THE GLOBAL IN THE LOCAL, THE LOCAL IN THE GLOBAL
by Jane Shevtsov
Where are you? Right now, I am in Los Angeles, the Westside, the UCLA campus. What I can see here is, by definition, local. Global issues are out there, somewhere else, not here, not there, not anywhere. To think globally requires imagination. Sense experience doesn't seem to matter much. But what if you could combine these two perspectives? What if you could get a worldplace view?
A worldplace view emphasizes the dependence of every particular place on worldwide cycles, flows and events. My worldplace is the immediate place where I live and its connections to the rest of the world. Here in Los Angeles, worldplace means the languages I hear spoken on the street, the abundant ethic restaurants, the ubiquitous cell phones and Internet connections. It is the combination of winds and currents that give southern California a truly unique biotic community and its famous climate. It is also contribution LA makes to both global culture and global climate change.
Every place is an intersection of a myriad of global processes. At the same time, every place contributes to these processes. Your town is unique and particular, but it is also connected and embedded in larger systems. To see this, just follow chains of causes. For example, people in Wanakena, a small village in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, could not get a snowmobile bridge built a few years ago. A more quintessentially local problem cannot be imagined, right? But wait a minute. The strict limits on development in Wanakena come from its location in Adirondack Park. Why is this place a park? The Adirondacks were protected not just for their beauty, but to safeguard New York City's water supply -- the city was growing. And why was New York City growing? Our local question's not so local any more!
If every place is a worldplace, how do you explore the one you inhabit? You look around. You talk to people. You learn science and local history. Tracing connections one by one, you begin to see yourself as a citizen both of your small place and of the world. Doug McGill of Rochester, Minnesota does this on his website, the McGill Report.
The worldplace concept lends itself naturally to education. Imagine students learning geography not by memorizing abstract lines on maps but by investigating their home worldplaces and making visible the connections binding them to other worldplaces. Where does our food come from? Our water? Our electricity? How do our habits of consumption affect people in Detroit, Mexico City, Kinshasa, Tokyo or Moscow? Some teachers already use this approach, but it can go much further.
Finally, I propose a worldplace atlas. Like many CD-ROM atlases, it would contain maps, images, text and multimedia. Unlike them, it would be full of hyperlinks connecting entries on New York stores and Japanese electronics, Brazilian beef and Arctic ice, Lapland and Chernobyl. In fact, such an "atlas" could start with text and photos on an interactive website. Is anyone interested?
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