What’s in Your Tool Shed ?

What’s lurking in your tool shed ?

Perhaps you own an electric drill . . . when did you last use it ?

How about a lawn mower, ladders, hedge-trimmer, jig-saw, trailer, wheelbarrow, patio-cleaner, wallpaper stripper ?

If you think about it, owning stuff that sits around unused for 99% of the time, is the epitome of unsustainability. For practical, utilitarian items like drills and ladders, what matters is access when we need them, not ownership.

There’s an obvious solution – sharing stuff !

It goes a little against the grain in our hyper-individualistic society, but it makes perfect sense – we don’t all need to buy our own a drill so it saves us money, and we don’t all need to find space for it in our own home so it saves us space and clutter (which Rachel recently wrote about on her Green & Tidy blog).

There are a range of ways we can replace ownership with access-  from hire schemes, to tool libraries, which work in a similar way to book libraries. Several organisations are already encouraging local groups and communities to set-up similar projects; such as Streetbank, and technology makes knowing where we can get access to things locally much easier.

There is a catch though.

To work, it requires a participating local community !

Unfortunately in many places this is something we’ve lost. We live next to each other, but often don’t know each other, or even come into contact with each other any more. There’s been a tendency in many places for us to lead increasingly fragmented and isolated lives. We sit in front of our screens forming friendships with people across the globe, but too easily neglect what’s outside our own front door.

But this isn’t entirely our fault ! It’s the natural product of the environments we’ve created. We often live apart from our work, and commute back and forth, usually by ourselves and we increasingly tend to shop in impersonal huge edge-of-town superstores. Many of our societies are increasingly divided and suffer from increased background levels of stress, tension and anger. We complain about the ‘fear of crime’ – perhaps it’s partly because we don’t know our neighbours as people and as a result don’t trust them . . . relationships matter.

There’s a large overlap between the health of our communities and the state of the planet. Personal change by itself won’t deliver the increases in sustainability we need, from energy to water use. If we are to succeed in combating climate change, peak oil and resource depletion, we will need to collectively re-engineer our communities to make it natural and easy for us to live more sustainable lives.

Although cities are sometime viewed as almost the opposite of ‘environment’, high density communities are invariably more sustainable than low density ones. In denser communities we can easily walk to a local shop, park, library or cinema. We can walk or cycle to work, avoiding inefficient, costly and time-consuming commutes, meaning we spend more time locally, and get to know more people. In a dense environment it’s easier to design and build infrastructure, from water & sewerage, to public transport systems. Dense communities also have a smaller physical footprint than sprawling suburban communities, leaving more land available either for food production or the natural environment.

Many towns and cities are trying to build more localism and sustainability into their development. Vancouver is a good example, with 40% of central area households no longer own a car, because they don’t need one on a daily basis – as they can walk, cycle or use public transport to get around. Car clubs/lift share/car hire schemes exist for the occasions when a car is needed, and the benefits of reduced car ownership are massive: personal cost savings in buying, maintenance and fuel, less traffic accidents, less obesity, better air quality, less land needed for garages and roads, and huge environmental savings in vehicle manufacture and disposal, as well as the obvious carbon saving associated with reduced fuel use.

It also means fewer large superstores and car parks are needed – in a compact community it’s much easier and more sustainable for a single delivery truck to deliver to 100 properties a week, than for 100 cars to visit the store!

Less obviously, reducing travelling also gives people their time back – up to 10 or more hours a week! As a result people play more sport, spend more time with their families and friends, have more hobbies and have time to engage in more leisure and cultural activities, not to mention politics and voluntary work !

As I write this I’m watching rioting and looting taking place on the streets of London and several other English cities.

While the reasons are undoubtedly complex, I’m sure our modern way of life, with it’s increasing disconnection and division, and loss of community is partly to blame.

Let’s hope we can quickly fix the mistakes of the past and rebuild sustainable, caring communities in our cities – for the benefit of both ourselves, and the planet.

Alex Steffen, editor of the Worldchanging gave an excellent TED talk last month titled The Shareable Future of Cities :

Photo by Miss Millions, via Flickr

6 Ideas to Change What’s Outside Your Door

“We have theories, specialisms, regulations, exhortations, demonstration projects. We have planners. We have highway engineers. We have mixed use, mixed tenure, architecture, community architecture, urban design, neighbourhood strategy. But what seems to have happened is that we have simply lost the art of placemaking; or, put another way, we have lost the simple art of placemaking. We are good at putting up buildings but we are bad at making places.” - Bernard Hunt, Architect

What’s it like outside your front door ?

1              Depressing and Run-Down ?

Organise a community clean-up day to clear litter, or perhaps join a Litter Action Group. Report any fly-tipping, abandoned cars, abusive graffiti, dangerous pavements or pot holes to your local Council - believe it or not they will be pleased to hear from you. Love Where You Live and Keep Britain Tidy have more ideas for sprucing-up your local area. To make a longer lasting change, take inspiration from organisations like Building Living Neighbourhoods and Glass House, and get involved with community planning.

2              No Community Spirit ?

Consider joining a local club, society, church, or other organisation, or perhaps a  Neighbourhood Watch group. There may be a local Timebank scheme or environmental group you can join. In some places there may be a Transition Group working towards preparing for a post peak-oil, more sustainable future. Consider volunteering – there will be numerous local organisations seeking help; try CSV, Do It or Volunteering England for ideas. The organisation Community Group provides support and resources across a variety of local community projects. The mobile phone company Orange have recently launched a mobile phone application to make local volunteering easier.

3              Badly Organised and Run ?

Wonder who makes all these bad decisions, convinced you can do it better – consider becoming a Local Councillor, or perhaps just supporting your existing one. If you have links with your local school, hospital or some other organisation consider becoming a School Governor or other public appointee. Some people might relish the challenge of becoming a local Police Community Support Officer.

4              No Sense of Vitality ?

Make the most of your local economy, use local shops and facilities as much as possible. Some areas operate a local loyalty card scheme, and a few even use their own local money. Support your local farmer’s market or farm shop, as well as any independent cinemas, bookshops and restaurants. Wherever possible lend your support to businesses or events that support and encourage local distinctiveness. A number of organisations such as Common Ground, offer support to a range of distinctiveness initiatives.

5              No Greenery or Nature ?

Contact your local Council about tree planting, the charity Trees for Cities may also be able to offer support. The Conservation Foundation support a variety of local environmental initiatives  including tree surveys and garden tool donation. Green Space aims to involve communities more in their local parks and green spaces, and the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers or Groundwork may be able to coordinate volunteers for agreed projects. You may also want to join a community gardening project or sign-up for an allotment with your Council.

6              Never Anything Going On ?

There might be more going on than you think. Many websites list local events including the BBC, Timeout, List and your local Council’s What’s-On page. If you’ve the energy to organise an event yourself you Council may be able to assit, from a village fete or Street Party to an Oxjam concert.


Photo by Richard Smith