Sunday, October 12, 2008

Community Centers

When times get tight, people bond together. And if we think ahead, we can create the pieces of an infrastructure that is more community-oriented than the very individualistic, profit-oriented places that we live today. For example, community centers could be a way to help each ourselves and our neighborhoods and cities maintain a decent standard of living as the energy begins to drain out of our system.

A good community center, along with a community kitchen, would provide vital services to members that families could no longer afford to have at their homes. This would be especially key in a future where electricity and gasoline were rationed, exorbitantly expensive or unreliable. So what key services could a community center offer, if it had an off-grid solar panel system?


Medical Needs

  • A propane refrigerator for insulin and other vital medications such as anesthesia

Safety and Security

  • A weather alert system (if one was not otherwise functioning - vital in Oklahoma City)
  • Security alert system via sirens or even low-tech noisemakers like gongs
  • Communications via CB radio

Information

  • Computers for research
  • Networks such as Bright Neighbor to find resources right in the neighborhood
  • An information library (books, articles, videos)
  • A printer and copy machine for spreading key information via pamphlets and flyers

Entertainment

  • Entertainment nights with movies and music
A community center, with off-grid solar panels and functioning dependable electricity, could keep a neighborhood population functioning at a much higher level, with great physical and mental health benefits. How could we create such a place?

Think differently. A community center doesn't have to LOOK like a community center, with basketball courts or pool tables, or like a clubhouse in a gated neighborhood. Many different options are available. A community center could even have a different official purpose until it needed to change, or it could be designated as a community center right off the bat. The vital thing, in my mind, is that the center have an off-grid electrical system.

A "community center" could be a library, where multiple computers, office equipment and information resources already exist. It could simply be a glorified shed at somebody's house with a computer, printer, propane fridge and solar panels. (Some people already use this type of extra building as a home office set up right outside their house).

It could belong to a group, or it could belong to the government, or even an individual - if it could be repurposed when it becomes necessary. So what are some ideas to consider, if you want to help increase the resilience of your community in a future of declining and unreliable resources?
  1. Update existing community centers. Schools, churches, libraries, and neighborhood clubhouses often have (or function as) community centers. These places, that have the advantages of an existing building with a community purpose, usually have much of the equipment that would be needed. Upgrades would likely consist of simply adding solar panels or propane fridges that would function during electrical blackouts. These upgrades could be funded by the host organization via community petition, fundraisers, or a local good Samaritan. Funding might even be available in community grants or in existing budgets.
  2. Repurpose an existing building. In some places, abandoned or foreclosed houses may become extremely common. A house right inside your neighborhood could be repurposed as a community center, if it had enough space and the proper infrastructure. These houses could possibly be picked up "cheap" at an auction and retrofitted with solar electricity. Buildings could be purchased by community or neighborhood organizations, foundations, or by an individual with deep pockets. Or families could pool their resources to purchase one - although this would require a certain level of trust and cooperation. Get creative! Individuals within your neighborhood might like to rent a "home office" right down the block. That could pay a good portion of the mortgage.
  3. Start from scratch. A community center could be custom built to fit your needs. This might be the the most expensive (if done conventionally) or cheap (if it is built by volunteers with local building materials like straw bale or cob or even just a modular shed). This could be an ongoing community project but would need a dedicated organizer to work with suppliers, contractors, and volunteers.
So there are many options for organizations or groups of dedicated people to form a community center, or even for a single individual to lay the groundwork for an existing community center to get the necessary upgrades. And if we are going to create this kind of potentially life and lifestyle saving resource, we better do it soon. While there's still things like solar panels and money left. Not to be alarmist, but a fast crash, whether due to declining energy or finances, is possible and becoming more likely every week that we ignore our predicament.

Does anyone else have suggestions for how to accomplish the (budget) creation of this type of place? Does anyone have suggestions for other vital equipment or functions to include in a community center?

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