Growing Change Through Community

By Allison Nagel, Communications Manager

Film maker John de Graaf and author and public speaker Anamaria Aristizabal

A conversation sparked in a Vallejo living room by the lessons learned in the city of Bogota, Colombia, could be a part of driving change in the local community. 

Change starts with a vision of what is possible.

“It is a fire in our hearts,” said Anamaria Aristizabal, who spoke to a small group of local citizens earlier this summer about the transformation that took place in her hometown, creating a city full of parks, libraries and bike paths. Anamaria was there by invitation of filmmaker John de Graaf. (We’ll be showing one of his films, Redefining Prosperity, on Aug. 18 in Benicia, and John will participate in a Q&A after the screening.) John is currently working on a documentary about Vallejo. He said there are lines to be drawn between what happened in Bogota and what he sees happening in our local city — how bringing public services to neglected areas can give residents the sense that someone in government cares and the empowerment to ask for more.

Anamaria, who is a public speaker, author and the co-founder of an ecovillage outside of Bogota, drew out a timeline of how Bogota’s leadership history led to the city’s current state. First, there was leadership that pursued fiscal cleanup of a corrupt and bankrupt system. That paved the way for the next leader to focus on civic culture and the need for citizens to be civil to each other while building up a fiscal surplus. And that surplus allowed the next leader to focus on infrastructure, building out all of those public services and spaces.

By solving for essential needs, such as adding communal kitchens to address hunger, the city freed people up to have the bigger conversations and to advocate for more and better ways of improving the city and the status of its citizens.

“A strong social platform of people feeling met by their government allowed the city to move into a new era,” she said.

In examining the identity of an individual or a city, it comes down to tangible things, stories (those “seeds” that carry the identity and essence of a person or place) and ideals, Anamaria said. In Bogota, attention to ideals meant a focus on inclusion for all citizens or beauty in the natural world.

“All these ideals guide us and bring us together,” she said.

A focus on ideals can be a challenge, with the question of how to sustain the commitment and energy around an ideal.

Anamaria suggests “social technologies” — the building of stronger relationships where everyone feels heard and can unite around common values. Building trust creates more opportunities to pursue possibilities.

She pointed to the small group gathered together and how it creates new connections. There are more opportunities to do that within our communities. Part of the discussion that night among attendees touched on the need to better engage disenfranchised parts of the community.

“Out of relationships you can generate new possibilities and move into action,” she said, noting that the building of relationships, purpose and meaning has to come first before jumping to action.

She hoped that by sharing what has happened elsewhere, she can inspire others intent on changing their cities for the better.

“Sharing the positive stories that are already happening becomes the good fire to inspire others,” she said.

Learning to Listen

Anamaria’s insight and the feedback from this small group on the importance of community involvement and lending an ear to the voices of those most affected by community challenges ties in with Sustainable Solano’s commitment to creating Listening Circles. Learn more about this exciting process here.

Environmental Justice Grant to Help With Most Important Part of Community Involvement: Listening

By Sustainable Solano

So much of what we do as an organization is driven by connection. We seek to connect with community members and help neighbors come together to work toward a better world, whether that is through creating a community garden, forming a resilient neighborhood, supporting local farms or other means of connection. An important part of that task is finding out from community members what challenges they face, so that we can offer services that meet the needs and serve the desires of local residents.

California’s Environmental Protection Agency recently awarded Sustainable Solano an Environmental Justice grant that will help us create Listening Circles to identify challenges and move toward solutions starting in Fairfield, Vacaville and Suisun City. The grants focus on communities most affected by pollution and look at ways to combat pollution and improve health outcomes. 

Sustainable Solano will work with local partners, such as churches, schools and other community groups, to engage community members and develop community-led solutions that will address the effects of climate change on disadvantaged communities. We will do this with help from Solano Public Health and UC Davis. Much of our work in green infrastructure, from creating demonstration food forest backyard gardens to community vegetable gardens to resilient neighborhoods, can serve to address climate change. The Listening Circles will help determine which of those types of resources can be the best fit for local communities, particularly low-income communities and communities of color that often face the greatest environmental justice challenges. These circles will also help plan any future programming that community members identify as needs.

By taking the time to listen to residents, we will be able to learn what environmental issues affect their neighborhoods, involve community leaders and local representatives in the decision-making process at the local and county level, and improve access to environmental information and making that information easy to understand and put to use. All of these things will culminate in an assessment and action plan that can then help the community members through support in developing green infrastructure plans to address the challenges they have identified.

We look forward to sharing more as we get underway in fostering greater connection and access to green infrastructure solutions as these communities address the greatest environmental issues they face.

Have questions, suggestions or want to connect about this program? Please contact Gabriela Estrada at gabriela@sustainablesolano.org

Next Economy: Exploring the Role of Community and Restorative Economics

By Gabriela Estrada and Allison Nagel, Sustainable Solano

Communities have the power to shape a new economy that is equitable and just, and the transition to get there lies in creating self-determination and shared prosperity through community governance and community ownership. It also relies on moving from a mindset of scarcity to one of creating abundance.

At our recent Next Economy discussion, we explored these key elements and how they can be used, particularly within communities of color that have been disempowered and disenfranchised in the current economic system, to create a new way of approaching the economy that often draws upon traditions of supporting one another.

This discussion of Restorative Economics came from insight and lessons learned at a workshop led by project management consultant Nwamaka Agbo, who has a background in community organizing and restorative justice. Through our Next Economy series, we’ve tackled problems with the current economy and shared what we’ve learned about creating a new economy from the courses taken through Santa Cruz Permaculture’s Next Economy series, including Nwamaka’s workshop.

Restorative Economics addresses how to prioritize investment of resources back into impacted populations. Nwamaka focuses on creating a just transition that moves away from capitalism’s patterns of economic oppression that has harmed marginalized communities and placed power and wealth with a select few.

In particular, a just transition moves from:

  • Extraction to Regeneration — Moving from an economy that pulls resources (and pushes people) out of communities to one that builds up those communities.
  • Control to Governing for the Whole — Moving from those with power and wealth controlling decisions that affect impacted populations to community governance and approaches that are beneficial to impacted populations and make life better for society as a whole. (As an example, curb cuts were put in on sidewalks for wheelchairs, but then those with bikes, strollers, etc., benefited from having them)
  • Accumulation to Shared Prosperity — Moving from an accumulation of wealth among a few to supporting shared prosperity through the reinvestment of profits in the community to add community benefit. (An example is the “pay-it-forward” approach that, rather than sending loan interest income to an investor turns around and invests it in a loan to another business.)
  • Exclusion to Inclusion — Moving from excluding people from being a part of the economy to build models that give voice and build capacity for meaningful participation in the local governance and economy.

We asked attendees to reflect on the fact that capitalism is a system, which means we have agency over it and we can change it. Keeping this in mind, we asked the group to think of some practices and values we could use for a just transition. As a group, we discussed the different ideas behind Restorative Economics and did some activities to think about both how we look at economics now and new ways to redefine the economy.

We shared Nwamaka’s tenets of Restorative Economics and some examples:

  • Investing in Human Development and Capacity Building: The Restore Oakland project, of which she was a vital part, builds employable skills in recently incarcerated individuals while also creating space for furthering restorative justice and restorative economics work.
  • Remembering and Reclaiming Traditions and Collective Wisdom: Drawing on the indigenous cultures of shared prosperity that have been discouraged in the current economic system.
  • Building a Community of Practice and Social Movement Infrastructure: Practicing community governance through co-ops and other approaches, and bringing community organizations and social movements together to support each other in efforts on the ground and to shape policy.

We wrapped up by thinking of what some of the biggest challenges are in our local community and how to address them. That included creating a system of affordable housing, better community gathering space and the recognition of the true value of labor. The idea of changing from a system that commodifies land, labor and capital to a system of land trust, right livelihood and public banking was also identified.

Join us at our next discussion on May 2 to explore ways to design our economic future.

As Nwamaka told us at the Santa Cruz workshop: “Change doesn’t come from intent. It comes from deliberate action.” That is the first step towards a more just economy that works for everyone.

The funding for Sustainable Solano’s team training at the “Next Economy” course at Santa Cruz Permaculture was provided by Solano Community Foundation through their NPP Capacity Building grants program. Community conversations are made possible through a grant from the Peaceful World Foundation. Thank you to both organizations!

We will continue to share insights at our final workshop at Green Hive Spaces in Vallejo. Please join us to further the discussion on the next economy in our community.

Designing the Regenerative Economy, 6 pm, May 2

Join us to discuss the design principles and strategies needed for vocation and regenerative enterprise design. We’ll discuss how we could redesign the economy for security, prosperity and a stable climate with transformation based on permaculture design principles, methods and ethics for an economy that benefits all life.