Toolbox for Sustainable City Living – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A Do-It-Ourselves Guide
by Scott Kellogg & Stacy Pettigrew
with illustrations by Juan Martinez
242 pages paperback
Published by South End Press – September 2008
ISBN: 978-0-89608-780-4
Size 20.1 x 19.8 x 1.8 cm
Price US $16

The tools you need to create self-sufficient, ecologically sustainable cities says the main caption on the back of the book and while too some degree this may be aiming rather high as total self-sufficiency is something that is more than hard to achieve trying to be self-sufficient and self-reliant to some degree is nevertheless something that we must get down to.

Therefore this book is a useful little toolbox, in combination with another one or two good ones in this genre, is basically what we need in order to get some way towards that goal.

For those who are bored stiff of green lifestyle books that only seem to offer fluffy solutions indicating which product to buy, then Toolbox for Sustainable City Living book may be your new best friend in, as I have said, conjunction probably two other books in the same genre.

Written with urban-dwellers in mind, Toolbox is a guide that covers a broad spectrum of do-it-yourself topics, from vermicomposting to rainwater collection, to planting edible food forests to chicken-raising and making your own biogas digester.

Plus, authors Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew have definitely walked the talk: as members of the Austin-based Rhizome Collective, they helped transform a vacant warehouse into an experimental urban sustainability training center in 2000 and “Toolbox for Sustainable City Living” is the end result of nearly a decade of trials, brownfield remediation, community outreach and a $200,000 grant from the EPA.

The illustrations are somewhat hilarious and make the book extremely entertaining to read as well, which is always a plus with green instruction books of any kind.

In the small bit about pheasants the authors failed to mention one extremely important things and that is that pheasants must never be kept in the same housing as chickens. This is because chickens will get a certain virus which to them would be no more than a very mild cold but is fatal to pheasants. This just as a little advice to anyone thinking of raising pheasants as a fowl of sort for the table. Also, as the authors state, once they reach the age to properly fly the more than likely will take off for pastures new.

The book starts by basically serving up some real serious food for thought by raising some interesting questions such as:

  • Will cities still be capable of supporting their populations when big trucks are no longer delivering food?
  • What will happen when it becomes too costly to heat buildings?
  • Will basic sanitation collapse as water becomes scarcer and more expensive to pump?
  • What will happen to society?
While all these questions may appear somewhat alarmist to some, they are nevertheless reasonable questions in the context of a society and an economy that is largely based on non-renewable resources. Once those resources run out and if there are no serious replacements to hand the proverbial stuff will certainly hit the fan.

Toolbox for Sustainable City Living promotes what the authos call “radical sustainability", while at the same time questioning “green consumerism”, which for them…encourages consumption of a different variety. It does nothing to challenge the patterns of over-consumption and excess that have created the environmental crisis, and this is rather so true.

Now, instead or “ordinary” consumerism we are “blessed” with the green version and people spend, spend, spend on green goods. And while buying green, obviously, is better than buying non-green, so to speak, consumerism of any shade if not good for the environmental and society, especially as it also created waste.

This is one of those books that should definitely be on anyone's bookshelf who wants to learn to live a more sustainable life in city and countryside alike even though this book is – primarily – aimed at the city dweller.

© 2009