Bottom-up Urbanism

In another great video from Fair Companies, Johnny Sanphillippo gives a tour of his Sonoma County rental property. Johnny describes himself as a “rodent who scurries about finding the opportunities other don’t recognize.” A lot of the things he talks about in the video are things we’ve done in our own very small Los Angeles house, such as adding sheds and making the garage space usable, all strategies for getting by on the expensive West Coast. The video even includes a bonus visit to a Murphy bed manufacturer.

You can follow Johnny on his blog Granola Shotgun and hear him talk more about his rental property on episode 120 of our podcast.

Rain: A Journal of Appropriate Technology

To double down on the irony this morning, as soon as I announce computer problems I discover it to be just a loose power cord and shazam we’re back with a blog post–back to discuss an appropriate technology journal from the pre-internet days.

One hopeful node in the otherwise sewage clogged tubes of the interwebs, is the work of librarians who have thoughtfully digitized old periodicals. I spent a rainy Sunday afternoon reading the delightful Rain: A Journal of Appropriate Technology, which was published between 1974 and 1996. Here’s the description on the Portland State Library website:

RAIN began in October 1974 as a publication of ECO-NET, an environmental education network funded by the Hill Foundation and an Environmental Education grant. Its office was based in the Environmental Education Center at Portland State University. With a focus on the Pacific Northwest, particularly Oregon, RAIN originally described itself as a “bulletin board” with an “emphasis on environmental/energy related and communications kinds of information” and interested in “the evolutionary possibilities of inter-disciplinary connections.” RAIN is notable for its early engagement and promotion of appropriate technologies supporting sustainability, sound ecological practices, and decentralized community action.

RAIN is kind of like the Whole Earth Catalog but with a special focus on applying appropriate technology here in the developed world. As one article put it, “You can’t sell compost toilets to others if you won’t use them yourself.”

For me, reading RAIN was melancholic. It’s hard not to think about how much better off we’d all be, from a climate change perspective, if we’d heeded the warnings and solutions offered back in the 1970s. Or for that matter, John Ruskin and William Morris’ concerns about the “dark satanic mills” of the 19th century. Hell, we even made a stab at this when we wrote our books around the time of the 2008 economic meltdown. But somehow the allure of shiny consumer objects sends us all back into destructive spasms of consumption and waste and publications like RAIN get forgotten.

Rain featured a lot of articles by E. F. Schumacher, as well as covering such topics as energy efficiency, permaculture and alternative schools. One topic I’d never thought much about, the destructive influence of tourism, seemed to be the special concern of co-editor Tom Bender. Here’s an especially eloquent passage by Bender from the May 1976 issue:

Drinking wine one recent evening with Florian Winter, an Austrian visiting us on a global survey of renewable energy developments for the U.N., we got into talking about the destruction of European cathedrals by tourism.

Each person came, he said, and took away a little of the cathedrals–in their camera, in their mind, or in the conversation–and now nothing remains.

In that absurdity there is truth.

All places live though the reverence with which we hold them–without which they crumble to pieces, unloved, unmaintained, abandoned and destroyed. That reverence is the glue that in reality binds the stones and the blood that in truth sustains the life of a place.

For the life of a place lies in its relation to the people that share it. And it is that reverence first which is taken away, tour group by tour group. Without this reverence, a place has nothing to give to those whose lives it must sustain, and they in turn lose their nourishment and fall into the same dereliction as their cathedral. It need not be so, for the visit of a pilgrim differs from that of a tourist. A pilgrim brings love and reverence, and the visit of a pilgrim leaves behind a gift of their reverence for others to share.

. . . And we lessen the soul of all places to which we go, and ourselves as well when we take without giving and come to them without reverence to life and to land, to people and to place, to ourselves and to the creation of which we are part. That is the destruction of which tourism is part and from which tourism arises, and it is there that we again can find the healing power for our land and our lives.

It’s well past time that we consider the wisdom in the pages of RAIN again.

Saturday Tweets: Don’t Fear the Green Reaper

Curing Boredom with Solenoids

Sixteen year old Brandon Switzer came up with a way of dealing with boredom: build a player piano. The project uses a humble Arduino and a whole lot of solenoids. It took six months to finish.

I’ve come to see the value in taking on a project that’s out of your comfort zone and this is a great example of learning while making.