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A sustainable and resilient future for Baltimore

Sustainability, resilience — people are sometimes confused by these terms; they can seem abstract, something to do with saving energy perhaps or recycling. And of course they do refer to those things. But more fundamentally, sustainability and resilience are terms that apply to us: the community leader who helps young people find jobs, the family who plants a garden on a vacant lot, the parent who coaches Little League, the neighbor who looks out for the vulnerable person next door. These are the stories that strengthen our communities, give comfort to those in need and empower those who are too often ignored.

"Sustainability" and "resilience" are about what we do together as a city to build a better place to live for all of us, and every story counts.

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On Tuesday, the Baltimore Office of Sustainability will hold its annual Town Hall, where we will honor those stories and start a citywide conversation about what our next chapter should be. The event marks the launch of a new, participatory process to encourage and empower more of our citizens in shaping a sustainable and resilient future as we rewrite Baltimore's Sustainability Plan together. Instead of telling you what should be in the plan, or requiring that you tell us what you want to see only through certain "official" channels, we want to empower your voice and your story by inviting you to share your experiences, needs and hopes in whatever way works best for you.

For the next five months, we'll be listening and learning from you no matter how you choose to let us know. You can join us and citizens from across Baltimore at our Town Hall to learn what's already being done and share your ideas for how we can do better. You can connect with us on our website (baltimoresustainability.org) or through social media (facebook.com/baltimoresustainability; @sustainbmore) by using the hashtags #ItsAboutUs or #EveryStoryCounts to tell us how you're creating sustainability and resilience every day and what would help you do even more. Or you can share and connect in your own backyard, where community ambassadors from your neighborhood will be working with our support team to develop forums for participation, whether it's through a block party, an art show or a simple conversation.

Once we've identified what's most important to our communities, our ambassadors will also be there to make sure that communities get to lead when implementing the plan, and that you can determine for yourself how you want to be involved in making change come about. We want to create a living sustainability plan that's shaped and driven by the people of Baltimore. There is no sustainability or resilience without you.

For too long, planning has seemed like something that happens to people, rather than coming from the people. For too long those most impacted by pollution, poverty, discrimination and all the other forces that tear at our social fabric and make us weaker as a whole have been the ones most excluded from the discussion of how to make things right. We want to make sure that doesn't happen, and we can't afford to — the challenges we face are too great for business as usual.

The small band of neighborhood leaders who turned into green guerrillas to plant 500 trees. The two grandmothers who go to door-to-door to show people in their neighborhood how they can save energy and money by weatherizing their homes. The youth leaders whose advocacy will give students a greater say in making our schools healthier, more vibrant places to learn. That's what this work is about. When someone asks what sustainability or resilience mean, we don't need dictionary definitions or drawn-out, technical explanations. We just need us — all of us, which is why every story truly counts. But only if everyone is heard.

Inez Robb, a community advocate, and Michael Furbish, a sustainability entrepreneur, are members of the Baltimore Commission on Sustainability. Information: Kristin.Baja@baltimorecity.gov.

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