Tag Archives | RetroSuburbia
Charles Massy (Call of the Reed Warbler) launched RetroSuburbia in Canberra last week at the 2018 ACT Permaculture Festival. Here is his wonderfully received launch speech:
It is both a pleasure & an honour to help launch David Holmgren’s new book here in Canberra: a book by a person I regard as one of the deepest thinkers in the fields of regenerative agriculture, the environment and future pathways for society a nd urban Australia.And I know that this book also comprises a communal effort – not just representing a lifetime of David’s work and thinking but also of Su’s & Oliver’s and that of trusted friends, and indeed an entire national and global Permaculture community. In addition, a book like this comprises a team effort – and key players I know will be mentioned by David.
The context here is that this book heralds the next important phase of Permaculture thinking: from a movement that became the first major global export from Australia of a new modern approach to both regenerative agriculture and urban living and design.
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RetroSuburbia I believe is one of the most important and practical books to emerge in decades in this field – for it epitomises David Holmgren’s personal life and precept: ‘to think global but act local.’ The book also captures the design ethos, as expressed by the wonderful ecological literature advocate David Orr in his book ‘The Nature of Design’: that ‘Ecological design is the careful meshing of human purposes with the larger patterns and flows of the natural world, and the study of these patterns & flows to inform human nature.’
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So, what is the context in which we live, act and launch this book? Well, it has to be that we have undoubtedly moved into the Anthropocene epoch, where humanity has grossly disturbed the inter-related, self-organizing set of 8 Earth systems – of which climate disruption is but one (albeit a major one).
This disruption is manifested most immediately in accelerating land degradation, dysfunctional cities & suburbs characterised by less & less of the natural world and few places for children to experience nature and community; of increasingly dysfunctional societies; of the highly probable likelihood of the crazy Australian property bubble and debt-load bursting and thus of a major recession; of rising costs & pending shortages of not just energy but also healthy food & other basic needs; of worsening natural disasters; of social disconnection & isolation and loss of personal control; of deteriorating physical & mental health; and where, under the growth-fetish of an economic irrationalist, industrial system, we are delivered food that is bereft of diverse nutrients that we were co-evolved for – and food contaminated by elements destructive of our immune systems. And over all this hangs the inevitability of ‘Energy Descent’: what David, in the wake of his great influence Howard Odum, describes as ‘the erratic but on-going decline in the material & energy base available to support humanity.’
In other words, as David says on page 33 of RetroSuburbia, ‘The reality is that most people live in a private domain supported by public infrastructure managed by remote authorities that largely respond to dysfunctional aspirations & needs.’
So – that is the context – but here [holds book] is the paeon of hope: a deeply thought-through philosophy, but also with a sophisticated & interconnected plethora of solutions & practical examples & principles on how to turn around this dystopia: of how to once again regenerate Earth & meaningful, sustainable society & community.
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Believe it or not, David, as a long-haired youth in the 1970s, was already thinking about these issues even then – growing up not just in a post-1960s counter-culture period – of rebellion against the Vietnam War and consumerism and greed – but also post Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ & post the travesty of the drowning of Lake Pedder. And he grew up in a counter-culture household in W.A., with parents as semi-outsiders – his mother from a fine Jewish tradition, and father Swedish – & a household committed to social justice & political activism & the experience of little things, like David being ridiculed at school for having home-made bread sandwiches that were filled with home grown, healthy food. David told me recently: ‘Yes, we were a bit counter-culture, but I was comfortable with, and proud of being a bit of an outsider – & of the questioning of orthodoxy of every kind.’ Sound familiar?
The rest we know as history: David shedding his skin & hitch-hiking around Australia as a youth; settling in Tassie to do an environmental design course but discovering cultural elements of self-sufficiency; renting with Bill & Philamena Mollison & the exciting exploration of ideas & future possibilities; David’s environmental design thesis becoming the basis of Permaculture One – which erupted onto the scene in 1978. I remember buying a copy with its interesting cover on its release (interesting covers being a common theme here) – & it strongly influenced my own attempts to try & develop at least part household self-sufficiency then on our farm. Permaculture One also joined similar books on my shelf at the time – books that I am sure influenced David: such as EF Shumacher’s ‘Small is Beautiful’; the Meadows ‘Limits to Growth’; and other books by leading thinkers of the time like Kenneth Boulding, Barry Commoner & Paul Ehrlich.
After ‘Permaculture One’ David of course left it to Bill Mollison to promulgate the Permaculture ideas globally, while he sailed his own self-development course – gaining practical skills, hunting, gardening, reading, thinking, meeting the love of his life Su and forming a family. By 1985 they had purchased Melliodora, having formed Holmgren Design Services in 1983, and teaching intensively from 1993. That is, David by the 90s had returned once more to his Permaculture vision and passion. Moreover, in the meantime David, Su, Oliver & helpers were walking the talk at Melliodora – living by their precepts & principles.
The fruit of all this in 2002 was the important publication of ‘Permaculture: Pathways & Principles’- involving the articulation of 12 key Permaculture Design principles & Structures.
By this time the Permaculture movement (in the footsteps of one of its antecedants – Yeomans Keyline approach) had become the first major global export from Australia of a new modern approach to both regenerative agriculture and to urban living and design. This more public re-emergence, in my view, established David as one of the leading thinkers in regenerative agriculture and urban living – & not just in the global Permaculture movement, but increasingly involving how such design & practical living principles can be applied to urban communities.
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And so, to this next major book – RETROSUBURBIA.
In my opinion this is a world-leading manifesto for the restructuring of modern, urbanized society – and in both the developed & developing world. Please let me explain why.
In my recent book on regenerative agriculture I talk about ecological literacy & the need to understand 5 key landscape functions – of which the 5th (& most important in many ways) is the Human/Social. David calls this the ‘Behavioural Field’- because, as he says, ‘we CAN change how we see & experience life for the better.’
RetroSuburbia is the vital missing link in this whole regenerative story – as suburbia is where the majority of people live. So what David is spelling out in this book is a major & desperately needed revolution – what I call in regenerative agriculture an ‘underground insurgency’.
Paul Hawken in his book ‘Blessed Unrest’ said this: ‘Healing the wounds of the earth & its people does not require saintliness or a political party, only gumption & persistence. It is not a liberal or conservative act; it is a sacred act.’
This book – a seemingly innocuous tome with a delightfully unique cover – is actually a revolutionary manifesto – because, as David says, it shows how we can undertake the re-ruralisation of suburbia; how to bring agrarian & social abundance back to suburbia. That is – RetroSuburbia gives us a philosophical & practical series of tool-kits on how to change our suburbs, country towns, cities & ourselves – to live, as Hawken says, as if it were a sacred act.
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David Holmgren began his journey with design, & it is design that is the weft & warp of this book. From page 53 in the book David broaches the important context of work/life balance & its 4 quadrants – which opens-up the philosophical questions of ‘how’ & ‘why’. So it is through good design that we can have better built biological & behavioural fields – to integrate rather than segregate. One of the important influences in David’s thinking was Christopher Alexander – originator of the concept of ‘Pattern Language’. In ‘The Timeless Way of Building’ in 1979, Alexander wrote: ‘The fact is, a person is so far formed by his surroundings, that his state of harmony depends entirely on his harmony with his surroundings.’ And as David says on page 29: ‘I have framed the whole book in terms of patterns for resilient downshifting’- using ‘The Permaculture principle of Design from patterns to details.’ This of course is a systems overview also.
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So – this book is like good wine – it has taken decades to build and then mature: derived from healthy earth, & dozens of subtle and not so subtle flavours, influences, nutrients & free radicals – and chock-full of wonderful case-studies & inspirational designs; of examples of housing, retrofitting buildings, gardens, social living etc.
In this ground-breaking wonderful book, the labour of David and others & their collated experience reveals the promise that, with vision & the courage to dare to be different – to take the road less travelled – that we can have suburbs, communities & lives that allow us, as David says, ‘to create the world we want by living it now.’
This undoubtedly is a major book for our times, and it gives me great pleasure to be involved in its launch here. And because, as David concludes in the last paragraph of the book: ‘The innate human capacity to Creatively use & respond to change suggests the working together necessary to create a prosperous way down is at least a plausible energy descent pathway. “And in any case” he concludes, “giving it our best shot promises a life well lived.”
This the Holmgren family have done, and they & the book are exemplars for the rest of us. Thank you.
The Age recently published an article entitled, Melbourne’s liveability choice: soar like Manhattan or sprawl like LA
The article quoted Infrastructure Australia’s three scenarios for Melbourne in 2046.
The LA model:
More than one million extra people – or 40 per cent of projected population growth to 2046 – will live on the city’s edge in 2046, under a planning scenario that sees unfettered low-density development.
Melburnians will rely more heavily on cars to get to work, with only 3 per cent of jobs accessible within 30 minutes by trains, trams or buses.
The New York City model:
A compact, higher-density vision for Melbourne will concentrate jobs and housing within 15 kilometres of the city centre, and will drive up public transport use.
The London model:
A medium-density model that spreads the population growth more evenly and puts jobs closer to where people live.
Here is David Holmgren’s public response to Infrastructure Australia’s chief executive Philip Davies:
The Melbourne Model
For the last 50 years, the debate about suburban sprawl vs high rise has been repeated ad infinitum with very little questioning of the assumptions behind the debate. Adam Carey & Timna Jack’s article in The Age 22 Feb, 2018 is a current example of the restatement of these outdated options in the context of the supercharged apartment construction frenzy that is taking over inner Melbourne.
The article references Infrastructure Australia’s latest report including a third model for Melbourne’s future; medium density London instead of high density New York or sprawling traffic bound Los Angeles. This deft pitch assumes that we must put up more buildings to accommodate the projected 2.8 million extra people who will make Melbourne home by 2046.
The entrenched interests of Australia’s largest industry, property development and construction, myopia and lack of rigor in the academia and politics and a mostly disempowered public have combined to see the debate intensify but never consider any real alternatives, including my RetroSuburbia strategy which aims to create the Melbourne Model of urban renewal.
RetroSuburbia involves making full use and creatively repurposing what we have already built over the last 40 years, the longest running property bubble in human history, before we build and develop over more water and carbon absorbing land that we need to feed ourselves into the future. In this maddening frenzied rush, we condemn our children to live disconnected from nature that we depend on for our daily life and well being.
RetroSuburbia is based on the lived reality of a growing number of ordinary Australians who have been influenced by the permaculture concept, a vital emerging global movement, first taken root in the suburbs of Melbourne 40 years ago. The impact of permaculture, and UK spin off, The Transition Towns movement is at the progressive edge of communities building resilience in a climate changed world. Locally, Permablitz activism that continues to empower young people to hack their habitats for the better, has also spread around the world from Melbourne.
Those questioning the policies favouring population growth with alternative ideas continue to be ignored, or at best, overlooked. But even if we accept the projected population growth as inevitable, the current options to accommodate these numbers all involve constantly putting up more buildings without redressing the results of doing so for the last 50 years. Over that time the orthodoxy accepted by the majority of planners, academics and even environmentalists is that higher population density is the key to improved urban amenity, viable public transport, infrastructure efficiency (read water based sewerage), lower environmental impact and even resilience to climate change and other future stresses.
This orthodoxy is built on many flawed assumptions including;
- Economic growth is an unquestioned good that will, in any case, continue into the future more or less perpetually.
- The elimination of soil, plant and animal life in favour of more building is collateral damage that can be compensated for by token symbols of our ongoing metabolic and psycho-social dependence on nature.
- The daily movement of the majority of residents beyond walking or even cycling distances is an essential element of urban life.
- The just-in-time movement and on-demand availability of food and all the other essentials of life to this constantly moving population is necessary and sustainable into the future.
- The provision of our needs within the household and community non-monetary economies is an unnecessary remnant of the past that can replaced by new forms of consumerism in the monetary economy.
- That more residential construction ranging from high rise redevelopment to infilling the backyards of suburbia is an efficient and effective to achieve the higher population density in existing urban areas.
The Melbourne Model avoids these flawed assumptions, instead focusing on how we can turn the problem of suburbia in the solution of RetroSuburbia.
Apparently 30% of new apartments are speculation chips kept in mint condition rather than homes for anyone. There are roughly 8 million vacant beds in Australian homes. There are endless rooms, garages, sheds and other space full of stuff no one has time to use. The storage industry holding the stuff we can’t fit in our houses continues to grow.
Even the more widely accepted assumption that we need a major increase in public transport infrastructure echoed by the Infrastructure Australia report never considers the way information technology already allows RetroSuburban home based livelihoods and lifestyles to bypass the need to commute. The potential of garden and urban farming to more efficiently displace so much of the resource burning centralised food supply system is beginning to be articulated by advocates and activists but the 20th century land use planning paradigm that hold sway over our public policies assumes it is sustainable to feed mega cities with just-in-time logistics controlled by corporate monopolies.
In my essay Retrofitting the Suburbs published by the Simplicity Institute, I show how policies, affluence and other factors driving more construction in our residential streets lead to a decrease rather than an increase in population density. When we multiply the declining residents by the declining hours of occupancy, as all activity is sucked out of the home and community and into the monetary economy, we find that our cities are mostly crowded by cars carrying one person constantly rushing between buildings that are poorly used.
For the sake of corporate profits and government tax take, we are continually blindsided to commute each day to work, school, childcare, gym, cafe and mall while our homes lie vacant and unused.
So why should we even consider the creaking cities at the heart of empire as models for Melbourne when our own lineage of Permaculture, Transition Towns, Permablitz and RetroSuburbia are already influencing the progressive edge of urban and community renewal around the world, including New York, Los Angeles and London.
The Melbourne model would give us the potential to survive and thrive challenging futures without submitting to the sterile alternatives of the current urban development debate.
Please join us for this exciting forum, Transforming the Suburbs, in which the panel speakers will explore the transformative role of Australian suburbs to activate the behavioural change, cooperative-based action and practical solutions required for rapid transition to a carbon-positive low energy future.
The speakers are:
David Holmgren – Permaculture co-originator
Costa Georgiadis – Gardening Australia, ABC TV
Dominique Hes – Melbourne University
Michael Ableman – Sole Food Street Farms, Canada
Kat Lavers – Permaculture practitioner
The event will be MC’d by Nick Ritar from Milkwood Permaculture.
This expert panel will creatively explore sustainable actions, key strategies and resilience-based concepts for future suburban responses to localised and global ecological challenges. The audience will be provided expert analysis and thought-provoking ideas on how suburbia will be a vital place to survive and thrive in challenging futures. Discussion will actively engage and inform event participants about multi-faceted transitional change ideas that positively contribute toward low-energy and carbon positive sustainable home and community living.
For anyone interested in permaculture, or a shift towards creatively adapting to a more sustainable way of living, this free event is not to be missed.
Hosted by Costa Georgiadis, over 200 growers and gleaners will serve it up to revolutionise our food system, at the National Sustainable Living Festival.
The Great Local Lunch connects farmers and local producers to food lovers, urban growers and the sustainable food industry.
The Lunch begins with urban growers and gleaners being encouraged to register their harvest. Using a ‘crowd farming’ model, produce is grown or gleaned from gardens and local farms across Melbourne.
The harvest occurs during the month of February in the lead up to the event. Growers are encouraged to harvest their produce and deliver to assigned drop off points.
The produce is transported to the Great Local Lunch chefs – who do not know the type and quantities of produce they will receive. After receiving the produce, the chefs design a four-course menu and set about cooking up for over 200 guests.
David Holmgren will feature as a guest speaker addressing the issues of food growing and eating in suburbia into the future.
Please note this is a ticketed event. More info here.
We can’t wait!! Please join us for this momentous event. RetroSuburbia – four years in the making, is to be launched at the National Sustainable Living Festival in February 2018.
Gardening Australia’s Costa Georgiadis will launch the book and will also be in-conversation with David and facilitate a Q&A from the audience.
We are hugely lucky that Formidable Vegetable Sound System will be playing tunes on the day.
Books will be available for purchase and signing.
Find out more here: The National Sustainable Living Festival.
To offset the cost of printing David’s forthcoming book in Australia, we are excited to announce that we have just launched a crowd support campaign.
RetroSuburbia: the downshifter’s guide to a resilient future will be self-published by David’s micro-publishing house, Melliodora Publishing, which has published David’s previous books plus a handful of other titles including the best selling The Art of Frugal Hedonism.
To print the book offshore would save $23,000, but no matter how enticing the monetary cost, David is completely committed to local printing, supporting sustainable forestry in Australia, and a truly viable paper chain. The paper stock, ink and the printing must be in accordance with the content.
There are a number of different support levels, as well as the option to pre-order the book to be launched by Costa Georgiadis on February 10 2018 at the Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne.
Thank you for your support, and for sharing the link among your networks!