One of the challenges of coming to grips with sustainability is understanding the importance of diversity. There are estimated to be tens of millions of species on Earth, with only a scant fraction as yet identified by scientists. Many of these species develop and can survive in only very limited areas. Neither penguins nor palm trees thrive in Carrboro.
Historically, human societies have diversified along paths that followed the necessities of local geology, climate, flora and fauna. Examples are well known, whether the fur ushankas (â€œear hatsâ€) of Russia as compared to the broad-brimmed sombrero of Mexico, or the pueblos of the Hopi as compared to the longhouses of the Iroquois.
It is well understood that our contemporary global economy is destructive of both social and ecological diversity. As the rainforests are turned into grazing land, indigenous species and cultures are equally at risk. The Fair Trade movement, which seeks to support indigenous growers in developing nations, is one initiative seeking to reverse this dynamic.
Those who wish to preserve unique cultures around the world understand that we must preserve our own as well. This attitude thrives in Carrboro. Few who know Carrboro were surprised when a Mother Earth News spokesperson said recently that their magazine â€œfocuses on cool things you can do to live wisely and create community, and we think our readers will identify with a place like Carrboro.â€
This is also the understanding that informed a recent statement from Randee Haven-Oâ€™Donnell, a fellow member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. Discussing suggestions that some new entity might take over economic development for all jurisdictions in Orange County, Haven-Oâ€™Donnell said, â€œWe need to navigate very carefully any discussions of collaboration because we donâ€™t want to lose our identity and be swallowed up by bigger fish in the game.â€
Carrboroâ€™s unique cultural and economic attributes are significantly rooted in its geography, located as it is on the far side of Chapel Hill from RTP and nestled between the Triangle region and rural Orange County. The consulting firm Regional Technology Strategies found Carrboroâ€™s distance from I-40 to be a â€œdeterrent to businessâ€ and a disadvantage from which we suffer. But what makes Carrboro unattractive to Costco or IBM creates a niche where initiatives like The ArtsCenter, the Carrboro Farmersâ€™ Market and Weaver Street Market can bloom.
It makes Carrboro a place where, as Mayor Mark Chilton said recently of the high-tech companies springing up downtown, â€œtheyâ€™re bringing in top-notch talent to work for them, and part of their pitch is â€˜you get to work in downtown Carrboro.â€™â€
Carrboroâ€™s relentlessly local orientation is bringing growing recognition to our town. That localism, while still a long way from freeing us from participation in the destructive activities of the global economy, nurtures our commitment to a local living economy that, as I have detailed in previous columns, provides a host of economic and social benefits.
Haven-Oâ€™Donnell is correct that the idea of an over-arching economic-development agency should be viewed skeptically. After all, isnâ€™t the notion that bigger is invariably better exactly the mindset we are trying to get away from?
This does not mean that close communities like Carrboro and Chapel Hill cannot work together advantageously as each seeks to strengthen its local economy. But such collaboration must be targeted in pursuit of areas of mutual interest rather than through a top-down agency. Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil stated this well in a recent email:
The Town of Chapel Hill believes in and supports collaboration with anyone to advance our economy and our ongoing efforts to build a sustainable community.Â I believe each entity, public and private, has a role and responsibility in economic development and our best energy would be devoted to more clearly defining those roles and responsibilities so we can maintain the individual attractions of each community without duplicating efforts.
A case in point, on Feb. 26, Chapel Hill and Carrboro will be cohosting an Energy Fair at the Carrboro Century Center. This event will connect a variety of local energy-efficiency providers to businesses and homeowners in the context of the townsâ€™ current collaboration in developing energy-efficiency revolving-loan programs.
With collaborations like this already underway, the time ahead should be an exciting one for economic development in our community. Orange County has signaled an interest in being more supportive of economic-development efforts in its southern reaches. An understanding is spreading that prioritizing the local over the global economy is tantamount to choosing a sustainable rather than a destructive way of life.
In Carrboro, groups like Transition Town, NC Powerdown and Carrboro Greenspace are leading the way in connecting ecology, economy and community. Truly, these are the connections that must inform all of our endeavors.
Dan Coleman is a member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen.