Superbia!: 31 Ways to Create Sustainable Neighborhoods by Dan Chiras and Dave Wann. New Society Publishers: 2003. 214 pages plus index. $19.95.
Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community by H.C. Flores. Chelsea Green: 2006. 329 pages plus index. $25.
Sure they’re by different authors and (crunchy) publishing houses, but I always think of these two books in tandem. Maybe it’s because I purchased them close together in the early months of my victory garden research. Or maybe it’s because they complement one another.
We’ll take first Food Not Lawns. With an introduction by permaculturist Toby Hemenway (author of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture), we get the picture early on that this book is rooted in West Coast progressivism. That’s not to say that Midwestern moderates won’t relate to the text. Through her text and illustrations, Flores provides a clear-cut path to first ripping out your lawn to cultivate food and then to move into the community to seed notions about independence and grassroots food activism. There’s mention of Food Not Bombs movement, edible weeds, local food-centered workshop–usual topics you’d expect from a Eugene, Oregon resident. And while Crunchy Cons may cringe at Flores’ discussion of “consensus-based” groups, Flores does a really good job of explaining group dynamics and how to manage them in relation to creating a community garden.
In fact, it’s that sort of organization-management speak that one wishes Dan Chiras and Dave Wann would have delved more deeply into with Superbia!. Published by Chelsea Green in collaboration with Mother Earth News, the text is less politically strident than Food Not Lawns. The authors, rooted in New Urbanism idealism, have created an extensive lists of ways to “remodel” suburban communities. The usual suspects are included–newsletters, potlucks–alongside more recent notions like co-housing, community-based cottage industries, farms, compost piles, and gardens. The ideas are intriguing and adaptable–provided one lives in a ‘hood where the NIMBYs are out-numbered.
Ay, there’s the rub.
As much as one may love the ideas tucked inside these two books, any transformative toolkit for reshaping and revitalizing our suburban communities nationwide must contain strategies and tips for nurturing leadership–in one’s self and one’s neighbors. We need hordes of folks working to move from theory to practice on sustainable initiatives.
To achieve that, the language we use–in person and print–must be sufficiently engaging and respectful to pull together from across the political spectrum. Tricky, yes? Moreover, we need advice for how homeowner’s association members can move beyond policing the ‘hood to cultivating community in imaginative ways, including via social media. We also need examples of environmentally friendly programs and initiatives from diverse communities nationwide.
Because, short of doing that, we risk preaching solely to the proverbial choir over and over again.
In the meantime, however, both Superbia! and Food Not Lawns are worth reading now as much for their content as their potential to inspire subsequent writers/thinkers.
Therefore, they’re both highly recommended.