Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City
Christopher and Dolores Lynn Nyerges
Chelsea Green, 2002
The Nyergeses live in LA, in a stucco house on a 150-foot-deep lot. On that lot are also a chicken coop, a house for Otis, their porcine composter; many citrus trees, a plant nursery; beehives, a bamboo grove and other magical areas. The Nyergeses regard their property as a research station for back-to-the-land ideas that work just as well in the city—and that research consists of trying it out by growing fruit trees, building a graywater system, or gathering a salad mix from wild plants to sell at farmers’ markets.
Luckily, the Nyergeses are both clear writers and good observers. During their wild salad days, they noticed that the plants they harvested yielded crop after crop, extending the season by a good two months over plants nearby that had not been cut. They describe a variety of composting methods (in case you don’t have a pot-bellied pig) and discuss the advisability of using dog feces as a soil amendment or old tires as planters. There are many methods of saving water: flushing your toilet with bathwater (about 50 percent of a household’s water is flushed away), toilet alternatives, rainwater collection.
Appliances are dealt with one by one—the Nyergeses are death on garbage disposals and weed whackers, while solar cookers and water heaters (fully described) are compatible with living lightly. A whiff of survivalism hovers beneath much of this good advice, but as the world becomes ever more chaotic, this underlay starts to look like plain old common sense. And as most of the advice comes with real experience attached, the authors’ tone is rarely tiresome or preachy.
Best, to me, is their honesty. In the process of creating a wonderful wild place that is managed intensely while being “let go,” the Nyergeses have developed a deep affection for the animals and plants that share their lives. It is this reverence that shines through all the projects and ideas. Extreme Simplicity is invaluable as a starting place for dozens of activities that will increase your harmony with nature and animals while decreasing your global “footprint.”
The Key to Sustainable Cities
New Society, 2003
Cities rely on a multitude of systems for meeting the social, governmental, economic, and environmental needs of their citizens. Regional planning expert Gwendolyn Hallsmith believes healthy and livable cities depend upon understanding how these systems interact, enhancing or detracting from the community’s ability to meet its collective needs.
Hallsmith explores the systems dynamics of social change and community development to provide a fresh perspective on making cities sustainable. By understanding the forces, feedback loops, and equilibriums within community systems, we can identify leverage points for solving urban problems like traffic and sprawl.
For those with a casual interest in city planning, this book might seem overly theoretical, but for those facing intractable problems it offers valuable tools and practical approaches. Hallsmith links sustainable development to visionary thinking, group dynamics, and interdependent systems. By the time you’ve reached the final chapters you’ll be ready to apply what you’ve learned, and get down to the hard work of putting your city on the path to sustainability. —Jeff Caton
Superbia! 31 Ways to Create Sustainable Neighborhoods
Dan Chiras and Dave Wann
New Society, 2003
The authors pose the provocative question, “If the suburbs are so bad, why do so many choose to live there?” The short answer is that developers haven’t provided much of an alternative since World War II.
So what’s wrong with suburbs? Plenty. They’re car-dependent, resource-intensive, and they gobble up too much land. They tend to be bland, monotonous, and isolating. While we may have moved there looking for bigger houses and more open space, the mass migration to the suburbs has resulted in congested highways and nature paved over by parking lots or “upgraded” as golf courses.
Chiras and Wann urge us to take charge of suburbia by revitalizing neighborhood cooperation. They demonstrate ways we can de-emphasize cars, increase energy efficiency, improve public facilities, and encourage mixed residential and commercial uses. By outlining dozens of practical community activities, from planting trees to forming babysitting co-ops, they show how we can strengthen social ties, reduce the use of natural resources, and beautify our environments. —Jeff Caton
Introduction to California Beetles
Arthur V. Evans and James N. Hogue
University of California Press, 2004
The introduction informs readers that this is the first book to focus on California’s beetle fauna—which, by the way, comprises about 8,000 species, more than any other organism. If you can only have one book about beetles, let it be as remarkable as this, with its comprehensive topics and pithy, often wry text. Excellent color photos, a history of beetle collecting, a chapter on beetles of special interest (including the risks posed by exotic imports), and an entire section about studying and keeping beetles and the ethics of collecting are just a few of the goodies within.
If this doesn’t sound like your normal everyday guide book, it isn’t, though it does indeed contain a guide to the beetles you’re most likely to run into, with good identifiers and explanations of behavior. All that’s on top of the earlier chapters on the lives of beetles, their distribution, and strategies for success. A checklist at the back lets you keep track of your own beetle observations—and once you read this book, you’ll want to pay attention to the beetles you see. —Linnea Due