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Stories and green tips related to nature, adventure, placemaking, and food systems, written by a beginning farmer/gardener and seasoned sustainability educator who loves to grow, cook, ferment, and eat local and ecologically happy food.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Getting Involved in Local Government

One of the best ways to see your ideas come to life in your hometown is to join a committee or commission on which you can give feedback and be a voice for the environment. I'm the youth representative for the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee for my city, and I try to represent the concerns and ideas of my peers in the community. It's fascinating to see how government works and how ideas can take form in documents and then become realities.

We're working on a Bicycle Pedestrian Master Plan which will set the policies and standards we want as a city for current and future projects that relate to pedestrians and bicyclists in the community. The master plan also hopes to implement education, encouragement, enforcement, and of course, actual facilities, to encourage the use of alternative transportation. There is also a component of linking the city's roads together with uniform bicycle lanes and paths to create an easier way to get around the city. I joined the committee because I enjoy cycling and walking around town. I also ride my bike to school when I can. There's always room for improvement in the paths and connections between sidewalks, bike paths, etc. and I enjoy being a part of that environment that can decide which errors should be prioritized to be fixed for better accessibility and safety. I'm also able to raise concerns regarding accessibility to the schools, since I'm a student who uses the facilities and roads to reach them.

I also wanted to bring my environmental stewardship to the table and be able to help make decisions that are best for the future of sustainability. Of course, cycling and walking as modes of transportation and commuting are in themselves environmentally-friendly and so the committee itself is heading for a greener community that encourages this, but I also am constantly wearing the lens of what's best for the natural environment. For example, at tonight's meeting we looked at whether or not we should recommend a change to a plan that would involve removing oak trees in order to widen a road. I wasn't the only member who was opposed to removing trees, among other things we didn't like about the change, and so we voted against supporting it. There was also a point made at a previous meeting, one which I was unable to attend, about the pavement type for a creekside trail. One of the options was an eco-friendly option. I circled it on the printout (that was on reused paper, of course!) as one that I would consider my number one, having not heard the insights on the other pavement types yet. Unfortunately, I could not bring my ideas to that meeting. But you get the picture.

So what can be taught from this anecdote is that getting involved in local government is a good way to get your opinion voiced, even as a student or young person. Many committees want youth representatives who can bring the information back and forth between students and the city. Look online at your city's website or contact someone who works there to see if there are any open positions on committees related to the environment. It also looks really good on college aps to have had experience with local government :)

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"The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders."
--Edward Abbey

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