120 Inhabiting Suburbia with Johnny Sanphillippo

On this episode of the root simple podcast I speak with Johnny Sanphillippo about the opportunities and challenges of inhabiting suburbia. Johnny asks some provocative questions in our discussion and on his blog Granola Shotgun. Can we make old communities better? How do we deal with the housing affordability crisis? What does the future hold for suburbia?

Johnny describes himself as an amateur architecture buff with a passionate interest in where and how we all live and occupy the landscape, from small rural towns to skyscrapers and everything in between. During the podcast we mention:

How do you inhabit suburbia? Join the discussion by leaving a voice mail at (213) 537-2591. We’ll play your comments on the next podcast.

If you’d like to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected] You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. Closing theme music by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

How much time do you spend cycling in the city?

Hit and run accidents. Graph: AAA Foundation.

Reader Kyle says, “This will sound like a loaded question, but it is totally sincere: How much time do you spend cycling in the city? I tried re-taking up cycling as an adult in Seattle and it was terrifying, even in areas with clear bike lanes. In fact, I only cycled in areas with clear bike lanes….I had this vision that I would get comfortable enough that I would be able to cycle to my stable about 40 miles away via the trails paved over the old railway lines. My life changed and I ended up moving down there to shorten my commute, but cycling out here is very much an at-your-own-risk activity. But my experiment in Seattle failed. I was very much not comfortable on a bike, despite my grand vision of joining cycling culture and going all over the city without a car.”

A great question. The truth is that I spend less time cycling around Los Angeles than I did ten years ago. Partly, this is due to fewer family and work obligations. Kelly and I just don’t leave our neighborhood much anymore.

But there’s another reason I’m using my bike less and that’s because, like Kyle, I don’t feel safe. The carnage on our roads, after lessoning for many years, is back up. Hit and run accidents alone spiked by an astonishing 60% (see Hit-and-Run Deaths Are Skyrocketing, and Pedestrians and Cyclists Bear the Brunt in LA Streetsblog). Accident statistics related to cycling and walking are difficult to interpret as many incidents go unreported and police and the mainstream media often have a bias towards drivers. But the overall trend is not good. I’ve been hit by cars twice while riding a bike and Kelly got hit by a car while walking the dog last December.

While difficult to prove I believe we can blame the uptick in accidents on mobile devices. Combine those distracting devices with roads designed for high speeds and you’ve created the conditions that will scare people away from walking and biking. It’s a vicious feedback loop. We don’t feel safe so we drive more and thereby contribute to the problem.

The solution is also frustratingly simple: prioritize walking and cycling over driving. This involves slowing down traffic, making parking expensive and difficult, installing bike and bus only lanes and heavily penalizing anyone who texts and drives. Unfortunately, these are unpalatable and career ending policies for our council members and mayor.

But we can’t give up hope. I was a small part of the push, ten years ago, to make things better for cycling in Los Angeles. I feel like contributing to a second effort before I give up and move to the car-free paradise that is Venice, Italy (and drown in the rising waters caused by everyone driving).

This time around I’d like to help figure out a different strategy. But I’m not sure what that strategy will be. All I know is that we’ll have to try something other than having a bunch of hardcore cyclists show up and get ignored at LA’s horrible city council meetings. What that new strategy will be is something I’d like to turn my attention to once I’m done with my domestic carpentry duties.

Do you ride a bike? Have you taken up bike and pedestrian issues with your local politicians?

Saturday Tweets: Bees, Fireflies and Food Waste

How to Put Together a Small Scale Solar System

How can you use solar panels to power a few lights, run a fountain or charge some tools? It seems like a simple question, and yet I can’t tell you how many books/magazines/websites I’ve combed through in search of a basic tutorial for anything less than wiring up a whole house. Now I know how thanks to a podcast conversation between Eric of Garden Fork and Will of the Weekend Homestead. Will describes how he rigged up a few panels and batteries to power lights and charge tools in his off-grid barn. Check out the show notes for the specific parts Will used to put together his system.

Anima: Animals, Faith, Compassion

The issues surrounding our food, whether we grow or raise it ourselves or buy it at the supermarket, can send you into a deep ethical nettle patch. How do we feed a growing population and not destroy the planet? How does our food impact our health? How do we keep the costs of food reasonable? What kind of diet should we follow? What about GMOs? We might be tempted to rely purely on the scientific method or economic statistics for these answers but life is not so simple. All too often we forget that our bonds to the natural world are also defined by meaning and spiritual practice.

This short film by Jennifer Jessum with music by Moby was produced by the Guibord Center. The film showcases the astonishing diversity of our hometown, Los Angeles, and features a dozen faith leaders discussing their tradition’s relationship with animals. I must note the appearance of the clergy (and official mascot dogs) of our spiritual home, St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, who explain the human relationship to creation as one of “stewardship,” often mistranslated as “dominion.” Wether one eats meat or not is just part of the issue. Right relationship to our fellow creatures is what is important. Home gardeners, chicken keepers and permaculturalists well know the difference between stewardship and dominion, the difference between working with as opposed to our culture’s mad control freakery.

A personal note. I had, in the past few months, fallen off my ethical eating wagon and taken to occasionally consuming what I knew to be factory farmed chicken. In some sort of digestive karmic justice I seem to have come down with gallbladder issues forcing me, at least temporarily, to eat a vegan diet. This has granted me the opportunity to meditate on the issues raised in this film. While I may return to eating meat in the future I’ve decided to avoid the factory farmed “dominion” based stuff.

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, the Guibord Center offers many lectures and visits to sacred sites. If you’re not a local they have an archive of past events on their website