I have a dream

Do you ever think about a better world? A world where everyone has a chance to be healthy, happy, and live a full life? A world where people have something to say about what happens to them, and where voting in elections feels like and is an exercise of true democratic power?

I know, I know: All that is nice, but it’s just a dream. None of that can ever happen.

Well, I need to believe it (or something on the way to it) can happen. And I don’t think it’s that unrealistic, if you really think about it.

Tell me what you think...

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In my dream, people all over the world have power and influence in their lives. They shop at cooperatives, bank at credit unions, and regularly participate in community councils.

In my dream the majority of decisions that affect our daily lives are made at the municipal or community level. The majority of taxes are levied by cities, towns or other municipalities. Funding for higher levels of government are provided by municipalities based on agreements arrived at between these municipalities - a new take on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Elections are a vital part of municipal life. With the increased power and influence of municipalities, these elections take on new significance, attract more and more varied and qualified candidates, as well as participation from the majority of voters. The introduction of proportional representation at the Provincial and Federal levels results in the creation of new political parties, all of which have a chance to be competitive come election time. This new vitality has invigorated political discussion and electoral participation: Anything less than 90% turnout for elections is considered disappointing.

All energy is produced locally, most of it through micro-generation by individuals and cooperatives, with surpluses added to a distributed grid managed by a municipal authority. Water is collected and filtered on site, possibly with provision for small-scale municipal treatments and distribution in case of droughts. Wastewater is treated in constructed wetlands located throughout communities.

Rather than owning their own homes, many people belong to housing co-ops. Some of these are comprised of single family homes, while most consist of town homes and apartments. Privately owned rental properties have all but disappeared. Neighbourhood gardens are spread throughout the city, some shared by those in particular housing complexes, other share by whole neighbourhoods. Virtually all food consumed in the summer months is grown locally, and some communities are experimenting with growing produce throughout the year in super-efficient greenhouses. Some food is transported between cities by rail; almost no food is imported from outside the country.

Cities have developed around accessible, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods. These neighbourhoods, in turn, are connected by rapid, light-rail transit. Smaller cities and towns have also developed in close, connected patterns, mostly accessible by walking, but also aided by 24 hour free bus service. These communities and cities, in turn, are connected by high speed rail links. While roads remain, the majority of all travel occurs by train, bus, bicycle and on foot.

Due to the broad participation in ownership of the economy, poverty has been eliminated. Indeed, in cases where someone is unable to participate in the economy, they are routinely cared for and supported by others in the community. There are still, however, formal social supports funded through taxation and administered by the municipalities…just in case.

With the elimination of poverty there has been a marked improvement in the overall health of the population and demand on the health care system. Of course, some of this is also attributed to the virtual elimination of urban air pollution and the extremely healthy diet of organically-grown local produce consumed by most of the population.

Finally, while the police service and the justice system remain intact and still do a small “business," the majority of crime, and particularly violent crime, has been eliminated. Given that the general ethos of society has shifted from competition and scarcity to cooperation and abundance, perhaps this isn’t surprising. Since everyone is able to participate in the economy and have a comparible level of ownership and power, there is little incentive for property crime. Reflecting on the new reality, people have come to realize the extent to which crime was primarily driven by competition, social and economic exclusion.

An additional benefit of the type of sensible, compact, and connected development that has occurred in the last number of years is that many of the biggest environmental concerns of the past have, well, disappeared. Greenhouse gas emissions have plummeted sharply with the virtual elimination of emissions for transportation and the increasing use of micro-generation, cogeneration and other energy efficiencies. In addition, significant amounts of natural wilderness, that would have been overtaken by sprawl, logging and other resource extraction, have been preserved. Floods and droughts that had come to be a regular occurrence have been decreasing as wetlands are being restored and natural wind-breaks and other microclimate-modifying natural features re-establish themselves.

The success of these models, first in Manitoba and then in Canada have caught the attention of other countries. As this new reality grew here, others around the world were experimenting with the same concepts. While in Europe some of this is not new, there is a new sense of global purpose, of reclaiming the world for the people. Now, problems that once seemed insurmountable - climate change, global poverty, gender violence - have solutions that seem within grasp.

Maybe there is hope for a better world after all?

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This is a dream, my utopia, from where I sit right now. It might seem a little far-fetched, but...

…If you break each part of that dream down, it comes down to choices we make along the way. Do we fund tax breaks to corporations, or the development of cooperatives? Do we spend money on building and patching roads and other infrastructure to far-flung suburbs, or do we make the most of the infrastructure we have by designing compact, efficient communities? Do we fund energy mega-projects like the oilsands and enormous hydroelectric projects thousands of kilometres from significant populations, or do we use those funds to develop the infrastructure to support micro and co-generation within the communities where the power will be used? Do we buy multi-billion-dollar military hardware to support missions to invade countries around the world, or do we spend those billions and trillions of dollars building a cross-country high speed rail networks?

These are all choices. Perhaps not choices that seem self-evidently good on their own but, I think, when presented in a broader vision, sound pretty good to me.

And, as I wake up from my dream, I think to myself, “Is all this really that hard? Is it rocket science?"

You know what? I don’t think it is…