While many Americans highly value individual and national independence, including self-reliance and individual achievement, seeing ourselves as independent from one another or the rest of the world can foment problems. When we put our individual needs above the needs of our fellow citizens and our country, the concomitant sense of isolation worsens our experience of fear, suspicion, division, anger, and polarization. The Shapiros assert the value of keeping in mind our connections to each other and to the land as an antidote to a sense of isolation and separation:

“If a butterfly becomes extinct in Australia, it affects the eco-system of the whole world, because a third of our food supply depends on insect pollination. If we pull on a single thread in nature, we will find that it is attached to the rest of the world. Caring for each other and the planet is, therefore, inseparable from caring for ourselves; we are both dependent on and a part of the earth and the woods and the children playing in the street, and they are a part of us.”

One way to reinforce our awareness of this interconnectedness is by creating what writer Penelope Franklin, in Spirit of Service, calls a green map of our community. It’s worth noting that not all green maps are the same. Some simply depict nature walks, parks, farmers’ markets, recycling centers, thrift stores, etc.; others note environmental problems in the area. Some are printed; some are published digitally. Some are painted on a wall; others are put online.

Here’s how to get started with green mapping your neighborhood:

*Log on to the Green Map Web site.

*If there is an existing project in your area, volunteer to participate.

*If there isn’t a project in your area, determine the area your map should cover.

*Learn about community participation via the Green Map FAQ page.

*Decide on your map’s audience and potential map makers. Meet with leaders at local schools, community centers, etc., for help setting up the project.

*Register your group with the Green Map System, and follow their guidance for team development, funding, research, design, and producing your map.

Habib Todd Boerger, Deb Shapiro, Ed Shapiro, Penelope Franklin in Practicing Democracy in Your Neighborhood by Habib Todd Boerger