Community Building with Pink Flamingos

Dear Peak Shrink,

Harvey Baker was a presenter at the First U.S. Conference on Peak Oil & Community Solutions in 2004. Harvey has been involved in intentional communities since dirt was invented. His major piece of advice at the conference was to create an intentional community wherever you are right now. Don’t sell your house and move somewhere. Don’t go out and buy a farm. Stay where you are and create a community with intention.

In our neighborhood, my wife and I helped start “Flamingo Fridays” – we bought the flamingos. Whoever has the pink flamingo in their front yard on Friday at 5:30 hosts an hour-long get-together with neighbors. Neighbors are responsible for bringing their own lawn chairs and beverages. And someone has to take the pink flamingo to host the next one. There’s no agenda. It’s just neighbors getting together in the yard to chat.

One of the major topics of conversation at the first get-together was a neighbor kid who keeps going through everybody’s garbage. He’s a teenager – his mother is on the school board. The reason he goes through everybody’s garbage is that he’s looking for things to fix. He retrieves broken lawn equipment, appliances, bicycle parts – anything he can repair and reuse. He has created two-wheeled contraptions – I guess you would call them bicycles – out of parts never intended for that purpose. He’s very good at what he does. So, everybody attending Flamingo Friday agreed that they would open up their garbage for the neighborhood re-use whiz-kid.

So far, the topic of peak oil hasn’t come up at Flamingo Fridays. We’re not building an understanding of oil depletion or energy scarcity. We haven’t discussed how we will approach transitioning to a new energy economy. We’re learning about each other and we’re developing relationships. And we have a growing collection of recently repaired lawn equipment and appliances to say nothing of some really weird looking bicycles.

Sir Flamingo

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Dear Sir Flamingo,

Your email perked me up and made me laugh, and, I do believe we’ll need a lot more of that in the future!

I imagine I’d be the first heading to your house when the plastic birds went up there. I love the idea, but do believe we need to expand the concept of what gets put out there, to keep neighborhood individuality alive. How about garden gnomes? I guess they would have to be easy to lug from place to place…

I agree wholeheartedly that neighbors sitting around talking while drinking casually with each other can find more practical solutions to local problems than more “formal” notions. That “problem” kid suddenly becomes the one who is called on to repair the broken mower, or put together a cheap dirt bike for someone’s kid. I love that kind of “problem solving” turned “solution creating.” It makes me happy to be human and be a part of all of you.

Locally, our store had a large increase in theft of handcrafted items on display. They thought about installing “cameras” but decided that they didn’t want to be a part of a store like that, so they came up with a different idea: they took down the display, and left a sign explaining what was happening, and index cards and pencils. The community began to write on the index cards and stand them up to express their feelings about the loss and the theft. After a few weeks, the display went back up, and a few of the index cards remained, and people could continue to write messages if they wanted, but the theft stopped. It became everyone’s display, not just the shopkeepers.

These same store owners don’t have to be “told” about peak oil. They know what they have to charge the locals for gas. So they put up a bulletin board divided in half saying “Rides Needed” and “Rides Offered.” Their community building creativity, to quote Frank Zappa, stems from the mother of invention: necessity.

Thanks for writing and for giving people the bird…

About Kathy McMahon

Kathy McMahon Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist who is internationally known for her writing about the psychological impacts of Peak Oil, climate change, and economic collapse. She's written for Honda Motors, and has been featured in American Prospect, Greenpeace International, the Vancouver Sun, Freakonomics, Itulip, Ecoshock Radio, and Peak Moments Television.

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