Sometimes you need to look no further than your own backyard to find inspiration. I live in Marin County, north of San Francisco. Next door to our town is Fairfax, California. Last night I got together with Fairfax's mayor, Larry Bragman, and a few others from that town of about 8,000.
We talked about Fairfax's significant sustainability factors: it's one of the few towns with no permitting fee for solar installations; it helped ban herbicide use on its neighboring watershed a few years back; and its 30 or so vibrant local businesses are almost all locally owned or operated--no chains in town that I know of.
People are so attached to their local shops that when a devastating flood ripped through this valley north of Mt. Tamalpais on December 31, 2005, citizens put together a massive fundraiser with local musicians, food and drink (there's a great local brewpub, Iron Springs Brewery) to help keep impacted businesses flourishing.
Fairfax also is home to two heavily solar-powered public schools, White Hill Middle School and Manor Elementary School, the latter which has a nationally awarded Green Team 4th grade teacher, Laura Honda.
In transportation, Fairfax was the partial birthplace of the mountain bicycle during the 1970s (co-inventors Gary Fisher and Joe Breeze still live here); it has a massive bike-to-school and walk-to-school contingent that was co-sponsored by a local volunteer group of parents called "An Inconvenient Group," and has more plans for being a national model for transportation by bicycle and foot, through the national Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program.
The town has a wonderful farmers market that features locally grown produce from within the county and state, and it has one of the nation's best food markets, featuring mostly organic and sustainably produced food, called The Good Earth. The Good Earth also prepares and provides organic and locally grown food for a number of the county's school lunch programs.
If you're good, you'll get organic and locally made ice cream from The Scoop for desert, which features locally grown blackberries and strawberries mixed with organic milk from free-ranging Straus dairy herds in West Marin.
Fairfax knows how to be green and have a good time, with four clubs supporting live music every night of the week, and parades galore. This Saturday will be the Little League Opening Day parade, where the younguns from West Marin Little League walk--or skip--down main street in their uniforms, and then in summer comes the human-powered parade.
The townsfolk have put up signs recognizing local steelhead trout populations in their streams and have replanted native plants around the schools and baseball field.
Paradise? Take a look in your own backyard or alley and see what you can dream up to make your community healthier, more sustainable and worth living in.