Red Shoulder Hawk

Red Shoulder Hawk

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Thoughts on housing and redevelopment

Being green is so... white. It shouldn't be; last Saturday, for example, I bought farm-fresh produce from Scott Family Farms, from Fresno. This black man's father and grandfather were sharecroppers. He now owns his farm, and makes the trip to Oakland to sell his fresh food to people who otherwise shop at the corner liquor store.

Perhaps the biggest component that I am building into the affordable urban permaculture housing project is the behavioral change training. When I listen to most academicians, the assumption is that people's behavior is pretty much stable and unyielding; if we want to reduce gasoline consumption 20%, for example, don't tell people to drive less. Instead, make the cars' engines more efficient.

Being green is still a choice reserved for the well-to-do and the truly destitute. But which population segment is fueling the destruction of the land? Who is buying SUVs because of the rebates offered, trading increased future gas purchases against buying a more expensive hybrid car today? Who shops at Walmart and Costco, purchasing non-sustainable products in bulk quantities? Who is shopping at the liquor store for lunch, so that there is nearly as much packaging to throw away as there is food to consume?

Did I hear you answer, "Most of us?" I think so too: most of us are caught up in supporting our consumer culture. Most of us have the disease of affluenza.

That's why, as part of the process of rehabilitating a multi-tenant property into affordable units, prospective owner-tenants will be taught the principles of urban permaculture. As they perform the finish work on the units, the curriculum design will foster understanding about maintaining visible structures: solar-thermal energy capture and use, water use and reclamation, living walls and roofs, edible food forests, natural plasters and paints. They'll also receive training in the invisible structures: relocalization, food justice, shared resource use, social equity, the importance of ritual, and community building. People who want to run their home as a system, will choose to buy in. Those who want to let someone else do all the upkeep and maintenance, will continue to be renters.

These rehabilitated multi-tenant properties, filled with people who have been freed from the cycle of consuming, cluttering and tossing to the landfill, will become the cores, the seeds, for a slow but steady re-invention of the built environment away from the failed experiment of Sprawl and mass consumption, back towards a landscape of clusters of villages. With a little foresight, we should be able to create wonderful eco-villages, with several levels of home-ownership available, with common green spaces, with neighbors who feel secure with each other, all while reducing the impact on our planet's resources.

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