Sunday, March 15, 2009

Opportunities in Financial Downturns

There are plenty of things we can do to improve our own situations, and make a vital difference for others.

By  | Posted on 03.09.2009

In this current time of financial hardships, when budgets are being cut and money is tight, we must become ever more resourceful and creative in accomplishing our goals and improving the quality of our lives and our communities. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we need to master and improve its use. Rather than creating new programs and facilities that require funding, we can create policies and practices that protect and improve and strengthen what is already in place. For instance, Santa Barbara County Action Network, or SB CAN, along with various allied organizations and individuals are looking at strategies to reinforce rental housing protections, and prevent the conversion of affordable housing into market-rate condos.

But there are other, more personal and individual, ways that we can increase our quality of life even without the big bucks.

First and foremost, we must change our attitudes and habits. On the national stage, President Obama stated in his inaugural address that he will evaluate government programs and eliminate those that don’t work. We can follow in this example and evaluate our everyday activities, behavior and habits to see what we can do differently. Some changes will ultimately benefit us as individuals but even more, benefit those around us.

For example, rather than spending a Saturday at the mall and out at lunch, perhaps choose one or two volunteer activities to participate in and include our families. There are local shelters in every community that could use a helping hand. There are ongoing environmental protection and beautification projects, and even educational endeavors such as recording for the blind and dyslexic, or mentoring a child.

When it comes to saving money and the environment, we can look to ourselves to change our transportation habits toward car-sharing/carpooling, taking the bus, a bike, or even walking when we would otherwise drive. It’s easy to make a conscious choice and if we make the decision to change our habits with enthusiasm, it is even inviting and encouraging to others to join us. Equally important, is to advocate for greater outreach to encourage such approaches rather than just ask for dollars to be invested in capital projects.

We must encourage not just our local and county governments to take the lead but also urge private businesses and corporations to join in the efforts. Perhaps we could create a partnership between technology-equipped businesses and cities to promote telecommuting. Bike to work weeks, gyms giving incentives for steps walked according to a pedometer are fun ways of encouraging a temporary change in habits, but we could make many of these changes long lasting and life altering.

Finally, we must encourage our elected officials to pass budgets in a timely manner, and to find those “shovel-ready” projects that can benefit from the recovery package recently signed by Obama.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his first inaugural speech, stated that, “When there is no vision, the people perish.” We must strive to be visionary and encourage creative imagination in our community. It is our responsibility as individuals to take action now to improve both our own situation and that of the wider community around us.

Olivia Uribe is associate director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network (SB CAN). She can be reached at 805.879.1768 or at This commentary originally appeared in the Santa Maria Times.