by Trina Lacey-Flores
Why cooperation and service create more sustainable prosperity than competition and profit
Having lived the harrowing tale of a fallen industrial giant, Bethlehem should know better than anywhere that the current “system” doesn’t work, economically or environmentally. Bethlehem Steel is a legend. It also provides a great example of the consequences experienced by so many American cities when competitive, profit-driven corporate entities fail. Put plainly, whenever money is prioritized over the health of people or the planet, everyone suffers.
“The key to any hope for a new system is community participation. From a historical perspective, the real power always lies with the people, if only they choose to use it.”
This city, as I see it, is so ready to embrace a different way of doing things. It’s a community-minded, health and sustainability-focused, forward-thinking way, and it’s already in motion. There is an incredible potential being realized here, a move from the old ways of doing things to the new. The city’s history is fascinating, and so visible; from the lovely Moravian village area to the looming stacks, this place tells a rich story. I’m excited to live here right now, and I was eager to contribute to Sustainable Lehigh Valley because from what I’ve seen since I arrived, the story is getting all the more interesting. Bethlehem was initially founded as a peaceful commune, and perhaps this gives those of us living here now an opportunity to return to the city’s roots, in a way. As we focus our minds and hearts on the life, health, and vitality of our community, we are finding new ways of living in harmony with each other, which will lead to a higher quality of life overall.
What I have observed as a SouthSide resident is a classic grassroots movement toward cooperative ventures that is mirrored in many other cities. These ventures are inclusive, focused on the well-being of the community, and take environmental sustainability into account. Money is a necessary vehicle for getting things done; it is not an end in and of itself; serving the community is the primary goal. In this way of doing business, our happiness and health are taken into account; since the Earth is our home, we recognize that we must take better care of her. In our “new system” structures, people and the planet are top priorities.
Through my husband’s work with them, I have had the opportunity to witness two such ventures in their development phases: SoBeCoWorks and the Bethlehem Food Co-op. When I say they are inclusive, I mean they take into account the community’s residents and needs in planning their business models. I visited the raw space that is to house the next version of SoBeCoWorks, a co-working space for entrepreneurs and creative and holistic professionals. Ideas were floated for various uses of space. “You have to be open-minded to everything,” said the founder, Santiago Rivera. “It will be whatever the community wants.” Similarly, the food co-op’s feasibility study and focus groups are helping them determine how to best serve the community. They want to bring a community-owned, healthy grocery store to South Bethlehem. Oh, but I forgot a keyword: Affordable, for all of us, of every income level. What these start-ups have in common is that a person or a small group saw an honest need in the community and took steps to fill the need. We all want and deserve a nice space to work or gather, and healthy food that we can comfortably afford.
The key to the success of these things, of course, and to any hope for a new system, is community participation. From a historical perspective, the real power always lies with the people, if only they choose to use it. All we have to do is get together and prove that cooperation works better than competition, and the spirit of service will engender a sustainable success that the desire for endless profits never could. I see so much potential here at this moment in time, particularly in South Bethlehem. Perhaps as we move toward new structures based on collaboration and sustainability (in addition to our impressive community arts focus), we will serve as a model for other cities who are faced with the challenge of rising from the industrial ashes. In that spirit, I have launched a blog to further explore this moment in the city’s history. La Belle Verte Bethlehem will document our transition toward a greener, healthier, more beautiful and prosperous community.
Trina is a local writer and teaches literacy and GED preparation at the county correctional facility in Bethlehem. Enjoy her blog at thegreenbeautifulbethlehem.blogspot.com
(Published in the 2014 edition of Sustainable Lehigh Valley)
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)