Escape From Suburbia: Beyond The American Dream dates from 2007 but we reference it here as quite a nice piece of background material. The topic is peak oil and suburbia. Escape is the follow up to The End of Suburbia and focuses on possible solutions. Nothing much has really changed since either movie came out except that all our money was emailed up to some giant orbiting death star and we burned another 400 million barrels of oil. Neither commodity is coming back any time soon.
The people seen in Escape are undertaking a handful of possible responses to the withdrawal of cheap energy from suburbia. Some are optimistic, some are pessimistic, some are getting the hell out while they figure they still can. Some are staying put, some are intellectualizing, others are angry. The critique of the energy and consumer future begun in End of Suburbia turns toward suburban poverty with the compelling destruction of a large community garden in south central Los Angeles. Implicit the whole time is that suburban poverty will be coming to a cul-de-sac near you sooner rather than later and that it won’t be pretty.
In 2007 suburban poverty was still somewhat behind the curtain …it ain’t now.
What will it all look like in 2017?
Canadians will enjoy scenes filmed in and around the Greater Toronto Area and words from David Suzuki and Kathryn Holloway.
James Howard Kunstler, a suburban-poverty.com favourite for years now, warns us not to ask him (or anyone for that matter) for solutions and hope but to find them within ourselves. JHK would make a better social worker than he thinks he would.
The Oil Drum blog is good daily reading for anyone concerned about our global energy future. Even the comments from the readership are so smart it’s scary. Suburbia draws on energy resources for the commuting and consuming it is dependent upon. The fact those energy resources are more expensive and harder to get at calls into question the very viability of the entire complex of things that go with suburbia. If the energy available to suburbia declined what would happen to the poor there? We think they’d have plenty of company as what is left of the middle class gets demoted by the energy and financial dysfunction to come. There may still be reason to argue about when exactly the energy dysfunction will really go big but we don’t see how a person in touch with reality even moderately can believe in a techno-utopian future suite of fixes that will allow us to prance past the energy issue. Jeff Vail has been writing about practical responses to the energy issues of suburbia for some time now. He wrote about resilient suburbia for the Oil Drum in 2008. In 2010 he gave an address called Rescuing Suburbia at an ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil) conference. Links below.
Rescuing Suburbia video & powerpoint slides 2010
A Resilient Suburbia? 4-part series 2008
We came across this item this morning and thought we’d offer it up as an example of resiliency. It’s about a family forced by economic circumstance to let go of their ideas of well off suburban living. A lot of how they live would be familiar to generations past in that it involves conserving resources and doing without. Carbon and other footprints seem to have been reduced in this reversal of the usual success story. Giving up the American/Canadian/Australian/British suburban dream doesn’t have to mean failure, misery and a lack of joy. Pretty soon we all might end up…
Living Right on the “Wrong” Side of Town
If this item interests you, ask at the library for a copy of No Impact Man by Colin Beavan. There’s also a series of articles on the Guardian website about one Mark Boyle, a man living completely without money.
The blog Infrastructurist published an interview in 2009 with Christopher Leinberger. He has done quite a bit to bring the concept of suburban poverty to the mainstream. Leinberger attributes much of the problem to supply and demand and to changing lifestyle expectations. In other words, the magic of the market created the problem and will fix it. Leinberger thinks it will take about thirty years for suburbia to adapt. We love the sound of many of the adaptations required: walkable, mixed-use urban hubs and rail-based public transit for example. He seems to be saying it’s a tall order but achieveable even if there will be losers along the way. Perhaps this effort at structural adaptation could be put in place under government guidance as a response to what really does seem like the end of growth but a dissonance emerges right away. A continental refitting of suburbia would require epic amounts of capital to start and maintain which makes Leinberger’s ideas seem almost hallucinatory given the impairments of the global financial system. At a couple of points Leinberger indicates he is well in touch with reality. He mentions the phenomenon of suburban houses converted into flophouses for groups of unrelated men. Certainly, Leinberger’s efforts at the Brookings Institution also indicate much comprehension of suburban poverty and dysfunction. His take on what to actually do with suburbia is both attractive and disappointing.
How to Save the Suburbs: Solutions from the Man Who Saw the Whole Thing Coming
For reasons best left undescribed, an employer had us take a Hummer H2 to a gas station for them one time. Said beast swallowed nearly $100 worth of gas like we do a mouthful of Red Stripe lager. The creepy, techno-cave of an interior was acre-upon-acre of cheap grey GM plastic. Pure materialism. Imagine then our shock when we came across the idea of using Hummer bodies as the raw material for prefab housing units. …if life on the perimeter is to be salvaged at all this might just be the kind of creative thinking and resource recycling we’re going to need.
A Better Use For Hummers: Prefab Modular Housing | Inhabitat – Green Design Will Save the World
Tactical Team 4 from suburban-poverty.com fired up the boilers in the Taurus and hit a semi-abandoned orchard north of the Greater Toronto Area this morning with excellent results. A large quantity of apples was picked and delivered to a busy drop in centre serving many low income (and otherwise vulnerable) people in Mississauga. We’ve noticed the lack of fresh food and low level of food literacy among the service population at the drop in and the appearance of a ton of crisp fresh apples created a happy buzz. One that will probably last for a couple of days. Those dependant on social agencies, food banks and charities for basic necessities often encounter too much in the way of salty canned and prepared food, Kraft Dinner and other carbohydrates. There’s a risk of encountering outdated food from such sources as well. We’ve already learned a little about the complications of providing social services in suburban areas so the value of using some creativity to find alternative sources of good, fresh food is enormous. An apple is such a simple healthy thing if you think about it. No packaging or preparation required.
While we found it a pleasure to make a contact, secure and then deliver some fruit we realize we are amateurs at this. See posting (30) and here are two Canadian examples:
Not far from the tree Toronto, ON foragers
Fruit for thought Regina, SK
Check out this video as well, it features veggie gardening in suburban Columbus, OH:
Here’s an interesting piece from the New York Times. It’s about a woman who forages for food growing on foreclosed residential properties. She boldy goes where no one can afford to live any more and finds peppers, melons, all kinds of things. There’s something really cool about this sure sign of suburban contraction. Lately, suburban-poverty.com has been scouting abandoned orchards and fruit trees, too. We’re looking for a free crop to share with others, imperfect and organic-by-abandonment is fine with us. We’ll do the work, too.
At vacant homes, foraging for fruit see slideshow as well
Editorial staffers at the suburban-poverty.com office park have been looking for solutions to suburban dysfunction, not just descriptions of it. One of the most imaginative and interesting collections of good ideas yet seen came together in 2009 for Dwell magazine’s Reburbia competition. We were immediately enamoured of such things as Zeppelin-based public transit and monster homes repurposed as dispersed water biofiltration plants. Far out at times, yes. But things are unsustainable as they are now.
Reburbia winners announced