The Importance of Local Action

Photo © F. D. Richards

The work we do at Habitat Network is almost 100% about local action. This is a project about what you do in your yard, at your place of work, and in your immediate local communities. There are choices that you are often completely in control of that can bring to life different kinds of ecological and community interactions where you live and work. Keeping the focus there is not bad. In fact, we would argue it is, perhaps, essential when your goal is to build a social movement.


Photo © ashley rose,

In considering what is possible in any social movement it is easy to be swept up–left feeling powerless–in how top-down policy shapes local conditions. Far too little attention is paid to the impact of on-the-ground “enabling conditions”. The state of what surrounds us in daily life is a multifaceted assembly, not just of policy, but of behavior, physical infrastructure, and feedbacks. That puts a lot of power in the hands of individual people and communities, who, literally bring-to-life many of the conditions that actually define our daily experience.


Photo © USDA

It is also true, then, that when new practices are embraced locally, it is much easier for those practices to take hold at a national or international scale. Some might even argue you always need to start locally, and that top-down mandates are likely to be met with resistance. When, however, a practice is familiar and accepted across significant portions of a country’s geography (even if not all), it “deprives scare scenarios of their relevance, weakens once-powerful interests, and strengths others.


Photo © Jeromy-Yu "Jerry" Chan

There is a growing movement around landscaping that contributes positively to the local environment–you can see it in the choices retail establishments are making about what plants to put on display in front of their stores (in the image above check out this open-air mall’s prodigious use of wildflowers along Santana Row in San Jose California), in high-end home landscaping choices, and in front yard gardens, which are springing up around the country. All of this is evidence of change and momentum found not in “Big P” politics, but instead in the “Little p” politics of daily life.

Students from historic Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama create "conservation labs," which are vacant land converted into productive land for pollinators, birds, biodiversity, stormwater treatment demo areas, and generational care for the enviro

Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Devan King)

Maintaining a local focus is your job, and here is your job description:

  • Do the work in your yard. Figure out what choices you can make to embrace ecologically-balanced landscaping.
  • Talk about your work. When someone admires what you are doing, tell them all about it. Ask them questions about their yard, radiate confidence about what you’ve done.
  • Send signals that what you are doing is valuable. Moving? Tell your realtor about the added value your ecological landscaping brings to the home. Share pictures of your wildlife on social media, your thriving plants, your low water bills.
  • Advocate for positive changes Have an HOA? Talk about what is missing from their policies (not about what is bad about how things are now). Consider a town meeting to talk about how your local park is managed–maybe they could try a meadow? Or less pesticides? Or only trimming trees when birds aren’t nesting?
  • Document it for others to witness. Put your work on our map. Tell us what you are doing. Even the small stuff. Especially the small stuff.

Photo © Habitat Network

It sometimes doesn’t feel like it but you are part of a team of millions of people all acting locally in pretty profound ways (some of whom have discovered and participated in Habitat Network by adding their work to the map). Habitat Network does its best not only to connect you to high-quality resources but also make visible those other people acting alongside you, building a silent movement to change the way we engage with nature. All great movements are built from the small actions of many.