Who is facing similar challenges to ours? What can we learn from their experience?
In a global economy, the motivation to share ideas across continents continues to grow.
Strategic planning consultant and Green Party of BC candidate Susan Low gave an interesting “Postcards from Iceland” presentation recently for a group of urban activists in Greater Victoria (BC, Canada). It’s always interesting to compare how other communities or countries are addressing some of the same challenges that we face.
“Iceland is handling its economic recovery in a really different way,” Susan noted. While the whole Icelandic society operates “on a more restrained scale” than that in western Canada, with our immense lands and larger businesses, homes and urban infrastructure, Iceland is also being intentional about promoting local solutions. Following an economic collapse that “was really a banking collapse,” the country is “starting to relocalize their industries,” Susan says.
The focus on local economies, of course, is growing world wide, perhaps as a reaction to the influences of global corporate economies. People in small communities, particularly those that have been on the losing side of global transitions (factory jobs going to the cheapest labour pool, for example) are looking for ways to build on what they know, buy and sell from one another, and create local resilience.
Even with similar interests and intents, however, it can be a challenge to translate initiatives from one social context to another. Iceland, for example, benefits from being a very small country – its total population is less than that of Greater Victoria. It seems to have had significant success with public engagement methods that included a citizens forum to draft a new constitution. Undertaking similar fundamental changes in larger countries raises intriguing (if not impossible) challenges.
The group at Susan Low’s presentation wasn’t intimidated by the scale of the task. Using a World Cafe format, they compared Iceland’s experiences to those in Greater Victoria and shared ideas for positive, action-oriented citizen engagement. Local economies that can be scaled up from their origins as festivals or roadside produce stands are key to building thriving communities.
And of course education and “fun” are necessary to the process. Both were in evidence on this afternoon in Greater Victoria.
[all photos by Lorne Daniel]