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Suburbia Take 2

Having lived in suburbia for the past year I have a few more things to add onto my original post. Plus a link-fest of relevant sites. I redid my house’s ‘walkability‘ and scored 46 compared to last year’s 55, even though I live in the exact same house (strange).

Anyone who has been to this site would know that I managed to start my own garden. It was only small, watered entirely with greywater from my showers, and it produced (is still producing) lots of booty. [disclosure: It did get watered occasionally on town water via a drip system that was turned on sometimes on watering days, but that only reached a couple of spots and the garden certainly did not rely on it.]
In doing this I did not use even close to all my shower-water, or even a quarter of it. I shower for less time than the save-water timers, however I guess my shower-head is probably putting out easily 15-20L/minute. What I am trying to say is that I could have watered a lot more veggies than what I did.

My resolve to do things that I believe in, like gardening, has recently extended to bike-riding. The station that previously I could walk to in 20 minutes is now a 5 minute bike-ride away. This also increases what I can take with me on a journey cos I have a fabulous bike-basket on the back. The other day I also connected lights which means I can ride home in the dark, this makes it a little safer for me to catch the train home late at night. I feel much safer speeding away from the station on my bike than walking away weighed down by stuff.
I’ve also found that church is within riding distance, as are some family member’s houses and many many shops. This is not only making me healthier but cutting down on my car use which not only saves money, but the earth.

Talking about saving the earth, I went to the Sustainable Living Festival (highly recommended), and Cecilia told me that to have a worm-farm is to save the world. After a little bit of thought I totally agree (although obviously not as the only thing one does). Worm farms can be made by anyone, anywhere – even if all one has is a balcony – and thus those in the suburbs have no excuse. However wormfarm costs seem to be generally in excess of $100 (after a quick google), the solution to this is to make your own. Most DIY worm-farms recommend using polystyrene, but I just can’t condone that, so I found one that also recycles old stuff. Now cynics (like young Joanne) claim that worm farms are so hard to maintain that even my Mum (aka gardensuperwoman) killed worms in her younger days, but she had younger kids in those days and rather than persevere she gave up. Cecilia says that everyone kills their worms every now and then, apparently they all die once they hit 30*C. Some tips for preventing that are to keep them in the shade on those killer hot days, and also to put a wet towel over the contraption. So, given the fragile vitality of a worm, my solution to not having to go out and buy worms everytime the weather hits 35*C in Melbourne (lots – here is a few tips on how to survive those days), is that people can share (a novel concept I know)! Worms take about 6 weeks to get to full capacity, so after that one can give half ones worms to someone who has lost theirs for whatever reason.
Related to worm-farms is composting. I recently made my mother’s sister a compost bin (a cardboard box weighed down with bricks after the first one blew away – whoops). I also wrote her up a list of what can and can’t go into the compost (for a good website – check this out). However I would say the basic rule is any raw chopped up veggies (bar onions – which apparently kill worms, or so I’ve heard… can anyone confirm or deny this?). Joanne and I disagree on a lot of compost points – I chop things up so they break down easier, Joanne doesn’t bother; I put seeds in (so they GROW without me doing anything), Joanne does not (she says they make stuff grow in the compost).
However look out! Some people are not very forward-thinking, and don’t think composting is necessary. Scary.

Talking about growing seeds, Corrente has a pretty intense series on growing seeds, this book by Nancy Bubel seems to come highly recommended from a number of sources. Still on the topic of seeds, leftover sunflower heads can be used as a cheap bird feeder.

Moving up from seeds, there is the food side of things. I have read a couple of things about urban foraging, and if anyone knows anything about what can be urbanly foraged in Melbourne I would be very interested. The Vic Market website has a great list of seasonal veggies (with pictures!), that I intend to make good use of, especially when I move out of home, and when you buy too many fresh veggies, you can read all about how to freeze them here. In my own life I made Nectarine Jam using about 10 Nectarines (and one peach) that were starting to go mouldy, I cut those parts off, and it turned out really well :).

Now, if one is to freeze all this excess produce that we have grown and bought, we are going to need electricity to power the freezer. At 15metres tall, these are probably not appropriate (or within the budget) for most people, however I know people (okay, my boyfriend) who can make a homemade windmill that works and everything. My father has suggested that the fact that batteries and the like still need to be used is problematic as that is not truly sustainable, but still, while we are doing the ‘use energy’ thing, wind power is so much better than coal (especially dirty coal).
Homegrown Evolution featured a bike-powered washing machine. Which takes away the need for a battery to store charges or a grid to feed into.

And of course, the wine cellar to end all wine cellars, one that doesn’t take up too much room as well. I would love one of those now, and I would have loved a cubby-hole like that as a kid! Something a little easier to create yourself is this handy little stool, this will help reach those high up jam-jars and other preserves that I have not yet worked out how to make.

This flowchart/brainstorm lists a bunch of good ideas that are worth researching and implementing.

And to finish up, if anyone is interested in reading more on the suburbs, this series by The Oil Drum is worth looking at.

Gah! I totally forgot to add the link that inspired me to write this post. Amazing to see good stuff come out of a tragic situation, it makes me want to move to the US and buy a $100 house.


Last year I had a conversation with one of my friends about the suburbs. We both agreed we could not possibly live a 9-5, church on sundays life in a white-picket fence house. I would love to live in the city-city and work with homeless and other needy people, or live in a remote community working on community development (esp. literacy) or Bible translation, I would even like to live at a self-sustaining farm or commune (although that is at odds with my wanting to help people).
The point is that the suburbs are the devil. They encourage fuel consumption by making everything a drive away and with everything so far away, people are less likely to connect with others in their area and be a part of a community.
Then at the start of this year, through my decision to go back to study, I have ended up living in the suburbs. Initially I was staying with my Oma & Opa (no, I’m not Dutch or German) whilst looking for a house with friends, but the friends thing fell through and I have ended up staying on with my grandparents.
My work and college are both 10km away from home (in slightly different directions), both drives take me about 20minutes depending on the time of the day. As far as I can tell it would be mostly impossible to catch public transport to either, it would involve around an hour walking (per single trip), that could possibly be cut down by using buses, but I don’t like to catch a bus cos who even ever knows were they are going to go? Also, I often have evening classes, and work until late at night and I don’t fancy catching the train or walking around in the dark on my own.
Anyway, the other day I was sitting at home and decided I wanted to hire some dvds to watch, I had just finished a glass of wine with my dinner and so I wasn’t sure if I should drive (I now know I could have). I went online and looked up how far the distance was from home to the dvd store. It turned out to be a little over a kilometre and I thought, psh, I can walk that. After Joanne (Oma) worried about me for a second, I was off. The dvd store was shut, but I made it there and back without being mugged and it certainly wasn’t too far to walk. So you can walk to some things from the suburbs (I passed Safeway on my way, and a whole bunch of other stores are just beyond), that was food for thought.
A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across a website that measures the walkability of where you live. It works for Australia, which is nice, and my place scored a loverly 55/100. For comparison, my parent’s place in a small country town scored 8 and my sister’s place in the city proper scored 91. It doesn’t measure public transport, or how steep the hills are, but it is still a good start. Here at home people talk about how they used to walk to the station to get to work or school, so the other day I decided to stop being lazy and driving (or getting dropped off) and to walk to the station to catch my train. It only took me 20minutes and it was a great walk, it also forced me to pack less stuff for my overnight stay.
So it turns out my ‘evil’ suburbs have walking access to a number of different things, if one was so inclined the shopping could even be done without a car, especially if you had a bike like these. This gave me something to think about.
Recently I have been reading Homegrown Evolution a blog about growing your own veggies and chooks in a suburban environment. The fact of the matter is that the block I am living on at the moment is huge. Joanne has heaps of garden, there is a small patch for veggies, several pots of herbs and the like and there are plans for a bigger veggie patch up the back next to the hills hoist.
Last year I heard the idea that with Peak Oil the suburbs will become abandoned, or slums and everyone will go to the inner city (where there are jobs) or to the country (where there is land), that concept has niggled at me since I heard it. Because there IS land in the suburbs, at least where I am there are large suburban blocks with plenty of room for veggies and even chooks. Perhaps because when this area was established it was close to the country, now it is surrounded by suburbs in all directions. But even where some of my relatives live closer in to the city (albeit on the other side), there is still land on their blocks that could be utilised. And when I lived in a flat in Kew there was a triangle of grass with a bit of shubbery around it that could easily be developed by the people from any of the 6 flats on that property.
So the main issue I can see here is lack of access to work or schooling options. Plus the trains out here only run every 20 minutes or half hour. Apparently at peak hour the trains are quite unbearably full. Although my cousin-thing says that compared to the peak trains in London, the peak-hour trains here are positively roomy and perhaps a lack of handholds is the only complaint.
The article that I read that actually was the catalyst for this article is about how the suburbs aren’t dying and people are not moving into cities (which is what was predicted).
I think that as petrol gets more and more expensive, the suburbs will become more like communities. The jobs will spread out into the suburbs from the inner city and people will be more likely to be involved in pursuits that are accessible via walking and public transport. Suburban gardens will also become more of a source of food than they currently are and people will utilise rain water more than we are at the moment.

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