Suburban Permaculture Transforms Neighborhoods

Reader Contribution by Jan Spencer
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Half of all Americans live in suburbia. It’s true that suburbia is on the receiving end of a lot of social, economic and environmental criticism with much of that criticism well deserved. Suburbia requires a lot of resources to keep it going. Just about everyone has a car. Many homes are remarkably over sized.  Suburbia is known as a place lacking in culture where people often don’t know their neighbors.

Potential for Suburban Permaculture

While some of these criticisms may be justified, at the same time, suburbia offers enormous potential to become a critical new frontier for deep changes in our culture and economy. “You don’t have to move to live in a better neighborhood.”

All over the country, a growing number of people are beginning to recognize the potentials of suburbia as a location for a way of life that is far more friendly to people and planet. Here in my neighborhood, two miles northwest of downtown Eugene, Oregon, we have a small preview of what suburbia can become. There are lots of good stories.

The purpose of this blog is to share practical experience for transforming suburbia. Food, energy, water, culture, economics, human scale technology, social uplift. This blog can also help bring people together who are starting out and others with years of experience, to share what they are learning for creating a very different kind of suburbia. This blog can help add to important conversations relating to the suburban frontier.

Fifteen years ago, I bought this modest 1,100-square-foot house. From the start, the plan was to make best use I could of the assets this quarter-acre provided. The grass is gone front and back. The 350-square-foot patio has become a closed in passive solar space that helps heat the house. There is edible landscaping all over. Automobile space has been reclaimed as the driveway was taken out and the one-car garage turned into a living space.

Surprising to some people, the Pacific Northwest is dry for months in the summertime so I installed a 6,500-gallon rainwater system for garden and landscape. The house has a solar water heater and heat pump, there are two water features landscaped with “urbanite” from my former driveway, and there are a greenhouse and cold frames.

Over the years, well over a thousand people have visited – green bike tours, permaculture classes, school groups, eco bike tours, curious neighbors, well known writers and media. Both the mayor and city manager think the place is great. This quarter-acre has activated many other transformation projects in the neighborhood and elsewhere.

My next-door neighbor has taken out part of his driveway in favor of garden space and replaced decorative plants out front with many food-producing shrubs and trees. We collaborated on a project taking out an expansive hedge on our property line and replaced it with edible landscaping.

Within a fifteen-minute bike ride, dozens of friends and neighbors are transforming where they live. There are front yards turned into gardens, green buildings, food forests, solar projects, fences down between like minded neighbors, shared properties, educational outreach and celebrations. There are mutual assistance networks and a sense of identity, we live in the River Road Permaculture Zone.


An Important Lesson about Urban Homesteading

We learned another important lesson: Almost any neighborhood and town has many assets and allies that can be helpful in transforming where we live. A surprising variety of organizations — ad hoc groups, schools, communities of faith, even city and county programs have agendas that fit perfectly with greening our communities. Taking the time, one can recognize many surprising opportunities for common cause, to help create a more peaceful and healthy world.

This blog will share practical information for home-scale property transformation. It will also describe collaborations in the neighborhood and great stories about tools, assets and allies in the community. Making these changes is simply about people taking the time to re define their priorities, recognize the benefits for taking action then, doing the work. Each positive story can be a platform to inspire others to action.

The ideal is to re purpose suburbia to use as a platform for creating a very different economy and culture that will be far more friendly to people and planet.

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