Back in 1977 Mother Earth News asked ILSR to write a column called Local Self-Reliance. Over the next several years we ended up writing more than three dozen.
Rereading them after all these years, we’re struck by how current they seem. Back then we were identifying pioneering communities that were establishing solar utilities, expanding recycling, developing cooperatively owned stores and banks, planting urban forests, encouraging local food production. This archive is dedicated to these pioneers.
Today these fragile shoots have taken root. What a difference a generation makes. Then the conventional wisdom was that recycling could never handle more than 10 percent of the waste stream. Today many cities have exceeded 50 percent. Some are approaching 75 percent. In a growing number of cities sanitation networks are being reorganized to give recycling the starring role and making collection and disposal a bit player.
In the late 1970s only a few hundred U.S. homes boasted solar electric arrays. Almost all were in rural areas and unconnected to the grid. By the mid 1990s, as the price dropped, the number of grid connected solarized homes began to exceed the number of stand-alone systems. Today ofter 250,000 buildings are solar powered and the number is increasing by more than 100,000 a year just in the United States. Utilities are beginning to realize they will have to integrate a rapidly growing decentralized power sector into their design and planning calculations.
A generation ago we were writing about community gardens and the first modern farmers markets and the emergence of a new technology–hydroponics. Today local food production has gone mainstream. There are thousands, if not tens of thousands of farmers markets. And large scale hydroponic businesses are growing vegetables inside cities.
A generation ago there were a lot more independent local businesses. Today they are besieged by brick and mortar companies like Wal Mart and on-line companies like Amazon. But in the last 10 years a Buy Local movement has emerged. More than 50 cities have formal independent business associations. Cities are beginning to adopt policies that thwart big box retail while nurturing locally owned businesses.
Back then we wrote about cities owning their cable networks. Today more than 75 cities own their own cable networks and another 60 own city wide fiber networks, putting the Verizons and ComCasts of the world to shame by offering the fastest and least expensive broadband connections in the country.
Even the term local self-reliance, which we believe we coined, has gained a common usage.
Too often we look at how far we have to go and how formidable the forces arrayed against us are. This archive offers evidence of how far we we’ve come.