Sometimes when I watch television or browse the shelves at the supermarket, I start to feel like the old man played by Edward G. Robinson in the movie “Soylent Green.” Although the movie takes place in some near distant future when the global environment has been pillaged and abused to the point where even the ocean is barren and the masses of people are left eating green wafers made out of recycled people, the old man, I figured, was born around 1950, which is also my birth year. I shutter to think that this could be the future-my future-our future?

The future looks gruesomely grim when you start to project current trends and phenomena such as the proliferation of new germs and diseases, changing weather patterns, terrorism, the widening gap between the wealthy and the poverty stricken, the demise of family farms and farmland to make way for the sprawl of tract mansions surrounded by miles of mulch and mono-crop lawns and with garages that have automatic garage door openers so that we don’t have to talk to our neighbors or set foot on the soil or to make way for the invasion of “Wal-Martians” and agribusiness developments such as livestock concentration camps and egg factories, day care and gangs and retirement resorts taking the place of family, the phenomenon of road rage, and the rapid (or is it rabid?) rise and growing myopia of religious fundamentalism. It does not take much to imagine the remnants of an urban horde squatting in what was once a disneyfied downtown now surrounded by armed suburban enclaves or with eco-vigilantes lurking in what’s left of the dying woods on the edge of town. June and Ward meet Mad Max in Metropolis while David Bowie singing “Diamond Dogs” is heard on the nostalgia radio station.

I see images of 1984 and the one time TV show called “Max Headroom,” and scenes from movies like “Brazil,” “Blade-runner,” or even “Logan’s Run” come to mind....I cringe to think that such art could predict future reality, but even without such projections, I find my limbs quaking as I listen to the news and observe the current state of the nation and of the world. You can no longer “duck and cover” and then walk home from school after the nuclear flash. And I don’t even want to wonder where cultural expression might end up after Marilyn Manson and Limp Bizkit!

I can understand but not justify much of the frantic escape behavior and denial prevalent in today’s world. After all, flight seems a logical response when things seem too overwhelming to fight. Yet I refuse to numb myself with substance abuse or to escape into hedonism; although I must admit that there are days when I could easily drop out like some postmodern hippie or run away to join a shamanistic commune in Peru! Nevertheless, I hope that there are some other options besides joining a xenophobic militia group stockpiling weapons and freeze-dried survivalist food, or taping crystals to my forehead as I visualize the Mothership beaming me up to a New-Age Nirvana or transporting me to some galactic Shangri-La, or joining Apocalyptic Paranoids Anonymous while I wait for a pole shift to cover me in mud like some latter-day Pompeian. Yet still I have this fear that I might wake up on my 72nd birthday and want to make an appointment at the Ethical Suicide Parlor, like the old man in “Soylent Green.” Of course if I were such a fatalist in regards to current events and trends or news stories, I do not know as I would want to wait around until June 26,2022 to sing Happy Birthday while I drift off into oblivion- assuming that death is oblivion and that suicide will not abort one, ill-prepared, into another world prematurely.

Actually, I do not wish to paint my future soylent green, nor do I want to give power to these projected images of gloom and doom by visualizing such a possibility. If I am going to go green using art to suggest our future reality, I would rather look to the Emerald City of Oz!

In L. Frank Baum’s book, The Emerald City of Oz, we read that there was no poverty in Oz; it was a place of great beauty and equity where people shared freely with each other. In times of need there were community storehouses with supplies for all, which were later replenished in times of plenty. “Every one worked half the time and played half the time, and the people enjoyed the work as much as they enjoyed the play, because it is good to be occupied and to have something to do.” People were treated with kindness; there was “no one to rebuke them or to find fault with them. So each one was proud to do all he could for his friends and neighbors, and was glad when they would accept the things he produced.” As the book points out, “the Land of Oz was a remarkable country.”

This sounds like utopia. As the narrator in The Emerald City of Oz states, “I do not suppose such an arrangement would be practical with us, but Dorothy assures me that it works finely with the Oz people.” However, if you juxtapose the image of the Emerald City with the suggested truth of Buckminster Fuller’s Operation Manual for Spaceship Earth “that the physical component of wealth-energy-cannot decrease and that the metaphysical constituent- know-how-can only increase,” “that everytime we use our wealth it increases,” and “that, countering entropy, wealth can only increase,” then our current notion of reality is not a Malthus-Darwin matter of overpopulation with dwindling or limited resources, but a question of volition. We the people of Earth, unlike those in Oz, do not have the will to act-to embrace such green values as nonviolence, diversity, grassroots democracy, social justice, responsibility, and ecological wisdom, and to jeer something as utopian is just a smoke screen to skirt the issue. We have to make choices; to use the metaphors suggested by the Oz epic, we can either fall asleep in the poppy-fields of the wicked which of the West or we can work together synergistically and ecologically to follow the yellow brick road.

Personally, I believe in the basic nobility of women and men and in the triumphant nature of human spirituality. While my expectations are realistic, I have eschatological hope for the future, as I work to change the world one heart at a time starting with myself- to work to promote peace and the unity of mankind and to take care of our remarkable earth. (Someone else can help “shapeshift” the corporations.) I trust that we as individuals and as an emerging global society have the capacity to “overcome,” and that our “ultimate creation will be” as Charles Reich points out in The Greening of America, “a new and enduring beauty- a renewed relationship of man to himself, to other men, to society, to nature, and to the land.”

I do not wish to return to the doom and gloom, however, my thought is that it might be too late to avoid some of the effects of certain trends and events, especially those related to environmental disregard coupled with inappropriate technology and the current economic fiction. The Hopi elders suggest that this might be the case; we can mitigate the severity but not prevent the possibility of some calamitous upheaval, like the twister which landed Dorothy in Oz! For too long have we chosen to be a flea on the skin of our mother rather than a conscious gardener nurturing the earth and celebrating life as we plant seeds and pray, which is the Hopi Way.

This is why you and I must act now. If we can articulate a vision, then we can better define goals and objectives to make that dream a reality. With out a vision you might as well give up the Ruby Slippers and wait for soylent green. I, for one, do not want to wake up in 2022 and find that my home doesn’t even look like Kansas any more, much less like Oz; I want to have a say as to what kind of green the future gets colored. My guess is that you feel the same way.

Clicking our ruby slippered heels, we are back in Ohio. This brings us to the Citizens Grassroots Congress, supported by the Central Ohio Green Education. The mission of the Citizens Grassroots Congress is “to engender a vision for Central Ohio based on the values of nonviolence, diversity, grassroots democracy, social justice, responsibility, and ecological wisdom, and to realize that vision through networking and education.” This means coming together and consulting and working towards consensus. That means you too! All voices are vital in visioning a future for Columbus and Central Ohio. Like in the Oz story, Dorothy and her companions are trying to get to the Emerald City and the wisdom of the wizard. Dorothy wants to get home; the Scarecrow wants a brain; the Tin Man wants a heart, and the Lion wants courage. As individuals alone, they never would have made it down the yellow brick road, but by traveling together, they are able to make up for what each one lacks. Together they overcome their separate challenges and make it to the Emerald City (only to discover, of course, that the secrets have been have within themselves all the while).

If I were to imagine a Schrodinger’s cat ride down the yellow brick road towards an alternative future for Columbus, Ohio, what would I want to envision? First I would imagine that Columbus has become part of a global spiritual awakening. All religions are seen as different historical traditions worshipping the same Creator; even humanists and materialists have come to realize the value of a transcendental reality. Related to this would be the realization that all people on the planet are one extended family in which diversity is celebrated, shared, and appreciated; this would free up resources wasted on arms buildup and war. Tandem to this would be a recognition that ecology and economics come from the same Greek root word meaning “home”- “there’s no place like home” was Dorothy’s mantra, and people would act accordingly; this understanding of home would facilitate environmental awareness and responsibility along with concern for social and economic justice.

Citizens in metro Columbus would begin to perceive a single organic urban area rather than separate sovereign municipalities. A unified metropolitan complex seen as part of a larger coordinated bio-region, most likely defined by the Scioto/Olentangy river system, would emerge. Personally, I would want to think of the city as an architectural sculpture park set in a regional garden, where everyone’s life is like a dance! In addition, the citizens of the city would recognize the primacy of agriculture, as the foundation of their community, along with the need to embrace the idea of the “oneness of mankind” as the basis of prosperity for all social and economic development.

Ecology would become the watchword for the city’s growth.... Future expansion of the urban complex would be set, based on the carrying capacity of the environmental systems. All planning and new development would be guided by a regional environmental inventory and analysis that would also include information about cultural and historical artifacts and patterns worthy of conservation or preservation. The environmental inventory and analysis would define areas where industrial development would have the least impact, and there would have been a moratorium on any new suburban sprawl development until all agricultural and natural wildlife habitat land in need of preservation was identified. Initially, property owners of such impacted land would have been given transfer development rights or other forms of compensation, but mostly attitudes would have begun to change in regards to land ownership and to land as a commodity versus land as a community resource and trust.

Finally, as I imagine my arrival to Columbus in 2022, I begin to see some of the details of my future vision. The river corridors are recreational spines with parks, community gardens and bikeways; they are interconnected to other recreational and cultural areas such as sports facilities, community centers, schools, museums, pools, and golf courses etc. by pedestrian greenways and bikeways. Private cars are seen as an inconvenience. Mass transit is impeccably and justly developed along with public ride and park bicycles; this includes rail service to satellite towns and villages and to the surrounding county seats. Interstate right of ways have been reforested. Hemp has become a cash crop for paper, cloth, and oil; it is being raised on more marginal farmland not as suitable for food production. Most people are eating locally produced farm products, and many are growing their own food at home. Gangs have become nonviolent eco-warriors vying to beautify their turf and to grow produce for neighborhood shut-ins. A lot of the suburban housing is becoming co-housing and some suburban neighborhoods are becoming truck-farming coops and communes with guest housing for homeless people. Toilet paper is being produced locally from recycled fibers. Urban neighborhoods and suburban small towns have become grassroots democracies coordinated by a regional government and school system. Because of the spiritual awakening, partisan politics is a remnant of the past, and government has become public service with a commitment to consultation and consensus. Downtown Columbus is a vital high density place in which to live and meet friends and to do business, offering a variety of residential options and a diversity of cultural, educational, and entertainment opportunities. In addition, satellite urban centers have been retrofitted over some of the previous commercial concentrations such as Easton, Sawmill, and Brice. Of course, my neighborhood in Olde Gahanna has become an arts and craftsperson colony, and it’s best that I keep my future vision of Polaris to myself.

So this is just one possible view of a future for Central Ohio; I am only one voice. I am sure that there are many more voices with visions out there. How about yours? If you want to contribute your thoughts to a greater green visioning as we join together through the Citizens Grassroots Congress, then send us your personal vision statement and get your favorite organization or local neighborhood group to create and craft a collective community visioning statement and send it along, also, to the Citizens Grassroots Congress, c/o Joe Keehner Jr., P.O. Box 307376, Gahanna, OH., 43230. “Please follow the yellow brick road...”

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