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About ProvGardener's Long-Term Sustainability

ProvGardener has grown since I started the original blog in 2006 to include much more than environmental information. It has developed into a case study for examining how in the 21st century Americans go about sharing goods and services to get all the work done so that every resident of the state has an adequate living. That's what the economy is. It's about having adequate livings, not making money. Since Rhode Island is so small, with a state government, no county government, only 39 cities and towns, and a million or so people, it's not as complicated as other states.

The project grew gradually, organically, you might say. An events calendar, What Grows On in RI, launched using the amazing Calendar software-as-service, Trumba, in March 2008. An organization directory seemed necessary, so I started collecting and indexing environmental groups. The historical dimension is important in RI also, because indigenous people lived sustainably in this place for hundreds -- actually thousands -- of years. ("Sustainability" is NOT a recent discovery!) And the early European settlers also lived much closer to the natural world than we do today. How did they get work done and thrive here without electricity and cars? That sort of question gives us a way to get perspective on how we live today.

But then, education must be considered a part of this project. When you realize how complicated and technical a lot of the work is that makes it possible for us to live here today, it clearly requires workers who can read well, adapt to rapid change, and understand scientific and engineering concepts. How many people are qualified for these better, usually higher-paying jobs? Which brought a consideration of the basic adult education situation in RI into this website.

Social justice is another important dimension of taking care of Rhode Island's environment. All human beings need the same things to survive and stay alive: clean air and water, nutritious food, right temperature range, shelter, health and safety.... Not all Rhode Islanders have these necessities of life, though. How can that be acceptable? How can we get all the work done so that everyone in the state has an adequate living, can be self-supporting, and contribute to our communities? What IS this necessary work?

So it was too big a project for any one person to begin with, and adding all these other dimensions only makes it even more impossible. It would take several people (10? 50? x?) to pull it off. And it would take substantial funding. I am only sketching what could be done with this case study. My time goes into maintaining the website and the calendar, and adding other information to the rest of the website when I come across it. To market this website, educate the public about using online calendars, etc., would be full-time  and necessary jobs in themselves. But the website keeps getting more hits and the calendar gets more contributors despite the lack of promotion.

Sustainability problems for this project include:

  • People don't "see" our environment most of the time. And we definitely don't see the work involved in caring for it. The air doesn't LOOK dirty so we don't realize it's making some of us sick. Modern life has removed many of us from nature. We're flipping switches and pushing buttons, using electricity and smart phones to do our work, seemingly effortlessly. The water just comes out of the tap. What's the big deal? But it takes hundreds of thousands of people to make it look like no work is involved
    • in the water coming out of the tap,
    • turning on the boiler or air conditioner,
    • lighting up the room,
    • delivery groceries and other goods to our doors, etc.,
    • powering the phone
    • handling transportation and shipping,
    • and running the communications systems involved in the internet.
  • People don't understand what the true measures of "the economy" are. It's not housing starts, for example, it's how many people are homeless, and how many can afford the market rent of their apartments. There are more indicators of the real economic problems, but the standard economic indicators emphasize investment to the detriment of the general population's well being:
    • How many can afford to feed themselves?
    • How many can aford adequate health CARE (not insurance)?
    • How many children are in foster care?
    • How many people cannot read above the 8th grade level?
    • How many people are in prison, and what's the recidivism rate?
  • Event organizers need coaching about how to get their word out. There are many problems that make it hard to gather and enter event information into What Grows On in RI. I don't think many groups realize what an advantage it is to have listings in a comprehensive calendar. For instance,
    • Many groups only send out emails about their events, and when they do it multiple times it's a tsunami. Most people are trying to reduce the number of emails, so they'll unsubcribe when they feel bombarded.
    • Event organizers should take into consideration that hundreds of groups out there are sending messages to the same environmentally inclined people they're trying to reach. A consolidated calendar of events will get to some people they otherwise aren't reaching.
    • They send beautiful images that lock the text up, so if I want to add an event that wasn't submitted to the calendar, I would have to retype the text. (I add important events to  bulk up the Calendar, but sometimes it's just too much work, even for me to undertake!)
    • They don't always put their events on their websites so it's impossible to link to their events.
    • If they have a calendar on their website (and it has their events in it, which is not always the case), there's no way to export it to a Google or Apple calendar. If there is an export option, the settings need to be tweaked (e.g., don't set "no end date." That can duplicate events to 2039 sometimes! of even 9991!!)
  • Calendar users don't realize how easy it would be to use the bells and whistles on the Trumba calendar. If I had more time, I would offer workshops to any interested group. (Ask me about this anyway if you are part of a group that meets occasionally.) Users don't realize how a truly comprehensive, one-stop calendar would make their lives simpler, alert them to more useful and enjoyable activites they could choose, and save their time.
  • Advisors I've consulted recommend that I focus on one market segment. But the project is about how all the segments are interrelated. It's the whole shebang. I haven't been able to explain the importance of this adequately to date, but maybe some day others will see this is worth developing.
  • There's not enough money in this, apparently, no viable "business model." Possibly companies could place ads and/or sponsor sections of the website, but there must be enough page hits a month to make it worthwhile for businesses that just care about making money. That's not gonna happen! RI is a very small market. Ads and sponsorships won't bring in enough money if the advertisers are focused on a normal financial return. The Knight Foundation suggested a good market size is about 5 million people minimum. In the Providence metropolitan area, including all of RI and parts of CT and MA, there are 1,613,070 people [2012 CSA]. So ProvGardener would have to be supported to some extent because advertisers and supporters realize the value of the project is its contribution to the common good of the community.
  • It's very difficult to reduce the project to what is called an "elevator pitch" of 3 minutes. At least it's a big challenge for me. The project needs some people with deep pockets who will take time to listen and ask questions, people who primarily care about the common good rather than making even more money.
  • I need to list the benefits of developing a case study using Rhode Island to understand how we could get the work done so that everyone in the state had an adequate living. [The last sentence should be simplified!] What would we learn from this case study? 
    • Taxpayers fund reports and research by many governmental entities, and universities, nonprofits, and even businesses produce research and reports. If the organization directory was complete and categorized well, another step would be to gather and link to these reports, which would make it easier to use them for shaping public policy. RI General Assembly committees routinely hold bills "for further study." Perhaps the further study has already been done somewhere. But these reports are scattered all over the internet.
    • [more to come, but I have to do something else now!]
  • WHY aggregate data about how much the latest films make each weekend? WHY collect, aggregate, and presumably index all those statistics about how fast pitchers throw, what kinds of pitches, etc., for baseball, and comparable massive data sets  for other sports? It must involve serious money to maintain these databases, but what are the reasons business people have for spending money on insignificant(?) details? Why doesn't money go to aggregating what human beings need to stay alive and thrive? The information, if it is collected at all, is in reports and websites helter skelter, and some of the time no one reads the reports or uses them for public policy.

There are no doubt more obstacles. But this will do for now. I have no exit strategy at the moment, so it may default to my no longer being able to do this at some point. If you're interested in developing this ungainly project I'd love to hear from you!