Speaker stresses importance of social interaction

Monday, October 4, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:52 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2008

Compelled by concern about fast-paced consumer culture and its impact on the environment, about 300 people attended the second annual Sustainable Living Fair on Saturday at the Unity Center of Columbia.

The main attraction was a lecture by Mark Lakeman, the project coordinator and board director of the City Repair Project of Portland, Ore. His lecture, “The Village Lives,” focused on the importance of social interactions between community members in creating more sustainable communities.

Lakeman commented on the absence of large public spaces for social interactions, as ancient villages had. Such places are common in Europe and other parts of the world.

Lakeman said the increased distance between members of communities devalues the communities and the environment because it lessens the sense of connection.

“When time and space, everything is for sale, nothing remains sacred,” Lakeman said.

Aiming to address this problem, the City Repair Project, a volunteer organization, formed in 1996. One of its first projects was to build an area where people could gather and interact. Sherrett Square, popularly known as Share-it Square, was the first public square constructed in the United States since 1930.

Although the plan for the square was outlined on the roof of a parking garage in the 1970s, it was not executed until 1996. Despite initial opposition to using public property, the project resulted in a stronger bond among community members and larger-scale social changes, Lakeman said.

Inspired by the square’s success, City Repair Project volunteers continued to encourage smaller neighborhoods to build gathering places. Although it might be successful on a larger scale, each individual project is surrounded by uncertainties, he said.

“It’s such a roller-coaster ride, you never know which way it’s going to go,” Lakeman said.

But when successful, such self-generated change has proved catalytic, Lakeman said. He said the City Repair Project has drawn people to Portland from all over the country and encouraged the use of more alternative and sustainable fuels, public transportation and bicycle use.

“We have inspired things in a general way,” Lakeman said.

About 70 people listened to Lakeman’s speech. Kerry Hirth, a 32-year old lawyer from Columbia, said she came because of her longstanding interest in sustainable living and was encouraged and inspired by Lakeman’s talk.

“It improved my trust in humanity because the communities had been so successful in diverse and creative ways,” Hirth said.

Organized by the Center for Sustainable Living and the Columbia Earth Day Coalition, the fair featured 16 hourlong workshops that focused on aspects of sustainable lifestyles.

Each person attending chose from four workshops each hour. Starting with an introduction to sustainability by Greg Baka of the Center for Sustainable Living, the fair included workshops on building solar homes, home scale permaculture and renewable energy.

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