Retrofitting Suburbia For a Sustainable Future

Suburbia, in some ways, exemplifies much that is wrong with modern society and the way many people live their lives. It was designed around the car – not around people or the environment. Suburbs can often be sterile seas of little boxes, manicured lawns, driveways, garages and roads.

But here and there, oases are appearing – islands of nature amid these seas. Here a forest garden… there a sustainable start up operating out of a garden summerhouse or garage. Flourishing food producing gardens and wildlife havens are springing up.

Because one thing to remember about suburbia is that, though it is designed for a very different way of life, it can actually be ideal for a sustainable way of life. Retrofitting suburbia could be an ideal way to enable our transition to a permaculture future.

So how can be alter suburban environments to make them the sustainable communities we need to see?

First up, let’s think about what suburbia has to offer:

  • The homes are often larger, allowing for co-housing or multi-generational living.
  • Roofs can often be large enough for sizeable solar arrays for renewable energy generation.
  • And there is plenty of space for rainwater harvesting/ rain gardens and other water management schemes.
  • The lots/ gardens are sizeable – with plenty of space for home growing. A row of homes can use their gardens individually, of course, with forest gardens and polyculture kitchen gardens and the like. But whole neighbourhoods can also consider working in unison – co-ordinating growing efforts with their neighbours so all crops are covered. For example, one household might grow plenty of potatoes, brassicas and root crops. Next door, they might grow soft fruits and fruit trees… and the next house along might have a heritage wheat crop (intercropped with legumes) instead of a lawn…
  • Garages, so common in suburbs – can be used for far more than just cars. With the right attitude, they can be retrofitted with electric hook up for electric vehicles. But garages could also be used as studios, workshops, or other utility. spaces to enable a greener, sustainable work life.

In permaculture, we often say that the problem is the solution. In the case of car-dominated suburbs, this can definitely be the case. By rethinking the suburbs of our towns and cities, we can go a long way towards reaching the future we want to see.

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