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Blitzing the ‘burbs

Katherine Kizilos, The Age (audio)

Permablitz: new word, noun
1. An event in which volunteers use permaculture principles to transform a suburban garden into a place that produces its own food. A combination of the words permaculture – a design system for sustainable living and land use – and Backyard Blitz a television program in which backyards receive a makeover.

DAN Palmer trained as a permaculture designer after studying psychology and philosophy and becoming a PhD. Gardening was more down-to-earth and practical, which he found a relief after years of studying. Wanting to apply permaculture to his life he moved out of his fifth-storey South Melbourne apartment in June 2005 and into a house in Thomas Street, Clayton, where he and his fellow residents covered the lawn with vegetables.

The garden became notorious when the landlord issued a breach of duty notice giving the tenants two weeks to either deconstruct it and restore the lawn or pay $2100. For a time, a media debate took place about the ethics of this request. What were backyards for? What was responsible behaviour here? And what was more beautiful – an edible garden or a traditional suburban aesthetic?

Eventually the landlord had his way, but the Thomas Street Garden lives on. On a June weekend last year volunteers came and took the garden apart. The vegetables and herbs were dug up and taken back to other gardens. “More of Melbourne became edible because of that process,” says Palmer. “We had an inverse permablitz.”

Palmer is one of the inventors of the permablitz, an event in which people donate time and plants to help create an environmentally friendly space growing fruit, herbs and vegetables. The phenomenon began in April last year but is gathering momentum now. Almost every weekend a permablitz changes a suburban garden somewhere in Melbourne.

Permaculture might seem like a big departure from Palmer’s academic pursuits, but he sees them as complementary. The principles of permaculture dovetail neatly with his theoretical interests, he says. At the end of his university studies “I was left with systems theory, overcoming separation and dualisms: between person and world, theory and practice. Permaculture does that too. It puts back together what our culture has torn apart.”

…The word permablitz was coined by Asha Bee Abraham, who wrote an article about them last September for the Energy Bulletin, an online magazine devoted to issues related to dwindling fossil fuel reserves. Abraham argues that edible gardens help conserve energy by reducing the need for food transport. They also use less water than agricultural farms and encourage composting. In addition, permaculture gardens are organic. [LINK: Permablitzing the suburbs at EB]

“Permaculture is ultimately subversive because it aims to decentralise food production,” says Palmer. “People have fun planting a carrot when actually what they are doing is quite radical.”
(17 July 2007)
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Woman content living in 84-sq. ft. dream home

John Sharify, KATU (Portland, Oregon)
OLYMPIA — Talk about down-sizing! One woman is living in a house that you really have to see to believe.

“It’s 84 square feet, so roughly the size of a parking spot. Actually, smaller than a parking spot,” says Dee Williams, who decided it was time to move. She was living in a 1,500-square foot home in Portland, but decided the house wasn’t small enough – yes, small enough!

Dee built the tiny cabin herself out of salvaged material. She picked the door out of a dumpster and retrieved the floors from a house fire. Dee’s new tiny home sits in her friend’s backyard.

“In exchange, I do work on their house,” she says.

It takes Dee five steps, sometimes four, to get from one end of her house to the other.

“Two steps through the kitchen and you’re in my living room. Two steps into the living room, you bang into the wall,” Dee says, laughing.

Two solar panels provide electricity. A tiny propane tank allows Dee to cook in her $10,000 home on wheels. Do her friends think the 44-year-old hazardous waste inspector is crazy?

“My friends definitely thought, well, they had some questions for me!” she says.

The obvious question: Why?

The simple answer:

“A simpler life, time, more money. I don’t have a mortgage. I don’t have a big utility bill,” Dee says.

Her monthly heating bill in the winter is $6, less in the summer.
(14 July 2007)
Video at original story.

A Review of Ursula Le Guin’s Science Fiction Classic
The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia

Dan Armstrong, Mud City Press
Ursula Le Guin published what many call her best work, The Dispossessed, in 1974. It was an immediate success. It captured science fiction’s highest honors, the Hugo and Nebula Awards, and was later reissued in 1999 by Orion Millennium as part of their SF Masterworks collection. Even in the vast imaginative spectrum of science fiction, The Dispossessed is a unique piece, a quiet manifesto, given to long discussions of ideas. It is sometimes slow, sometimes difficult reading.

But it is also important and inspired writing-and in no small way a forward looking, sociological, political, and environmental statement born of the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Together with The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), The Dispossessed made Le Guin the preeminent woman writer of science fiction. It also had many readers calling her a visionary for her daring advance of feminist ideas and grim projections for the future of industrialized society.

…Le Guin, who was acutely aware of publications like The Limits of Growth (1972) and Paul [Ehrlich’s] The Population Bomb (1968) at the time she was writing The Dispossessed, was clearly voicing concern to her readers for what she feared was in Earth’s future if more forethought didn’t go into resource management.

The Terran ambassador goes on to tell Shevek how things are on her planet now, after the crash. “We saved what could be saved, and made a kind of life in the ruins, on Terra, in the only way it could be done: by total centralization. Total control over the use of every acre of land, every scrap of metal, every ounce of fuel. Total rationing, total birth control, euthanasia, universal conscription into the labor force. The absolute regimentation of each life towards the goal of racial survival.” The austerity of life on Terra was something Shevek of Anarres could easily relate to, but not the centralized authority.

With a vital prescience, Le Guin has imagined life on Anarres in a way that works as a model for life on a planet with limited resources, a reliance on imported petroleum, and regularly occurring periods of drought. The Anarresti civilization is made up of many semi-independent small communities joined by a network of trains and electronic communication. Travel within the community is by foot. The trains are for longer distances and freight.
(12 July 2007)
LeGuinn has dealt with similar themes in some of her later novels. “Always Coming Home” pictures a sustainable native-American-like society far in the future (set in the Napa Valley of Northern California). -BA

Contributor Michael Lardelli writes:
A truly outstanding review of Ursula Le Guin’s visionary work “The Dispossed” that has great resonance with our current situation. (OK, I am biased here – it is my all-time favourite novel.)

Permaculture takes off
Jim’s Mowing to franchise

Fran Kelly, Australian Broadcasting Commission
It’s said to be a sign of the times. Soon, instead of seeing utes and trailers in your street heralding the local lawn mowing service — you’ll just as likely see your local permaculture service.

We’re all being implored to ‘think greener’. Considering what recent drought conditions and water restrictions have been doing to gardens, permaculture may be a winner.
But to explain the permaculture concept and how it might work for domestic backyards, on the line from Northern New South Wales Breakfast is joined by Geoff Lawton, managing director of the Australian Permaculture Research Institute.
(11 Jul 2007)
Lawton is supportive, though of course it all depends on the execution. The preliminary site (August 07 launch) says 80 hours Permaculture Design training will be required of franchisees.