TAKE ACTION on conserving home energy (with a sexy helping hand)

Friends of the Earths’ saucy new campaign video aims to get people turned on to energy efficiency

Energy saving at home gets a steamy makeover in a tongue-in-cheek new video inspired by Barack Obama’s claim that ‘insulation is sexy stuff’, launched by Friends of the Earth.

In the two-minute YouTube film a young man’s cavity wall insulation is a hot aphrodisiac for his carbon-obsessed date – but the bedroom action screeches to a halt when she notices his TV is on standby.

Friends of the Earth is calling for the Government to do more to stop poorly insulated British homes leaking heat, to tackle climate change and help vulnerable people who spend more than they can afford trying to stay warm at home…
(1 April 2011)
And read Rob Hopkin’s take on the topic here. -KS

How to Design a Neighborhood for Happiness

Jay Walljasper, Yes! Magazine
Biology is destiny, declared Sigmund Freud.

But if Freud were around today, he might say “design is destiny”—especially after taking a stroll through most American cities.

The way we design our communities plays a huge role in how we experience our lives. Neighborhoods built without sidewalks, for instance, mean that people walk less and therefore experience fewer spontaneous encounters, which is what instills a spirit of community to a place. That’s a chief cause of the social isolation, so rampant in the modern world, that contributes to depression, distrust, and other maladies.

You don’t have to be a therapist to realize all this creates lasting psychological effects. It thwarts the connections between people that encourage us to congregate, cooperate, and work for the common good. We retreat into ever more privatized existences.

Commons can take many different forms: a group of neighbors in Oakland who tore down their backyard fences to create a commons, a block in Baltimore that turned their alley into a pubic commons, or the residential pedestrian streets found in Manhattan Beach, California, and all around Europe.
Of course, this is no startling revelation. Over the past 40 years, the shrinking sense of community across America has been widely discussed, and many proposals outlined about how to bring us back together.

One of the notable solutions being put into practice to combat this problem is New Urbanism, an architectural movement to build new communities (and revitalize existing ones) by maximizing opportunities for social exchange: public plazas, front porches, corner stores, coffee shops, neighborhood schools, narrow streets and, yes, sidewalks.

This line of thinking has transformed many communities, including my own World War I-era neighborhood in Minneapolis, which thankfully has sidewalks but was once bereft of the inviting public places that animate a community. Now I marvel at all the options I have for mingling with the neighbors over a cappuccino, Pabst Blue Ribbon, juevos rancheros, artwork at a gallery opening, or head of lettuce at the farmer’s market.

“That’s public space.
Nobody can use it.”
How neighborhoods across Portland are reclaiming—and redefining— their neighborhoods.
But while New Urbanism is making strides at the level of the neighborhood, we still spend most of our time at home, which today means seeing no one other than our nuclear family. How could we widen that circle just a bit, to include the good neighbors with whom we share more than a property line?

That’s an idea Seattle-area architect Ross Chapin has explored for many years, and now showcases in an inspiring and beautiful new book: Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating a Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World.

He believes that groupings of four to twelve households make an ideal community “where meaningful ‘neighborly’ relationships are fostered.” But even here, design shapes our destiny. Chapin explains that strong connections between neighbors develop most fully and organically when everyone shares some “common ground.”…
(4 April 2011)
Read more about the book here. -KS

In Africa’s largest slum, a cooker that turns trash into fuel

Isha Sesay, CNN
On the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, mountains of trash are piling up along the dusty streets and footpaths of Africa’s largest slum.

With local authorities not providing garbage collection in the area, tons of plastic bags, bottles and food waste form a distressing and harmful backdrop for the health of the thousands of people living in Kibera.

But in the middle of it all, in the community of Laina Saba, a low-cost project, dubbed the Community Cooker, is helping to clean up the streets.

The Community Cooker is a device that uses trash as a resource to produce heat for a large stovetop that local residents use for cooking and heating water

Every day, community members deliver all sorts of trash to the project in exchange for tokens for cooking time. The garbage is then sorted according to material and stored in racks next to the cooker.

Once dry, it’s pushed through a chimney while the cook operator pushes it into the firebox, which burns hot enough to destroy toxins…
(April 6, 2011)

A Mad Scientist’s 50 Tools for Sustainable Communities

Leah Messinger, Atlantic
Marcin Jakubowski’s plan to create low-cost, open-source machines that can make everything you can find in a Walmart


The “Liberator” Compressed Earth Brick Press, designed by Open Source Ecology. Courtesy of Open Source Ecology

In the middle of rural Missouri there is a physicist-turned-farmer looking to redefine the way we build the world. Marcin Jakubowski is the mastermind behind a group of DIY enthusiasts known as Open Source Ecology and their main project, the Global Village Construction Set. The network of engineers, tinkerers, and farmers is working to fabricate 50 different low-cost industrial machines. A complete set, they say, would be capable of supporting a sustainable manufacturing and farming community of about 200 people almost anywhere across the globe—a “small-scale civilization with modern comforts.”

The organization’s final goal? According to the “vision statement” on the group’s website, “A world where every community has access to an open source Fab[rication] Lab which can produce all the things that one currently finds at a Walmart cost-effectively, quickly, on demand from local resources.”

As Valentine points out, “Every single one of [the machines] already exist in real life. It’s not reinventing the wheel; it’s open-sourcing the wheel.”

All of the machines, from the tractors to the laser cutter to the backhoe to the cement mixer, are designed to be modular, require only one engine, and be built with interchangeable parts so that a single machine can perform multiple functions. The machine that clears the land for the foundation of a building, for example, can then be reconfigured to pulverize the cleared soil into uniform pieces just under a centimeter in size. The same machine is then retooled again to transform that soil into bricks. To date, Open Source Ecology has built prototypes of eight of the 50 machines, and it has finalized the design of the brick-maker (a.k.a. the “Liberator” Compressed Earth Brick Press).

But there’s more. The communities Jakubowski is hoping to build will all be sustainable, energy-efficient, and off-grid. Additionally, as the name of his organization implies, all of his designs are open-source, available to anyone with an Internet connection and basic welding skills. As Jakubowski himself admitted last month during his presentation as a TED Fellow in Long Beach, California, it’s “a very big, hairy, audacious goal” to seek to build and distribute the plans for all 50 of the machines. Oh, and he hopes to finish the bulk of the designing by the end of 2012. ….
(March 23, 2011)