I know — it seems like a contradiction in terms, and David Holmgren’s opening description (in this essay) of suburbs in Australia (which could easily apply to the US and other “developed” countries) illustrates why:
The suburbs of our Australian cities have, in the main, become sterile wastelands, lacking in any true spirit of community, impoverished of local resources, and filled with fearful people whose daily efforts are [focused] elsewhere. What has happened to the Australian “suburban dream”?
Holmgren, the co-creator of the Permaculture concept, notes that the original post-WWII “suburban dream” did look more sustainable, and that suburban communities actually have the resources necessary to move in a much more sustainable direction.
There is a real and viable alternative to this seemingly alarming scenario – a retrofit of suburbia – a remodelling of local neighbourhoods and communities for the energy-descent future. The “refit manual” will bring together and integrate features such as:
* Home-based work, telecommuting, and cottage industries serving a local clientele;
* Extended families, lodgers and shared households;
* Recycling of storm water, waste water, and human waste;
* Soils of improved fertility, and the water supply and infrastructure for urban agriculture;
* City farms, cooperative gardening, Farmers’ Markets, and Community Supported Agriculture schemes (CSAs). Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a scheme in which customers undertake to buy a regular box of in-season fruits, vegetables, eggs, etc. from one or more local producers, thus providing the latter with a secure income and the ability to diversify the types of produce they provide.
I have trouble envisioning such a radical departure from the current state of “suburban bliss,” which consists of homogeneous oversized houses coupled with homogeneous oversized vehicles used to drive to homogeneous oversized businesses. As with Wal-Mart (which, of course, is naturally associated with contemoporary suburban development), it’s difficult to imagine change occurring when the original model (or, at least, the current version of it) is so unsustainable. “Sustainable suburbs” would require a radical rethinking of middle-class life, and that’s where it gets tricky…