It’s a new year in Australia and it’s still holiday time. Being summer, the children are off school for another 3 weeks and the newspapers reflect the “silly season” when the parliament is not sitting. The lack of political backstabbing leaves room for some news which is actually interesting, and this weekend, the Melbourne Age carries a story about some people who have set up a share house with a view to living communally and sharing resources. They grow their own veggies in an ample backyard, eat together five times a week and have reduced their weekly expenses to just $120 each (£65), which is pretty amazing in the inner city. One of the housemates is someone I have met. Her name is Theo Kitchener and she co-ordinates a group called Doing it Ourselves. The group advocates a slowing down of society’s incessant need for growth and a return to a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Theo clearly walks the talk with her suburban “co-operative community”.
I am inspired by these efforts to make the city lifestyle more sustainable. One of the criticisms often aimed at my Living in the Future video series is that it tends to reflect only rural communities and obviously, not everyone can make that rural dream work for them. “What about greening the cities?” I am asked. Living in Melbourne is a good opportunity to explore just what that might mean and I’ve been impressed with some of the ideas that people are putting into practice.
One of the simplest ways in which cities can “go green” is to establish community gardens. We have a planter box in one of the laneways between houses and manage to grow a constant supply of greens as well as some beans, a few root veg and lots of herbs.
This weekend, we were comparing our lifestyle in terms of carbon footprint and admitting that if we were honest, our city footprint was probably lighter than our rural footprint back in Wales! Here, we don’t run a car and our journeys to work are done mostly by bicycle. Our tiny urban flat only needs minimum heating for 2 months a year, compared to 6 months of wood and coal consumed by our burner at home. Our veg boxes come from CERES, which is a community environment park on 4 acres of rehabilitated landfill. They have beautiful spaces for workshops, funky buildings made of straw and mud, a thriving plant nursery and regular organic market. Their food comes mostly from farms within the state of Victoria, which means the veg is quite local. In our tiny backstreet planter box, we grow as much veg as we did in our large garden, thanks to bad weather and slugs diminishing the harvest.
Of course, we have to take into account the massive infrastructure which makes city life possible at all and it’s hard to measure the cost of that, but all this is worth considering before we make another move – either home or elsewhere. Spiritual fulfillment aside, (I will always yearn for the peace and quiet of Nature) if we are truly trying to live a sustainable lifestyle and cut our carbon emissions, does it make it easier to live in the city or the country?