Seven (Progressive) Policies Every Municipality Should Implement

The COVID-19 virus is teaching us a lot about ourselves, our community, and our future. We can see that as a society, we are ill-prepared for circumstances like these. Our fear overrides all sense, our immediate reaction to self-preserve. It’s a deep biological response, one that is inadequate for modern survival. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that this is the last crisis we face, given the climate and the national leadership in both parties we’re probably going to have many more. We’ll explore seven policies every municipality should enact moving forward to better prepare communities for the times ahead.

None of the ideas are radical or new. All already exist in some form or another. Still, municipalities will rarely have more than a few implemented in the present moment. These policy frameworks start from the immediate present and consider the social and structural weaknesses highlighted by the coronavirus epidemic. Elected community leadership now bears the burden of not only seeing their communities through this crisis but insulating them against the future challenges we will face.

The central theme throughout all of these policy suggestions is creating decentralized community resilience. Proactive planning and implementation can build communities that approach an unknown future with confidence. These policies will help communities create integrated systems that will last during times of considerable uncertainty.  

Water Resource Collection

All the states within the U.S. support rainwater collection to varying degrees. In the past, there were concerns about rainwater collection disrupting the rain flow into aquifers and streams. A study the University of Malaysia [1] demonstrated that individual homes collecting rainwater have little to no effect on the hydrologic cycle. The climate crisis is going to disrupt water resources, so taking a proactive approach to rainwater collection could make a significant impact.

Some states, like Delaware, incentivize water collection. [2] Others, like Colorado, allow it under stricter circumstances. [3] Today, municipalities would greatly benefit from a more proactive approach to encouraging community water collection.  

Municipalities can encourage and promote this activity through multiple avenues. Purchasing cooperatives can be organized by the township to survey residents, identify total material needs, and source the items at bulk purchasing rates. Educational seminars can be facilitated by local governments to train community members on how to install and use the systems. If enough of the community is interested, the local leadership can seek out bulk installation contracts. Just talking about the idea might get some people searching for how to do it on their own.  

Municipality leadership thinking long-term about their communities will want to explore how to expand existing water filtration infrastructure to process the additional resources collected. Thinking big, is it possible to set up a networked water collection infrastructure? One that collects, directs, filters, and then redistributes among the community. Water scarcity is a genuine problem that cities and towns will have to deal with soon. Proactively developing advanced water infrastructure programs is one way to mitigate our risk.

Networked Energy 

It’s time for every local elected official to begin the work of networking your community’s energy needs. Presently we operate under a model that defies logic, each individual transacting directly with the energy company. It’s a relationship that allows companies to maximize profit on a resource necessary for modern life. The alternative is cooperative energy infrastructures.

The technology isn’t quite there yet to build 100% renewable infrastructure within communities. However, there are alternative pathways in the immediate present. Environmental organizing group Food & Water Watch promotes community energy aggregation plans throughout the United States. Communities pool their resources to purchase from green energy (solar, wind, and geothermal) suppliers at bulk discounts. In my home state of New Jersey several townships have implemented or are exploring these programs already. It’s better for the community and the planet.

This has already demonstrated effectiveness in the United States. Nebraska has had 100% public ownership of the utilities for over 100 years. Operations generate surpluses that they reinvest into community programs. The state has averaged net position gains of approximately 79 Million per year over the last three years. [4] Before we build physical networks, we need to build community networks.  

Thinking ahead, microgrids should be on every municipality’s radar. The technology is rapidly evolving and will allow communities to generate 100% renewable energy by combining their efforts. Each home and building becomes a power generator, feeding through a networked infrastructure that distributes the energy where needed. 

Community Composting

Composting is something that every community should be investing in now. The climate crisis is here and getting progressively worse. Combined with the COVID-19 epidemic, now is the time to consider how to eliminate waste in a way that benefits the community. Composting is an environmentally friendly process that produces material benefits.  

According to the Public Interest Research Group, “The system of collecting, landfilling and incinerating waste is a costly one that contributes to global warming and creates toxic air and water pollution. Composting could reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills and incinerators in the U.S. by at least 30 percent.” [5]

Many states already have communities with composting programs. For those that don’t, the information is readily available through many successful programs. The municipality can acquire space, invest in the necessary technology and talent, and begin the program. We can share benefits from the compost with the community through redistribution or donation.

While there are for-profit composting options, the process should be a socially funded vertical. If we’re genuine about our circumstances, environmentally friendly waste removal is a necessity. Why include a profit incentive? The time to break free of our profit-centric approach was yesterday, but we can start today with these options.

Community Internet

We’re all already familiar with the internet, a global network of information, communication, commerce, entertainment, and more. Today we rely on a handful of for-profit companies to manage our communications infrastructure and progress. A community internet allows the entire municipality to stay connected and in contact with each other during a crisis. It also allows for faster speeds and lower costs for all participants.

It may be difficult, but try to imagine a scenario where a pandemic has forced companies vital to American society to close. Today we rely on Facebook as our primary community communication platform. Mark Zuckerberg is part of an elite ruling class. His interests do not align with the average American. If the crisis teaches us anything, it’s that we need to eliminate society’s reliance on economic and political elites.

We should also consider the fact that our present crisis is not our last. What would happen if another hurricane or other major natural disaster hit the United States right now? We can pose this same question to any nation, and the answer remains the same. Now is the time to build systems to network communities together. is an excellent website with full details on creating your own internet service provider. Municipal leaders have a blueprint on how to begin the work on this today. 

Official Volunteer Corps

One positive of the pandemic is our communities coming together in times of need. If you observe your local Facebook group, it’s refreshing to see people stepping up to help others. Everything from grocery shopping, sharing resource information, and amplifying community messages.  

Your municipality may already have a volunteer list that you can sign up for today. Usually, these services focus on supporting elderly community residents and the economically disenfranchised. Our ability to come together in need is impressive, but can we keep the momentum going and establish a standing volunteer corps?

Volunteer corps is one opportunity to establish deeper community bonds through shared service. These organizations could meet as frequently as needed by the community. They could come together for collective projects, training, and emergency response.  

The benefits extend beyond the free labor. Connecting more people in the community on a personal level is an intangible benefit, one that shows in time of needs. Like many community fire departments, the volunteer corps provides an opportunity for groups to develop within communities.

Community Food Initiatives

The future of food is uncertain. The climate is bringing about permanent temperature shifts that change where and how food can be grown in specific geographic regions. The result will almost certainly be food shortages that will impact millions of people globally. Now is the time to enact several forms of community food initiatives.  

One initiative is opening up community zoning laws to allow for food gardens to exist in front and back yards. Right now, many communities in the United States do not allow for growing food in areas zoned for lawns. According to a University of Montana study, approximately 40 million acres of lawn exist in the United States. [6] That is a lot of space that we’re utilizing poorly, areas that could grow a significant amount of food.  

Food garden initiatives should expand beyond reclassification. Communities should invest in training and collaborative resource procurement for equipment and seeds. It continues our theme of decentralizing our networks in the United States. A community of food growers adds a layer of security during uncertain times. The surplus can be exchanged at a market, donated, gifted, and more. Combined with efforts explored earlier like composting, community food gardens can be self-perpetuating systems that increase safety and reduce expenses for every resident.  

Community food initiatives can also take the form of hydroponics farms. We can approach introducing hydroponics to communities through the same process as standard gardens, or opt for developing a scaled community cooperative. Creating a community co-op is a more substantial initial investment, but pays off in the long term. It becomes a consistent source of quality food and employment for the community it serves.  

Transparent Election Initiatives

The lockdown of communities at this present time is causing havoc on local, state, and national elections. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew that 2020 was a critical election year to determine America’s future, now the process is in great peril. Beyond the presidency, there are many state and local elections of significant importance.  

Part of my experience is the founding of a local election transparency non-profit. One of the most startling findings from our 2018 research was that in the state of New Jersey, only 23% of candidates running for local office hand any information posted online. So for the majority of NJ residents, finding information about the candidates running for office wasn’t an option. While our research pulls only from a single state, it’s probably not too big a stretch to say similar ratios would likely appear in other states.

Now more than ever, community leadership needs to require accessible candidate information online for every candidate, running for every elected office. That can come in the form of independent websites, a community-owned platform, or other alternatives. Mandatory information such as professional history, biographies, and plans for the community will ensure every community member understands who that candidate is and why they are running. Omitting candidates who refuse to provide digital information from the ballot.

Open source-software already exists providing the framework for this platform no cost. Without transparent election initiatives the same power structures that are allowing the crisis to continue unchallenged will take advantage of our circumstances. Every state has a political machine. Some are worse than others. Today’s municipal leadership must put aside the alliances of the past to deal with the problems of the present. Digital campaign information must be mandatory at every level.

Helping Progress

If you’re a local elected official reading this, the frameworks presented are all you need. A little bit of research will provide you with plans for how to implement these suggestions in your community directly. Connecting with communities and organizations familiar with the initiatives you want to move forward is the next step. Develop a plan for your community and convene with residents to share why you believe your programs are necessary today more than ever.

For those of us who are unelected, great activism starts locally. It could be as simple as sharing these ideals with your elected leadership digitally or through a community forum. If you have the time, diving deeper into the research of implementation as it pertains to your municipality would be even more helpful in advancing progress. You can build support online through community groups and plan coordinated attendance to community meetings to push the ideas forward.

COVID-19 is going to change many things in the United States, but every crisis presents humanity with new opportunities. Progressives will benefit by taking the initiative today to reshape community policies to prepare us for the future better. Now is not the time to hope for a reversion, a retreat to a past that no longer exists. Today we must rise to the challenges directly in front of us. Decentralizing community resource networks is a pathway towards greater sustainability and resilience in chaotic times.

[1] Sustainability of Rainwater Harvesting System in terms of Water Quality by Sadia Rahman, M. T. R. Khan, Shatirah Akib, Nazli Bin Che Din, S. K. Biswas, and S. M. Shirazi

 University of Malaysia 

[2] DNREC sponsors rain barrel painting contest to promote barrels’ use in reducing rainwater runoff by State of Delaware 

[3] House Bill 16-1005 State of Colorado$FILE/1005_01.pdf 

[4]  NJ State Energy Master Plan Public Testimony by Ron Rivers 

[5] Composting in America by Abigail Bradford and Jonathan Sund Frontier Group Alexander Truelove and Adair Andreu  U.S. PIRG Education Fund Summer 2019

[6] Mapping and modeling the biogeochemical cycling of turf grasses in the United States. by Milesi C, Running SW, Elvidge CD, Dietz JB, Tuttle BT, Nemani RR. University of Montana 

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