Book Review: Toolbox for Sustainable City Living By Scott Kellogg & Stacy Pettigrew

For those who are bored stiff of green lifestyle books that only seem to offer fluffy solutions indicating which product to buy, then Toolbox for Sustainable City Living book may be your new best friend.

Written with urban-dwellers in mind, Toolbox is a guide that covers a broad spectrum of do-it-yourself topics, from vermicomposting to rainwater collection, to planting edible food forests to chicken-raising and making your own biogas digester.

Plus, authors Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew have definitely walked the talk: as members of the Austin-based Rhizome Collective, they helped transform a vacant warehouse into an experimental urban sustainability training center in 2000. Toolbox is the end result of nearly a decade of trials, brownfield remediation, community outreach and a $200,000 grant from the EPA.

The book begins by serving up some serious food for thought:

Will cities still be capable of supporting their populations when big trucks are no longer delivering food? What will happen when it becomes too costly to heat buildings? Will basic sanitation collapse as water becomes scarcer and more expensive to pump? What will happen to society?

Though all these questions may seem alarmist to some, they are nevertheless reasonable inquiries in the context of a society and economy largely based on non-renewable resources. In effect, Toolbox promotes what they call "radical sustainability", while questioning "green consumerism", which for them

encourages consumption of a different variety. It does nothing to challenge the patterns of over-consumption and excess that have created the environmental crisis.

As George Monbiot laments, ""The middle classes rebrand their lives, congratulate themselves on going green, and carry on buying and flying as much as before." So it makes sense when Kellogg and Pettigrew assert that

...it is critical to plan ahead and start building radically sustainable infrastructure capable of supporting future urban populations while the resources to do so are still available. Instead of waiting for governments, corporations or city planners to start being responsible, radical sustainability is about people taking initiative today. Transformation from the ground up is our greatest hope for the future.

Central to the book is Kellogg and Pettigrew's contention that one does not need a large piece of rural land to practice permaculture or to design a self-sufficient system. Divided in to chapters that address permaculture-based strategies for Food, Water, Waste, Energy and Bioremediation, the book covers some helpful basics in building your own chicken tractor, bioshelter or greenhouse, planting perennial crops, recirculating aquaculture system for purifying water and cultivating fish and edible plants, wastewater recycling system, biogas and methane generation and much more.

Many of the concepts outlined in the book may be familiar (such as solar cooking), but some may be totally new (like designing artificial floating trash islands to clean your aquaculture pond, or building a vertical constructed wetland to filter washing machine wastewater). There's enough in the book to whet the appetites of a more knowledgeable crowd, while opening up the horizons of those who have never heard the words "rocket stove".

Clearly written and accompanied with Rhizome's photos and illustrations by Beehive Collective's Juan Martinez, Toolbox is an inspirational and excellent "next step" for those who want to go beyond superficial lifestyle changes and deeper into urban permaculture and sustainability.

South End Press & Rhizome Collective & Radical Urban Sustainability Training (R.U.S.T.)
More on Urban Permaculture
Permaculture - Permanent Agriculture (& a mini movie)
Exploring Permaculture in the Big City
Permaculture: Spreading the Green Gospel
Backyard Permaculture in Oregon: Peak Moment TV

Follow me on Twitter @kimberleymok

Tags: Books | Cities | Permaculture | United States

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