Defining “Local”

There is no one definition of what “local” means or should mean for a community aside from belonging to a specific place, region or community, and having strong characteristics of that place. In ecology, “local” is associated with watersheds, bioregions and the biodiversity of flora, fauna, ecosystems and climate that define a place. In the local food and buy local movements, “local” means shortening the distance between consumers and producers, and collaboratively creating a more self-reliant economy that enhances the economic, environmental and social health of a community.

In the museum field, “local” can be defined as working with people, products and processes of that place in any or all aspects of the museum’s operations, and equally importantly, looking to the culture and environment of the place itself for content and meaning. “Local” is a philosophical commitment and an educational approach that connects all learning to what is local — and connects children to the real world right outside their homes.

Home is an important word here. Though difficult to describe, everyone knows what home feels like. It’s comfortable, like an old worn shoe, and you know when you’re there.  “Local” feels a lot like home. In working within a local framework, it is possible to create a larger “shared sense of place,” which has a strong identity and character that is deeply felt by local inhabitants and by visitors alike, making both feel like they are home.

lo·cal  (lkl)

1a. Of, relating to, or characteristic of a particular place: a local custom; the local slang.
1b. Of or relating to a city, town, or district rather than a larger area: state and local government.
2. Not broad or general; not widespread: local outbreaks of flu.
3. Of or affecting a specific part of the body: a local infection.
4. Making all possible or scheduled stops on a route; not express: a local train.

1. A public conveyance that makes several intermediate stops before the final destination is reached: changed trains to a local.
2. A local chapter or branch of an organization, especially of a labor union.
3. A local anesthetic.
4. Informal A person from a particular locality.

“Local” vs. “Sustainable” vs. “Green”

The words “local” or “sustainable/green” are sometimes put forward as if we have to choose between the two. In reality, the most green practice or approach is one that is both local and sustainable. Buying sustainably harvested products grown or produced within one’s own defined bioregion or community is the ultimate vision of sustainability.  By shortening the chain between consumer and producer, using fewer resources, transporting those resources a shorter distance, supporting one another’s neighbors and the local economy, creating a homegrown “flavor” and, perhaps most importantly, using the process to revitalize the community so it grows its own assets, the local approach puts power and vitality back into the community.