An Interview with Arcata City Councilor Jason Kirkpatrick

2010-01-15 from:Democracy Unlimited author:Paul Cienfuegos

P: Could you briefly describe your vision for the green cities of the future?

J: Cities, regardless of population size, must be made up of small neighborhoods or communities in order to be cohesive enough to feel like true communities. For example, a future Los Angeles would have to be made up of hundreds of such communities. These communities would have a governance process consisting of a locally determined type of participatory democracy. This version of the world is not just around the corner, but I think it is pragmatic to begin working towards it now and not be apologetic for doing so.

P: Yes, but how do you realistically see cities transforming themselves from these monolithic centralized ecological dead-zones to, for example, an LA made up of hundreds of thriving participatory communities. Take me through the first few steps you envision, and how Green City Councils could-if indeed they could-make a difference in such a process.

J: Ask Lois Arkin in Los Angeles. Fifteen years ago she had the vision to create Eco-City LA. She and a small but hopeful group chose a two-block area near downtown LA for their project. They made drawings of what they hoped the neighborhood would look like one day. They've shown these plans all over and now own a large number of residences as well as a whole apartment complex. They transform ugly lots into community gardens. They create neighborhood spaces and plant trees. They involve local children and families in these projects. A small book by Paul Glover was written with a similar strategy in the late 80's also called Eco-City Los Angeles. Lois, myself, and eco-city leaders from Ithaca, Australia, and Berkeley all had a roundtable to talk about these ideas at Jerry Brown's "We the People" office last spring in Oakland.

A Green City Council can help by supporting projects such as these instead of giving away thousands of dollars worth of incentives to K-Mart's and mini-malls. Municipal governments regularly give huge sums of money for large development projects from their redevelopment funds, even though study after study shows that the growth generally ends up costing the city more over time due to increased maintenance of infrastructure like waste water treatment, roads, sewers, and policing. We need to reexamine the "benefits" of using public subsidies for capital improvements in these areas.

P: And finally, what do you realistically think Arcatans will most remember about your term of office 20 years from now?

J: It depends on how well the various projects I've worked on will pan out. I suppose I could be remembered for the bike lanes, the Free Bike Program, the Nicaraguan Sister-City Project, the Understanding Local Government workshops, or possibly the Jolly Giant Creek running through town or a domestic partnership policy. It remains to be seen what will become of Free Arcata Radio, a local monetary system, or a shift in the usage of our municipal reserve funds. It would be nice if all of these things would be successful here and then would spread to other communities. It would be fantastic if these small actions could be the beginnings of a community-based movement that was unstoppable.

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