Urban revolution: The greening of Lancaster - LancasterOnline: News

Urban revolution: The greening of Lancaster

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Posted: Tuesday, July 14, 2009 6:01 am | Updated: 1:53 pm, Thu Oct 3, 2013.

From green roofs to green churches to rain barrels. From riding a bike to working to making compost from dinner leftovers.

Community gardens. Teens who pull weeds and find truths about life in the dirt. Residents who brainstorm over drinks about a better way to do things.

If you look around, Lancaster city is slowly changing color. The color is green, and the buzzword is sustainability.

Picture a community where the food is mostly grown here in Lancaster County and bought by consumers intent on buying local and keeping farms in farming.

Where there is a local economy, fed, in part, by a local stock exchange that helps businesses expand by doing the right thing environmentally.

Where more people walk and ride bikes and buses to work and to get the things they need.

This may be the new face that the city is slowly putting on.

No one is yet calling what is emerging in the city a green revolution, but there is definitely a stirring and interest in ways to leave a smaller footprint in daily lives.

The threats of global warming and the need to conserve is one driving force. So is the looming lifestyle changes that may accompany a post-oil-based economy.

People seem to be buying into the realization that their actions and buying habits really do make a difference in their community.

That's how Eastern Market is thriving again after a 79-year absence and why rain barrel workshops are being sold out regularly.

"It seems right now there is a real openness to talk about and address the issues," said Fritz Schroeder, director of LIVE Green, an urban-greening group located in the city.

"I feel like Lancaster city has many aspects that are already very sustainable - there is a good parks system and it's very walkable."

For some, the motivation to act for a more sustainable way of life comes from a nagging guilt to live healthier and less wastefully. They hear their leader, President Barack Obama, drive home the need for a greener America.

Others say they see the handwriting on the wall. An economy largely based on cheap and plentiful oil is drying up. The earth is warming. Dramatic change is ahead, this theory goes.

We can wait for the hammer to drop and undergo painful and disruptive economic and lifestyle changes. Or we can start preparing now to use less energy and transition into a post-oil, more community-based economy.

It's a world, proponents say, without all we've grown accustomed to, but one that can lead to a more fulfilling life as people collectively roll up their sleeves and rely on one another.

"It's an opportunity to get out of this crazy rat race we are in now," said Tony Robalik, who recently founded the Transition Lancaster work group so residents can come together and share ways to begin living more simply.

"It's almost like a war movement or party rally. It won't be easy to overcome, but it's necessary," Robalik said.

Baby steps, said Lydia Sadauskas of the Susquehanna Sustainable Business Network. "I think we have to let go of the all-or-nothing attitude as it comes to making these changes. One can make small changes toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

"Whatever each of us can do to support sustainability - whether it's composting, changing out to fluorescent (light bulbs), having an energy audit done, buying from your local farm stand, remodeling with recycled materials - we make an impact."

Permaculture, community supported agriculture and living economies have suddenly entered the lexicon. Global warming, and its implications on living things, is now a warning rather than a fringe theory.

Every day, it seems, going greener is going more mainstream here.

For example, the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry recently became the first organization in the state to offer "Green Plus," a program that helps small businesses and their employees adopt affordable practices that better the environment and their communities.

Utilities, businesses, grassroots groups and county government have joined forces to form the Lancaster County Center of Excellence in Renewable Energy to boost local acceptance of such renewable energy forms as solar, geothermal and alternative fuels.

Armstrong World Industries and Franklin & Marshall College now have staff positions devoted to sustainable practices.

The county's new comprehensive plan has a sizable Green Infrastructure component.

Urban planners say local agriculture is a valuable tool for regional economic development. That's the thinking of Lancaster Buy Fresh, Buy Local, which finds itself trying to keep pace with interest.

Even some churches in the city are making sustainability part of their theology.

You won't find paper bulletins on Sundays at Inner Metro Green Church, a not-yet-year-old emerging church at King and Manor streets. Ninety-nine percent of communications are disseminated electronically.

"We have an incredible amount of people dedicated to green living," said Shawn Anthony, the youthful pastor and founder of the church.

"It's a theological issue - how do we care for what God has given us?," Anthony said.

Only several years ago, this kind of mantra may have been perceived on par with "tree-huggers" and "The Last Whole Earth Catalogue." Now, it's being embraced by increasing numbers of city residents as quite possibly a necessary blueprint for our survival in a world beyond oil and climate change.

Here's a rundown of some of the green efforts sprouting in the city.

LIVE Green

LIVE (Lancaster Investment in a Vibrant Economy, www.livelancaster.org) Green is a grassroots effort to engage city residents and businesses to make their community a livable, sustainable place.

Its first three initiatives aimed at residents - workshops on using rain barrels to capture rain water and prevent storm runoff, home composting and encouraging residents to get an in-home energy audit to identify ways to save energy - have been tremendously successful. (Additional rain barrel workshops,which include a rain barrel, will be held Sept. 26 and Nov. 7.)

The group is getting an impressive array of grants and partnering with local organizations such as the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry to help businesses get living roofs and have greener buildings.

Make no mistake about it, navigating tough times ahead will be challenging, Schroeder, director of LIVE Green, said. "But in the city there are so many people who care about the community and I think the mindset in the city seems to be a focus on how each of us can make a contribution to the community."

Buy Fresh, Buy Local

From a fledgling effort that grew out of Friends of Central Market several years ago, BFBL (www.buylocalpa.org) is poised to spur major changes in its goal of improving marketing opportunities for farmers and convincing local residents they need to buy foods produced by local, environmentally sound sources.

A new initiative in the community-supported agriculture mission is getting local restaurants to carry locally grown food and to get customers to patronize them.

"Our choices are pretty severely curtailed by the economic and policy infrastructure that has been built around the global food system over the past 60 years or so," said BFBL's Linda Aleci, an associate professor of art history at Franklin & Marshall College.

"I'd like to see us do what other states and locales are doing, which is to put in place policies that enable schools, hospitals and other institutions to purchase foods grown locally and to make it a priority.

"I'd like to see planning initiatives developed with the aim of making us less reliant on foods imported from thousands of miles away," she adds.

"My belief is that it can work here, but that Lancaster is behind the curve compared to other states and municipalities and the steps they have been taking to connect consumers with foods grown locally. I think people are beginning to understand the stakes are pretty high - particularly here."

Transition Lancaster work group

"Transition Lancaster is about facing reality, not hiding our heads in the sand," said Robalik, 26, of Lititz, who founded the group (www.transitionlancaster.pbw...) with his wife, Elyse.

The group has had several meetings so far.

The transition concept accepts that big changes are coming with the decline of fossil-fuel economies and accelerating effects of climate change. We have the choice to make it less painful by moving whole communities to use less energy and to become more reliant on each other by pooling collective talents and resources, the Robaliks said.

Ultimately, that kind of an effort will result in a community more socially connected, sustainable and proud of itself.

Community gardens, planting fruit trees on city streets, people composting at home, farmers planting a greater variety of foods, walking, riding bikes and using mass transit more are a few examples of a new living model for the city.

"I think it will bring more of a sense of community because people will rely more on other people's skills," said Elyse Robalik, 24, who started a sewing group and worked at a day-care center in South Africa.

"We have no preconceived notions what the working group will look like," said Tony Robalik. "We will let people splinter off into their interests. Who knows, we may have need for a knitting group."

Adds Elyse Robalik, "You don't have to be a greenie to be in this group."

Susquehanna Sustainable Business Network

SSBN (www.susquehannasbn.org) has grown into a local mover and shaker. It sprouted from an idea by two local women four years ago to publish a local Green Pages of where to buy recycled paper, locally grown food and products of other sustainable practices.

The Green Pages has swelled greatly since then to include nearly 50 pages of local businesses dedicated to reducing their environmental impact and being socially responsible.

But the effort has expanded to become SSBN with a mission to grow a sustainable local economy in Lancaster and York counties. The group is now a Lancaster chapter of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, a nationwide network with more than 20,000 entrepreneurs.

A current campaign: "Think Local First."

"People really need to wake up and understand what it means to get food from your local farmer, to support your local restaurant owner, to buy books from a local independent book store," Sadauskas said.

"Getting back to being a community and keeping our dollars here in Lancaster County is what we would like to see happen."

Franklin & Marshall College

The college has made a major commitment to sustainability, both on campus and in the community.

In 2007, college president John Fry made F&M a charter signee of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, develop community partnerships to work for sustainability and to blend those initiatives into on-campus life and education.

Guided by a Campus Sustainability Committee, there have been a flurry of projects initiated by students, faculty and administrators.

As volunteers living in the Sustainability House on James Street, a group of 17 students are committed to reducing energy through solar energy, using recycled furnishings, eating locally produced food and other choices.

The college's pledge to reduce energy includes turning off lights, setting limits on heating and air conditioning, buying Energy Star-rated computers, a green roof, porous pavement, a bike loan program and drawing up a new campus landscape plan to reduce stormwater runoff.

This fall, the college will open the Wohlsen Center for the Sustainable Environment, a new touchstone for campus and community efforts for sustainability and environmental stewardship.

This spring, a group of students calling themselves "The Dirt Army" got $500 and permission from college officials to plant a community garden next to ballfields on the Baker Campus off Harrisburg Pike.

Vegetables are being grown to reduce the students' carbon footprint and to support the local economy. Some of the bounty will be given to a local food bank.

"We've been hearing about how we impact the environment. We're taking action to solve this problem," said Kelsey Lerback, a sophomore from Claremont, Calif., who is tending to the garden this summer.

On a larger scale, the college and students are working on a plan to have a company compost the leftovers from feeding 2,000 students.

"We figure we can actually save money by paying these guys to take it, rather than dumping it," said Tom Simpson, the college's sustainability coordinator.

Green Drinks Lancaster

Green Drinks International (www.greendrinks.org) is a nationwide effort to get people together to talk about the environment informally over drinks.

The Lancaster group has been in existence since last year and has been getting together monthly at Lancaster Brewing Co.

The catchword for people to find each other: "Are you green?"

At a recent social, a man was complaining about the lack of recycling for water bottles at a large fundraising event.

Barb Baker, who works at the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority, spoke up that the authority has a portable recycling trainer to loan out for just such events.

Presto, networking and the reason for the group.

"It's becoming easier to get environmental products. People are patronizing local markets. I think it adds up and people are getting there," said Green Drinks Lancaster facilitator Kerri Steck.

The social gathering is on hiatus and will resume in September. Check the Web site for details.

Lancaster Sustainable Enterprise Stock Exchange

Now the focus is Wall Street. But in the late 1800s and 1900s, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and other large cities had their own stock markets to launch local industry.

"It was a demonstration of civic pride," said W. Trexler Proffitt Jr., a F&M professor well on its way toward establishing a regional stock exchange here.

Covering a seven-county area around Lancaster, Reading, York and Harrisburg, the LanX would sell stocks to the public to help small to medium-size already-operating businesses grow sustainably.

"We do not have a long-term infrastructure for distributing money," Proffitt reasons. "I argue, if we believe the Obama administration, the green economy that we're supposed to move to needs an infrastructure to get the money to these new projects."

A community-driven, nonprofit and democratized economic development tool - local businesses receiving financing will have to make their projects public - the stock exchange also would be a safe place where local business people can speak and debate.

Proffitt got a $10,000 state grant in 2008 to do a feasibility study. It is feasible, he said, and could be up and running in about a year.

He recently visited such a regional stock exchange in Birmingham, England, and is more gung-ho than ever.

About $1.5 million in start-up funds are needed to launch the effort. That may come from state economic development funds and gifts from local municipalities.

After that, the selling of local company's stocks would maintain a revolving fund.

The goal would be to recruit about 10 companies per year.

"People are ready for this," Proffitt believes. "Everyone is seeing the value of new technologies around environmental preservation and energy conservation.

"All I'm saying is a stock exchange is one way to create a local identity, local connections and to have discussions about what is desirable to the community.

"It looks like it is going to happen."

Dig-It! Food Project

Since 2005, Schirlyn Kamara-Sabur's Dig-It! Food Project has put hoes in the hands of inner-city youths.

They grow organic food at more than an acre of gardens off Stevens Avenue in southeast Lancaster then sell it.

The multiple goals of the simple project include fighting hunger, improving nutrition of residents and strengthening the local food economy.

It also teaches the youths life skills such as teamwork and running a business.

Beginning July 3, Dig-It began selling its produce from its own stand at Central Market.

In addition, the group drives a van, dubbed the Dig-It! Neighborhood Vege Mobile Market, to retirement communities in Columbia, Landisville, Wrightsville and Elizabethtown to serve residents who may no longer be able to buy fresh produce at markets.

Produce is distributed for free to residents of Milagro House and the Shelter for Abused Women in Lancaster.

E-mail: acrable@lnpnews.com

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