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One Brief Shining Moment?

Jan Christensenby Jan Christensen

Riverwest is rich with opportunities, any of which could lead to triumph or disaster. Gentrification is presenting the challenges of higher living expenses, and the opportunities of increased wealth. Garden Park, Kilbourn Park, and Reservoir Park could be potential problems. But if we, as a neighborhood, exercise some wisdom and courage and energy, we can bring these vital green spaces under the direct control of our neighborhood. Of course, we don’t know how any of our plans will end up. We might just have “one brief shining moment” of idealism and good intentions before it all comes crashing down. The article on the front page of this issue (“Rebirth and New Use Follow Failure and Abuse“) tells the story of big dreams and idealistic plans that were tackled with great energy and the best intentions. But not only did they not take place as planned, they led to an outcome that was worse than anyone had anticipated, with contaminated fill dumped in the demolished basement of what was meant to be a community center. Many people had the rug pulled out from under them during the neighborhood attempt to reclaim the Pulaski Building. Many lost their innocence. Some lost their shirts. But what do you do when you find yourself sitting unexpectedly in the dust among fragments of broken dreams? I guess I’m of the “pick yourself up, dust off your dignity, and find a new dream” school of thought. You don’t know how things will end up…some of your dreams might come true in ways you couldn’t have imagined. In 1995 I interviewed one of my personal heroes, Paul Hawken, whose book, Growing a Business and The Ecology of Commerce, helped me survive the cynicism of the 1980s. Paul had just started a huge project. His goal was to help American businesses deal with the horrors of environmental degradation brought about by our culture of over-consumption. I interviewed Paul as part of a study on business ethics. The study was a nightmare; what I was discovering had brought on a profound depression. During the interview, I threw my carefully-composed list of questions aside and asked, “How can you go on with what you do, knowing how hopeless it all seems?” Paul answered, “If I do nothing, I feel pretty sure all will be lost. If I do something, I don’t know what might happen.” Garden Park TodayThe corner of Locust and Bremen didn’t “end up” as a forlorn vacant lot. It’s now a thriving community park, with a weekly farmer’s market filled with vendors, live music, and friendly people. We can’t know the outcome of our actions. There’s never an “end,” just an ongoing process — a mixture of pleasure and pain. The outcome of Paul Hawken’s project was Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, a book that many believe will be a vital tool in the new century. At about the time that book was being released, Paul himself was lying on a sidewalk in Seattle waiting for the tear gas to clear from his eyes during the World Trade Organization demonstrations. The history of our neighborhood, and the history of our lives, is made up of shining moments, and moments that feel like tragedy and failure. The quality of our lives is made up of those moments. We have many opportunities right now. Let’s make some careful, thoughtful decisions, and take action. Because we don’t know what might happen.


Read More About Paul Hawken:The Next Reformation: an interview with Paul Hawken” – by Sarah van Gelder – The underlying principles of industrialism no longer work, and a new system is emerging to take its place… – Business on a Small Planet, 1995 Paul Hawken and the Ecology of Commerce: Towards a Sustainable Masonry Heater (This article originally appeared in Volume 7 No. 1 of Masonry Heater Association News and is the second of two articles reporting on the The First International Conference on Sustainable Construction.) “Toward a Restorative Economy” – Natural Life Magazine #44 Paul Hawken, “On the WTO Protests in SeattleRiverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 8 – September 2002
by Jan Christensen