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Where Cars Do Not Roam… In America

Cycling about on Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island, Michigan is a carfree tourist destination in the Straits of Mackinac, between Lakes Michigan and Huron. I remember when I was a child, spending a week on Mackinac Island. We rode bikes, horses, and spend a lot of time eating fudge. Of course, riding bikes is a good way to burn off that fudge.

But seriously, Mackinac Island is a prime example of how one can live without cars and still have a comfortable standard of living.

Geoff Dyer has written a blog post “Walkable streets: Considering common issues

One-way couplets

One-way couplets around parks can present lane width challenges. (Mike Holmes’ Wind Walk in Southern Alberta.)

In it, he emphasizes that one should design for lower, not higher, speeds. Even though it’s by no means carfree, if his design approach is widely implemented, traffic speeds will fall and pedestrian fatalities will decline significantly. It’s not the solution, but it’s a step along the way.

A Low Impact Woodland Home

A hobbit's houseSimon Dale and his father in-law decided to build their home as inexpensively as possible. So they used natural material and what they could find to build home for Simon’s family of 4. According to Simon:

This building is one part of a low-impact or permaculture approach to life. This sort of life is about living in harmony with both the natural world and ourselves, doing things simply and using appropriate levels of technology. These sort of low cost, natural buildings have a place not only in their own sustainability, but also in their potential to provide affordable housing which allows people access to land and the opportunity to lead more simple, sustainable lives.

I’ve always been a fan of underground homes, and this is the perfect example of how locally sourced materials and ingenuity can make an affordable and livable home. Sadly, in the States, it would almost be impossible to get the necessary building permits and variances to build such a home. It would not meet code standards set in stone here in the Puget Sound. Still, it’s a great idea.

Ever wonder how really affordable your house or apartment is? So have I and the Housing and Transit Affordability Index will show you the numbers. Based solely on rent cost, my apartment is fairly affordable, at 17% of my income. However, if you add in transportation costs, it more than doubles, to 40% of my income.

H+T Affordability Index: Seattle–Bellevue–Everett, WA: Comparing Housing Costs, % Income for Renters to Housing + Transportation Costs, % Income for Renters

The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index is an innovative tool that measures the true affordability of housing based on its location.
© Copyright 2003-10 Center for Neighborhood Technology
2125 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 · Tel: (773) 278-4800 · Fax: (773) 278-3840

If I compare the annual cost of driving to work versus the annual cost of transit, I find that I’m saving a ton by working from home and taking the bus whenever I can. The difference is amazing: $51 for transit a year, versus $2,048 for a car per year. The cost of transit is spread out across all riders, while the cost of operating your car is solely in your hands and your pocketbook. It costs more to own a car than to take the bus.

H+T Affordability Index: Seattle–Bellevue–Everett, WA: Comparing Annual VMT Cost ($) to Annual Transit Cost ($)

The Housing + Transportation Affordability Index is an innovative tool that measures the true affordability of housing based on its location.
© Copyright 2003-10 Center for Neighborhood Technology
2125 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 · Tel: (773) 278-4800 · Fax: (773) 278-3840

In a recent article Barbara O’Brien writes that as 20th century economic models are falling apart the problem was anticipated by E. F.  Schumacher, author of a new economic theory, “Buddhist Economics”.

Schumacher argued that, “…that ever-increasing production and consumption — the foundation of the modern  economy — is unsustainable.” The drive to  increase the bottom-line basically ignored how the growth occurred or how society benefited.

Quoting from O’Brien’s article:

“While in Burma he wrote a paper called “Economics in a Buddhist Country” in which he argued  that economics does not stand on its own feet, but instead ‘is derived from a view of the meaning  and purpose of life — whether the economist himself knows this or not.’  In this paper, he wrote  that a Buddhist approach to economics would be based on two principles:
* The ideal is  sufficiency, not surfeit. ‘Economic ‘progress’ is good only to the point of sufficiency, beyond that, it is evil, destructive, uneconomic.’
* A Buddhist economy distinguishes between renewable and non-renewable resources. A  civilization built on renewable resources is superior to one built on non-renewable resources.”

He argued against ever-increasing consumption, instead promoting the notion that meeting human needs is sufficient. What is sufficient? Therein lies the problem.

As the ongoing economic crisis has clearly shown us, too much of a good thing can lead to disaster. Hopefully, we learned a valuable lesson.

Schumacher’s theories were published in 1973 in, “Small is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered.” Many of his essays and other writings are available online.

While his ideas were largely scoffed at back then, today they appear to be ahead of their time.

I was listening to my local Public Radio station, KUOW, and they had a story about the Waterpod. The Waterpod is a floating demonstration platform for self-sufficiency and resourcefulness and provide an alternative to current and future living spaces.

This sounds like a great idea. Of course I’d have to divest myself of most of my stuff and getting the permits is next to impossible. But I wondered… Instead of a floating home, how about a floating P-Patch?

Right now in Kenmore, Washington, we have a land shortage. Most of land is forested and there is a push to keep the remaining trees. Second, there is a need for land for youth sports: Baseball and Soccer. Basically, any piece of land that could be turned into a P-patch, can also be turned into a ball field or soccer field.

Second, that land, even in these economic times, is valuable. To get enough land to make a decent P-patch would cost a million dollars.

So what can we do?

The barge that's floating in Lake Washington in front of Kenmore WA.

The barge that is floating in Lake Washington

In Lake Washington, floating in front of Kenmore and Saint Edward Park is a large, 316′ x 60′ barge. It’s a fixture in Kenmore, you can see it from any view of Lake Washington. We use to light off fireworks during the 4th of July and on Kenmore’s anniversary.

There is enough room on the barge for about 170-180 10′ x 10′ P-patches. It gets plenty of sunlight, water is not an issue, and it puts to use something that’s an eyesore to many people.

There are problems with it.

It's a fair bit of distance to the barge from the marina.

It's a bit of a boat ride to get to it.

  • The barge can only be accessed by water. So a ferry would have to be set up for those P-patchers without a boat.
  • Which means you have to have classes for boat safety for all P-patchers.
  • Runoff from the barge would have to be monitored for pollution.
  • Getting the necessary permits from the State of Washington and King County for this project.
  • And the biggest one: Finding out who owns the barge.

But if we can overcome those obstacles, we have the potential for a P-patch that doesn’t use any land.

In the next installment: How to overcome those obstacles.

Bagel Burgers

So what do you do when you have some lean ground beef and no hamburger buns?Well, if you’re like me, I was lucky and had some large grocery store onion bagels.  Both the beef and the bagels were locally sourced, though the bagels are only local in that they were made in my neighborhood Safeway bakery.

The hamburger meat is from the Happy Mountain® Farm in Covington Washington. There, they grow miniature cattle. Cows the size of shetland ponies.They are all natural grass fed cattle and are extremely lean. Lean to the point that you have to add a little oil to the meat so that it stays a little juicy when you cook it.

So I looked at what I had to work with and decided that I would make my burger patty in a bagel shape. Well, try as I might, the meat was just too lean to form a decent patty. So I added a little olive oil and some panko crumbs to give it some structure. Then it made a decent meat tube and didn’t fall apart. Then I set about cooking it.

I cut the bagel in two and toasted the halves.

I cut the bagel in two and toasted the halves.

I fried the burger in my cast iron skillet on medium heat.

I fried the burger in my cast iron skillet on medium heat.

I seasoned the meat with some kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. I also put some mustard and hamburger relish on the other bun.

I seasoned the meat with some kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. I also put some mustard and hamburger relish on the other bun half.

The final product, a juicy, tasty bagel burger! Mmm!

The final product, a juicy, tasty bagel burger! Mmm!

Remember to practice good sanitation! I wore food grade plastic gloves and washed down my cutting boards after making the patty.

I’d change my method by putting down some plastic wrap so the burger wouldn’t stick to the cutting board, and do a normal patty and cut a hole out of the middle with a 1 inch round cookie cutter. That, or use the cutter a mold and form the burger around it.