Transformation In San Miguel De Allende

San Miguel 2000, a project for creating a sustainable city
in Guanajuato, Mexico by building coalitions

One of the articles in The Learning Revolution (IC#27)
Originally published in Winter 1991 on page 9
Copyright (c)1991, 1996 by Context Institute

For years my husband and I have been doing whatever we could to move into a fuller expression of service to humanity. The greatest leap in faith occurred almost two years ago, when we left our financial security behind, decided we’d rather live more simply, and dedicated our energy full time to the environment through our organization, Tierra Madre (Earth Mother). It seemed to be the most practical way to demonstrate the values we hold sacred.

Having been in the construction business full time and real estate part time, we had a comfortable home. One day, while sitting on the highest level terrace, overlooking our beloved town, something snapped in us. It no longer seemed possible for us to build new homes for the rich. How could we worry about a few bathrooms when the entire drainage system for the city was posing serious health threats?

And so the journey began. We vowed to cut expenses and live off a small income from our rentals and started a project for creating a sustainable city, called "San Miguel 2000." We felt this project would appeal to a wide range of the population and provide the arena for creating coalitions among the many service groups already in existence.

It worked. Forming coalitions has led to many successful endeavors. A two hundred acre oak forest reserve (some of the last remaining oaks in the area) along with land for a botanical garden specializing in endangered cacti and medicinal herbs was purchased by Can te, a non-profit that has successful projects throughout the country. A tree nursery was started with the help of the local Audubon Chapter (the only one in Mexico). Many other local groups have taken individual initiatives on behalf of the environment.

The municipal government has even added an environmental committee, which includes us as assessors. We purchased a work/water truck, opened a resource center which functions as a regional networking base, put together video presentations for the local schools and have held two conferences – "Our Common Future" and "Solving the Garbage Problem." We have also had excellent coverage in both the national and local press.

One of my guiding visionary statements for the project was actually taken from the first issue of IN CONTEXT, "Being a Planetary Villager." After rereading Ronald Jorgenson’s article "The Planetary City," I felt that his was an aim within our reach when he spoke of "A city of consciousness … a place that would harmoniously relate the planet’s possibilities of wilderness and urbanity … a microcosmic expression of the earth in one city that could eventually reseed itself in the most diverse localities…."

We have no illusions that this will be a simple feat. We have learned how hard it is to be a 24-hour volunteer and how easy it is to become burned out. We have found out how enthusiastic ideas have little to do with the reality of carrying a project to completion. We’ve realized that working in groups can be both the most exhilarating and exasperating task around. Nothing has been easy. And it has been worth everything.

What started as a bunch of good ideas has borne fruit. What we have lacked in financial resources we have made up in human resources. It does go to show that a few people with vision can eventually make a difference.

At a time when my husband and I were questioning the financial reality of being able to continue full time, Ashoka: Innovators for the Public (see IC #24) selected my husband, Emilio Gonzalez, as an Ashoka associate. I find it quite an honor, as Chico Mendes was also becoming an associate before his death.

But even with gracious support from the local community, the Ashoka grant, and thousands of hours of volunteer work, we feel inadequate in meeting the true needs of the times. We are exploring, as the Brundtland Commission Report "Our Common Future" emphasizes, the linking of economics and ecology. We are looking at options for creating a low-cost ecological building company, manufacturing solar ovens and water distillers, and marketing water-saving devices for agriculture. Without such means of self-sustenance we will never be able to catch up with the crisis. It is our hope that one of these ideas will come to fruition so that we can continue the project of San Miguel 2000.

In addition, we were so busy worrying about the planet that we forgot to take care of ourselves, our family and our home. It is so easy to become caught up in the urgency of the crisis that many forget that true ecology starts within. We must find the way of balance. If we are to become caretakers and nourishers of the Earth, we must do the same for each other as well as ourselves.

Never has humanity had the choice of determining the future to the extent we have today. So, what will it be? What are we leaving to future generations? Unbreathable air and poisoned water? A barren desert or a green garden? It is we who choose.

Patricia Gonzalez coordinates Tierra Madre. Contact her at Correo 17, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, 37700, Mexico, Tel. (465) 2-24-97.

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