Bay Localize is celebrating ten years of growing community resilience to climate and economic instability. From learning about its mission to its impact in one decade, I recognized Bay Localize goes big. I met with Co-founder and Senior Strategist Kirsten Schwind for an informal talk about the group’s roots and its future. This is the first of two parts.
A Vision: (Schwind) We were looking at the big picture – what we need to confront climate change. Part of it is to bring our economies back home. Also, as climate change hits, we need to be able to withstand more and more natural disasters with strong communities that can take care of themselves. We began with a white paper on how to re-localize the Bay Area, and a number of cities signed on to the principles of that paper. Departments in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland all signed on.
The Tools: We were both thought leaders in imagining what we need in economies and in our societies, but we were also going to have hands-on tangible examples. So we began a rooftop garden project, documenting how much food and energy we could produce on rooftops. We piloted in the East Lake neighborhood of Oakland. And we calculated with engineers and architects how much could be produced per square mile of Oakland, and it was enough energy for those neighborhoods to be self-sufficient from solar panels, and enough watering needs for the area, and enough food to supply all the leafy green vegetables that the area would need. That study (conducted with PlaceWorks) won an award from the American Planning Association, California Chapter.
Then we released a How To – the Use Your Roof! guide.
People then asked us how we could use these ideas in other ways, so we built a toolkit on building resilience in your communities. In 2009 we released the tool kit, and one of the things it looks at are the systems that a community needs. That’s food, water, social and economic rights, transportation, health, jobs and the economy and social services. We asked people to assess their communities based on criteria.
It went national and global, it’s being used in 46 states and more than 30 countries, it’s been informally translated into Spanish and Italian. We got invited to conduct trainings for different groups, training more than 1,300 local leaders. When we polled our readers, they wanted to know how to break down the information, so we made smaller workshop modules 2012 (about 10 pages each) in Community Resilience Toolkit 2.0.
Clean Energy Alliance: One thing that’s really helped change our thinking is Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything (Capitalism v. Climate). It’s outlined a lot about what our philosophy has been over the years. In 2008 we decided we wanted to work on de-carbonizing our economy, working on the clean energy side, so we launched the Local Clean Energy Alliance (LCEA). And, that’s now the largest grassroots clean energy alliance in Northern California.
We have more than 100 organizational members and that’s the organization that launched the local clean energy (Marin Clean Energy, Sonoma Clean Energy, San Francisco and the East Bay is working on one, San Mateo is also working on one).
Strength in Numbers: One of the things we do well is coalition building . We need to build a movement that goes beyond the one silo organization competing against the other, and I have to say the environmental justice movement in the Bay Area is pretty good about coalition building.
Two years ago we launched the Resilient Communities Initiative, and that was created by organizations representing communities who were going to be hardest hit by climate change. Like all natural disasters, climate change affects those with less power and money more. We have a coalition of these groups who are saying, look, we’re the experts on how this is come to roost in the Bay Area. We should be the ones writing the policies on how the Bay Area’s going to respond.
So we came together to make sure we’re at the table at the state and local level and to make sure we are co-leading those policy decision-making processes with government. We’ve been really successful in getting to those tables and the next thing we are going to be doing is launching a training academy regionally to make sure grassroots leaders are up to speed on what the impacts of climate change are and also to invite key agency staff as well as to educate them on the key equity principles and the direction we’re coming from and to work together on some policy platforms.
We continue the interview with Part 2, including our signature Playbook, laying out the key strategies that Bay Localize uses to make positive change in the Bay Area, as well as its work involving youth and the upcoming 10-year celebration.