Sustainable Communities Network is a  commnity-based  non-profit organization located in Lexington, Ky that endeavors to educate, inspire, build, create and empower sustainable cities

2011 Fundraising Letter
with highlights of our work in 2010

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Fresh Start Plan Observations and Contributions

by Jim Embry, Sustainable Communities Network, January 4 2011

I was asked to spend a few minutes talking with Mayor Gray’s Transition Team to share my thoughts about the Fresh Start Plan. This commentary is a summary of my presentation to the Quality of Life committee which was my attempt at enumerating idea for fresh solutions. I share these thoughts in hopes that these words might inspire even greater community dialogue about how we can once again mold Lexington into a renaissance city that Mayor Gray invoked at his inauguration. When politicians try to motivate organizational change, they often resort to clever sloganeering which is evident in the Fresh Start Plan. One of the most commonly used slogans is a definition of insanity that Mayor Jim Gray like many others inaccurately attributes to Albert Einstein. However for my purpose of offering input on the Gray roadmap I will stretch the meaning of “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” as a statement that says we need to think radically differently. Now is Mayor Gray by using this quote also suggesting that we need a new of thinking? If so he does not describe what that new way of thinking is nor does he describe the old way. So how do we know if this roadmap is truly a Fresh Start.

The Fresh Start Plan should place its beacon of light on quantum or systems thinking. In my mind the old way of thinking is the Newtonian or Industrial Age mentality that created so many of today’s problems and doesn’t hesitate to leave problems for our children. And the new way of thinking is quantum or integrated systems thinking. So my Fresh Solution #1 is teach quantum or systems thinking to all LFUCG employees and make resources available so all citizens of Lexington can also learn how to make this paradigm shift in our way of looking at the world. Even though scientists like Einstein gifted us with quantum science thinking more than 60 years ago our institutions of higher education like UK and Transy and our K-12 schools did not change their mission, curriculum or physical structures based upon this new science. Thus higher education institutions which shape the leaders of government, business, education and religion are still teaching archaic science and graduating leaders that show over and over again that they do not know how to collaborate, use systems thinking or solve problems without creating new ones. Our institutional and business leaders are quite good at silo, linear, either/or, us-vs-them thinking that plays havoc with the present while creating additional problems for future generations. This way of thinking and leadership style is truly a manifestation of insanity. That is why the Kellogg Foundation says “ the problems that plague American society are problems of leadership”.

Fresh Solution #2 is Mayor Gray call a series of meetings over the next four years with all the presidents, superintendents and leaders of education in the Lexington region to read and study together such books as “Leadership Reconsidered: Engaging Higher Education in Social Change” by the Kellogg Foundation with the intent of transforming the curricula, teaching practices, reward system, values and beliefs that can then allow them to teach systems thinking and transformative leadership models. This is not a farfetched notion because 8 years ago when I lived in Detroit we had such a meeting with the presidents of five universities and educational leaders in the region facilitated by Kellogg to foster a radical shift in the mission of higher ed that could then produce transformative leaders who could devise effective solutions to our now profoundly challenging problems.  Another important book is Planet U-Sustaining the World, Reinventing the University which also challenges universities to transform themselves in the direction that the Earth mattered and then to invigorate the cultural and ecological fabric of our society that creates diverse models of local and global innovation. The Fresh Start Plan which describes the acting-like-silos mentality within the government needs to recognize that this insane mental condition is a function of higher education which needs to be challenged to transform itself much deeper than a typical Top 20 Plan.

Fresh Solutions # 3 is adopt Local Agenda 21 as the guiding framework for our strategic development towards sustainability.  Local Agenda 21 along with the Earth Charter is a local-government-led, community-wide, and participatory effort to establish a comprehensive action strategy for environmental protection, economic prosperity and community well-being that was adopted by the United Nations in 1992. We have signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, joined ICLEI to support our local initiatives but far more needs to be done in the integration of planning and action across economic, social and environmental spheres and ensuring full community participation. We must act more rapidly and collaboratively and strive for more radical solutions to our huge ecological footprint.

I have been saying for years that the foundation of a sustainable community is its local food system. But most local governments like Lexington have not defined food security as an important function. Since LFUCG strives to create programs to reduce social inequity and increase the quality of life for citizens, I contend that food security is a local government function. Access to healthy, low-cost food helps assure the health, safety, and welfare of citizens every bit as much as other services that city governments provide, such as parks and recreation, protection from crime and catastrophe, sewage treatment, garbage collection, shelters and low-income housing programs, fallen-tree disposal, and pothole-free streets. Fresh Solutions # 4 is create a Food and Agriculture division within our government that coordinates all the aspects of our food system. But in the meantime since funds are so low, the Mayor and City Council should establish a GROW Lexington Food Policy Council that would work to strengthen the local food system by connecting all of its various sectors from production to disposal for greater collaboration on projects and programs related to food issues and  far-reaching problem solving. Every Lexington city park should have a demonstration edible garden like Grant Park in Chicago while also allowing plots for neighborhood residents. We need to re-train the LFUCG Parks Department grounds crew from mowers to growers so they work less in carbon hungry grass cutting and become a resource for community gardening. Local food production, processing, education and composting can be and will become an important contribution to job creation and economic development. In October I was one of 15 Kentucky delegates to Terra Madre in Italy which is the international Slow Food gathering that included 5,000 delegates from all over the world. Slow Food which is about preserving the health of people, the integrity of environment, the vibrancy of the economy and the value of traditional culture is another international affiliation that supports a Fresh Start. A City Council resolution and Mayoral proclamation supporting and encouraging our local involvement with the Slow Food movement would be a grand way to begin the new year.

Fresh Solutions #5 create a Commission on Youth patterned after the Hampton VA Youth Commission that can provide an opportunity for youth to have a formal role in the City’s decision making through a representative commission that addresses all youth issues. This commission by employing youth would work to make sure all LFUCG departments are youth friendly. As Hampton has done add a Youth Component to the LFUCG Comprehensive Plan that lays out our understanding that our future lies in the hands of youth and describes the methods of involving our youth in creating this future. Create on Lexington.gov an informational presence that goes beyond the focus on services for  troubled youth but also invites all youth to participate and become involved in the Fresh Start Plan.

Fresh Solution # 6 establish an affiliate of Manchester Craftmen’s Guild in Lexington. Four years ago after a trip to Pittsburgh we spent 2 years trying to convince Mayor Newberry, Superintendent Stu Silberman, President Lee Todd and many other local leaders and organizations that the transformative work by Bill Strickland to provide training and job skills for youth and adults at risk was a worthy model for Lexington. Even though that effort was not successful, Bill’s presence at last April’s Idea Festival created another movement of interest. This program complements the Fresh Start Plan in building a local economy and creation of new jobs but it would also serve to help reduce our high incarceration rate in Kentucky and provide employment skills for youth and adults at risk. 

Fresh Solution # 6  is incorporate the Catherine Ferguson Academy model into our educational programs for teen mothers. This past April we hosted Asenath Andrews, the principal at the Catherine Ferguson Academy and Grown In Detroit, a documentary film about her school. Catherine Ferguson Academy, a public school in Detroit for teen mothers and their children which has a 99% rate of graduation, a 90% rate of students going all to post secondary and an 80% rate of no second pregnancy is a model program that we need to emulate here in Lexington to ensure the quality of life for single mothers and their children. Catherine Ferguson Academy with many unique features integrates a working farm with horses, goats, chickens, sheep, bees, fruit trees, a barn and a thriving urban agriculture business into its high school curriculum. There is no other high school program for teen moms like it in the country.

Fresh Solution # 7 create a Youth Green Corps in every council district. Three years ago we created the Youth GreenCorps as a way to get young people involved in what we called green-ifying their neighborhoods by planting trees, supporting garden plots, creating art installations from recycled objects, organizing the annual garden tour and learning environmental literacy.  Using the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program and other training resources we encourage the Mayor and City Council to find the resources and structures to set up a Youth Green Corps in every council district.

Fresh Solution # 8  is  create a Sustainable Cities Commission that would include such people as UK professor Richard Levine who has consulted with countries such as China to design entirely new cities.  This would be an opportunity to apply this systems view of our entire city with someone who is doing this for many other countries around the world. We desperately need a systems view of all of our human made systems integrated with our eco-system.

Fresh solutions # 9 create a Lexington Ecumenical Sustainability Council as a structure composed of representatives of all religious denominations that would articulate ways that the faith community can support our community direction toward sustainable development. While there are many faith community coalitions such as BUILD, Interfaith Alliance, Black Church Coalition and others, none of these groups connect directly with environmental sustainability initiatives.

Fresh Solutions #10 create an Arts and Sustainable Development Council as a structure composed of representatives of all arts organizations which would find ways to utilize all of the arts to make our efforts towards sustainable development and a less consumptive lifestyle irresistible for our citizens.

Fresh Solutions # 11 appoint a Diversity in Skilled Trades Commission to study the allocation of skilled trades work in Lexington.  When you look around Lexington at all the recent construction sites such as the University Hospital, Limestone, new schools, Lyric Theatre, Newtown extension and other construction projects we see very few if any of African American or Latino men or women working on these construction sites. Why is that?  When I came to Lexington forty years ago almost all of the concrete finishers, bricklayer and laborers were African American.  During the seventies I worked at the recruitment and training program which was a Labor Department funded program to get people of color both men and women into a skilled construction trades.  We were successful in getting African Americans into the various apprenticeship programs such as electricians, elevator operators, heavy equipment operators and so for.  Why in 2011 doesn’t the University of Kentucky in its diversity commitment make sure that the construction companies working on all of these new buildings includes workers that are African American and Latino men and women?  We should be ashamed of this mark.  This lack of people color in the skilled trades is also an important measure of the quality of life for all citizens in this community.  When Progress Lexington raised the question of the design of the Rite Aid on Midland Ave it did not think that the diversity of the workforce was as important as the design.  When my friend Graham Pohl raised the question of the power lines for the Newtown Pike Extension he did not raise the question of the diversity of the worker force who would install those power lines underground.  These considerations of the social aspect of sustainability and diversity of employment are as important as the aesthetic values of sustainability

Fresh Solutions #12 create a Commission on Women.  I attend lots of meetings and conferences on sustainable development which looks at our future but hardly ever is there any mention of women in these discussions.  When I last checked- and if I’m wrong I hope you all will correct me-we all come through women.  Our future is dependent on women. We must now regard as an indicator of our quality of life and sustainable development how we treat women. We must now regard the treatment of women as a fundamental principle of sustainable development. This means that a sustainable future is predicated on how  well we love, educate, nurture, protect and empower women.  Our concern for women is a concern for all of us.  We need to especially apply our systems thinking to improving the quality of life for all women and in particular those who are at risk.  This commission would include representatives from all of the various organizations that provide any type of support services for women. The mission of the Women's Commission would be to provide technical assistance to individuals and organizations on issues concerning women and to advocate for increased attention to public policy initiatives that affect women's equal participation, economic security, family commitments, health, and safety. The Commission would also provide advocacy and educational programs and opportunities for girls to experience a full range of life options.

Such programs as Vermont Works for Women that helps women and girls recognize their potential and
explore, pursue and excel in work that leads to economic independence should be studied as a model for our similar efforts in Lexington. http://www.vtworksforwomen.org/

Fresh Solutions #12 provide machine language translation services of the LFUCG website as is done on the Boston website, www.cityofboston.gov. We need to make sure that all citizens of Lexington have access to the information on the LFUCG website.  `

Fresh Solutions #13  use the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative as a model for Lexington’s East End. Five years ago we sought through the efforts of North East Lexington Initiative(NELI) to develop a model of community development and empowerment based upon the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative(DSNI) in Boston.  The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) is a nonprofit community-based planning and organizing entity rooted in the Roxbury/North Dorchester neighborhoods of Boston. DSNI is an innovative, high performing holistic community change effort that began in 1988 and continues to thrive where residents lead a community collaboration with the shared goal of creating a vibrant, high quality diverse urban village. DSNI works to ensure that local residents are the primary beneficiaries of the community economic growth, and that human development and environmental issues are addressed. The Hope VI project, the new William Wells Brown School, the Lyric Theater, the Legacy Trail and the Murphy Art Garden are improvements in the physical infrastructure but they all have been lacking in providing economic benefit to community residents. A case in point is the Lyric Theatre renovation where Black businesses earned a mere $154,000 from this $6 million project but actual East End residents probably earned less than $1,000. This exclusion of East end residents from the economic gain from so many construction projects located in the neighborhood is shameful and exemplifies the value of a neighborhood initiative like DSNI.

Fresh Solutions #14 create a Lexington Interagency Council on Homelessness that would enhance the existing links to the national USICH and our Kentucky KYICH and create more effective partnerships among city, state and federal agencies, service providers and advocacy groups to enable our community to achieve local solutions to ending homelessnessThis Council would include individuals who are in a homeless condition.   


Fresh Solutions #15 invite the Mondragon worker cooperative from Spain (as Cleveland OH and Richmond, CA have done) to Lexington. From  Spain’s Basque Country, the  Mondragon, which is the world’s largest and most complex system of worker ownership has grown into an industrial group that is among the largest in Europe. It includes a bank, medical and educational systems, social security, and much more. It employs more than 100,000 people, and has consistently outperformed the rest of the Spanish economy. It weathered Spain’s severe recession in the 1980s without resorting to layoffs.

Right now Cleveland is engaged in the biggest experimental project around for building a relocalized cooperative economy.  An alliance between the micromanufacturing movement and the Cleveland model would seem to be the opportunity of a century. The Evergreen Cooperative Laundry was the first of some twenty cooperative enterprises on the drawing board, followed by Ohio Cooperative Solar (which carries out large-scale installation of solar power generating equipment on the roofs of local government and non-profit buildings).  A third and fourth enterprise, a cooperative greenhouse and the Neighborhood Voice newspaper, are slated to open in the near future.

Worker's co-ops are one of the most transformative things communities can undertake. The Mayor of Richmond, California, Gayle McLaughlin, is about to launch an extraordinary working relationship with the world's largest worker co-op movement.

Fresh Solutions #16  institute a Meatless Monday campaign in Lexington patterned after the effort instituted by John Hopkins Hospital.

 A Fresh Start Plan is a springboard to dynamic activity. We have to inspire people on their deepest level to change their behavior and their collective actions. To succeed we must involve all sectors of our community, and draw from our traditions and new technologies, from our hearts, our minds, and our spirits.





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