Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Power to the People

For a (People's Republic of) Berkeley perspective on the role of individual households and neighborhood communities in preparing for peak oil we can turn to Jan Lundberg at Culture Change. Her article highlighted these activities:

  • Land use and community gardening: she cited the cornerstone of Berkeley activism, People's Park. I remember feeling very proud to play on the jungle gyms of a park that we created. The feeling of ownership was heady.

    (That's not me, but one of my contemporaries. I was 9 1n 1969.)

  • Water management: Rooftop gardens, ecological sewage treatments, stormwater management.
  • Traffic calming
  • Depaving roads and driveways: putting in gardens, instead.

    (Activists tore out the asphalt one day and planted a garden the next.)

  • Grey-water systems and composting toilets: this would require zoning changes.
  • Pedal power: to replace trucks as well as power appliances.
  • Steam, horses, sailboats, river barges: to fill in where railroads haven't developed.
  • Sprouting: grains, seeds, and beans.
  • Composting: including human waste.
  • Plastic bag replacement: offering incentives for using cloth bags.
  • Beekeeping: zoning needs to be changed for this as well.
  • Getting in shape: to get around without cars.
  • Cooperative housing: to protect people from evictions.
  • Working with your neighbors: going tribal.

The UNplanner has a piece on The Community Solution as well. He compares the options of a self-reliant homestead, intentional communities and the village approach. With the village approach "most places met their daily needs close to home, especially in respects to food and energy (e.g. wood, dung or the occasional waterfall). More limited resources, such as metal ores traveled longer stretches with only limited numbers of goods ever traded great distances, most of those being luxury goods."

He suggests:

...a confederation of loosely organized cities and towns of various (small) sizes that for the most part sustain their immediate needs on a local level and only trade the rarely used, more specific or technical goods. Larger cities could become producers of those harder-to-manufacture goods for the smaller towns and cities as well as become an administrative and cultural center for each particular region. At the same time, the larger cities could also subsist on the surplus, imported food stuffs that hopefully each of the towns would be able to produce. The key is to ensure, the size of the larger cities not exceed what could be provided for them from their immediate hinterlands.

The community level should necessarily be the focus of any low-energy civilization. In the rural areas this is best represented by the farming town. But it could be replicated in the urban areas as well. Larger cities (but not too big) could be broken into smaller districts with localized food production and processing along with any form of industry that is viable in a post peak world. Ideally each district should have a balanced mix of jobs and housing while managing to be concentrated enough to permit public transit.

He also discusses the need for communities to become our social security. He asserts that they will not get national level support for this. They will have to provide pension, public assistance, health care and education.

The down side of smaller communities are the same ones that plague small towns--a lack of privacy and intolerance for differences. But without modification, many cities are simply unsustainable, and so the benefits of the village outweigh the problems.

"Let a thousand villages bloom!"

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