“A good first step”

Brent Finnegan -- May 30th, 2009

I attended today’s Harrisonburg Summits (hosted by Mayor Kai Degner) along with about 200 other participants. The summit’s focus was sustainability. Specifically; How do we meet the needs of the present “while preserving the ability of future generations to meet their needs?”

After the chatty, eclectic throng of civic-minded citizens gathered at First Presbyterian Church this morning, facilitators Degner and Bruce Lundeen told the attendees to create their own agenda for the day, following the open-space meeting format. That is, participants that wanted to convene a meeting about a particular topic signed up for a time and location in a downtown space or business. At 11:00, everyone split to attend or facilitate the breakout session of their choice.

While I admit some skepticism of the process prior to the event, it played out in a relatively smooth, uncomplicated fashion (the nice weather didn’t hurt, either). The interests represented in the schedule were diverse. Topics ranged from transportation to green jobs to local food to community-building. Even I convened a meeting about sustainable community-driven news.

The summit wrapped up around 3:00, when everyone reflected on their experiences, which seemed to be positive across-the-board. Several participants used the phrase, “a good first step.” But the real measure of the success of the summit will be in the weeks, months, and years to come, depending on whether the groups that convened today can keep up the momentum.

16 Responses to ““A good first step””

  1. Harvey Yoder says:

    Where were our local news media (DNR, WHSV, WSVA, etc.) for this event, or were they present and I just missed them?

  2. Sarah says:

    I know there was a DNR reporter there, and I believe I saw cameras from WHSV.

  3. Josh Gooden says:

    I was hired by Bruce Lundeen to help document the event with two other filmmakers. WHSV and the DNR covered it as well.

  4. kai says:

    Thank you to everyone who attended this event! The energy was high, and conversation was rich, and the outcomes are meaningful.

    Jenny Jones from the DNR was there, so there will likely be a story tomorrow.

    WHSV did a pretty good job capturing the event! See the video.

    See the full schedule, plus notes for most sessions here. There is a lot of good information and action items buried in the notes. See you all at the next summit!

  5. If anyone has pictures from the Summit, and a flickr account, please add them to the pool http://www.flickr.com/groups/hburgnews/

  6. Renee says:

    Cool – glad to hear it went well! Good job, Kai and Bruce!

  7. Renee says:

    There is a post about it on the Pure Water Forum website, with a link to the full summary report:

  8. John Reeves says:

    Re: Flickr–I just added 9 photos from Summit.
    It was a good start–the proof comes in the outcomes.
    regards, John Reeves Bd. of Friends of Blacks Run Greenway

  9. zen says:

    This is really exciting. Great job to all who participated.

    Kai, will you come be my mayor too? Please?

  10. Deb SF says:

    For those interested in a more pragmatic and somewhat contrarian view of the green movement, TNR’s Nordhaus and Shellenberger, found here:


    say this:

    “…pitch green lifestyles as thrifty ways to make ends meet in a difficult economy. And, no doubt, many Americans are seeking out some form of (in)voluntary simplicity in response to the financial crisis. But making virtue of necessity is not the same as making necessity of virtue. Whatever romanticized vision of a simpler life that might have existed a year or two ago has largely been replaced by a fearful vision of a life of poverty or, at least, greater insecurity. Today, the Times and other newspapers run stories about how Americans are coping with their economic, not ecological, anxieties.”


    “upper-middle-class liberals started questioning and resenting hyper-materialism, even while enjoying the status and comfort it offered.

    Little surprise, then, that they would start buying a whole new class of products to demonstrate their ecological concern. Green consumption became what sociologists call “positional consumption”–consumption that distinguishes one as elite–and few things were more ecopositional than the Toyota Prius, whose advantage over other hybrid cars was its distinctive look. A 2007 survey that appeared in The New York Times found that more Prius owners (57 percent) said they bought the car because it “makes a statement about me” than because of its better gas mileage (36 percent), lower emissions (25 percent), or new technology (7 percent). Prius owners, the Times concluded, “want everyone to know they are driving a hybrid.” The status effects were so powerful that, by early 2009, Honda’s new Insight Hybrid had been reshaped to look like the triangular Prius.”

    and this:

    “It’s easy enough to point out the insignificance of planting a garden, buying fewer clothes, or using fluorescent bulbs. After all, we can’t escape the fact that we depend on an infrastructure–roads, buildings, sewage systems, power plants, electrical grids, etc.–that requires huge quantities of fossil fuels. But the ecological irrelevance of these practices was beside the point. What downscalers offered was not a better way to reduce emissions, but rather, a way to reduce guilt. In 2007, we asked environmentalists in focus groups about green consumption. None thought that consuming green would do much of anything to address a huge challenge like global warming. They did it anyway, they said, because it made them feel better.”

  11. What brilliant telepathy! Except the Harrisonburg Summit was not about the “Green Movement”, it was about making Harrisonburg and the region a better place through listening, learning, community organizing, and dialogue. It was a Community Movement moment. You would have known that DebSF if you had bothered to attend and contribute. Maybe next time huh?

  12. JGFitzgerald says:


    Two questions:

    1. More Seinfeld than Sierra Club?

    2. This is your idea of dialogue?

  13. Deb SF says:

    No telepathy needed, Bob; I read Brent’s post, read/watched the news reports, talked to some friends who went, and looked at some of the docs on the Summit website after I got back from VCCS meetings in Portsmouth.

    I even know this was called the “Mayor’s Sustainability Summit”. If you google “sustainability” and “green”, you get more than 700,000 hits, many of them defining the green movement as enabling lifestyles of health and sustainability. Doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch to link the two.

    I thought the TNR piece was interesting, particularly in tracing the historical “bubbles” in the green movement, along the same lines as financial and real estate market bubbles, and the polling on the public’s interest in sustainability/green issues.

  14. Evan says:

    This sounds like it was a great event. Bravo.

  15. I did not attend the mayor’s summit as I was in Sweden delivering a plenary address at a conference on nonlinear economic dynamics. However, I am glad that he put it on, although I have not been able to access the details of all that went on.

    However, to Deb SF, I am not aware of all that much that was being talked about that would involve some sort of excessive sacrifice by poor people in Harrisonburg to satisfy fantasies of supposedly elite liberal greens (and I agree that some environmental fads have not been really all that viable or sustainable). I fully agree that the global warming issue is very hard (not the place to go on about it here) and that most of what was being discussed at the summit will have a miniscule effect on it.

    But that is not the point, even if global warming was used as a rhetorical device at the conference, sort of a pep talk for cheerleading aspect. Presumably the sorts of things that were discussed and that might actually lead to action, such as improving the ability to use bicycles in Harrisonburg and cleaning up Black’s Run more, will be things that will be both environmentally sound locally and economically reasonable, thereby achieving improvements in the local quality of life, even if there is only trivial impact on global warming. Those items that are severely economically costly will probably not make it through to actual implementation.

    Regarding such matters, the conference I was at was in the lovely city of Jonkoping, Sweden (pronounced “Yahn shopping,” no kidding). It is a beautiful city with lots of bike lanes and other environmentally sound practices in southern Sweden. A bit more than twice the size of Harrisonburg, it has a growing regional university and is trying to move towards information-based industries, with its current largest industry being in the gardening equipment business.

    I had dinner with the mayor of Jonkoping, Anna Martinsson, the first woman mayor there since its founding in 1268. I suggested the possibility of Jonkoping and Harrisonburg becoming sister cities. She was open to the idea, and I am going to be advocating it to our mayor. I think that linking up with a progressive and well-run city in Sweden that has some similarities to ours might well help in providing a role model for moving towards a higher quality of local urban life here in Harrisonburg.

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