Ardent Eden

Ardent Eden is a place to explore my thoughts about the interdependence of life - humanity and nature - and to engage with others for collective problem-solving.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Daydreaming Saturday

Photo of New Zealand eco-village from

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. - Henry David Thoreau

Maybe it's the fact that there was no coffee in the house this morning when I woke up with the Bean at 6:00 that set the stage for my daydream. Because once I finally did get that cup a few hours later, the caffeinated thoughts started flowing fast and furious. Last night I read this post by madcapmum before bed. The idea of neighbors sharing a cow for milking seemed so simple, and just makes pure sense. That vision must have been dancing in the back of my mind because as soon as I had that first cup of joe in my hand, the wild dreaming began. Here's what I started to imagine:

In all of those so-called communities which are really nothing more than big and blah tract houses on carved-up pieces of former farmland or forest, we could take the idea of private property and turn it on its head. I'm not delusional enough to think that folks are going to give up their right to own property and do with it what they please. My thought, instead, is that the people who live in these houses could come together -- acting like neighbors rather than individual material accumulators -- and think about better ways to put the huge lawns to work. Each family could keep their lawn and land, of course. They would just have to decide on ways to put some of that land to use for the good of the neighborhood and wildlife.

What would this look like? Well, let's think about a typical subdivision a little differently. The neighbors agree to get together and rethink the ways that private spaces could be used for the public good. And "public" could be defined to, gasp, include creatures other than humans. Think about this: two houses have swingsets set up in the backyard. Instead of every household in the subdivision with children purchasing its own swingset, the two households that already have them agree that their private property - the swingset and the part of the yard on which it sits - could be used by the kids in the other houses. Now the kids wouldn't necessarily need to have free reign to yell like crazy at 7:00a.m. while playing on this swingset. There could be some basic ground rules for the use of the swingsets. The idea, though, is quite simple: sharing the resource of the swingset in the community. In exchange, the swingset owners would receive all kinds of resources from other families in the subdivision. Maybe one household could get some chickens to raise for eggs. Homeowners who have green thumbs could talk about the best way to cooperate in order to grow a range of food on parts of their land. Others could convert some of their lawn into wildlife sanctuaries with planned plantings to attract native species. Each family could have something to offer. There wouldn't be strict rules per se; just a sense of shared commitment to making better use of the spaces that are being wasted with huge chemically-dependent lawns. I'm not advocating for getting rid of lawns either. Some families could opt to keep their whole lawns intact with some set-aside areas for the neighborhood's kids and pets to play under the same guidelines as the public use of the swingsets.
Maybe this rethinking of the use of space could lead to a rethinking of the way we relate to one another too. The person who bakes tasty breads shares her bounty with the neighbor who is a handy carpenter. Informal exchanges of goods happen alongside the participation in the mainstream economy of cheap imported goods. This bartering leads to the exchange of ideas as well...and soon you're on the slippery slope toward a real community that supports life in the best of ways.

What could result from sharing even a small part of our private property with our neighbors? Less use of the resources that it takes to maintain large lawns. Food grown and raised closer to home. Kids playing with each other rather than in isolated islands of green behind their own homes. Neighbors talking with one another and collectively deciding what's best for their community. Less driving as more basic needs - for food, recreation, companionship - could be met in the neighborhood.

We recently watched "End of Suburbia," and you don't have to be an expert in peak oil to know that the auto-centric way of life we are living is not sustainable based as it is on the presumption of an endless supply of cheap oil. You could fall into the Jim Kunstler camp of extreme cynicism about our prospects for working together to get out of the mess we've created. Or, we could do what Bill McKibben argues for in an excellent piece in Orion magazine. McKibben exhorts us: "With a little lead time, we can put in place the no-regrets kinds of policies that make sense for a less spendthrift society." What would these no-regrets policies look like? McKibben says that they are different from a survivalist hoarding of resources to prepare for a world where global warming and peak oil are a daily reality in all aspects of our life. Instead, he tells us,
The no-regrets options are different, and seductive. They all involve communities learning to fend more powerfully for themselves—communities ratcheting down their dependence on the overstretched and oil-dependent lines of supply that mark a globalized economy, and ratcheting up the semiforgotten, close-to-home economies that might prove more stable in an energy-starved world. Some of this work is already underway, but it will be given a new urgency if the price of oil just keeps on leaping.
What does this all mean? Is it just a utopian fantasy or the bright side of the doomsday scenario that may be just beyond the horizon? How can we work to make this happen? Madcapmum really got me thinking about this. It's a testament to how the seeds of another world can prosper when they land on fertile ground. It's time to dream a little dream about what could be...and figure out some unique ways to put the foundations in place that will make it happen.


  • At 7:06 PM, Blogger madcapmum said…

    Thanks for the link, and I'm glad I'm not alone! I answered the question you posed in your comment, and like I said there, I think the chance of people undertaking to arrange a more sustainable lifestyle is pretty unlikely, unfortunately. I know even for me, as aware and ridden with eco-guilt as I am, it's hard to implement the changes I know need to be made. BUT, I'm gonna keep preaching the gospel to myself and everyone who doesn't run away with their hands over their ears, and who knows what will come of it?

  • At 10:55 PM, Blogger lauren said…

    It's my pleasure to link to you, madcapmum! You really got the wheels turning for me. I agree that it's going to be an uphill battle that may not really gain any kind of momentum unless climate change and/or peak oil cause the kinds of catastrophes that force people take notice of the unsustainable way that we're living. Even then, however, I fear that excuses will be made, blame will be cast, and the status quo will be defended in defiance of logic or fact. But, as you say, we must keep spreading the word. And, just as important, working on the changes that we each need to make. I certainly have some biggies to work on and a whole bunch of smaller steps that I'm trying to take on a daily basis. We've got to keep supporting each other on this path to a more life-giving way of experiencing the world.

  • At 10:53 AM, Blogger spiral said…

    For me, I think it starts with having neighbors who already share resources in more conventional ways--we take care of one another's pets when someone leaves, we watch out for each other's houses, one of my neighbors is always dropping by free tickets to shows, and another offered to help my roommate build a garage. I think having a community like that will enable a shared effort as oil becomes increasingly expensive. Perhaps just finding a community like that is a good way to start the process--just thinking about how great my neighbors are makes me see the possibilities. My neighbors are the type who might be willing to go in on a food co-op purchase with me, and many already garden--both concepts are encouraging to me, and I think both support your idea that perhaps we can work together.


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