19 September 2010

General posts are after Maryo Gard Ewell's introductory essay

Hello.  So far, everyone has responded in general, rather than to a specific post.  You will find all of these after Maryo's initial essay.  They are very interesting indeed!

25 August 2010


Maryo Gard Ewell
Conference coordinator
Wisconsin Arts Board/Robert E. Gard-Wisconsin Idea Foundation

Robert E. Gard was almost legendary in Wisconsin from the moment that he came to the University of Wisconsin in 1945. He was driven by the conviction that all people are fundamentally creative, and that if given encouragement, if given a few tools, the people themselves would make the plays, the poetry, the music, the dance, that would capture the meaning of American culture.

He’d gone to Cornell University to study drama with one of the great men in theater at the time, Alexander Drummond, who saw the stories of upstate New York as the raw material of theater. As a student, Gard came to believe that art-making in America must grow from personal cultural stories, from local places and communities. He brought that idea to Wisconsin. And that was a happy coincidence, for perhaps no other state at the time could have been as receptive to notions like Gard’s.

To understand why, you have to look back to the turn of the 20th century, when Governor “Fighting Bob” La Follette and University of Wisconsin President Charles Van Hise together articulated the notion that the role of a public university is to actively serve all of the people of the state; the slogan of the Wisconsin Idea was that “the boundaries of the campus are the boundaries of the state.” They believed that by enabling all of the people to have access to a fine education – whether on campus in Madison, via correspondence course or via lectures and learning on the radio – the people would be increasingly able and eager to participate in making real the ideal of democracy. Many revolutionary laws were passed in Wisconsin, all designed to make government more equitable, accountable, and participatory; but equally revolutionary, and central to the Wisconsin Idea, was university outreach, bringing the latest ideas to the people, and helping anyone to fulfill their talents. “I would have no mute, inglorious Milton in Wisconsin,” said Van Hise; “I would have everybody who has a talent have an opportunity to find his way so far as his talent will carry him.”

As early as 1911, Prof. Thomas Dickinson and his Wisconsin Dramatic Society were encouraging Wisconsonians to write their own plays; and Dickinson said, “There is absolutely no question of the organic association of the spirit of our work with La Follette progressivism. My chief interest was in the outworking of democracy, of which I considered the theatre, the workshop.” Community music and community singing were inspired and nurtured by legendary professor Edgar “Pop” Gordon. In the 1930’s, the Dean of the College of Agriculture, Chris Christensen, grew convinced that because there was “poetry as well as production on the farm,” the farm family ought to have an opportunity to express the culture of agriculture through the arts; John Steuart Curry became the first artist-in-residence in America – not in the University’s art department, but in the College of Agriculture. Curry’s encouragement inspired literally hundreds of Wisconsin farmers and their families to start painting.

Into this already-rich setting came Gard. In Grassroots Theater he tells of a playwriting workshop he’d offered for rural people; at the end of the workshop he realized that “there must be a great, free, expression. If the people of Wisconsin knew that someone would encourage them to express themselves in any way they chose, … if they knew that someone would back them and help them when they wanted help…there would be such a rising of creative expression as is yet unheard of in Wisconsin…for the whole expression would be of and about ourselves.”

Gard dedicated his life to this idea – embodied in his Wisconsin Idea Theater - and Grassroots Theater beautifully articulates his principles and convictions. By 1966, the idea was evolving. Gard’s title was now the Director of the Office of Community Arts Development in the College of Agriculture, and Gard and his colleagues saw the arts as not only vital for personal fulfillment, but for community-building as well. Gard had come to believe that newly emerging entities called community arts councils might be a key to social change. In 1969, he wrote:

"If you try, what may you expect?
First a community
Welded through art to a new consciousness of self:
A new being, perhaps a new appearance –
A people proud
Of achievements which lift them through the creative
Above the ordinary –
A new opportunity for children
To find exciting experiences in art
And to carry this excitement on
Throughout their lives –
A mixing of peoples and backgrounds
Through art; a new view
Of hope for mankind and an elevation
Of man – not degradation.
New values for individual and community
Life, and a sense
That here, in our place
We are contributing to the maturity
Of a great nation.
If you try, you can indeed
Alter the face and the heart
Of America. "

These words closed the book, The Arts in the Small Community. In the late 1960’s, the community arts council movement was exploding. There had been two arts councils in 1949; there were about 55 in 1960; there were nearly 500 by 1970. While the Arts in the Small Community advocated the creation of arts councils, it was different from other writing about arts councils in one crucial respect: it advocated integrating the arts into other community concerns.

Elsewhere, arts councils were formed as artists and cultural groups gathered to discuss strategies for mutual support. That wasn’t the only model for Gard. The Arts in the Small Community offered three case-studies of rural arts councils, one of which drew on this traditional model, but the other two did not. In one, the arts council was coupled with the region’s environmental activism and was concerned with the natural beauty of its area, signage, and more. In the other, the arts council was linked from its inception to economic development by the Extension Agent who saw creativity as vital to the region just as a ski hill and a paperboard company might be. If you scan the table of contents of this little manual ( http://www.gardfoundation.org/ > arts in the small community), you will see sections on the arts and religion, business, health, local history, cultural groups, incarcerated people, and more.

We’ve seen arts councils broaden their horizons in the past 50 years. Many are working with their educational systems, with “youth at risk,” with economic development, with downtown revitalization now. It’s common to hear arts council folk say, “…the arts in service to the whole community.”

Still, for many groups I have worked with over the years, this is a tautology for they mean: “a good community is one where there is a lot of art; I will help create more art; therefore I have helped to build a good community.”

In this symposium, we are backing up and asking, What is a good community, or a healthy community? For until we understand the perspectives of community “health,” we arts folk will still be living in that tautological world, a world which is “all about us.”

Gard loved the juxtaposition of disciplines, and it is in that spirit that we have convened this symposium to look at the role of the arts in building healthy communities. In the 1970’s Gard wrote about his participation on a committee studying the interrelationship of health and beauty in the built environment. In the 1960’s Gard explored the juxtaposition of arts and athletics. In the 1950’s Gard brought together sociologists, philosophers, radio and television folk, Extension agents and more to try and understand the creative impulse, to understand how to best craft a framework for creative social participation by all people, a framework in which people could address great human concerns such as community disintegration .

In this, he may have been influenced by his philosopher friend, Baker Brownell of Northwestern University. In 1950, Brownell wrote in The Human Community that there is a fundamental conflict in the modern era:

"On the one hand is the culture of specialism; on the other hand is the human community. Each is a kind of living, a way of doing things. Today these methods are becoming more and more divergent. They would seem to be incompatible, and the former is displacing the latter.

"The college professor, the business expert, the professional artist…usually labor in behalf of the culture of specialism. They establish terms and make new specificities of knowledge…They look at life selectively with sharp eyes, define bright bits of it, and make reality more articulate…. But the human community under their vast trampling declines, and without the community even specialism cannot survive. … I find myself asking the college professor, the business expert, and other devotees of specialism and purity to step out of their accustomed ideology…

"We must continue to start freshly with integral situations, not with conceptual terms…. Central in them, a creator of confluence as it were, is the community."

As a philosopher, Brownell explored the role the arts can play – in conjunction with technology, economics, education, art, religion – in creating the human community in a time of community dissolution. As an artist, Gard said the same thing.

If you try, you can indeed alter the face and the heart of America.

But not alone. Not as specialists.

Thus our gathering. You’ll notice that our keynote speaker is Lew Feldstein. You may recall that Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone, talks about the dissolution of the “human community,” to use Brownell’s phrase. Feldstein and Putnam co-authored Better Together, a remarkable look at communities where some group has taken the lead in rebuilding community. Feldstein will talk to us about whether community still matters – or whether it’s just a nostalgic idea. And if community still matters, why? And how can people help to reverse the trends of community dissolution, and begin to build human communities?

We’ve also asked historian Bill Cronon to address us about whether, and why, history and place matter, in this globalized and tele-connected world.

Then we asked five people who are not artists to talk to us about what a “healthy” community is all about, from their perspective Listen carefully.

We need to cross boundaries. Need to move from being specialists in the arts, to people who listen to, engage with, specialists in other fields so that, together, we can help to create the truly “healthy” or “human” community of the 21st century.

That’s what this symposium is all about. My husband, who has taught in our local college Environmental Studies program, has pointed out that the place where ecosystems meet tend to be the incubation places for new life forms. Similarly, I stumbled on a book recently: The Medici Effect, by Frans Johansson; it suggests that the most important ideas may be birthed in the intersection of disparate disciplines.

"In our world it actually makes sense to combine sea urchins with lollipops, guitar riffs with harp solos, and music records with airlines…or for a person to launch a solar cell company one day and a cookie company the next. Like the creators of fifteenth-century Florence, this is how we break new ground; this is how we innovate…. All we have to do is find it … and dare to step in."

Our belief is that the community arts council of our time can be one that brings together knowledge from many places and links this knowledge to broad, creative response by all people in our communities.

Ready for big ideas? Ready for the 21st century? Read on, comment, and participate.


Dr. Randy Stoecker
CommunityTechnology Specialist
Dept. of Community & Environmental Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Does technology create healthier communities or sicker ones? Ah, if only that were a simple question. The answer is actually yes, no, both, neither, and it depends. So let's examine some of the dimensions of this question.

The first dimension to examine is what we mean by the word community. In the “old days,” for the middle and working classes, the question of community, in rural areas, was fairly simple. Community was very much place-based—the people you knew because you interacted with them in multiple roles as coworkers, church goers, shoppers, parents, volunteers, and others. But after that things got more complicated. They got more complicated in cities because inter-ethnic conflict helped define community—the Italian versus Jewish neighborhood, the African American versus Puerto Rican neighborhood, and so on. Such conflicts existed in rural areas as well, especially between Native American and Euro American communities, but the factor of distance made such conflicts more sporadic and focused on specific issues such as fishing and hunting rights. They got more complicated for the professional and upper classes because their network ties were as likely to be extra-local as local. After all, part of their role was to find ways to control the lower classes, and there were too few members of the upper class locally to do that by themselves. And the question of community got more complicated for everyone as transportation and communication technologies became more widespread and available across classes. As it became increasingly possible to call Joe on the phone, it became less important to live next door to Joe, especially in cities.

Today, as the Internet and long-distance travel becomes integrated into more and more people's lives, some people ask whether the concept of a place-based community is even relevant. How many of us have more strong friends in our neighborhood than across town or in the next town or in the next state or even in the next country. My friends are as much in Canada, Australia, and the UK as they are in Madison, Wisconsin.

Some will argue that these new forms of community, which are place-less, are actually not communities at all. And they have a number of points in their favor. Such communities are often one-dimensional. In contrast to place-based communities, where people interact with each other across multiple roles and see each other in all kinds of circumstances—in place-less communities people often interact in very specialized ways. You have your Yahoo Group on diabetes, or bicycle maintenance. So you don't really know those people. You can't ask them to watch your kids, they won't bring over soup when you are sick, and they won't mow your lawn when you are away. Instead, all those services must be purchased. We refer to this as commodification—when people are no longer able to do things for themselves or their neighbors and instead become dependent on a capitalist market for those services. We've heard the stories of people sitting in front of their computers at night rather than on their front porches. We've heard the stories of local businesses going under because people are buying things on the Internet.

But it's not so clear cut. There is evidence that most of our on-line time is actually coming from our TV time rather than our friend time. And people write far more e-mails to friends than they wrote letters. And there are cases where technology-mediated place-less communities have achieved amazing things. This talk is being typed on a computer running a Linux operating system, using a software package called OpenOffice. All of this software has been developed by a vast place-less community of people, and is provided to the people of the world without charge. The place-less community, in this case, is fighting against commodification. The place-less community can also fight against discrimination. I work with nonprofit groups all over the place. One group happens to be led by a person with physical disabilities that prevent walking and make her speech very difficult for me to understand. I have told myself that this is a smart professional regardless of appearances. But it was only when I recently received an e-mail from her that I realized I hadn't overcome my own prejudices. I was surprised that I was surprised by the highly intellectual tone of the e-mail. Over the Internet we don't know the color of a person's skin, what disabilities they may have, what age they might be, their sexual orientation, and all the other characteristics by which we discriminate in our society. It is entirely possible that our place-less communities are much more desirable than the many place-based communities that seem so ready to oppress and exclude.

Perhaps the most interesting case is the hybrid community that is both place-based and technology-mediated. My daughter will be an entering student at Howard University in Washington DC this fall. I remember when I started college, where a “computer” was a machine that required at least a 400 square foot space to house. I knew exactly one person who was going to the same college, and it was only about an hour away from my home—UW-Whitewater. That was a person from my high school. My daughter also only knows one person going from her high school going to Howard. But because of Facebook, she has a vast and tight network of friends from across the country. Many of them have already met face to face at a new student orientation early in the year, and by the time of this conference, they will all be together in place at Howard. And they will likely still be communicating on Facebook. It is on Facebook that they are already discussing and organizing around campus issues. I pity the administrator who has to deal with students organized both in cyberspace and in person. I know another housing co-op of young professionals—busy people who work long and odd hours. They use e-mail to make many of their decisions even though they live in the same building. In their case, it allows for fuller participation than a face to face meeting that half of them would be unable to attend.

Now, all of this implies something about what a “healthy community” is. It is, minimally, a group of people that can achieve collective and individual goals. The collective part is the most interesting, because we can talk about embeddedness. Think of collectivities that are part of collectivities that are part of collectivities. So a collectivity that excludes or oppresses one of its sub-collectivities is not a healthy community. In this way we can think globally, locally, and every layer in-between. We can also think about horizontally overlapping collectivities as we recognize that people are members of both place-based and place-less communities.

The standard for technology, in such a community, is the extent to which that technology enhances a community's ability to achieve collective and individual goals, again keeping in mind the reality of embedded and overlapping collectivities. So technology that is available only to some, or that separates rather than connects, does not move us to healthier communities. And that means putting the community in front of the technology. I've written about the concept of community information technology, or CIT. And it has to go in that order. First, we need to understand the community and what it wants to accomplish. Then we look at the information (including communication) issues that must be managed to accomplish those goals. Then we look at how to shape technology to manage those information issues to accomplish those community goals. I've been part of a number of such projects. I've worked with subsidized housing communities, nonprofits, and people with disabilities to put technology to use for them. But in all cases, the most important part of the process was the engagement of those constituencies in planning and designing the technology process to work for them. We don't even talk about technology until we've gone through the process of looking at community goals and context to make sure that the technology enhances rather than disrupts.

So, does technology create healthier communities or sicker ones? The answer is actually yes, no, both, neither, and it depends.

17 August 2010


Dr. Stephanie Robert
Neighborhood Health Specialist
School of Social Work, University of Wisconsin-Madison

As a way of background, my fields of inquiry include overlapping contributions from sociology, social work, life course theory, social epidemiology, and population health.

In my fields, a healthy community is one that provides an economic, social, and physical environment that allows individuals and families the opportunity to achieve their optimal physical health and well-being.  A healthy community does not provide barriers to optimal health, and indeed it fosters opportunities for positive growth and development over the life span.

Health is not just the absence of disease, but the presence of social, physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being.  But for me, the emphasis of my work is not on measuring health, but on investigating the broad variety of factors that impact health.  This involves looking at how various aspects of society can either hinder or foster optimal health.  I look at the individual, family, neighborhood, and societal factors that all contribute to health, focusing on neighborhood as a very important context that shapes our health.

In the U.S., when we talk about health, we talk mostly about access to health care and how our own health behaviors are important to health. The media focuses on our personal responsibility for eating right, exercising, and avoiding excessive alcohol.  But my research focuses on the many other aspects of life that contribute to our health—how stress, sense of control, social support, access to social services, adequate money, access to quality education all contribute significantly to our health. 

In particular, my work focuses on how our neighborhood environments can either constrain or foster our opportunities for optimal health.  In terms of constraints, some of us live in neighborhoods that have high crime—inhibiting our ability to walk for exercise, access friends and services, and creating chronic fear and stress—all of which affect our health. Some kids grow up in neighborhoods without safe places to play, and with poor schools and recreational options.  We find that these constraints in childhood can set kids on a poor health trajectory that affects their health throughout their whole lives. Tobacco and alcohol advertisements are targeted to poor and minority communities.  The presence of bars and liquor stores is higher in poor areas and the presence of supermarkets with fresh fruit and vegetables is lower in poor areas.  We know that some neighborhoods do not have adequate transportation systems or access to high quality social services. Moreover, the racial and economic segregation of many of our cities contributes significantly to creating neighborhood environments that provide barriers to optimal health.

Other work on neighborhoods highlights how neighborhoods can provide opportunities for positive growth and development.  Even in the most economically challenged neighborhoods, there are aspects of neighborhoods that can provide hope and opportunity.  Neighborhoods that come together to improve a neighborhood situation not only can positively affect that one situation, but the coming together itself can create a sense of community, trust, and social connectedness that can benefit the individuals involved.  Moreover, the coming together to act provides the capacity for future neighborhood action. And while most research on racial segregation and health demonstrates that racial segregation is generally bad for the health of families who have little choice but to live in very poor areas that are not racially integrated, there are sometimes positive sides to segregation that we have learned from as well. In particular, ethnic enclaves for recent immigrants can be protective of health by supporting aspects of culture that are health protective. For example, we know that the health of Mexican immigrants gets worse the longer they live in the U.S.  However, living in ethnic enclaves with other recent immigrants can preserve some of the social support and dietary habits that promote health even in the face of an adverse economic environment.

In sum, in my work, there are two challenges as they relate to healthy communities: 1) identifying aspects of neighborhoods that are barriers to optimal health and finding ways to remove those barriers—either through policy or community action, and 2) identifying aspects of community that can promote health, even in the face of adversity.  We refer to this as promoting resilient communities—communities that can thrive even in the face of adversity.  In this way, I have learned that a healthy community is one that has the capacity to act on its behalf both to mobilize its own resources to promote health and to garner new resources that will benefit the community.


Dr. Jerry HembdDirector, Northern Center for Community & Economic Development
Dept. of Business & Economic Development, University of Wisconsin-Superior

What constitutes a “healthy community” from an economic perspective? When I started working in the area of community economic development over 25 years ago, the conventional wisdom was that it all boiled down to jobs and income. A community could measure its economic health in terms of the ability to create jobs and increase household incomes. While the accepted wisdom on how to achieve these aims has changed, the emphasis on job and income growth – or economic growth more generally – has remained. A growing economy, with rising levels of production and consumption, is seen as a healthy economy.

From the 1950s to the early 1980s, industrial recruitment was the approach of choice. The aim was to attract outside firms that produced something for markets external to the community. This “export base” orientation was believed to generate the greatest job and income “multiplier effects.” Financial incentives and industrial parks were strategies of choice. From the early 1980s to the early 1990s, the emphasis shifted to cost competition. Communities became more interested in retaining and expanding existing businesses as the driver of growth. Tax reductions, deregulation, and industrial consolidation and cost cutting were the prevailing strategies. From the early 1990s to the present, regional competitiveness has been the name of the economic development game. The goal is to promote regional industrial “clusters” through innovation and entrepreneurship. Regional collaboration, an emphasis on distinct regional assets, and the bridging of economic and community development are seen as the keys to success.

Why this quick historical romp? First, it shows that an economic development orientation, including one at the community level, is relatively new. Economic development as a separate or identifiable field of study and practice is a postwar (World War II) phenomenon. Second, accepted notions of how to go about economic development have evolved through the three “waves” noted above. We have not come up with a timeless recipe for success. Thinking changes, as do the nature and structure of community economies. Third, each successive “wave” has entailed a broader sense of what is important to community economic development. We have progressed from a fairly narrow industrial development view to an embrace of growing and expanding your own businesses to a broader regional approach that recognizes the importance of human and social capital to community and economic development.

This is a preamble for what I maintain is a new wave of community development. It began to emerge in the early 1980s and is still evolving. The drivers are sustainable development and systems thinking. The underlying goal is sustainability. Some people see this as part of a broader sustainability revolution and paradigm change. The extent to which this is the case, or that people see it as the case, varies widely. You could argue that the level of intellectual ferment and strategy experimentation surrounding the idea of sustainable community development is characteristic of such a dynamic and fundamental change.  

At a very basic level, sustainability is about time and relationships. We can see this reflected in most definitions of sustainability, and there are many to choose from. Perhaps the most fundamental relationship is that between us, humans, or the human enterprise, and the natural world.  This is a relationship that has changed over time and continues to change. We have grown so numerous – now at 6.7 billion and still growing – and our technologies have become so powerful, that we are now capable of having a significant influence on the earth’s ecosystems. A systems view of this relationship provides a simple way of thinking about the implications of scale, in this case scale of the growing human enterprise relative to a finite global ecosystem. Our growing economy is a fundamental player in this relationship.

Thus, sustainability calls into question the limits of growth. Can we imagine a healthy community without economic growth? Is economic development only possible when there is economic growth? Are gains in human welfare dependent upon increases in income and material standards of living? Where do markets and the market economy fit when sustainable development is the strategy? Is capitalism compatible with sustainable development and, if so, under what terms? What fundamental human needs need be met for a community to be considered healthy? This list could go on. The bottom line is that sustainability raises some very fundamental questions about how we see ourselves in relation to each other and the world around us.

This is obviously a bigger set of questions than I can deal with in twenty minutes. But it provides the context within which I will explore the idea of a healthy community. The health of our economy, our environment, and humans, both individually and collectively, are closely interrelated. I often introduce myself as a recovering economist. This is not meant to disparage the discipline. It is, however, meant to convey that I am not what you would call a mainstream economist. My strongest professional affiliation is community development and my focus is community sustainability.

Sustainability is often viewed within the context of the three E’s – economy, environment, and equity – or the three P’s – people, planet, and profit. A related approach in the business or private sector is the triple bottom line of sustainability, which maintains that practices that are positive socially and environmentally are also good for the bottom line of profits. The typical sustainability framework, and this is true at the community level, emphasizes three interrelated policy goals that reflect this tripartite view.

The first is the notion of sustainable scale. It focuses on the size and functioning of the economy and its “throughput” of resources relative to the health of both the supporting ecosystem and its human residents. This looks at depletion of resources on one side of the equation and pollution and waste streams that result from production and consumption decisions on the other side. The second is the idea of just distribution or equity. This focuses on whether peoples’ fundamental human needs are being met and identifying and removing barriers that prevent this from happening. The third is an emphasis on the efficient allocation of resources. Markets are the mechanism of choice in this case, but they need to be structured in ways to minimize the impacts of “market failure” due to external costs, provision of public goods such as clean air and water, and so on. These three policy goals are listed in their order of implementation. Policies to ensure sustainable scale and just distribution are preconditions for efficient allocation.

We are clearly moving toward a new economy. It remains to be seen what this economy will look like, but current approaches and descriptions include green economy, green collar economy, clean economy, post-carbon (or carbon neutral) economy, circular (recycling) economy, steady-state economy, human-scale economy, and local living economy. Similarly, there is ongoing conceptual reform within the economics profession anchored around these ideas: adjusting economic scale, shifting from growth to development, making prices tell the ecological truth, accounting for nature’s contribution (valuing ecosystem services), applying the precautionary principle (to assess technological change), revitalizing the management of the commons (open access resources), and valuing women. 

My remarks at the symposium will explore what I feel are key elements of the new thinking and practices that will shape a healthy, sustainable community economy. I will build on the basic introductory context I have offered here. The following themes will be emphasized:

    •    Localization. This emphasizes localizing economic production, thinking local first, relocalization, local ownership, and import substitution. These are not new ideas but they are attracting increasing interest as communities embrace sustainability. The local foods movement is an excellent example of such ideas in practice, and their applicability to other types of production and consumption is being explored.
    •    Modeling sustainability. This emphasizes working with nature as we integrate human activities with our natural systems. It includes physical design, attention to ecosystem services, and community-based natural resource management.
    •    Mobilizing local assets. Localization has local financial implications. There is support for local financial institutions that emphasize matching local resources with local investments. Communities are experimenting with local currencies, microfinance, and notions like “slow money” to promote a more equitable distribution of resources.
    •    Meeting human needs. Manfred Max-Neef, a Chilean economist, has identified nine fundamental human needs: subsistence, protection, participation, idleness, affection, understanding, creativity, identity, and freedom. They are seen as the same in all cultures and historical periods; what changes are the ways they are satisfied. Any fundamental human need that is not satisfied reveals a form of human poverty.
    •    Cultivating connections. This looks at the social capital in a community. All of the previously listed themes play a role in promoting this by creating a sense of place, by connecting producers with consumers and lenders with borrowers, and so on.
    •    Increasing community resilience. Resilience is the ability of a community (or system) to retain its integrity and ability to function in the face of changes and external shocks. Descriptors such as sturdy, stable, durable, and hardy come to mind. Although there are elements of self-reliance in resilience, it is a broader concept that reflects a movement away from rapid growth as the guiding economic principle.
    •    Precautionary principle. This principle relates to science, uncertainty, technological change, and the decisions that surround policies and actions. “This principle allows policy makers to make discretionary decisions in situations where there is the possibility of harm from taking a particular course or making a certain decision when extensive scientific knowledge on the matter is lacking. The principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. These protections can be relaxed only if further scientific findings emerge that provide sound evidence that no harm will result.”
    •    Metrics that matter. What we measure should be things that really matter and that show success with respect to community sustainability.

This list is not all-inclusive but clearly indicates that it’s no longer just about jobs and income. A healthy community economy localizes production and finance as much as possible, works to ensure that everyone’s human needs are being met, functions in harmony with local ecosystems, and strives for community resilience.

DEFINING A SPIRITUALLY HEALTHY COMMUNITY: How do we recognize it? Why does it matter?

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch
Temple Beth El
Madison, Wisconsin

A Paradigm from the Past
Somewhere between 200 BCE and 200 CE, the religious leaders of the Jewish community of the land of Israel began to produce what became Judaism’s major corpus of civil, criminal, and religious law.  Although this work drew its ecclesiastical authority from the Hebrew Bible, it was clearly the product of the human religious and civil authorities of the time.  They had the sanction to interpret the Bible for the people of their day, to expand on the Bible’s meaning, and to explain to the people the expectations of their god.
In addition to laws and rules designed to maintain a civil and religiously coherent community, they also composed a special, smaller collection of guidelines that directed the public behavior and comportment of the judges of their society.
In the context of that era, their jurists were the same people as the law-creators, and their title was, in Hebrew, “rav”, or “teacher” (“rabbi” in our day).  The implication of this title of “teacher” was this:  A “teacher” needed not only to demonstrate a knowledge of and facility with the law and how to apply it, but one also needed to be willing to teach through doing and acting, to serve as an exemplar of righteous behavior.  The rules found in this judicial guidebook directed the hearts and hands of those who would judge the people according to the laws they created and adjudicated.
One proverb in this collection of guidelines for public judicial behavior pertains directly to the creation and preservation of a spiritually healthy community.  It is this:  “Reflect on three things - knowing what is above you - and you will never come to sin: an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and all your deeds recorded in a book.”  (Mishnah Avot 2:1)
People in that society believed that God was, indeed, watching, listening, recording, judging, and reacting to their behavior.  And because of this divine oversight and the possible retribution that would come as a result of missteps, the judges and, by extension, the citizens whom they taught felt a steadfast responsibility toward God to preserve their society through the rules found in the Bible and their extra -biblical legal codes.  They believed that their individual and collective actions could affect God’s actions - positively and negatively - toward their world.
Accordingly, they performed their daily tasks and interactions with these assumptions operating in the background: They acted with the sincere belief that each person was responsible for the fate of the world, and that - through their individual and collective actions - each citizen was directly accountable to one another and to God.
Translating Then Into Now
These early Jews produced a spiritually healthy community, with each citizen doing his and her share to maintain order through religiously inspired and directed behavior; I would have to assume that many homogeneously religious communities before and since have produced a similar kind of society for themselves.  Their hope was to satisfy a set of values that existed beyond themselves.  Through the perceived reality of the ever-present deity, they suppressed some of their immediate, personal needs and desires, and focused on the advancement of the community and society.
It is this sense of principled and upright obligation to something greater than the self -to citizens living around the corner, to the world, or to one’s god - that can, once again, lead us to the creation of a spiritually healthy community today.  What’s needed is the identification and promotion of a strong, positive, unifying factor through which people in the community can strengthen and vitalize their connections to one another.
Because of the religious and political diversity that we Americans cherish, this challenge is great.  In our times, a single, coherent religious, theological, or philosophical belief system is not present in diverse modern communities.  Unified thinking along religious, political, and philosophical lines tends to exists only in the most circumscribed of cultures, and our American next door neighbor today is far less likely to be a member of the same religious community as we, or have any other affinity that would by happenstance bind them to us.  So we have to look elsewhere.
Don’t misunderstand me.  Diversity is a healthy and necessary component of society.  It is a positive societal value that we should promote.  But I believe that creating a communal sense of accountability to a higher cause - the notion that each member of society is accountable to an entity greater than him- or herself - is what can lead to the creation and preservation of a spiritually healthy community.
I believe that we can create aspects of a spiritually healthy community in our day, but doing so requires developing a connection between people that is different from the past.  Members of a community need to create a new appreciation for some positive concept or purpose that his larger than themselves, some value toward which citizens can develop a common bond and, at the same time, express a sense of wholesome commitment.  This would mean that each citizen would need to restrain the narcissistic attitudes and behavior that characterizes our society today - we would have to renounce the hubris that we tend to feel - and think about acting in more humble ways for the benefit of the entire community.
In “Fiddler on the Roof”, the 1960’s musical adaptation of the stories of Shalom Aleichem, Tevye the Dairyman refers to this fidelity to God and God’s purposes when outlining his daily tasks that are dictated by ‘tradition’:
“Here in Anatevka we have our traditions for everything: how to eat, how to sleep, how to work, even how to wear clothes.  For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and we wear these little prayer shawls.  This shows our constant devotion to God.”
Tevye’s prescription for a spiritually healthy community would be appropriate for the people of ancient Israel or for the shtetl of Nineteenth century Eastern Europe, but not necessarily for 21st century America.  In our day, our challenge is to find unifying factors toward which people will demonstrate fidelity and commitment:
    •    There must be a belief that one is responsible - through one’s actions - to others.
    •    There must be an acceptance of the reality that one’s actions will have an effect on others, both in positive and negative ways.
    •    There must be a common presumption that there will be a negative consequence if one does not bear in mind, and act in accordance with the first two understandings.
    •    Individuals must feel a true sense of remorse if they commit a misstep, and a true dedication toward the reconciling or repair of any relationship that breaks down.
How we get to this point is a great challenge, and for a number of reasons:
We will ask people to discover or manufacture various kinds of personal affiliations that need to be commonly accepted, and which may not have been present in the past.  We will ask people - at the beginning - to work with those whose lifestyles and value choices will be unfamiliar at best, and difficult to accept at worst.  And we will ask people to pursue a set of objectives whose ends may not be easily perceived, and whose purposes - at first - may be a bit unclear.
So we’d be compelling people to think and act in unaccustomed ways and urging people to take risks for an intangible goal.  These actions will certainly be frightening, if not downright unacceptable, at the start.
The Components of a Spiritually Healthy Community
These would be the characteristics and components of the spiritually healthy community, as a place where, even within the American ethos of diversity, we would have coherence of spirit and purpose:
    •    There would be a sense of positive intention toward other individuals and community at large.  Each person would ascribe positive and constructive motivations to the actions of others.
    •    There would be respect for all people.  The community would maintain the value that acceptance, and not merely the tolerance, of diversity, based on religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, race, nationality, and ethnic background, is the true accepted community norm.
    •    There would be encouragement for each individual citizen to search for his or her individual spiritual path.
    •    There would be a continuous search for discovering the best ways of educating one community group about another, whether in the context of religious congregations, service organizations, advocacy groups, municipal decision making bodies, or other community affiliations.
    •    The leaders of religious congregations, service organizations, advocacy groups, municipal decision making bodies, or other community affiliations would continuously promote the values of acceptance of those of other groups within their organizations.
    •    Local media would strive for complete objectivity in presenting issues for community dialogue and debate; this would be a stated goal of each media outlet.
    •    In the community, there would be opportunities for education, on a strictly objective basis, of issues of international concern that touch upon the community groups in the community.  Even problematic issues (such as our contemporary concerns about the Middle East, the priest pedophilia scandal, church-state separation issues, and more) would be presented with objectivity, so that each position can be understood by all and, thereby, opinions formed.
    •    Through this educational process, people would not merely receive information, but they would also be encouraged to search for, talk about, and promote solutions to the problems examined.
    •    The leaders of the community and its organizations would search for ways to train future leaders with the same vision of a spiritually healthy community.
Why is This Important?
Simply put, a spiritually healthy community would provide a crucial sense of security for the individual, for the various affinity groups that people belong to, and for the community.
In a spiritually healthy community, people act in ways that demonstrate acceptance of others.
In a spiritually healthy community, there can be a vigorous and positive curiosity about the different groups in the community, or issues outside of the community.
In a spiritually healthy community, where there would be the promotion of education and the expansion of knowledge, no person or group would have to worry about being marginalized, and everyone would be able to look with optimism toward the future.
In a spiritually healthy community, people who live with a sense of security and peace can grow in many other ways: creativity can flourish, and minds can expand.
In a spiritually healthy community, there would be a consensus that solving current and future problems through education and dialogue is part of the communal agenda, and is possible in a peaceful and meaningful way.
In a spiritually healthy community, citizens would continually search for ways to provide a positive local response - and perhaps offer suggestions - to the issues that plague the overall society, such as economic disparities between and among people, chronic illness and widespread epidemic, emergency responses to tragedies, and the like.
In a true spiritually healthy community, no one would focus on the differences that have tended in the past to force people apart.  To the contrary, people would be supportive of others’ successes, and they would promote the elevation of all people regardless of their individual state of being.
Can We Get There? 
To achieve a spiritually healthy community, we would need to promote the reframing of some of the attitudes that historically have pervaded the human mind.  The Second Century judicial guidebook from the land of Israel that I referenced earlier in my presentation offers some guidance in that regard.
The masters of that tradition understood the need for reorienting our minds to new ways of looking at the world, and for changing attitudes that can cloud human thinking.  They suggest the following reframing of our understanding.  They wrote:
“Who is ‘wise?’  They who learn from everyone.  Who is ‘mighty?’  They who subdue their aggressive tendencies.  Who is ‘wealthy?’  They who are happy with their lot in life.  Who is ‘honorable?’  They who honor others.”  (Mishnah Avot 4:1)
The authors of these words knew that, without guidance and discipline, humans use ideas and concepts to promote the individual, rather than communal or joint agendas.  The ‘teachers’ of that time suggested that changing the way we look at ourselves and our needs will lead to a better world.
In our day, the task of creating the spiritually healthy community will require a similar kind of paradigm shift.  Let us begin this task today.


Barbara Lawton
Lieutenant Governor
State of Wisconsin

My profile of a politically healthy community evokes that Eden of a democracy that is the object of longing and (likely) misplaced nostalgia, whose contours have become more vivid to me with each year in office.

The politically healthy community is one where all of its citizens have the possibility of thriving. There, we cease to look for ways to eliminate poverty, with inadequate political constructions as a measure of our success.  Instead we define prosperity at its minimum as a goal for every community member. I understand the goal of prosperity to mean the ability to feed, clothe, house, educate and nurture your family, and have that extra personal or social capital that allows you to make a contribution to your community as well.

To ensure that all citizens can develop their unique gifts and offer their best contribution to support a clear vision of the common good, there must be a strong system of public education, opportunities for continuing education as adults and a well-equipped and accessible public library system.  These are the incubators of individual capacity that spawn higher-level civic engagement.

If a community is to successfully draw on its talent and engage it in the decision-making process for public issues,
public service must be held in esteem, and dignity afforded those in elective office.
there is a high level of representatively diverse participation in partisan political parties, full ballots and contested races at every level.
it must boast a healthy non-profit sector that seeks innovation and partners with government appropriately – without supplanting a democratic government’s essential functions.

Leaders in a politically healthy community champion a diverse culture; develop the security of mutual respect by focusing the public agenda always on a clear vision for the common good; and encourage inquisitiveness, creativity and self-reliance among community members. 

That leadership –in the schools, in local government and in the non-profit sector— cuts across socio-economic levels; is renewed continually with systematic recruitment and development that reflects diverse needs and perspectives; and propels local talent to state, national and international stages with the innovative ideas and models that emerge in that rich matrix of talent.  That leadership models civility, nurtures and insists on the integrity of the community and of its public debate, and eschews the “us v. them” dichotomy that could create fissures within. 

A politically healthy community has strong cultural definition.  It enjoys shared community pride in its history, monuments and artifacts, natural resources and continued high quality of life.  And its operations stem from an ethos of generosity and equal opportunity, a deep public value of diversity, and robust institutional structures and habits that foster cooperation and collaboration between organizations, and the public and private sectors.

This community is sustained by a free, open and politically astute press corps whose work is grounded in a strong ethic of civic responsibility and integrity.  And the press is adequate to provide in-depth coverage of the issues and activities of the community, encouraging and demonstrating a varied and skilled approach to community problem-solving.  A high percentage of the community is “connected”, awash in a free flow of ideas moving via many media.

A politically healthy community in fact defines its wealth in ideas – in new technologies and products that enrich the economy, but also in ideas that are embodied in customs and institutions, in the ordinances that evolve with and reflect the community as a healthy place for investment and for talent to grow.

A politically healthy community provides its members economic security and physical safety.  Good low-income housing stock and public transportation are available; law enforcement is a respected and trusted presence; and a high percentage of locally-owned businesses operate successfully in a fluid economy.

I believe that the arts and humanities form the cultural infrastructure of a civil society, and therefore a politically healthy community.  A democracy cannot flourish without them.  They provide the creativity and spontaneity and sense of freedom necessary to fuel the ongoing struggle that is democracy.  A politically healthy community invests in the arts to ensure the context and conditions that will make it robust and prosperous.