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Sustainable Cities in a Low Energy Future (Part 2)

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Suburban Solutions – Trainer

Both Holmgren and Trainer construct their future cities by working out what could be done to cities and suburbs within the current parameters of urban life.  Their models are about how we could move from where we are now in the low density city scapes of rich car-dependent countries. For very dense urban situations the ruralisation scenario of Folke Gunther might make more sense.  What these suburban models do well is to create a feasible path to a low energy future that makes good use of the infrastructure we already have in many countries. I will go through Trainer’s model first because it is the most comprehensive – Holmgren concentrates on the agricultural side of things.

The provision of energy

Let us begin by looking broadly at some of the ways in which energy is provided in the local suburb (Trainer 1995; 2007).  Space heating and cooling is achieved by solar passive design.  This varies around the world – what makes sense is different according to climate.  In moving to this very quickly we would have to retrofit existing house designs quite radically – for example knocking out a northern side wall and putting in large northern windows to allow the sun to enter the house in winter, with heavy curtains to retain heat at night, as well as insulation in the ceiling space.  We might also want to replace a wooden floor in the northern side of the house with a concrete slab to act as a heat sink.  In so far as solar passive design is insufficient to heat a house, some wood fuel could be used in combustion stoves that would also be used for cooking and heating water. 

A solar hot water service would provide hot water on days when sunlight is sufficient.  Lighting could be with methane gas lamps fuelled from a bio-digester run on manure and kitchen scraps.  Or we could use photovoltaic panels to run low power light bulbs.  Lighting would be used only where necessary and light tubes would bring solar light into dark areas of houses.  Cooking would be with fuel efficient wood stoves or solar stoves – a reflector that channels the sun’s rays onto a cooking pot.  There would be no powered refrigeration in individual households, though cool cupboards using evaporative cooling and channelling cool air from under the house through the roof would be used to keep vegetables and dairy products cool.  Electric or gas powered cool rooms would be provided in community storage rooms, using biogas or electricity from solar, wind power or local hydro.   Since almost all animal meat would be small animals killed locally, these would be eaten on demand rather than being refrigerated and stored.  A range of preservation techniques would replace cold storage for both animal and vegetable products in seasonal surplus. 

Looking at the household unit, the question is whether we can have the kind of comfort we now have using fossil fuel fired heating and air conditioning.  To an extent this question is answered by creating the passive solar house. These issues can also be solved adaptively.  For example in the heat of a hot day, you might retire frequently to a shady pool in the near neighbourhood that was also used for aquaculture and fish farming.  In a really cold night you might sleep with a dog or friend, use a hot water bottle or three doonas.  You would heat one room and be happy to accept that the rest of the house would be cold.  In northern cold climates we could return to the system where large animals were kept under the bedrooms to move heat up into the house. 

So, in the neighbourhood electric power is supplied with local hydro, wind power, solar pvc (mainly for household lighting).  There could be some use of timber to fuel a generator for times when other sources were not available.  Solar hot water, solar cooking and light tubes also use solar energy.  Methane from bio-digesters is also part of the mix. 

For industrial plants and transport over long distances, some other sources seem relevant – solar thermal and geo-thermal being the most obvious, along with wind power and large scale hydro power.  Industrial plants could be located where these energy sources are abundant and operate when the energy is available – and not otherwise.  I doubt that there would be a national grid supplying energy 24/7 to any user who wants it, as the energy costs of storing and transporting energy over long distances are hard to get away from in any likely alternative energy scenario.  Railways might be set up to supply their own energy (via wind or solar thermal) and use it when available.

House construction

In addition to solar passive design, houses would mostly be constructed from locally available low energy materials – wood and mud-brick would be the standard ingredients for walls and flooring, with thatch, tiles or shingles for rooves.  Guttering could be constructed from fired clay pipes.  Alternatively steel guttering and rooves could be produced in the industrial sector and distributed to neighbourhoods.  Clearly what is envisaged here is a stable population and an increase in tree cover – an abundant supply of wood for building as well as some space heating, cooking and pottery kilns.  Glass for windows would be another industrial product brought in. However we would also recover the waste glass of the high consumption era and melt it into panes to be re-used. 

Everyday life in the neighbourhood

Let us look at some other aspects of domestic life.  All cooking scraps would be used – in worm farms, in composting heaps or to feed poultry, rabbits, pigeons and guinea pigs.  Water would be supplied as harvested from roofs (a reason to use tiles rather than thatch) and stored in water tanks.  Forty thousand litres is sufficient for typical first world use in Australia and fifteen thousand is sufficient if bathing is with bowls and flush toilets are not being used.  Tanks could be constructed from clay bricks and  concrete mortar or from a bamboo frame lined with concrete.  Another industrial product that would have to be brought into the locality.  After primary use, water would be recycled as grey water into the garden. 

Local food production using organic methods would be the norm with only exceptional products being exchanged across neighbourhoods and countries.  In every region of the world there is a set of permaculture techniques that can provide a food sufficiency and create a varied and nutritious diet.  These techniques emphasize tree crops to maintain soil quality.  There is a diverse suite of food and complementary crops that work well together to avoid most pest problems.  For communities that want to persist with some cereal crops, complementary cover and legume crops maintain soil fertility and lead to soft soils that do not have to be ploughed to be planted:

Most of our neighbourhood could become a Permaculture jungle, an “edible landscape” crammed with long-lived, largely self-maintaining productive plants.  Much food production would involve little or no fuel use, ploughing, packaging, storage, pesticides, freezing, marketing, insurance, transport or waste disposal.  Having food produced close to where people live would enable nutrients to be recycled back to the soil through animal pens, ponds, compost heaps, composting toilets and garbage gas units. (Trainer 2007: 138)

A vast amount of what is now produced and exchanged nationally and globally would be produced locally in neighbourhoods:

Neighbourhoods would contain many small enterprises such as the local bakery … Much of our honey, eggs, crockery, vegetables, herbs, furniture, fruit, nuts and meat … production could come from households, backyard businesses and small firms.  Much output could come from craft and hobby production. (Trainer 2007: 138)

While most consumer goods would be constructed locally, others would be produced industrially (more on this later) and brought into the neighbourhood.  Long wearing and repairable consumer goods would be preferred. Variety and fashionable style could be achieved by hand made reconstructions and constant exchange through the equivalent of op shops.  These exchanges of clothing, ornaments and industrial goods could gradually span huge sections of the globe without being carried by fossil fuelled transport – from person to person and community to community.  Many industrially produced goods that we now use would disappear in this context.  Lawns would not be mowed.  If a low sward was required we would use low creeping ground covers or have small animals grazing the lawn.  Ironing would mostly be a thing of the past.  Or we would heat irons on the top of a combustion stove used for cooking and heating water.  Recreational toys would not be constructed to depend on high energy use – wind surfing, kites and surf boards rather than water skiddoos.

Sewerage would all be treated locally and the nutrients recycled for use in food growing.  This could be through septic tanks systems, composting toilets, or local neighbourhood systems using ponds and water weeds.  The simplest and most effective system is probably using a bucket under a toilet seat and composting the sewerage in the yard to remove pathogens over a one year cycle. 


Transport would be re-engineered to cut energy use drastically and supply what was necessary through renewable sources. 

Obviously in a world of severely limited energy resources the distances over which resources, goods and workers travel must be minimised, and this means we must develop mostly local economies. (Trainer 2007: 137)

As noted above, a lot of production (of housing, pottery, furniture, food and clothing) would be entirely local and people would not have to travel to work to produce these items or transport them over long distances.  Within communities, transport of heavy objects would use animal traction – donkey or buffalo carts.  Light transport of people would be by bicycle or pedicab, for those too old or young to pedal themselves around.  For quick long distance travel or industrial production and distribution, transport would make use of some obvious alternatives to high energy transport – sailing ships, canal and ocean transport.  In addition public transport using rail or bus would be powered by electricity sourced from wind-power, solar thermal or geo thermal energy.  The uncertainty and intermittence of these energy sources would not be a problem in a low energy non capitalist culture.  Transport would operate when the energy sources were providing energy and would be delayed if there was a problem – a lack of wind or cloudy days.  While there would be much less use of energy in transport, the small and necessary use of energy would be adapted to its supply by renewable resources.  The only use of small vehicles powered by an oil substitute (bio-diesel) would be for ambulances or heavy earth moving machinery – rarely used after the first landscape modifications with dams and swales had been completed.

Remember that if all these systems seem very extravagant with human labour, we are looking at a situation where there is a zero growth economy and the usual productivity increases associated with a high technology information rich engineering culture are constantly producing more with less.  There is an abundance of labour available.  Children and old people are also working on local community projects.  Education in classrooms is very much a part time, half day affair. 


How does industrial work go on in this situation?  What about high technology necessities such as communications media and data storage equipment, the entertainment, music and film industries, amplifiers, televisions, electrical guitars, medical technology and the like?  What about concrete and iron tools for gardening and building?  Trainer envisages a large part of this production as being quite possible in a low energy future, though clearly the avalanche and constant expendability of these products is impossible:

… it would make sense to retain some larger mass production factories and sources of materials, such as mines, steel works and railways. (Trainer 2007: 138)

On the other hand, much of what we use industry for now would no longer be relevant or the demand would be much reduced:

Many entire industries will be largely or entirely phased out, including advertising, cosmetics, security, finance, “welfare”, “justice”, tourism, fashion, aviation, car production and arms. (Trainer 2007: 149)

While this is a somewhat austere and puritan vision, some of these functions could be conducted locally, through neighbourhood production, and without environmental damage.  Cosmetics and fashion seem perfectly feasible as sustainable enterprises so long as scarce resources are recycled and fashion items are fabricated locally and distributed from community to community.  Travel from one location to another (tourism) is also possible so long as people expect to take their time and travel long distances by bicycle, ship or train.

Trainer does not actually say a lot about the detail of how remaining industries would work and some of the thinking on this topic has certainly done by the technological optimists whose ideas I will come to in the last part of this paper.  Nevertheless, the broad outlines are obvious and I will imagine an industrial scenario that fits with these neighbourhood plans. 

All industrial production is powered by renewable energy.  Goods are made to last, to be easily repaired and to be easily deconstructed to be recycled.  All non-renewable minerals are recovered and re-used.  With zero population growth and zero economic growth, mining virtually ceases.  Materials that are toxic are avoided in production. If they are absolutely necessary, the toxic elements are handled to reduce risk, constantly recycled and rendered harmless in use. 

The ingredients and end products of industrial production are produced locally by specialized plants and moved around the country or the globe using transport powered by sustainable energy.  Synergies of production might require some regional industrial centres.  The expertise required for industrial production is partly taught on the job and partly taught at technical colleges and universities attached to particular towns and villages that specialise in that “industry” as their regional product. 

The neighbourhoods that supply food and housing for workers in these plants are exactly the ones described above.  People might do only one or two days of work per week in industrial settings or offices and travel from their local neighbourhoods to industrial centres using trains or buses.

Within a mixed economy model Trainer sees this work as being paid (whether by government or private industry).  The money that people earn like this funds their activities in the neighbourhood – provides them with funds to buy necessary industrial goods to make neighbourhood community work possible, pays taxes to supply government with funds to run public services, and pays for any consumer goods that are not produced locally.  As well, some government funding comes from taxes on businesses. 

As noted above in the sections on transport and energy, one can envision industrial production as intermittent and geared to the seasons and weather – in cases where solar or wind power are the energy sources for industry and commuter transport from the neighbourhoods.  With a goal of much reduced productivity and the flexibility of an economy where people work far fewer hours in industry, this is all quite possible. 

The transition to a “conserver society”

Trainer envisages the transition to this set of technologies as coming about through the re-colonisation of our suburbs and cities with this new design paradigm.  A wonderful set of illustrations in “The Conserver Society” (1995: 59-60) shows a “typical neighbourhood at present” as a map on the first page and on the next shows the same neighbourhood of three or four suburban blocks transformed for the Conserver Society.  Apart from one road on the edge of the neighbourhood, which is used to transport people and goods to other centres, all roads are turned into much narrower cycle paths.  Driveways in suburban blocks go.  Space is also freed up by the demolition of fencing around houses.  A supermarket in the old suburb becomes a neighbourhood factory.  An unused factory site, a park, car park and petrol station all go.  The petrol station becomes a neighbourhood workshop.  In the space created by these changes, there are two market gardens, a meadow, a local forest, a community orchard and a number of ponds.  There are numerous sites for animal husbandry and greenhouses for cold weather vegetable production. 

Urban form in summary

Trainer has some quite detailed ideas about how this urban form would look ultimately following a complete transition.  The basic neighbourhood is a “suburb” or “small town” of 250 households occupying an area of 400 hectares. The actual settled area of the 400 hectares would be a 50 hectare section – with other land being farms and woodlots for timber and energy production.  These neighbourhoods are 2 kilometres apart from centre to centre.  Every 10 kilometres there would be a larger town, situated on a railway line, with cities at approximately 100 kilometres apart – serviced by suburban neighbourhoods of the kind mentioned above (Trainer 2007: 149). 

The adaptability of this urban plan to the social alternatives

Trainer sets up this urban plan in the context of a mixed economy model.  So, for example, the community garden in the map (1995: 60) is listed as a “market” garden, although he also envisages much productive agricultural property as owned and run by the community, such as woodlots, orchards, and ponds.  People leave the neighbourhood to travel to a larger centre for one day of paid work.  Government coordinates. 

One sector of the new economy would still use cash.  In another, market forces could be allowed to operate.  One sector would be fully planned and under participatory social control.  One would be run by cooperatives.  One large sector would not involve any money, including household production, barter, mutual aid, working bees, gifts, e.g., just giving away surpluses and the free goods from the commons. (Trainer 2007: 145)

However it is not at all difficult to envisage such a plan being worked out in the context of the other two social models.  In the socialism with democracy model, almost all the community work envisaged by Trainer would be paid work, allocated as part of an overall economic plan and set up in consultation with local democratic worker committees funded by government.  The one to two days a week work outside the neighbourhood in other centres, or in an urban industrial centre, would be paid work in a government factory or public service.  Public transport would of course be owned by the government and run by paid employees. 

In the anarchist gift economy model, all work would be voluntary.  At the local level, neighbourhood community groups would set up and operate community gardens, windmills, and local workshops, providing services to the community as a whole.  People from the local neighbourhood would also take part in collectives and federations running industry in more urban centres or providing transport services, higher education and the like.  There would be no “funding” of community activities in the neighbourhood – but provisions for neighbourhood work would be donated by industrial collectives.  Some people might specialize in neighbourhood work and others in industrial work, returning to their neighbourhoods for leisure and community work.  All kinds of work and production (including childcare and domestic work) would figure as gifts deserving of recognition and status.  Nevertheless the balance of time spent outside the neighbourhood in global, national and regional production would be exactly the same as Trainer specifies – an average of one to two days a week across the whole population.  The reason is that this balance ensures that most production is local and is not transported long distances with precious energy.  It also reflects a situation where production for a zero growth low energy economy occupies much less time than in consumer societies today.  Cosmopolitan exposure would come from travel to other neighbourhoods and regions in pursuit of creative options within a global network of “hobby group” voluntary production. 

As in Trainer’s model, all three of these alternatives would imply a lot of time for leisure, the pursuit of the arts and crafts, music, ceremonial and ritual life, sports and the like.

Holmgren’s reconstruction of the suburbs

David Holmgren is one of the founders of “permaculture” in Australia (Mollison & Holmgren 1978) and his growing conviction that we are headed for a low energy future has produced numerous writings and public presentations on the ways in which permaculture ideas for agriculture can be integrated into plans for a social and technological transformation of cities.  In writing in this way, Holmgren has had to distance himself from two common themes in the permaculture movement.  One is the original appeal of permaculture ideas to people who were part of the  “back to the land” movement.  This is the process by which middle class alternative culture people buy cheap land in the country and use it to grow subsistence food and create an alternative lifestyle of voluntary simplicity.  While Holmgren is not denying the validity or usefulness of this movement, he argues that we can bring the lessons of this process to urban areas for a broader social transformation.  A second common theme in permaculture has been the concern that the reality of permaculture has been a restriction to “backyard” permaculture for urban residents; something very dependent on the large suburban block of middle class Australia.  Members of permaculture organizations have worried that this hobby gardening approach to permaculture has not made much of an impact on broad-scale agriculture in Australia.  Holmgren has contributed much to this discussion by writing extensively about the ways in which broad-scale agriculture can be transformed to be environmentally sustainable without losing its commercial potential.  Despite this, his writings have strongly supported urban subsistence agriculture, whether in backyards or various kinds of public land – as the way forward for the cities in the coming energy shortage.  In an early article on this topic (1991) he takes these issues on quite directly:

A superficial understanding of permaculture and its applications has led some

people to conclude that permaculture is essentially about gardening and is irrelevant to commercial agriculture.  I would  dispute this but in this article I will  concentrate on showing why gardening is important … (Holmgren 1991: 1)

He has consistently argued that an agriculture that depends on oil so much for fertiliser, farm machinery, transport, packaging, distribution and marketing is doomed in the near future.  Unless we work out how to feed our cities with their own resources, the most likely outcome is a nasty social collapse (Holmgren 2008).  In arguing for the relevance of urban agriculture, Holmgren has had to take on a common theme of much environmental writing – that our low density car dependent cities are an environmental problem to be remedied by centralised high density living with walking and public transport to replace the car.  He writes:

It is interesting to note most planners promoting the sustainable city concept ignore the great potential of the Australian backyard to be a part of a sustainable future. Instead the backyard is viewed as a land and resource consuming anachronism in the environmentally conscious 1990’s.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The fact that that current suburban landscapes are not sustainable is less to do with their density or even design than it is to

unfavourable social and economic conditions. (Holmgren 1991: 8)

Social sites for urban agriculture

Holmgren envisages a number of ways in which urban agriculture could be pursued.  One is garden agriculture:

Garden agriculture I see as part of the household economy where people produce for their own needs. (Holmgren, quoted in Grayson 2007)

This gardening is for basic vegetables and fruit – subsistence household production.  Small animals such as poultry, rabbits and even goats are also possible in this context.  Another urban agriculture consists of community vegetable gardens and orchards – subsistence cooperatives.  As in Cuba after their oil shortage, gardens might be established on vacant land, even on roof tops.  Farmers could also work as private individuals within, or next to the city, and bring their produce to farmers’ markets in cities. A small scale commercial farm. In a system of “community supported agriculture”, urban residents would agree to buy a regular box of food each week to ensure that the urban farmer had a regular clientele.  Distribution could be organized through a food cooperative.  A mixture of paid work and cooperative voluntary organization. 

All these suggestions are framed up within the model of a mixed economy.  Public and private land is taken over to supply food from the local urban environment.  Production is either to produce gifts or self provision, on the one hand, or for money, on the other hand.  Organization may be voluntary cooperatives or private businesses or some combination of the two. 

These social alternatives could also be replicated within the other social models. 

  • In a socialist model, all these alternatives would be organized as forms of paid work with local cooperatives guiding and participating in decision making under a government plan. 

  • In the anarchist model, all of these forms of agricultural provision would involve gift exchanges of voluntary labour.  Self provision and local gift exchanges would operate at the household level.  For bigger urban farms, voluntary collectives would grow food and coordinate their activities with neighbourhood distribution collectives. 

In recent writing, Holmgren envisages suburban agriculture as taking off as the full impact of the oil crunch undermines consumer society and the state in the near future:

Suburban landscapes around smaller cities and regional towns with greater social capital are transformed with a booming and relatively egalitarian society sustained by bio-intensive/permaculture farming and retrofitting and reuse supported by resources from both the immediate rural hinterland and inner urban salvage.

This ruralisation of suburban landscape to produce food on all available open space, private and public provides most of the fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy and small livestock products. Local currencies, food, car and fuel co-ops, community supported agriculture all grow rapidly. Informal and household economies provide an increasing proportion of basic needs as corporate and government systems fail to deliver. (Holmgren 2008)

How much space is available for urban agriculture?

Holmgren argues that low density Australian suburbs are ideally suited to the intensification of garden agriculture:

The relatively low density of Australian cities and towns and high levels of sunshine (a limiting factor in the productivity of intensive garden agriculture) combined with  cheap reticulated water means Australia has substantial natural and infrastructure capacity for garden agriculture within urban areas where the majority of the population live. (Holmgren 1991: 3)

Holmgren argues that a lot more space is available for urban agriculture than we generally think.  He uses figures for Melbourne. 

Public open space is about 12 per cent of the Melbourne metropolitan area … there really is plenty of urban open space that could be used for garden agriculture. The Melbourne metropolitan area is nearly 9000 sq km. That includes quite a lot of land that’s not built over. On the fringes, it includes quite large areas of forest and parkland. There’s almost three and a half million people in this area, a density of 388 people per square kilometre. The area of land per person is 2500 sq metres, about a quarter acre per person (Holmgren, quoted in Grayson 2007).

Holmgren sees this as quite sufficient for food production.  He cites Jeavons, who maintains that 300 square metres per person is sufficient for intensive organic gardening. Holmgren suggests a higher figure is more realistic for a food forest permaculture system:

My estimate for a permaculture omnivore is about the 700 to 1500 sq metres per person. This is less than the total area that is not built upon and paved within the Melbourne metropolitan area. So we do have the capacity in the cities to feed those cities (Homgren, quoted in Grayson 2007).

The open space that could be used readily is that currently designated for parks, the sides of train tracks, sporting fields and the like.  So there is in fact an oversupply of open space in Melbourne, even if we do not go into ripping up roads or planting out suburban backyards. 

Technologies for urban agriculture

Holmgren sees organic agriculture as inevitable in the low energy city.  Partly, without fossil fuels, artificial fertilisers and synthetic pesticides and herbicides are unavailable.  As well, this is to create a sustainable agriculture that is not toxic in the urban environment.  The implication is a high commitment of human labour, compared to the input of current commercial agriculture.  A low energy future requires us to put more work into feeding ourselves.  But since production of industrial goods is also massively reduced, there is more time for this activity. 

Following the principles of permaculture design, urban agriculture will be a polyculture – a diversity of crop and animal species worked out to combine well together in each local area.  Within a neighbourhood there will be an integration of  cereal crops, vegetables, livestock, tree crops, housing and settlement – with resources from one production system providing inputs to another.  For example ducks to eat snails in an orchard and provide meat and manure.  Constant exposure to a variety of agricultural tasks and to the beauty of a permaculture system, with an emphasis on tree crops, will ensure that agricultural work is a pleasure rather than a burden. It would not be like agriculture and food distribution today, with the workforce specialized into meaningless repetitive tasks.

To ensure full sun exposure for some crops, areas without shade from trees will be used to grow some vegetable and cereal crops – for example allotments as in European cities or rooftop gardens as in the Cuban strategy.  Greenhouses attached to houses will help to provide space heating in winter and a place for seedlings and winter vegetables.  Food will be preserved using air tight containers and boiling as well as techniques using salt, sugar, vinegar and yeasts. 

In addition to all the usual vegetable and cereal crops, mushrooms will be grown in woodlands.  Small animals such as poultry, pigeons, rabbits, guinea pigs and goats will be attached to houses or community gardens to consume scraps and food waste and provide a rich protein diet. 

Nutrients will be provided locally using a number of techniques.  One is the use of legume crops which fix nitrogen in the soil.  Composting of food scraps and leafy plant matter with manure will be the norm to provide a rich fertilizer.  Worm farms will assist.  Deep litter poultry systems also provide compost for gardening.  Reed beds can be used to treat grey water and dug up periodically to provide a rich mulch.  All human manure will also be composted to remove pathogens and used in agriculture:

Full organic methods, including the recycling to land of all wastes including human waste, is in the long term the most critical feature in the sustainability of the food system. We won’t have that bleed of high quality nutrient in human waste not going back to the food system. (Holmgren, quoted in Grayson 2007)

Along with sites devoted to food production will be forest woodlands to produce wood for fuel and mulch for plant growth as well as fodder for animals.  These will be scattered throughout suburban neighbourhoods and will also ring the cities to ensure sufficient wood is available for building, cooking and some heating.

Water will be provided locally.  This will be partly through ponds and dams making use of natural creek beds and specially constructed dams and contour bunds in the suburban neighbourhoods.  All houses will be fitted with tanks to harvest rainwater.  Holmgren does not envisage existing local roads being dug up (as in Trainer’s analysis) but instead sees them as being useful for water catchment – water from the road surface will be collected at every level of the landscape and used in the gardens and farms at that elevation.  With so much water harvesting it will not be a problem to include food production through aquaculture in local wetlands – ducks and geese, fish, eels and turtles, shellfish.  With a landscape that is not brimming with toxic chemicals, these can all be produced safely.  Aquaculture for food plants is also possible – rice, taro, iris, kang-kong, water cress and the like.

It is this mixture and integration of different productive uses of a landscape that enables the density of agricultural production that Holmgren envisages in urban areas. 


The term that is often used by Holmgren and others to describe this process of transformation is “re-localisation”.   In other words, there is a localized production of food, employment and entertainment.  Holmgren sees this as an inevitable transition that will take place even within the constraints of a capitalist economy:

It will stimulate self-reliance, retrofit, repair and recycling, not necessarily because those things are seen as environmentally good but just because they are economic, sensible and practical ways to deal with circumstances (Holmgren, quoted by Grayson 2007b.)

Within a capitalist economic framework these constraints would undoubtedly be experienced as poverty and unemployment – and be unequally allocated depending on class and position in the global economy.  Nevertheless, Holmgren, like Trainer, sees this development as allowing local control and developing a sense of community.  In the long term, like Trainer, he does not envisage a low energy future as being compatible with capitalism. 

I am not sure if all of this “re-localisation” is actually necessary or desirable for a low energy future.  Local food and mostly local employment certainly makes sense for the reasons I have considered in discussing Trainer.  You cannot have people and their food travelling about the place using up vast amounts of energy in transport.  I have more of a problem with the necessity and virtues of “local” entertainment.  Local entertainment in a low energy future makes sense because people would have much more time to engage actively in leisure.  They would need to entertain themselves in some fashion.  Passive consumption of globally produced entertainment makes sense in society today as the opposite to a working life based in boring obedience and stressful attempts to maintain economic security.  It is also successful because it is heavily marketed for obvious reasons.  In a different kind of economy with different working conditions the number of hours people felt they needed to just sit about doing nothing and being passively entertained would probably be less, certainly as a proportion of the waking day. 

On the other hand, as I have indicated, some long distance travel is still possible within a low energy economy so long as it is adapted to the seasonal availability of energy and does not exceed a low energy budget for transport.  Electronic communication also seems possible if Trainer’s vision of work in and outside the neighbourhood was to be realized.  There is no reason that local entertainment and leisure would not be informed by global communication and examples from around the world.  It would be integrated into a regional and international division of labour for specialist products and information, produced sustainably and transported under the same conditions.
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