When Paul Glover pitched this week's cover story — a guide for surviving the economic downturn and emerging stronger, healthier and greener — I was more than a little excited. Glover's something of a legend. A longtime mover and shaker in planning and urban ecology, he came to Philadelphia from Ithaca, N.Y., three and a half years ago. Since then, he's been creating organizations designed to sow his own particular brand of social justice. From the nascent PhilaHealthia (a health co-op) to the Philadelphia Orchard Project (converting vacant lots into food sources) to his latest venture, Green Jobs Philly, a network designed to create jobs that'll help green the city, Glover strives to empower communities.
Granted, Glover's ideas and ventures can seem off-the-wall. He advocates living in earth shelters (the ground is the best insulation), using gray water (why do we need sterile water in toilets?) and legalizing marijuana (because crime is high enough and pot is fun*clarification). In 1991 he founded Ithaca HOURS, an alternative currency program where community members exchange work and time for community-printed money. He was the driving force behind Ithaca Health Alliance, a program wherein for $100 a year, members received emergency care and part-ownership of a free clinic. His ideas are always, on one level or another, entirely sensible. But they often require a very, very big shift in thinking.
"Everything that is normal around us was once a wild idea," says Glover matter-of-factly. "The automobile started as a wild idea. The roof, table, chairs, plumbing, everything common was once a crazy idea. We have all adapted to new normals."
With Philadelphia staring at twin global economic and environmental crises, the time is ripe for some new normals. Hard times can be fertile ground for reinvention.
"In the last six months, I've seen a dramatic change in attitudes," says Glover, an adjunct professor in Temple's Geography & Urban Studies department. "In the last semester, since the economy fell apart, [my students] are talking about fundamental economic change. ... Many of the most conservative have realized that conservatism doesn't conserve; that liberalism doesn't liberate. Take the pulse of people in Fishtown and the Northeast to gauge the extent that they're thinking radically."
Which is to say that it's not just lefty activists who are looking for better solutions. But change can be intimidating. How do you get people to buy into, say, an alternative currency program when they're not making ends meet in the system they're in? Recalling his effort getting Ithaca HOURS off the ground, Glover explains: "I designed the money, I made copies and went around and waved them at people. 'This is going to be money,' I said. 'We'll trade it with each other. Sign up here.'"
That money has been exchanged for millions of dollars of goods and services in the Ithaca area.
To hear Glover explain how a program evolves is like talking with a Zen master. "You create a small program which begins with the people who are ready to begin. It grows as it's meant to. The people who fall into them take over and define them to suit their styles."
Empowering communities is grassroots organizing at its most essential level. Right now it's a matter of spreading the word, letting people know there are ways out of disaster.
"If the ship is sinking, people will climb to the top of the mast, and they'll fight over the top 2 feet," says Glover, "unless someone throws a lifeline, and says, 'Leave the ship! We're building life rafts!' And if we're building life rafts, we don't have to pry people loose from a rotting system."
Many readers noted the absence of Rob Brezsny's Real Astrology from last week's paper. He's not in this week's, either. But fear not: Rob's horoscopes can be read weekly at citypaper.net/astrology.
* Glover notes that though he advocates decriminalization of marijuana, he does not advocate recreational use.