Localize it

Local action: a new initiative aims to deglobalize the Bay Area's economy


In what some experts are hailing as a first for sustainability movements in the United States, a coalition of policy organizations has unveiled a comprehensive campaign to reduce the Bay Area's reliance on global markets in favor of a more locally based economy.

If the plan is embraced by local government agencies and brought to fruition, it could be the first significant reversal of the decades-long march toward globalization, which encourages powerful multinational corporations to exploit cheap labor and transport goods long distances.

The Bay Area is rife with testaments to globalization, from the rusty shells of once prosperous manufacturing plants to the gleaming big-box chain stores filled with cheap Chinese-made clothing and gadgets, from the customer service call answered in India to the foreign parts in our "American made" cars and computers.

Yet at the same time, there are the countervailing forces of localism. For every grocery store stocked with out-of-season produce grown across the world with petrochemicals by big agricultural corporations, there is a community farmers market selling locally grown organic fruit.

Most of globalism's many faces have a local equivalent. Consumers can buy a burrito at Taco Bell or El Toro, a hammer at Home Depot or Cole Hardware, a new shirt from the Gap or a recycled garment from Held Over, and a bicycle assembled at a factory in China or Freewheel Cyclery.

Or on a grander scale, utilities can import kilowatts of energy from a coal-fired plant in Utah or buy wind and solar power generated in the Bay Area, city governments can contract with out-of-state corporations or locals, and financial institutions can push the status quo or value a more diversified (if less profitable) economic system.

The idea of the localization movement is to analyze the impacts of those choices and start a discussion of how local governments can facilitate the creation of an economy that is more sustainable and less exploitive, one that is unique to the Bay Area.


The coalition, which formed in spring 2006, recently released a 30-page report that details the purpose of its campaign and the group's initial strategy for achieving its goals. The report, titled "Building a Resilient and Equitable Bay Area," and a two-page summary are available online at www.regionalprogress.org. More than two dozen organizations have already endorsed the report, including Oakland's and Berkeley's respective sustainability offices.

The coalition's members include Redefining Progress, Bay Localize, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), the International Forum on Globalization, and the Center for Sustainable Economy. With the exception of the last, which is in Santa Fe, NM, all of the groups are located in either San Francisco or Oakland.

A key feature of the campaign — and the reason some experts describe the initiative as unique in the United States — is its scope. Efforts to localize individual sectors of regional economies have been under way for years. Berkeley, for instance, is considered a leader in the growing movement to shift from a food system dominated by a handful of giant agribusinesses propped up by federal crop subsidies to a system that relies more on local production and procurement of food. Similarly, many areas are considering ways of creating and encouraging the use of alternative — and local — energy sources to limit dependence on imported oil.

What sets the new Bay Area campaign apart from other localization initiatives is that it seeks to effect change across several sectors of the region's economy simultaneously.

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