Introduction by Samuel Alexander
David Holmgren, co-originator of the permaculture concept, has just published a Simplicity Institute Report, entitled "Retrofitting the Suburbs for the Energy Descent Future." I’ve provided a short overview of Holmgren’s essay below, and the full report is available at the Simplicity Institute here: simplicityinstitute.org/publications. [The link for the essay is at the bottom of the page there.]
Sometimes well-meaning ‘green’ people like to imagine that the eco-cities of the future are going to look either like some techno-utopia – like the Jetson’s, perhaps, except environmentally friendly – or some agrarian village, where everyone is living in cob houses that they built themselves. The fact is, however, that over the next few critical decades, most people are going to find themselves in an urban environment that already exists – suburbia. In other words, the houses that already exist are, in most cases, going to be the very houses that ordinary people will be living in over the next few decades (in the developed regions of the world, at least).
So while it is important to explore what role technology could play in building new houses in more resource and energy efficient ways, and while there is certainly a place for cob houses, etc., for those who have such alternatives as an option, the suburbs are still going to be here for the foreseeable future. We’re hardly going to knock them all down and start again. It is important to recognise this reality, and not get too carried away with eco fairy tales about some distant future (although there is still a place for such visions).
Rather than dreaming of a radically new urban infrastructure, a more important and urgent task is to figure out how to make the best of the existing infrastructure – and that is precisely what David Holmgren does in his Simplicity Institute Report, entitled "Retrofitting the Suburbs for the Energy Descent Future." David has been at the forefront of the environmental movement for several decades now, both in Australia and worldwide, and this essay is another example of how he constantly pushes at the edge of the sustainability debate. He is a penetrating thinker that deserves our most serious attention.
As well as providing some guidance on the best things we can do to prepare for the coming decades and help transition to more sustainable suburbs, David also describes the Simplicity Institute’s ‘Simpler Way Project’ as ‘an extremely thorough and useful guidebook of practical actions for building resilience.’ After reading David’s essay, readers are encouraged to explore the Simpler Way Project and contribute to the discussion.
I also recommend David’s website, where some of his books and essays are available.