by Tasha Beauchamp
Co-Chair, Cittaslow Sebastopol
Thinking about the Sebastopol General Plan and the up-coming meeting on Economic Vitality (January 10) and Community Health (Jan 14), I wonder if there isn't a way to bring in some of the more elusive dimensions of community and spirit. Money for its own sake is not really the goal.
For instance, they say money doesn't buy happiness. Although research is showing that it may—sort of.
Certainly, if we don't have enough food or we're homeless in the rain, it's harder to sport a jolly smile. Studies from Princeton demonstrate that overall happiness does increase as income rises—but only to a point. After $75,000 a year, more coins in the pocket do not mean more smiles on the face. Once a certain level of security and a financial buffer are in place (think Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs), happiness seems to level off and becomes more a matter of individual temperament and worldview.
So when is enough money enough? And how does that economic well-being translate at the national level, or the level of our state or city?
Standard measures of economic vitality involve the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which indicates the raw amount of money that changes hands for goods and services. This has led to a "more is better" approach where growth in GDP is equated with progress and improvement.
But an increase in the quantity of exchange does not necessarily indicate an overall benefit to society. For instance, GDP goes up in times of crisis (e.g., war, or natural disaster). After a crime spree, gun sales typically rise as do installations of alarm systems, all of which creates a rise in GDP. These are hardly positive developments!
And with Hurricane Sandy reminding us that "Nature bats last," it's clear that we cannot continue to grow economically at the expense of the environment. We must look at our economic health through the lens of sustainable development.
The State of Maryland is doing just that. To measure the success of its prosperity program, "Smart, Green and Growing," Maryland has adopted a "Genuine Progress Index" (GPI). Its 26 indicators include such standards as personal consumption and capital investments. Added to this are indicators that subtract for environmental degradation, such as the cost of air pollution, the cost of water pollution, loss of wetlands, and loss of farmlands. See: http://www.green.maryland.gov/mdgpi/indicators.asp
But is this the true measure of progress: That enough money is changing hands and we don't soil our nest too badly?
In recent years, the tiny country of Bhutan turned economic development on its ear by creating a Gross Happiness Index (GHI) for measuring the well-being of the nation. After all, a contented populace is really the intent of good government and a robust economy.
Bhutan suggested that beneficial prosperity depended on eight factors: physical, mental and spiritual health; time-balance; social and community vitality; cultural vitality; education; living standards; good governance; and ecological vitality.
Acknowledging the importance of the social fabric, Maryland's GPI also includes indicators for the positive such as the number of citizens receiving higher education. Community engagement is measured by the number of volunteer hours contributed in their state.
What does this have to do with Sebastopol?
We are currently participating in an SSU research project to gather community perceptions that may be used to inform the update of our General Plan. Meetings are scheduled in January for the community to talk about sustainable development and economic vitality, community health and housing, conservation, open space and community identity. One doesn't have to stretch too far to see how these relate to the GPI metrics in Maryland or the GHI in Bhutan.
Suppose, for instance, that you want to see more bike trails. In the Bhutanese framework, this relates to ecological awareness, but also physical and mental health.
Or maybe you are thinking that it would be great for the city to buy the quarry that's for sale across Morris St. from the Barlow and, taking a page from the Core Project, erect a zorchy Bilbao Gugenheim-type building that becomes a Wetlands Museum. That would contribute on environmental, educational and economic levels (think eco-tourist dollars).
Get the idea? What's your dream for Sebastopol?
If you have suggestions that might help us to become "Smart, Green and Growing," redefining economic vitality within a larger context of happiness and sustainability, consider attending one or all of these meetings to be held from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. in the Dining Room of the Veterans Building at 282 S. High Street in Sebastopol:
Economic Vitality: Thursday, Jan. 10
Community Health: Monday, Jan. 14
Housing: Thursday, Jan. 17
Conservation: Thursday, Jan 24
Parks & Open Space: Monday, Jan. 28
Community Identity: Thursday, Jan. 31
Tasha Beauchamp is a research scientist and Web educator for family caregivers of the elderly. She creates educational web sites and e-newsletters for hospices around the country through her business: Elder Pages Online, LLC. In her personal life, she is the Co-Chair of Cittaslow Sebastopol, an ad hoc committee of the city of Sebastopol dedicated to keeping Sebastopol green, local, friendly and artistic. Although Cittaslow Sebastopol supports the community meetings, the opinions expressed in this article are Tasha's personally and do not necessarily reflect those of Cittaslow Sebastopol.