Location, Location, Location

Ah, the power of location! The cardinal three-word principle of real estate is also a core tenet of permaculture design. A well-designed home, landscape, or community has things placed in optimum relative location to one another.

Nature is the master at this. Trees and other living things that need a steady supply of water naturally grow near streams and springs. Drought-tolerant flora and fauna live on drier land.

When we humans try to override nature too much (such as by trying to grow plants that aren’t suited to the climate where we live), we end up using a lot of resources, spending too much money, and doing unnecessary work. A prime example is how far most of us have to travel each day just to get our basic needs met. (Here, I am particularly talking about the USA.) Outside the major cities (or even inside some of them), everything is car-distance apart. Schools, workplaces, homes, food, other daily household necessities.

When I traveled around Europe and lived in Japan as a young adult, I was struck by how easy (and enjoyable) it was to get the tasks of daily life done because people and things were located in such close proximity to one another.

Here’s a “relative location” tip: If you’re going to have a gym membership, pick a gym that’s located very close to either your home or your workplace, to increase the likelihood that you’ll use it.

And a “relative location” tip related to food: Since fresh produce is heavy and energy-intensive to transport (compared with dry bulk items), growing some of our own greens and other fresh food (or buying from locals) is a good way to do our bit to address the location inefficiencies built into our food system.

I’ve heard some people say you should put your compost pile as far as possible from the house so you don’t have to smell it. My approach, rather, is to put the compost pile (or bin) as close to the kitchen door as possible. For convenience, and also to ensure you’ll manage it properly (and therefore it won’t smell)!

Here’s a story about the power of relative location. A major computer company was asked why it had chosen to manufacture in China rather than the U.S. What do you think the answer was? Cheaper wages? Less regulation? Cheaper raw materials? Nope, none of the above. It was the close physical proximity of suppliers! A good case study for a seminar on entrepreneurial ecosystems … or for a permaculture design course.

Where in your living environment, and in the world around you, do you notice the principle of relative location working well? Where do you notice room for improvement?

What would your ideal community layout look like? Would you be willing to sacrifice some personal space if it meant being able to walk or bicycle to all your daily needs? How much time and distance is an acceptable commute or errand to you? Each of us will have different answers to those questions.

Further Reading:

Check out anything written about the history of your local area. Local books at your public library; scholarly papers available as PDFs online. You are likely to find evidence of a rich social ecosystem; a landscape of dwellings and numerous small businesses located in very close proximity to one another. (Depending on where you live, you may be able to see the lingering traces of this layout by walking around your neighborhood.) I read a book about a Rust Belt community which, back in the early 1900s, had something like 88 different little shops in walking distance of one neighborhood.

The Mobility Trap: Why We’ll Never Fix Congestion By Speeding Up Traffic (article from StrongTowns). “So what do we achieve by building new highways and speeding up travel? We don’t actually shorten people’s trips; we just enable them to live and work farther away from each other. … The best transportation policy there is isn’t HOV express lanes, diverging diamond interchanges, or a new or wider freeway on the rapidly-expanding edge of your city. The best transportation policy there is just might be a new corner grocery store in your own neighborhood.”

Vanilla Beans and Brodo: Real Life in the Hills of Tuscany, book by Isabella Dusi. This book is breathtakingly beautiful in its descriptions of everyday life in an Italian town called Montalcino, population just under 6,000, where the architecture and many customs have been preserved intact since medieval times, yet the citizens have selectively brought in modern elements to their social and economic benefit. The residents get around mainly by walking, and stay fit and energetic into their 80s and beyond. They produce almost all their food locally.

Three Ways To Look At Natural Disasters

One, As a tragedy, wrecking property and lives.

Two, As an economic boon (because all that rebuilding and recovery effort boosts the GDP – never mind the costs of evacuation and lost wages and such to everyday people).

Three, As an opportunity for people to transcend their personal concerns and work together in community. And remember what really makes us feel happy and alive: caring for each other.

Today I dug up some scooby-snacks on disaster and community for you.

From Demco Software, ideas on how to turn your public library into a true community hub. “After Hurricane Sandy, libraries in New York and New Jersey opened their doors for those needing computers to fill out federal forms and let their loved ones know they made it safely through the storm. While your community hopefully won’t be faced with a natural disaster of this scale, there are likely already many individuals in need within your community.

From Springboard for the Arts, Recovering the Story: How Arts Contribute to Emergency Recovery and Resilience. “East Coast Hurricane Sandy survivors became storytellers through Sandy Storyline, a participatory documentary that collects and shares the impact of Hurricane Sandy on communities. In Chicago, Clemantine Wamariya became a storyteller and human rights advocate after she escaped from the Rwandan Genocide at the age of six. Storytelling can be a means to unite, heal, and educate after a disaster.”

Shareable readers share their stories about community-led disaster-relief efforts.

Also from Shareable, The Under-reported Story of Disasters: “[R]eporting routinely underplays how local communities come together to respond to the hardships they face while supporting each other during times of disruption. It’s a good thing that people gravitate together during a crisis rather than pushing each other away because all signs point towards an increase in climate change-fueled disasters in the coming years and decades.

And yet another winner from Shareable! How to build thriving, resilient communities. From repair cafés to potlucks, tips on strengthening the social fabric that is even more essential to resiliency than are physical-preparedness aspects such as producing food locally. A resource-dense article offering links to other articles such as how to start a seed library; how to organize a permablitz.

Climate Quiz

Do you know the most effective ways to curb climate change? Some of the answers to this quiz from CNN might surprise you. The quiz is divided into categories such as homes & cities, food, transportation, land use, and electricity use. For each category, you get a chance to rank in order which solutions you think are most effective. And even if you find you’ve got the answers wrong (which I did quite often!), you’ll get a lot out of this quiz because each answer is accompanied by an explanation “This is similar to taking xx million cars off the road,” so you can really compare the power of each action (such as eating a plant-based diet, composting food scraps, etc.).

Oak Tree

When I moved to Florida nine years ago, in August 2010, one of the first things I did was take a scenic 13-mile bicycle ride that passes through various parks in the area. This tree was one of the highlights. Located in Bulow Creek State Park, it is known as the Fairchild Oak, and according to some estimates, it is 2,000 years old. As far as I know, it is still standing. But a lot of other beautiful old trees that were here when I moved here, are no more. Mostly casualties of “development.”

There are parts of the world where it is customary to build roads and buildings around old trees, rather than cut them down.

Do you have a favorite tree? This is one of mine.

Deep Green Storm Preps

A green-frugal friend in New Mexico just texted me to ask about my hurricane preps.

“Just saw folks lining up to buy generators. Have you got yours and gallons of fuel? Seriously, am curious about any preparations you are making.”

Good question!

Here is my answer:

– Boarding up windows

– Have 15+ gallons of water on hand — a week’s worth, for cooking and drinking (always keep big jugs full of tapwater on hand for emergencies) — and my total is actually over 100 gal if i count the rainbarrels).

– Have matches & candles (always do).

– Have enough nonperishable food calories to get through a week (always do).

– Have pre-charged charger that gives a charge for my phone (always have that).

– Have a pair of rechargeable lamps my Florida brother CB gave me; they and my little inflatable solar-charged lamp are all charged up (as they always are).

– Have small radio powered by hand-crank.

– Asking neighbors if they need help; keeping a lookout for people that might need help.

I would have no use for a generator. Since we get several days’ warning for a hurricane, I simply eat up all the food in the fridge and unplug the fridge! I guess the other main thing most people buy generators for is to power the air conditioning, which is something I don’t use. (CB informed me just now that actually a generator is not enough to power A/C, unless it is a really huge generator.) Is there some other basic need that motivates people to go out and fight the crowds to purchase generator and gasoline?

Other than that, really the most important thing as far as I’m concerned is companionship. Since I have no housemates at the moment, and other people are hunkered down in their places, I may go to a friend’s house or a shelter just for company. Physically, my house is sturdy and secure, and I have made reasonable preparations, so I’m not too worried about my material stuff and physical needs. Companionship, though — that is REALLY important.

P.S. From a comment thread in one of the Florida permaculture groups I’m in, some advice for gardeners: Make sure nothing in your yard can become a projectile. And, fruit can become projectiles, so go ahead and take fruit off of trees. (Here in Florida, we have green papayas ripening on our trees. But they can be harvested while green, and cooked up as a vegetable. Papaya is the one fruit I’ve heard of that can also be a vegetable in this manner.) Tie supports to things. Lay potted plants on their side. (One person tucked her potted plants into a raised bed and they were fine.)

As always, I’d love to hear about your experiences. Have you ever had to prepare for a hurricane or other potential disaster? If so, how have you prepared? What worked and what didn’t? What, if anything, did you end up needing that you didn’t have? And what did you have on hand that you didn’t end up needing? What things ended up being most important or valuable (to you, or to your community)?

Kudos and Suggestions for a Local Newspaper

One of the newspapers in my city, the Daytona Beach News-Journal, deserves major props for organizing “town hall” type meetings periodically. (Does your local paper do this? If so, thank them profusely! If not, offer it as a suggestion, and maybe also offer to help with organizing and logistics.)

Most of the town hall meetings have been focused on a specific local issue (such as homelessness, or what to do about blight on Main Street), but the gathering I attended today was a “coffee chat” type event in which citizens were invited to air any concerns they had. A good number of people (100, maybe? More? In any case, many more than were expected) packed Steve’s Famous Diner to voice their views.

On that note, thank you to Steve’s for making our community a better place, and to the News-Journal also for choosing this local, family-owned, community-minded business as the venue for today’s forum. (Extra thanks to News-Journal Editor Pat Rice for treating us to coffee/tea; that was above and beyond.)

My fellow citizens offered various criticisms and suggestions. Here are some:

Criticism: A subscription to the paper edition costs $48 per month. (The digital edition is just $4 per month, as I pointed out, but a lot of people are attached to reading a paper paper. Myself, as much as I enjoy reading printed matter on paper, the sheer volume of a daily newspaper weighs on me from an eco-footprint standpoint. Yes, newspaper can be composted and (at least for now) recycled. But I prefer to read the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the New York Times on my smartphone for a total of just $8 per month!)

Criticism: The paper is full of AP newswire stories and national news, relatively few local stories.

Suggestion: Reduce the number of pages in the paper, and just carry local stories (this would address both of the criticisms above, as the slimmer paper would presumably have a lower price tag). From headlining news, to sports, to business and finance, to lifestyle trends, have it all be local.

Criticism (from a retiree): We retirees need Wall Street information, investment information and advice. The paper lacks it.

My advice to readers (which I did not voice): Subscribe to WSJ or New York Times for that information. If you want investment advice locally, read between the lines of our local paper, and see where disinvestment has led to blight, and how that might become an investment opportunity. It seems like so many people are fixated on Wall Street, that our Main Streets are crumbling. Not saying you can’t keep money on Wall Street, but how about also using some of that nest egg (and the wisdom and experience of your years) to make more of a difference here at home.

My advice to the newspaper: Keep on covering stories of local entrepreneurship and courageous investment, such as today’s story of a father-and-son developer team (in another city, but still here in Florida, so local-ish) who are transforming a dilapidated, druggie trailer park into a safe clean community for everyday people.

Criticism: The articles are too long. (Of course, if there were no long articles, someone else would accuse the paper of lacking in-depth coverage. Anyway, the longer articles provide essential coverage of local issues that is available through no other channel.)

My idea for the paper: Solicit short articles from the general public. Offer some modest payment (say, $10 or $20) for a paragraph or three on any local topic. Anything from a local restaurant review to a Little League tournament writeup, to an article about local wildflowers or edible wild plants, to a historical tidbit about how locals used to build their homes in the days before air conditioning … if you publish it, you’ll pay the writer. Also, have a running “wish list” of articles that you are actively seeking someone to write. If someone writes one of those and you publish it, you’d pay the writer a bit more. All of that could get pretty unwieldy to administer. You could just go totally old-school and go back to having more reporters. If you can’t afford employees, use freelancers.

A local newspaper, with residents’ support, can be a major force for economic revitalization, community cohesion, local resilience, bioregional consciousness. Readers of this blog, wherever you live, I hope you have a good local newspaper. If you do, then support it (even if your support has to take the form of constructive criticism). If you don’t, then consider starting one!

Further Reading:

Daytona Times (I referred to the News-Journal as one of my city’s newspapers. We also have the Daytona Times, “East Central Florida’s Black Voice,” which was founded in 1870.)

Ormond Beach Observer (newspaper of our neighbor to the north)

Saving Community Journalism – articulating the vital mission of community newspapers.

Reflections on Living Without a Fridge

One of my favorite green publications, Mother Earth News, just posted an article by someone who sounds like a Deep Green kindred spirit!

Writes Chris Ponzi, “I live in a quilted home of brick walls, mosquito screens, windowless spaces, and a palm leaf roof in northeast Colombia. You may see an iguana munching a mango on my porch. Once you transcend the sheer weirdness and come inside, you may realize something else strange: I have no refrigerator.”

If you are among those of us who are living a lifestyle that is a bit off the beaten track of the mainstream, it can be surprising and energizing to find that there are more of us out there than we think! Living in a wealthy industrialized nation skews one’s perception of what is normal worldwide.

Go here to read the rest of “Reflections on Living Without a Fridge”. Good stuff! Interestingly, Chris (who lives in a climate very similar to what we have in Florida), reached the same solution I have, which is to continue many non-refrigeration practices but utilize the benefits of technology by having a mini fridge for select items. My mini fridge uses what I consider acceptably little electricity (about half of a kWh per day on average), and I get to have yogurt and refrigerate my leftovers.