What Is Localism?

If you breathe air, have a pulse and have lived through at least one Christmas in urban or suburban America, odds are that you have seen the film “It’s a Wonderful Life” on television at some point.

There’s an iconic scene in this movie that you may remember well, in which Jimmy Stewart’s character, George Bailey explains the operating philosophy of the Bailey Building & Loan as compared to its main competitor, Old Man Potter’s Bank.

This scene may be the best explanation ever filmed of localism in action.

Mr. Potter, George explains, is buying and not selling. He already owns the bus line, the department stores and the bank and now he wants to pick up the deeds to all the towns folks’ homes at a bargain to widen his circle of influence in town. Meanwhile, the building and loan’s money is in “Joe’s house and the Kennedy house and Mrs. Macklin’s house and a hundred others.” The building and loan exists not just to make a profit but to serve a role in the community and to be a good neighbor to the people it serves so that the whole town thrives and does better, lifting everyone up with it.

Localism is not just about being mindful about where you spend your money. Localism is a different way of looking at the economy and our role in it. It is the concept that by patronizing local businesses, making the best use of local resources and supporting homegrown talent and knowledge, we profit, not just in a monetary sense but as a community.

Here in Tucson, we have a history and a tradition of small chains and independent businesses that very much prove the “gospel” of localism. On any given day Tucsonans buy sandwiches and icy drinks or steak fingers and garlic toast from homegrown mini chains that exists no where else in the world. We rent movies or watch independent cinema at Tucson owned venues steeped in film history. We buy and trade used books and clothes from trusted merchants whose names have spread far beyond the Old Pueblo but remain rooted in the culture and values of our city. We are lucky enough to have a thriving community radio station and a few strong alternative print sources to make a diversity of voices heard.

However, even with our proud history of embracing local commerce, Tucson is just as vulnerable as any other place to the allure of cookie cutter convenience. We are becoming more and more a city of self contained housing developments that discourage trips into town. We are becoming a city of strip malls, big box stores and convenience marts on every corner. Even our locally owned businesses are not as certain as they once were. Many rent space rather than own it, and are thus subject to the whims of the local equivalent of “Mr. Potter’s Bank.”

The Tucsonism column aims to celebrate all that is great and “localist” about the Old Pueblo. The independent shop keepers that keep local commerce alive. The long time neighborhood leaders who fight for Tucson’s history and its future. The artists, musicians, actors, dancers, crafts folk, merchants and makers in our community. Each week we will talk to the people that help keep Tucson “real” and examine issues that affect our ability to keep our city true to its independent heritage.

As a life long Tucsonan, daughter of a local journalist and sometime community activist I look forward to sharing their stories and yours.

Here’s to a Tucson with fewer “Potter’s Banks” and more “Building and Loans.”

Copyright 205, Julie Jennings Patterson

Reprinted (with permission) from www.thetucsonedge.com
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