This post announces the launch of the Newark, Delaware Sustainability Initiative. Living out the “Think Globally, Act Locally” motto, I’ve gotten together with some people locally to start doing things to make our community more sustainable. We had our first interest meeting this July, and already 30+ people have signed up for our facebook group–and I haven’t even put much effort into promoting the group. (Facebook can be a remarkably simple and easy way to organize people and events!)
Why Newark, Delaware?
The short answer, because I live here…but since I work from home and much of the work I do, I could do from anywhere, it’s important to note that I chose to live here for specific reasons. One of them was sustainability. Newark, DE is a community where it is relatively easy to live without using a car in daily life. From where I live, I can walk to everything I need in my daily life. I also have space to garden in, and access to a number of natural areas, including forests and wetlands, within walking and biking distance. The city government in Newark has also been working to promote sustainability in a number of ways, not the least of which is encouraging new development to be built in a compact, pedestrian-friendly fashion.
At the same time, Newark has a lot of room for growth and improvement. In spite of its location right on the east-coast rail corridor, Newark’s passenger rail service is minimal. Support for bicycling is spotty, with a few good, safe bicycle paths, but many areas that are still unsafe for bicycling, and many businesses without bike racks. Both the city and the University of Delaware use unnecessary and environmentally-damaging chemicals to maintain their landscaping. And while the development of the Chrysler plant by UD shows great promise to strengthen the economic base of the city and promote sustainability in a number of ways, it is crucial that this development happens in the most sustainable way possible–both economically and ecologically.
There are also cultural tensions in Newark that act as a barrier to sustainability. The University of Delaware, like many medium to large universities, has a significant party culture; associated with the “party neighborhoods” are poorly maintained properties, noise, and vandalism, which drive more responsible tenants out of some of the more walkable neighborhoods close to the downtown. Because single professionals, graduate students, and families typically want to live farther from the “party” areas, much of the development of new housing has happened farther from the downtown, which has resulted in a large portion of housing that is far from the downtown and not friendly to pedestrians or bicycles. This in turn perpetuates the party culture by removing the more responsible and mature people from the community: the farther these people live from campus, the less likely they are to participate actively in campus life and downtown life. It also takes its toll on the businesses located in the downtown, as the people living farther away shop, eat, and socialize in suburban shopping plazas.
Part of the goal of the initiative is to start getting people to think about sustainability holistically–it’s not just a question of environmental issues, but also a question of cultural and community issues as well. The party culture in Newark is unsustainable, and one of the goals of the initiative will be to reshape and guide this culture in such a way that promotes, rather than works against sustainability. There’s nothing wrong with having a good time, but there’s something wrong when people’s idea of a “good time” drives the creation of unsustainable housing and neighborhoods that force people to rely on cars and weakens the sense of community and economic base in the city.
What is the idea of this organization? Why start something new when there are already dozens of green organizations and other institutions working towards sustainability?
There are a lot of organizations in and around Delaware that are working to promote sustainability in their own ways. What is new about this one? This organization is based on a single, simple premise: people are more willing to work towards something in their daily actions after they have made a statement agreeing that they support it. The idea is to build a consensus in support of sustainability in Newark–a consensus that includes people of all backgrounds and all political persuasions. In a previous post, I explained why I believe that sustainability is no less allied to conservatism than liberalism. There is no dearth of “liberal” environmentalist groups. I want to create a group that is apolitical and inclusive. Ideally, I would like Democratic, Republican, and third-parties to all publicly endorse the commitment to sustainability–and then hash out the question of “how” in the context of political debate.
One key aspect of the group is that one does not even need to support all the initiatives in order to join it. The question of membership in a group can become problematic when the group starts advocating for a cause that a person does not believe in (as is the case when AAA lobbies against support for public transit, bicycles, and environmental legislation). Thus, the Newark, DE Sustainability Initiative will ask members to support individual initiatives, and will clearly identify numbers and portion of support so that members wishes are never misrepresented. Signing up constitutes a single commitment: making a commitment to sustainability in the city of Newark. This is a commitment that 100% of Newark residents (and others who work, attend school, or have some other interest in the city of Newark) can make.
One other thing I want to move away from is the way most non-profit organizations operate. Most non-profits count people as members only if they donate money on a regular basis. This inherently excludes a large portion of people, as there are many who are unable or unwilling to donate money. The focus on fund-raising also eats up a significant portion of the time of non-profits. It’s also depressing when I give $15 to a non-profit, once, only to receive so many mailings from that organization that the postage alone would exceed the amount I donated. One thing I want to do with the initiative is to keep it simple and efficient: no mailing, no postage, all volunteers. It’s the information age–since it’s possible to operate without these things, we might as well start doing it now! The website was easy for me to design, recycling code from my other websites like RateTea.
I also think that no local organization has explicitly made the connection between the party culture at UD and the issue of sustainability in Newark. When people think about sustainability, they often think about environmentalism, or technology (like solar, fuel cells, etc.). But sustainability encompasses much more than these topics, and I think there is a degree to which the cultural issues are too often overlooked in the public sphere. When I talk to local residents about the party culture, they invariable agree with me about the barrier that this culture sets up to achieving sustainability in the city of Newark. It seems that there’s motivation and energy to act, and the people I talk to are full of ideas and enthusiasm.
And as a last reason for starting this group? There’s still a lot of work to be done, and there are a lot of people who care. Every day I see numerous unsustainable phenomena in and around Newark, and every day I talk to people who are concerned and want to dedicate time and energy to solving these problems. Why not connect these people with the work that needs to be done, and make solutions start happening?
How can you help?
- Visit the initiative’s website and check out what’s up there already.
- If you live, work, or attend school in Newark, DE, or even if you don’t but if you have some other interest in Newark, please sign up for the initiative.
- Let others know about the initiative–especially people who live, work, or attend school in Newark, and businesses and organizations interested in or connected to sustainability and to the city of Newark.
- Contact the initiative if you have ideas for issues you’d like us to tackle, resources that would be valuable for us to discuss or link to, or ways our website could be improved.