that be?

Innovations always create new problems, but if the innovation offers a new approach to an intensifying crisis, surely it is worth exploring. Besides, creation is fun. In a flowing, creative atmosphere, we find the courage to face our situation joyfully. The energy of imagination and fresh action helps to move us out of despair. At last we are doing something, and the doing feels good.

Perhaps our avoidance of these overwhelming challenges is partly due to our preference for feeling in control of our circumstances. This circumstance is just too huge! But changed circumstances are sometimes the necessary trigger for change. It turns out we were not so happy with the existing order anyway. At a recent meeting of Transition Town Santa Fe, participants spoke rhapsodically about the joys of harvesting fruit from trees, the rich smell of compost, the flavor of freshly made soup bubbling on the stove. In times of resource depletion and economic austerity, simple pleasures restore and nurture the soul as plastic never did. Is it possible that this Brave New World will be an improvement over the chaos of clogged traffic and speculative hedge funds, the noise of bleeping video games, the isolation of separate rooms and personal cell phones? May it be so! We won’t know until we try: Let the conversation begin!

Stephanie Hiller is a Santa Fe-based life coach and freelance writer who has written about many environmental issues.

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