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scOTT kellOgg and sTacy peTTigreW

illUsTraTiOns By JUan MarTinez

TOOlBOx fOr

sUsTainaBle ciTy living
(a dO-iT-OUrselves gUide)

sOUTH end press caMBridge, MassacHUseTTs
Toolbox for Sustainable City Living copyright 2008 by Scott Kellogg & Stacy Pettigrew www.southendpress.org

inTrOdUcTiOn
in the coming decades, humanity will be faced with an enormous challenge—to survive the implosion of a society that has overextended its natural limitations in every capacity. The converging crises of climate change, energy depletion, and environmental degradation seriously threaten our speciesí survival. despite the growing awareness of the severity of these threats, the mechanisms that drive them are well in motion and are terribly difficult to stop. The future is unknown. climate models and oil consumption projections can be analyzed, but precise details of what and when changes will occur cannot be completely predicted. What is certain, however, is that if our current trajectory remains unchanged devastating collapse is unavoidable. a massive social transformation is needed. driven by the current economic modelís need for perpetual growth, todayís society is marked by unrelenting consumption and an increasing disparity between rich and poor. This path has no future. in order to survive, we must become a culture that consumes drastically fewer resources and is strongly rooted in the principles of sustainability, egalitarianism, and cooperation. accomplishing this transition will be no easy task. To be successful a diversity of tactics will need to be employed on every level of society. The largest and most important changes will take place on a grassroots level. While people acting on the grassroots are not individually responsible for the looming crises, the scale and depth of the changes necessary must be based and emerge from the grassroots. One critical component of this transition is the design of ecologically sustainable, communitybased infrastructure. it is this component that this book addresses. This manual is a toolbox of skills, technologies, tactics, and information to give people access to, and control over, lifeís necessities: food, water, energy, and waste management.

WHaT is sUsTainaBle?
When first coined, the word sustainability captured a very powerful concept. its many definitions essentially boil down to the idea of living in such a way that the resources available today will continue to be available for an indefinite number of future
Toolbox for Sustainable City Living copyright 2008 by Scott Kellogg & Stacy Pettigrew www.southendpress.org

INTRODUCTION | xi

generations. sadly, the term has been almost completely co-opted by corporations, governments, and international financial institutions. for example, a mainstream sustainable development program might propose installing a series of solar panels in a rural village. But solar panels only have about a 25-year life span, provided theyíre not damaged sooner, and after this period the panels are useless. Typically these projects donít consider whether or not the village will have the technical expertise, access to tools or manufacturing, or money necessary to repair or replace the panels. Without these resources the village finds itself in a position of dependency. When the panels fail they must wait for someone to donate another set. These types of projects maintain a colonial trajectory. Sustainable development has joined the lexicon of the international Monetary fund (iMf), the World Bank, and the United nations and is often used in their public relations campaigns as a euphemism for neoliberal economic development. The only sustainability created by a program which forces people to abandon their traditional means of sustenance in favor of exclusively raising a single cash crop for export is the ability of wealthier nations to sustain their monopolies of power. The ideologies of natural capitalism and green consumerism dilute the concept of sustainability even further. The mainstream sustainability movement puts the emphasis on green consumerismóthe idea that environmental devastation can be avoided simply through changes in consumer spending habits. This has led to businesses from large retail stores to the petroleum industry attempting to sell themselves and their products as being green. as the genuine sustainability of many of these products is dubious, the use of green, sustainable, and environmentally friendly as marketing terms has only further devalued the concept of sustainability. green consumerism encourages consumption of a different variety. it does nothing to challenge the patterns of over-consumption and excess that have created the environmental crisis. green consumerism only reinforces the destructive capitalist paradigm while giving people a dangerously false sense that real change is being made. capitalism, natural or not, requires infinite expansion and consumption of material resources. in a world that is fragile and finite, such a system is inherently
Toolbox for Sustainable City Living copyright 2008 by Scott Kellogg & Stacy Pettigrew www.southendpress.org

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unsustainable. any “sustainable” solution that fails to take this into account will not address the fundamental cause of planetary and human degradation. radical sustainability, on another hand, is distinct from what mainstream “sustainability” has come to mean. radical sustainability means rebuilding and reorganizing homes, neighborhoods, and communities in order to create a world that is both sustainable and equitable. it is fundamentally an approach to enable people who do not have political power to gain control over basic resources. so instead of installing solar panels a radical sustainable development project might use locally harvested wood to construct a windmill that powers alternators made from scrap cars and other salvaged materials that are locally plentiful. The windmillís design would be simple enough to be easily repaired, giving it a lifespan considerably longer than solar panels. equally important, the design could be replicable, giving neighboring villages independence from charity.

radical sUsTainaBiliTy
radical sustainability is the philosophy that underlies this book. We use the word radical (derived from the latin word radix, meaning root) to stress that we need to address issues at their fundamental root cause, not just the symptomatic manifestations. radical sustainability confronts the underlying reasons our current path is not sustainable and works to create genuinely sustainable alternatives. a radically sustainable viewpoint recognizes the inseparability of ecological and social issues and the necessity of ensuring the solution to one problem does not create or worsen another. for this reason it develops autonomous energy infrastructures and it opposes Us imperialism around the world and gentrification in inner cities of the United states. it simultaneously supports indigenous movements, womenís rights, and police accountability campaigns and works to create healthy soil. These issues—and many others—are as critical to our future as preserving the worldís remaining wilderness, fighting global warming, and creating global sustainable food production.
Toolbox for Sustainable City Living copyright 2008 by Scott Kellogg & Stacy Pettigrew www.southendpress.org

INTRODUCTION | xiii

aUTOnOMOUs develOpMenT
central to radical sustainability is the concept of autonomous development. This form of development designs systems that give control over basic resources to the people using them, increasing community self-reliance and aiding resistance to resource monopolies. design criteria include:
affordability use of salvaged and/or locally abundant materials simplicity user serviceability ease of replication decentralization

primarily, the systems must be able to be used and built by people without capital or monetary wealth. Many of the tools and technologies proclaimed as “sustainable” such as solar panels and hybrid vehicles are extremely expensive, making them inaccessible to the average person. such technologies often function as novelties for the wealthy or as a salve for guilty consciences. Use of salvaged and/or locally abundant materials helps minimize expense and keeps production local. in a society that produces as much excess as ours does, there is an abundant supply of trash that can be re-used for constructing many of the
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Toolbox for Sustainable City Living copyright 2008 by Scott Kellogg & Stacy Pettigrew www.southendpress.org

systems described in this book. recycling these materials reduces the demand for virgin supplies and slows consumption overall. simple and user serviceable designs ensure that the systems can be built and maintained with skills and knowledge found within the community making use of the system. This avoids a reliance on foreign experts and ensures the longterm functioning of the project. all of these criteria lead to systems being replicable. replicable systems are capable of being transferred and adapted to other communities and locations without significant redesign, and therefore have the potential to be implemented on a broad level. Though designs may need to change dramatically from one community to the next based on particular resources or local climate, a commitment to openly sharing technologies and experiences will lead to a greater rate of success. lastly, autonomous development systems are decentralized. The decentralization of critical resources is the best defense against resource monopolization. When the means of production and distribution of food, energy, and water are simple, affordable, and replicable, it is very difficult for any single entity to gain complete control over them. The most egalitarian method of resource management is to have multiple, redundant sources that are held in common by the people using them, thus ensuring continuing supply, democratic control, and overall quality.

aUTOnOMOUs cOMMUniTies
along with the development of autonomous design, radical sustainability promotes the development of autonomous communities—that is, egalitarian communities that value equality, justice, and mutualism. not only do these communities work together to provide members with the essential needs of food, water, energy, and waste management, they also develop their own horizontal political structures, transportation systems, media, health care, education, and so forth. autonomous communities can exist everywhere—

Toolbox for Sustainable City Living copyright 2008 by Scott Kellogg & Stacy Pettigrew

www.southendpress.org

INTRODUCTION | xv

from rural to urban, north to south. autonomous communities are especially adapted to creating and maintaining a sustainable world.

sUsTainaBle ciTy living
cities are highly paradoxical places. On one hand they are vital cultural and economic centers, and on the other they are resource vacuums, supporting extraordinarily high population densities at the expense of the surrounding region. currently, over 50 percent of the global po pulation lives in cities. as this percentage is increasing and the rate of environmental degradation is quickening, it is critical to sustainably meet the needs of the worldís urban populations. a radically sustainable response is to empower urban residents to make their cities capable of providing sufficient food, water, energy, and waste management within their local region. Having access to these resources on a decentralized, local level will promote a community mindset of self-sufficiency and encourage further independence from the destructive and dangerously unstable dominant systems that cities currently rely on for providing their needs. Permaculture, a multi-disciplinary practice used to design long lasting human communities, is a valuable tool. its essential goal is to create intensively cultivated spaces capable of providing for as many human needs as possible in as small of an area as possible. By doing so, humans can be self-reliant and lessen their impact on their surrounding environments in a way that doesnít rely on outsourced energy and resources. Because they are already so intensely cultivated, cites are an ideal location for permaculture designs. cities have plenty of existing infrastructure that can be utilized: food can be grown in former parking lots, rain collected off rooftops, wastewater recycled in scavenged bathtubs, and power generated from wind turbines mounted on buildings.

THe TransiTiOn
Humanit y has entered an era of decreasing energy resources. Modern agriculture is highly dependent on cheap energy not only for growing food, but distributing it. Will cities still be capable of suppor ting their populations when big trucks
xvi | TOOLBOx FOR SUSTAINABLE CITy LIVING
Toolbox for Sustainable City Living copyright 2008 by Scott Kellogg & Stacy Pettigrew www.southendpress.org

How To Use This Book This book is designed as a toolbox of skills and information for the reader: introducing systems, technologies, and ideas important for autonomous development in urban areas. The book is divided into the chapters Food, Water, Waste, Energy, and Bioremediation. Chapters are divided into sections, each detailing the various aspects of autonomous design relevant to the chapter’s theme. Most of the systems described are ones that we have built and experimented with over the past eight years at the Rhizome Collective in Austin, Texas. Some sections contain detailed step-by-step descriptions of how to build a system with accompanying diagrams, while other systems are more briefly explained in order to inspire, share information, and indicate paths for further research. While some of the systems described in the book are highly innovative and have little written about them elsewhere, most of them can be studied in further depth. A resources section at the end of the book provides lists of further readings and websites related to each section. The reader is encouraged to use it. Words and phrases in bold are defined in the glossary at the end of the book.

are no longer delivering food? What will happen when it becomes too costly to heat buildings? Will basic sanitation collapse as water becomes scarcer and more expensive to pump? What will happen to societ y? it is critical to plan ahead and start building radically sustainable infrastructure capable of supporting future urban populations while the resources to do so are still available. instead of waiting for governments, corporations, or city planners to start being responsible, radical sustainability is about people taking initiative today. Transformation from the ground up is our greatest hope for the future.

THe HisTOry Of THe rHizOMe cOllecTive
The Rhizome Collective was formed in 2000 out of the momentum created by the then nascent global justice movement. Inspired by the catchphrase “another world is possible,” we and the Rhizome’s other founding members came together with the shared intention of making that vision a reality. Rhizome was planned to provide secure space for activist and social justice groups, while simultaneously serving as a demonstration of urban sustainability. The project began with the purchase of an old warehouse in Austin’s industrial corridor. We set about the task of converting the derelict structure into a center for community organizing in which the Rhizome Collective would make its home. Many months were spent making badly needed repairs to the building and jumping through the many bureaucratic hoops that stood in the way. Once
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Toolbox for Sustainable City Living copyright 2008 by Scott Kellogg & Stacy Pettigrew

INTRODUCTION | xvii

basic fixes were made, we began experimenting with, constructing, and demonstrating sustainable, autonomous, urban projects. An asphalt wasteland was transformed into a vibrant space housing a constructed wetlands, a bicycle wind turbine, rainwater collection tanks, gardens, fish ponds, solar ovens, fruit trees, and chickens. We built these systems in order to demonstrate the possibility of implementing these permaculture tools and technologies as well as to serve the building’s live-in caretakers. In 2004, the Rhizome Collective received a $200,000 grant from the EPA to cleanup a 9.8-acre brownfield that we were donated and plan to turn into an ecological justice education park. Developing the internal structure of the Rhizome has been one of the biggest challenges. By deciding to use consensus for its decision making process, the collective hoped to be horizontal and egalitarian in its structure. While it has gone through many transitions, the Rhizome Collective eventually evolved into a spokescouncil. Persons appointed as representatives by the various spokes of the Rhizome meet regularly to report on their respective group’s activities, review proposals, and plan the collective’s direction. The many organizations based in the warehouse have worked to bring about cultural transformation on many levels. They include Bikes Across Borders, The Inside Books Project, The Austin Independent Media Center, Food Not Bombs, Art and Revolution, and KPWR—People’s Will Radio. In keeping with the metaphor of the rhizome, an underground root-like network linking individual plants, these groups operate autonomously, yet share common resources and pledge mutual support to each other. All of these elements combined are a manifestation of our philosophy of dual power anarchism: to be working for social change within today’s society while at the same time building functional alternatives to oppressive dominant institutions.

A Note on Failure Failure is a great teacher. Mistakes expose weaknesses and lead to better designs. Those fortunate enough not to be living at a subsistence level today have the luxury of making mistakes. Because the glut of surplus created by capitalism’s wastes provides us with a safety net, a small scale crop failure or fish die-off is not likely to be catastrophic. In the future, that surplus safety net may be unavailable, leaving less freedom to experiment. Now is the time to make errors and learn from them. In the process of creating and living with the sustainable systems described in this book, we have learned from many mistakes. It is certain that over the course of time, more design flaws will be discovered. We encourage readers to share the successes and failures they experience in implementing these systems so that we may all collectively benefit.

xviii | TOOLBOx FOR SUSTAINABLE CITy LIVING

Toolbox for Sustainable City Living copyright 2008 by Scott Kellogg & Stacy Pettigrew

www.southendpress.org

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