What role can Sustainability play in the revitalization of Catskill region Main Streets?

That question came up during one afternoon session of the Main Street Boot Camp—a conference hosted by community development organization The MARK Project—where panelists discussed the hot topic of Sustainability. The audience was composed of business owners, town historians, state development coordinators, non-profit entities, and county and municipal officials.

MARK Project Director Peg Ellsworth moderated the panel, which included Steve Burnett (a Bovina-based artist and farmer), Sonia Janiszewski (Farm Catskills board member and Director of Tourism for Delaware County), and me, Kristina Zill (Coordinator for Transition Catskills).

Our panel discussed projects underway that increase our region’s self-reliance and resiliency. Steve shared his journey of becoming a vegetable farmer, despite assurances from area residents that it was an impossible task in these mountains; Sonia talked about regional food hubs and developing markets for area farmers; and Peg and I introduced the concept of Transition, spoke about current projects—such as the upcoming Countywide Seed Swap—and described how local currencies can help keep money circulating within communities. The final flourish was a screening of our fabulous, newly minted Transition Catskills video (thanks to Transitioner Jeff Tomasi and videographer Jessica Vecchione).

So, what does Sustainability have to do with re-invigorating Main Streets? Potentially, a great deal, especially in the area of Tourism, which seems poised and ready to boom in the Catskill region.

Sustainability is a potent brand for communities catering to environmentally conscious New Yorkers. We’re well on the way to embodying that brand, due in large part to all of the wonderful local food from area farms. We need to take that concept a step further. Here’s my wish list for the near future:

• Solar arrays in the villages, enabled by the NY Sun initiative
• Electric-car rentals adjacent to the Trailways bus stop, along with recharging stations scattered throughout the county
• Spectacular community gardens and food forests that make the list of must-see destinations
• LED or CFL lighting everywhere, and motion detector-timed lighting and taps in bathrooms
• Signs proclaiming that our villages have signed on to become Climate Smart Communities

These are a few ideas for outward signs of Sustainability. There is already so much happening quietly behind the scenes that contributes to our region’s ability to meet its needs sustainably, and Transition Catskills aims to encourage and develop projects that continue that trend.

I had never met Steve and Sonia before sharing the stage for the panel discussion. Afterwards, we put our heads together about ways we can collaborate in the future. Stay tuned for fun and innovative, joint-venture projects.