Today I want to present you with an idea which has the potential to really inform our thinking about scaling up. When I was in Jamaica Plain in Boston I interviewed Chuck Collins of Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition, an interview published here. At the end of our discussion I mentioned that at a JPNET event I spoke at, I was approached afterwards by a woman who said she was working with the group exploring the idea of a ‘Cancer-Free Jamaica Plain’. I was intrigued, so I asked him to tell me more about it:
Chuck told me:
“I had the same reaction you did. A woman named Polly Hoppin who had worked for something called the Lowell Centre for Sustainable Production. She’s one of these people that looks at waste and garbage and all the toxins in our environment. She sat me down and said “look, Jamaica Plain has much higher levels of cancer than the rest of the state and particularly among women. And we also have higher levels of exposure to carcinogens and other toxins and neurotoxins and things that hurt people than other communities. So what would it mean to create a cancer-free economy? We want to make a transition to a healthy, cancer-free, toxin-free economy”. When she said that, a lot of bells rang in my head.
[According to JPNET’s website, “Jamaica Plain has higher incidences of some types of cancer than the state average. According to recent Massachusetts Cancer Registry statistics, JP women had more brain, cervix, leukemia, liver, melanoma, oral cavity and thyroid cancer than expected compared to women living elsewhere in Massachusetts. And JP men had more melanoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and thyroid cancer than expected compared to the rest of the state”].
So we formed a partnership with them to work with our local businesses, for instance the dry cleaners, to help them make the transition to become wet cleaners, using a green, healthy cleaning process. Working with our beauty parlours to stop using toxic chemicals, and we’re actually going to do a community forum on building a cancer-free economy, sponsored by our Transition Town. It’s woven in the public health. Our economy shouldn’t be making us sick! One of the partnerships that’s come out of that is that we have all these hospitals in our community, the biggest employer in our neighbourhood is a hospital, but they’re very siloed.
They’re sitting down the hill and they’re just treating the symptoms of the people that walk in, but we could invite them and say “shouldn’t you be looking upstream at community health issues like exposure to toxic chemicals, shouldn’t the role of the hospital have huge tax breaks and huge profits that why don’t you help us make these businesses safe? Why don’t you help all the restaurants use safer cleaning substances? Why don’t you as hospital and a vendor buy your produce locally so that it isn’t trucked from thousands of miles away but is grown 10 miles away?
I think it does open up resources for the organisation, by partnering with hospitals and with people who are just thinking about overall wellness. In Boston there are probably 10 walks a year raising money for research against cancer. Huge amounts of money, bikeathons, everything. Actually people are just getting kinda tired of walking for research in preventing cancer and treating cancer. People want to walk for the cure, “we want to cure the cause of cancer, the things that are making me sick”.
It’s fun to say that core to our Transition is health. If we could work with our beauty salons and automotive companies and hospital and artists. We have a lot of artists in our communities. They use a lot of toxic chemicals in their studios and a some of them live in their communities with toxic chemicals and they have all kinds of illnesses related to that. If we could help everybody make those safe alternative transitions that will also create livelihoods and markets for the products of the future”.
I will do little other than leave this with you as a thought. Seeking to eradicate cancer from a community, when you think about it, leads to most of the same activities a Transition initiative does anyway, but it opens up a range of partnerships, funding opportunities and different kinds of engagement. Intriguing eh?