Today, Ecotrust is pleased to announce the publication of our first issue of Commonplace , a new online and mobile magazine focused on stories of home. Led by our founder Spencer Beebe, Commonplace is as much an exploration of new digital landscapes as it is of real communities and geographies on the ground.
Road bisecting forest near Stuart River, south of Stuart Lake, BC. Photo by Neil Ever Osborne.
Our first issue is set in northern British Columbia’s Skeena River basin, in the same region where Ecotrust first set to work in 1991. Our efforts then to protect 800,000 acres of coastal temperate rainforest in the adjacent Kitlope River Valley were a harbinger of what author Ian Gill has called an “industrial march of folly” that continues to parade through one of the richest landscapes in North America.
While the Northern Gateway Project—a double pipeline slated to cross more than 1,000 salmon-bearing streams on its way from the Alberta tar sands to Kitimat on the BC coast—is looking increasingly doubtful, any number of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other pipeline proposals are lining up behind it. But so are the voices of countless creative, entrepreneurial people like you who know there is a more natural model of development we can aspire to.
We hope you enjoy this first issue, and will join the conversation and share stories about the places you live, along with your ideas about how Commonplace might evolve in future issues. An important note: if you haven’t recently updated your internet browser, you may need to do so to view the full issue. (Chrome is free and automatically updated!) We hope to support versions for phones and older browsers in coming issues. We welcome your feedback and comments at email@example.com .
On Thursday, July 18th, 2013, the City of Detroit made U.S. history with the largest municipal bankruptcy in the country to date. Approximately $18 billion in size, it dwarfed the second-largest, Jefferson County, Alabama, by a factor of four. “There is no road map for Detroit’s recovery,” declared the New York Times. Reductions in city services, cuts in benefits and pensions for public sector workers, and reduced borrowing capacity are sure to follow.
Yet a closer look at the recent experience of the city reveals a much more hopeful reality. For examples, the Atlantic Cities news website offers a wealth of stories of Detroit’s triumphs and travails, from profiles of artists and entrepreneurs to the ongoing saga of the city’s fiscal crisis. Model D Media is a treasure trove of start-up, nonprofit and neighborhood success stories. The Huffington Post recently released a photo essay entitled simply, “Detroit Is Not Dead.”
Young food entrepreneurs prepare for an afternoon of pop-up retail sales at Astro Coffee in Detroit’s Corktown district.
These two conflicting narratives of Detroit – one of decline, the other of renewal – set the stage for Ecotrust’s research on that iconic American city as part of our Magic Canoe project. With help from an extensive network of contacts through Context Partners, the Kresge and Hudson-Webber Foundations, and our own Board of Directors and Advisory Council, Sam Beebe and I traveled to Detroit in June 2012.
Writer, educator and mentor Shaka Senghor develops and leads youth programs for healing and personal transformation.
After our trip, founder Spencer Beebe mentioned us in a blog post for the Magic Canoe project; we wrote our own blog post and gave a presentation at Ecotrust. The E3 Network generously offered some funding for me to write a scholarly working paper based on our experiences in the city. The result, entitled “The Resilience of Detroit,” is now available for download from the E3 Network website.
The paper provides an exploratory study of recent developments in the City of Detroit, from the perspective of resilience theory. Drawing on the adaptive cycle theory of C.S. Holling, I suggest that Detroit is moving through a phase in which underemployed people and resources may be recombined to increase the city’s resilience and productive diversity in the aftermath of long-term decline. To make this case, I draw on existing economic, historical, and journalistic studies of the Detroit metropolitan region, along with interviews we conducted on the trip.
I conclude in the paper that social equity, economic diversity, civic engagement and sustainable land use including urban agriculture, community gardens and open space, all stand to play vital roles in Detroit’s revival. A look back at Detroit’s past reveals that over-reliance on the automobile industry caused it to be vulnerable to business cycles and overseas competition. At the same time, racial discrimination in residential districts and workplaces brought about deep and persistent poverty and chronic unemployment in African American communities. These two destructive forces created a perfect storm, the effects of which we’re still seeing in the city today.
Our visit to present-day Detroit led Sam and I to be cautiously hopeful. We saw coalitions being slowly built across race and class lines, and new strategies that transcend old divisions. In short, we saw resilience in action. The creativity, persistence, community spirit and entrepreneurial energy of Detroiters from all backgrounds inspired us to view the city as ripe for revival, rather than down for the count, as some have portrayed it.
The SBA Love Garden, one of many community projects underway in the Brightmoor neighborhood.
We hope that all who read this paper will come away with a new perspective on the City of Detroit, a desire to learn more, and a sense of the importance of the quest to build equitable, resilient cities in the 21st century.
Once numbering up to 400 million in North America, beavers were hunted to near extinction in the 19th century. While it has long been known that their fur makes excellent clothing and top hats, the role of beavers in maintaining healthy river ecosystems was less well understood until recently.
The Methow Beaver Project is an excellent example of how beavers are now being used to enhance stream habitat to benefit endangered salmon and threatened steelhead trout in the Pacific Northwest. Funded in part by the Ecotrust-led Whole Watershed Restoration Initiative, the project is restoring wetland and riparian habitat by relocating nuisance beavers to creeks within the Methow watershed in the Upper Columbia River Basin in Eastern Washington.
Beavers have been enlisted in restoration efforts in Methow Valley, Washington. Ecotrust photo by Cameron Harrison.
Sometimes the fact that beavers dam up water, cut down trees, and flood riverbanks is seen as a problem. Not everyone wants busy beavers in their backyard! But these same activities that beavers do so well are exactly what river restoration professionals have been trying to emulate for decades to improve habitat for Pacific salmon species, which co-evolved with beavers over millenia. Adding wood to streams, creating backwatered areas, and reconnecting a stream with its floodplain are frequently the very same objectives of river restoration projects. For this reason, beaver reintroduction is identified as a priority action in the multi-agency Upper Columbia Spring Chinook Salmon and Steelhead Recovery Plan. The Methow Beaver Project is relocating beavers from places where they are seen as a problem, and moving them to places where they can be part of the solution to salmon recovery.
A video about the projects is below.
So far fourteen new beaver colonies have been established and an additional three are being monitored to determine their long-term viability. This ten-year project aims to establish 50 new beaver colonies within the Methow Watershed. Since it began in 2008, the project’s success rate for establishing beaver colonies has increased by over 30% compared to other similar efforts in the Western United States.
The project has restored over 44 acres of wetland habitat at a fraction of the cost of typical construction-based restoration techniques. Over time, the acres of restored habitat will continue to expand as the watershed processes created by beavers improve wetland, stream and riparian habitat both upstream and downstream of the relocation sites. Over the long-term, it is expected that this project will result in over 1,000 acres of habitat improvement.
The project is led by the Methow Conservancy, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. The NOAA Restoration Center and the U.S. Forest Service provide financial support through the Whole Watershed Restoration Initiative. Other project partners include Washington Department of Energy, Yakama Nation, Priest Rapids Coordinating Committee, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and many dedicated volunteers, private landowners, and local residents.
Lauren Senkyr is a habitat restoration specialist with NOAA’s Restoration Center in Portland, Oregon.
Editor’s note: Antone Minthorn has served on the Ecotrust Board of Directors since 2002.
For most of his life, Antone Minthorn has served his people and his community. Raised on the Umatilla Indian Reservation by a Cayuse grandfather and a Nez Perce grandmother, Antone learned about the Nez Perce War of 1877 from some of its survivors when he was just seventeen years old. He heard about the fighting skill of a few hundred warriors who managed to hold off the U.S. Army after tensions exploded into battle. The Nez Perce eventually fled their homelands in the Wallowa Valley, led by Chief Joseph, traveling over 1,500 miles until Joseph, not wanting to lose any more of his people, ultimately surrendered in Montana Territory. Antone kept this story close, and later left home to spend three years at Gonzaga University before joining the Marines in 1957.
Antone Minthorn. Photo by Leah Nash.
The 1950s and 60s were a trying time for tribal people. The Bureau of Indian Affairs initiated its Relocation program, and after six years of military service, Antone entered the program and traveled to Los Angeles to find work. He got married, started his family, and when he was able, transferred within the Relocation program to San Francisco.
When he arrived in the Bay Area, the Civil Rights movement was in full swing in Southern states and had begun to spill over into the urban areas. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Berkeley was in the throes of the free speech movement, and the war on poverty was declared in 1964. He stayed for nearly a decade, bearing witness to and participating in many of the movement’s actions and marches. Antone lived in the Sunnyvale Housing project, was Chairman of the Housing Committee, and led his first protest at the housing authority offices demanding tenant rights. He managed an Indian basketball team and met tribal people who were Navajo, Sioux, Comanche, Hopi and Apache. He and his son experienced the race riots of 1966, the occupation of Alcatraz, and he followed the Fish Wars on the Nisqually River where Billy Frank Jr. held “fish-ins” in protest of treaty violations.
His time in San Francisco was one of learning about community action and how to administer programs. And it was here he began to understand the true meaning of the word “sovereignty.” Antone began to wonder who he was after meeting so many Indian people from across the nation. He wondered what to do with the stories of the Nez Perce War that would not leave him.
After he finished college in 1973, the Umatilla Indian Reservation called him back. His degree in urban and regional planning landed him a job at home with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) development office as a land use planner and zoning administrator. In 1981, he was elected as the CTUIR general council chairman and later the chairman of the CTIIR Board of Trustees. His vision was and continues to be one of restoration – to restore the CTUIR land base to its original treaty boundary, to build a tribal economy, and to develop a strong education program for tribal youth – and of resilience. A resilience founded on the stories of his people’s survival.
Through his experiences, Antone cultivated a leadership philosophy based on that of Chief Joseph: A good leader should be fearless, but always concerned about the safety of his people. His fearlessness, dedication and patience influenced many CTUIR’s successes, including re-acquisition of tribal lands, the return of salmon to the Umatilla River and the development of an innovative reservation economy. According to Antone, resilient people know that creating change takes time, vision and commitment. Effective leadership means hiring people who are smarter than you, letting your managers manage, being proactive, learning how to leverage treaty rights, negotiating rather than litigating, and most importantly, an effective leader must walk their talk.
Chief Joseph surrendered in the Bear Paw Mountains in the cold Fall of 1877 so his people would survive. Antone Minthorn carries this legacy. His people have survived wars, broken promises, loss of lands, and total assimilation. But instead of surrender, he is doing something extraordinary. He is rebuilding his nation.
Historic preservation often occurs in between boom and bust cycles when strong communities endure the shifting economic landscape around them. The Vietnamese city of Hoi An’s story of preservation is strongly shaped by the Thu Bon River,which has attracted an ebb and flow migration of people from surrounding nations for hundreds of years. Since the first century, historians believe Hoi An was the premier port for trade in the region. When the river silted up in the 18th century trade declined sharply and Danang to the North became favored and developed by international influences.
A traditional boat plies the Thu Bon River in Hoi An. Photo courtesy Julia Babcock/Portland State
Over the last few decades, Hoi An has experienced a renaissance, growing to 100,000 local residents and hosting over 2 million tourists a year. Despite the economic shifts, Hoi An’s culture has remained strong creating a unique convergence of people, traditions, and philosophy.
We’ve come to know Hoi An through a series of exchanges over the last several years between Portland and Hoi An, hosted by Portland State in partnership with UNHabitat. Under the leadership of Dr. Marcus Ingle, PSU has developed the International Sustainability Investment Strategy for Vietnam which focuses on sharing leadership and governance model between Vietnam and Portland to meet sustainable development goals. A new State Department grant will support a Professional Fellows Program for mid-level Vietnamese professionals under Dr. Shpresa Halimi.
In Summer 2012, it was Portland academics and officials who got to learn first-hand about Hoi An’s renaissance. During a tour of a recently renovated silk market, Mayor Le Van Giang shared what touches people about Hoi An:
Our people have a generous spirit that is contagious. No matter where people come from, when they experience Hoi An, it touches their heart. Our community is built on a longstanding tolerance and respect for a variety of cultures.”
That insight underlines the type of social legacy that lives on in modern Hoi An. Yet like all pillars of sustainability, without proper stewardship it can be lost in a generation.
Hoi An’s old town. Photo courtesy of Julia Babcock/ Portland State
Today, people come to Hoi An for a variety of reasons. Tourists come to enjoy the small city’s well-preserved historic district recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site on the riverfront and scenic beaches along the East Sea. Researchers come to study the effects of climate change which has been exacerbated by seasonal floods as well as erosion and loss of wetlands due to expanding development.
It is the shared goals to preserve Hoi An’s cultural history and manage rapid growth by embodying Ecocity principles that makes for a unique opportunity for sustainable development in practice that has attracted international consultation from partners such as Portland State.
In Fall 2012, a delegation of leaders from UNHabitat and the central Province of Quang Nam (where Hoi An is located) came to speak at the EcoDistrict Summit about their experiences working with Portland practitioners to adapt the EcoDistrict framework. During a tour of Portland’s Southwest Waterfront, Mayor Giang reacted to the newly developed neighborhood by saying, “We may need about fifty years to replicate the sustainability principles we are seeing in the infrastructure here.”
His reflection was directly related to the explanations provided by Portland officials about the emergence of green streets, buildings and roof designs in the district to shape watershed health as well as the history shared by an local urban designer, through pictures of the sites decade-long transition from heavy industrial uses to residential and institutional district.
Though Hoi An has not had to face the clean-up of heavy industry, concurrency issues are mounting. Foreign investment in tourism facilities has led to increases in traffic and the use of public space without key infrastructure upgrades to treat pollution issues. Notably, there are no wastewater treatment facilities currently in operation and financing these investments without private dollars can be daunting to leaders in the developing world. A number of terrestrial and marine species are being monitored by staff from the offshore Cham Islands Biosphere Reserve as a means to educate Hoi An residents about the link between watershed health and the health of the islands.
Looking at Portland’s model, Provincial leaders were impressed with how many interests were embodied into projects like the Bonneville Dam and the recent Johnson Creek flood restoration. What international tourists find enviable in Hoi An’s rich culture, Vietnamese delegations have admired in Portland’s green infrastructure investments. Only time will tell if Hoi An can find a way to balance infrastructure upgrades to accommodate growth without losing the character that has evolved over centuries.
Vietnamese delegation in the Columbia Gorge. Photo courtesy of Julia Babcock/ Portland State
Just as green building professionals discovered the embedded energy in historic buildings, historic preservation in places like Hoi An is showing the potential to guide sustainability principles on a neighborhood and city scale. From the core of cities where commerce shaped culture for centuries, neighborhoods can arise from the stable structures that held the scale and feel of communities together during periods of change.
In this way, Hoi An demonstrates that sustainability is not only about balancing social, environmental and economic goals; Hoi An teaches us that sustainability is also about maintaining the cultural traditions that honor the past, inspire the present and protect future generations.
Julia Babcock is the Program Coordinator of the Intel Vietnam Scholars Program at Portland State.
Babcock and Khanh Pham, a Ph.D. student in Urban Studies, have started a Vietnam Forum at Portland State that meets bi-weekly to share information about emerging research as well as hold a space for presentations from students, professors and professionals who come to Portland from Vietnam to study sustainable development. To attend a meeting or for more information about programs, please visit: http://www.pdx.edu/vietnam-forum/
Here is short video outlining some of Hoi An’s opportunities and challenges.
At Ecotrust, we are committed to fostering a more natural model of development that creates resilient communities, economies, and ecosystems. Our blog is designed to inspire fresh thinking, spark innovation, and encourage investment in natural economies.