PAUL GLOVER ESSAYS: community control of food, fuel, housing, health care, planning, education, finance.

Philly's Choice

by Paul Glover  *  Grid magazine  * September 2008

Philadelphia is ready to become one of the most beautiful and enjoyable cities in America.  It's fully capable of being a model green city.  Our city is also ready to become hell on earth, due to rocketing fuel and food prices.

We're being forced to think outside the box because, with the collapse of fossil fuel, there will be no box to think inside.  Since normalcy is no longer practical we'll choose either to rebuild this city or be bystanders at its decline.  Within thirty years Philadelphia will be either a green city or a ghost town.

So let's imagine a Philadelphia that works well with one tenth the oil and natural gas.  Prepare to laugh at some of these suggestions.  Then prepare to work.  Rebuilding Philadelphia so it secures and delights all of us, and our children, will require hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

Assuming that we will not be able to bring cheap food from California and Mexico, or even from Iowa, we'll need to grow much of our food inside and around the city.  With 40,000 vacant lots, Philadelphia is ahead of many cities.  Urban orchards and gardens can fill our neighborhoods. 

Assuming that heating and air conditioning homes with gas, oil and electric becomes too costly (nuclear processing depends on fossil fuel and there's just a 20-year domestic uranium supply ), we'll need to superinsulate our houses.  Since even with best insulation current housing will still leak costly fuels, we'll need to build entirely new housing that's earth sheltered, needing no fuel to heat and cool.

Assuming that cooling homes with conventional fuels also becomes too costly, we'll need to tear up as much paving as we can, to reduce the urban "heat island" that boils our homes.  Filling every neighborhood with trees, especially orchards, will likewise cool our summers.

Assuming that cars will cost too much to fuel, even fuel-efficient cars, we can put streets to better use when cars are gone.  We can fill the streets with trollies again and bicycles, and wild mosaic pathways too, even using them for gardens and playgrounds.

Assuming that fuel costs for filtering water and pumping it to homes, then cleaning it after use, will make water too costly to poop into, we'll need to replace flush toilets with idiot-proof waterless toilets.  These are National Sanitation Foundation-approved, converting humanure into safe, sweet-smelling garden soil.  When our rivers are no longer poisoned by poop, fish will return and be edible.  We will be able to swim with them.  Capturing rooftop rain in barrels and cisterns further reduces water pumping loads.

Assuming that more of us will be unable to afford health insurance, we'll need to create our own nonprofit co-op health plans.  Assuming that local government will not have enough money to expand the free clinic system, we'll need to create our own member-owned free clinics.

Assuming that dollars with which we buy food and fuel and housing and health care continue to lose value, we'll need to print our own inflation-proof money that's backed by neighborhood and business networks providing local skills, tools and time.Assuming that global markets continue to invest in wars, prisons, stripmines, clearcutting, junk food and cars, we'll need to create our own regional stock exchanges which reward investment in the processes above.

Assuming that media continue to emphasize that people are violent more than kindly, that it's risky to trust one another, and that we are not capable of organizing our own neighborhoods to make this city beautiful, then we will need to create our own media.

Assuming that
government will be unable to raise taxes enough to maintain crumbling centralized infrastructure, we'll need to create neighborhoods that thrive on decentralized technologies.  These would be powerful neighborhoods combining all the above whose residents are homeowners; whose homes are superinsulated and solarized; whose lands generate food and jobs; whose vacant buildings become microindustries; whose preventive health care is provided through co-op mini-clinics; whose humanure and leaves are sanitized and recycled onsite; whose trash is feedstock for new industry; whose streets are greenspace; whose schools teach neighborhood management; whose talents are celebrated; whose networks of mutual aid are backed by local currencies; whose people are proud and sufficient.  Such neighborhoods need fewer government services for police, courts, jails, streets, trash, sewage; and less government subsidy for food, fuel, housing, medical care and mental health.

These bold notions have proven practical at small scales in various cities.  Welcoming them all to our city, through respectful and orderly transitions, will set an example for the world and make the future fun. 

Four Great Tasks
1.  Rebuild housing for maximum energy efficiency.
2.  Rebuild transit to liberate the city from cars.
3.  Convert to waterless toilets to end water abuse.
4.  Plant orchards and gardens for food security.

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