Notes from UW-Extension

By Art Lersch, Community Resource Development Educator, University of Wisconsin-Extension, Lincoln County
A little over two years ago, I developed and taught sessions in both Merrill and Tomahawk on sustainable communities. They were very well received by the 37 attendees. Now, at the request of local citizens, I’ll be teaching another session with updated materials in Merrill on Feb. 25. The session is being co-sponsored by the Merrill Area Chamber of Commerce and UW-Extension.
But, before I discuss the particulars of that session it is worth reminding people what “sustainable community” means. Many of the excerpts below come from an article I wrote for the Foto News back in November 2010. Although the times have changed to a degree, much of what I wrote back then rings even truer today.
Developing community vibrancy through sustainable practices often hinges on residents’ abilities to support one another and to move meaningful initiatives forward together. Support can be as simple as shopping local, creating a situation where local dollars stay in the community and are spent over and over, generating what is called a multiplier effect that strengthens economic activity. It can also mean selling or buying locally grown foods at farmers markets or grocery stores. Implementing practices that make homes more energy efficient, saving money for owners, is also a big part of establishing sustainable communities. Above all, many experts agree that the key to developing sustainable communities is cultivating a philosophy that local economic, social and ecological/environmental practices (“The Triple Bottom Line”) ensure that future generations who live in the community enjoy the same or a higher quality of life than current generations.
Much of this activity hinges upon the recognition that most resources, perhaps with the exception of human abilities, are finite. We may no longer have the luxury of being able to consume at higher levels without having to think about the consequences of such consumption. If anything has taught us that it was the most recent recession, one which officially ended in late 2009 but whose effects linger in Lincoln County into 2013. One perhaps positive effect of that economic downtown is that the paradigm of consumption is changing into one of frugality. This kind of paradigm shift has the chance of benefitting future generations and strengthening the overall community. The consumer driven economy may be a thing of the past, forcing us to increase investment in the present and future.
Now, does this mean that locals should forget about growing their economy while maintaining the county’s rural/natural character? The answer is decidedly “no.” In fact such practices, if done in the spirit of collaboration and frugality, will tend to promote both the local economy and bolster the area’s valuable natural resources. The interest of growing the economy while maintaining the area’s natural, rural character has been voiced by many local residents ever since the county began its first comprehensive planning process back in 1998.
So, what does “sustainable community” really mean? It means strengthening communities through collaborative effort, yes. But more important, it means whatever the community wants it to mean based on the new realities of the present day world and the possibility of a better future world for our children and grandchildren.
To learn more about the latest trends in “sustainable communities, please attend an interactive session on Monday, Feb. 25, 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the AmericInn (3300 E. Main St.). Lunch will be served. There is no charge. Please RSVP by no later than Feb. 19 by calling me at 539-1075. (If I am not in, please leave a message.)

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