Book Review: Toward Sustainable Communities: by Mark Roseland

 Towards Sustainable Communities: Resources for Cities & their Governments
by Mark Roseland
New Society Publishers, 1998
PO Box 189
Gabriola Island, BC V0R 1X0 800/567-6772
256 pages, $19.95 paperback

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We all live in cities, towns, or rural farmsteads. What most of us fail to realize is that the keys to turning the vague ideas of sustainability into working realities often lie in our own immediate neighborhoods and down the street at City Hall. What Mark Roseland has done in Toward Sustainable Communities is provide us with a practical manual packed full of examples, showing how we can take advantage of the opportunities for building sustainable communities that are all around us.

Mark Roseland has been an eco-activist ever since his days with RAIN Magazine. He dedicated the early 1990s to preparing a detailed report that showed how Vancouver, British Columbia, could reduce its emission of greenhouse gases and become more sustainable as a city. Since then, he has gone on to become one of North America's leading experts on the greening of our cities and communities. He currently directs the Community Economic Development Centre at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, where he teaches in the Geography Department.

Roseland's book distills his expertise into easy-to understand, concrete examples. For instance:

“In a suburb of Davis, California, residents formed an urban cooperative block called N Street Community by removing their fences and sharing their lives. Residents of 11 houses merged their backyards to share paths, patios, fruit trees, compost bins, gardens, greenhouses, a chicken pen, and a clothesline.

“One house was converted into a common house, and the group pooled their resources to purchase two adjacent houses to enable rental tenants to join the community. Efforts towards sustainability include organically managed gardens, growing fruits and vegetables, and installing solar collectors. Neighbors share cars, compost, and re-use and recycle materials.

“At the Squaw Creek Golf Course in Squaw Valley, California, boardwalks have carried golfers over marsh and meadow areas since its opening in 1992. Design firm Robert Trent Jones, Jr. restored acres of native grasses and enhanced filtration ponds, and apart from using small amounts of nitrogen, the golf course is maintained organically.

“In Scotland, the Edinburgh City Council has approved a $13 million housing development where no one owns a car, trees replace pavement, water is recycled, and heating and lighting are free.”

Residents will be able to join a council-run car-share club, and the free heat will come from waste steam from a nearby factory. The gray water is filtered through reed beds, and rainwater will be collected for use in bathrooms.

“The German City of Saarbrucken (population 128,000) rewards citizens who use solar energy by allowing them to sell excess power back to the municipal utility. The city buys back solar power at a price of about 15 cents a kilowatt hour.” That's more than twice the going price for coal-fired energy.

We are used to the idea that if you want to fix a car, you need a manual. The same applies to our cities, streets, and neighborhoods. Do you want to get your neighbors together to discuss ways to calm the traffic on your street? Pass a local by-law banning the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides in areas where children play? Design an artificial wetland to deal with gray water wastes and create a habitat for birds?

Maybe you want to get involved in local land-use planning or start an allotment project to grow food on urban wasteland. For all this, the book is a manual for change, packed full of examples, explanations, addresses, and Web sites, along with a wealth of material about more complex reforms such as ecological taxation and green power programs. Unsustainable living is locked into place by complex systems of transport, housing, energy, sewage treatment, and other areas. This book contains the keys to unlocking at least part of the mess and starting anew, right where we live.

Reviewed by Guy Dauncey, an author, activist, futurist, ecovillage designer, composter, and co-founder of the Victoria Car-Share Cooperative on Vancouver Island. He can be reached at [email protected]

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