I have been putting off writing this for some time. I just could not work out where to start as there were many different things buzzing around in my head. Though much like design the hardest part is putting pen to paper so here we begin.
For me, Retrosuburbia was someone of a blessing. 6 years earlier my family and I sold and moved from our more substantial property to a much smaller block on the edge of town. At the time we did receive much criticism from certain circles as the pattern at the time was for people who had done a PDC would generally move from the city and purchase a rural block to pursue the ‘permaculture lifestyle’.
Why we moved was for many reasons, but the largest was that while we were producing much of what we needed, with the kids growing up and getting more into school activities and sport etc., everything required a vehicle to travel. This, plus many other incentives had us thinking about the future. The rural agrarian dream was lovely but the shadow of ‘what if’ started to hang over our heads.
With this in mind, we sold and moved to the edge of town, retaining the rural feel but having everything within walking distance. We spent a lot of time looking for the right property also - Northeast aspect, the majority of the property is the backyard, 3 sources of water, soils etc. the list was extensive, but ultimately we found what has become our home.
But in reading it, I could not help but draw parallels to many other works that I had read that did ultimately lead us to make that fateful decision to move to our ‘urban block.’
The Complete book of Self-sufficiency – The original version published in 1976 with the new edition published in 2003 is a comprehensive, back-to-basics guide explains how to live independently in harmony with the planet, utilizing natural forms of energy, raising crops and livestock, preserving foods, gardening, carpentry, and other essential skills designed to help build a community and transform one's life. It invited readers to respect the land, reap the harvest, waste nothing, stay healthy and live well.
While I had been shown and given many skills from my parents and grandparents, this book gave me the structure on the ‘what and the how’ on our block. It is still today a book that regularly sits on my desk as I think through different ideas on how we can apply strategies, techniques and various tools to our lives
A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander – This book published in 1977 this book was about how to design a house for yourself with your family; how you can work with your neighbours to improve your town and neighbourhood. It provides people with a framework for engaging in design.
Using this book has given me the inspiration for many projects not just on our home but locally as it shows the connections from macro to micro or the reverse to help look a affects not only in our lives but also into our community – The how to
The Integral Urban House - First published in 1991. I had honestly forgotten about this book until recently when Russ Greyson recently posted a post about this book in the Retrosuburbia community facebook group. Knowing I had it somewhere here, it leads me on a search to the last box that had not yet been unpacked from the move 6 years prior (yes I was getting there). This book is a comprehensive guide to achieving a completely sustainable urban lifestyle by creating a mini-ecosystem where residents grow their own fruits and vegetables, raise a variety of animals, recycle 90% of their waste, solar heat their hot water, and use a range of other alternative technologies, all on a small urban block. Flicking through its pages shows the many ways these elements can be integrated together on a small scale.
The Economics of Happiness – While not a book, this film released in 2011 was an eye-opener for me. 2011 was when I first entered the big scary realm of internet and social media (and honestly I think I am still in shock from the experience). The film describes “a world moving simultaneously in two opposing directions. On the one hand, the government and big business continue to promote globalisation and the consolidation of corporate power. At the same time, all around the world, people are resisting those policies, demanding a re-regulation of trade and finance they’re starting to forge a very different future. Communities are coming together to re-build more human scale, ecological economies based on a new paradigm – an economics of localisation.” While I thought I had some idea (delusional for sure), this film opened up my eyes to some of the more significant issues I had not considered, and how they can and do affect the local resilience we were trying to build in our own home
Roots of Change Study Group – While neither a book nor film, I came across this curricula from my introduction to the economics of happiness in 2011. This at its core was about gathering like-minded individual and through a series of readings and discussions, come to a better understanding of not only the changes and the consequences, but also what we as individuals, family, friends and community can do about it to build strong local communities.
The Permaculture Handbook by Peter Bane – First published in 2012, I did not come into contact with this book until 2014 when I attended a talk in Brisbane by David Holmgren who was ironically giving his “Aussie Street’ presentation. The Permaculture Handbook is a “step-by-step guide to creating resilient and prosperous households and neighbourhoods, complemented by extensive case studies of three successful farmsteads and market gardens. This comprehensive manual casts garden farming as both an economic opportunity and a strategy for living well with less money. It shows how, by mimicking the intelligence of nature and applying appropriate technologies such as solar and environmental design, permaculture can create abundance, drought-proof our cities, convert waste into wealth and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”
What I loved about this book was how Peter Bane had integrated and adapted many patterns outlined in the “ A Pattern Language” and applied them in a permaculture context for his peri-urban property and incorporating his local community to help build resilience, self-reliance and abundance.
This ultimately became the inspiration for what we are doing and building on our own context here on our half an acre.
And last but definitely not least, is the latest addition of Retrosuburbia by David Holmgren. One thing I have noticed about this book even before its release was that it made people excited. The idea of taking his Aussie Street presentation and expanding on it using Davids long years of testing and experience had many people talking.
Retrosuburbia is about “shows how people can downshift and retrofit their homes, gardens, communities and, above all, themselves to be more self-organised, sustainable and resilient into an uncertain future. It promises a challenging but exciting mix of satisfying work, a more meaningful way of living and hope for the next generation.”
Using the permaculture flower as a guide, it takes the reader through the various petals and showing living examples of what can be done.
When it was published and finally arrived at my door, I could not put it down. From start to finish in one night and honestly, it was awesome. So much information and inspiration that it has generated a resurgence in people wanting to look more local start where they are and hopefully build a better, more resilient and self-reliant future.
This excites me as living in a rural environment I have seen over the years a pattern of people looking for a slower lifestyle, gardens, self-reliance etc. and move to the 5 to 50-acre block to set up their dream. They spend the next 2 years commuting to and from the city for work and then spend the weekends planting trees, building gardens, tending animals and mowing. Then after 2 years, they get fed up with the idea and then move back to a more urban setting with the loss of time, money and resources that were put into the property in the first place, to be sold to the next batch of people who are beginning the same journey.
While Retrosuburbia is not the first guide to inspire people to a more self-sufficient urban lifestyle, it has once again brought it back into the foreground and given people reason to pause to consider the potential of the suburbs.
And why Suburbs? because as Bill and Helga Olkowski argued "Cities are where people are. Everyone cannot move to the country or there won't be a country anymore. Besides if everyone moved to the country with their urban consciousness, the country will be transformed into the city just as happened with the suburbs. The challenge is to make the cities ecologically stable and healthy places to live"