Urban Homesteading and Radical Home Economics

Setting the Context

Dr Ottilie Stolte from the University of Waikato sets the scene for understanding how our households have shifted from productive to consumptive units, and how that affects us as households and as a society in general.

She suggests that neo-liberalism values have led to a shift in how households operate/live: where profit is the measure of success and the market is seen as the best way to achieve profit, there is a push for work that was traditionally outside the market economy to be made into a marketable good or service.
Neoliberalism - Ottilie Stolte countering neoliberalism - ottilie

What this has meant is that work that doesn’t contribute to the economy is under-valued, and a lot of this is work carried out by women (and ironically, a lot of this is under-paid even when it has been made into a marketable service – care work, cleaning, and so on).

Here is a media review talking about what can happen when neo-liberalism meets feminism:

The Work-Spend Cycle

The work-and-spend cycle is a phenomenon in which people in affluent nations remain trapped in a pattern of long hours of work and increasing consumption spending that fails to generate lasting improvements in well-being and plays a major role in ecological degradation.

Dale Southerton, Encyclopedia of Consumer Culture

For example, many work long hours and so rely on childcare services, but then need to earn more money to pay for the childcare, and so end up working longer hours.

But how can we break out?
How can we reduce the amount of outsourcing we do?

Can we shift our view of the system, so that money is a means to an end, rather than an end itself?

Image result for money isnt everything

Can we reclaim some of the jobs, and skills we have outsourced, that we now pay for? (But while reclaiming it, throwing in a bit of gender equality, so that jobs are shared – check out Çiçek Göçkün’s TED talk).


Can we borrow, share and swap more, to reduce our reliance on money exchanges for goods and services? (This post on Alternative Economies has more info.)

Eight Forms of Capital

Ethan Roland of Appleseed Permaculture puts forward the idea of 8 forms of capital, which are often inter-related and can sometimes be exchanged for each other. Working out which we are richer or poorer in can help us identify opportunities to holistically develop/build assets in a variety of different capitals, and also engage us in shifting away from the dominant paradigm that only values financial capital.

Consumption to Production

To be more productive and less consumptive we need time (and skills). Spending more time on home skills means less time to earn money. But it’s OK! Because you don’t need as much money to start with, as you are making things that you would otherwise have to purchase.

And while we are looking at living with less money, you might want to check out the book Frugal Hedonism – a guide to having fun without spending money. Our group of Permaculture Students came up with some of their own ideas and the general consensus was nature, friends, food, drinks, a little risk (fire, mild law-breaking, etc.), or combinations of several/all have the making of an excellent time with very little financial expenditure.

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Getting Started

Some good resources for people starting on their homesteading journey are:

And here are some links to some fun activities that may well change your life if you don’t already know them:

Beeswax wrapInstructions from My Healthy Green Family (using oven), or video below (using iron).

Keeping productive animals

  • Bees are a keystone species. Our food systems, environment, and life as we know it is directly dependent on bees. So keeping bees is great for the Earth. And you get honey and more! In fact, read 16 Reasons Why Beekeeping is Awesome for a comprehensive and highly convincing article about why beekeeping is amazing.
  • Chickens and ducks, on the other hand, offer weeding and waste management services, as well as giving eggs and making (sometimes) very loving pets.

Preserving and fermentingCommon Sense Home have a excellent guide to food preservation for beginners, including cool storage, drying/dehydrating, canning, freezing, fermenting, pickling, and preserving in salt, sugar, alcohol or oil.

Image result for love food hate waste preserving
The Love Food Hate Waste website has instructions, videos, recipes and more for food preservation. It also has resources for food planning, storage, waste minimisation, and more!

Home made cleaning products – there are hundreds of recipes available online, from simple ones with ingredients you’ll probably already have in your cupboard, to ones that focus on reducing environmental harm and ‘nasty chemicals’, to what might be a nearly comprehensive list of all the options, and everything in between.

Reusable padsAnne-Marie, if you are reading this, please create a link about the reusable pads you make so that we can share and celebrate the story behind your products that look after the Earth and people. Thank you! 🙂 In the mean time, the How to Make Your Own Reusable Menstrual Pads page on WikiHow will do.





Sustainable Backyards

Why grow our own food?

We always hear that we should be growing our own food – but why? Here are some of the ideas gathered from permaculture students who were given 4 minutes to think:

Earth Care

  • attracts beneficial insects
  • gets people outside … leading to increased appreciation of nature
  • knowing inputs and processes of the food system (including energy and chemicals used)

People Care

  • good for mental health
  • superior taste and nutrition
  • know the history of the food, include how it has been grown (e.g. if/which chemicals have been added)
  • gets people outside … leading to increased appreciation of nature

Fair Share

  • greater self-sufficiency in the case of disasters and in general
  • sharing food with neighbours contributes to greater sense of community and community resilience


Using our space well

To get the most out of the garden/space we have (whether that is in terms of productivity, beauty, or any other function and/or use), there are some things to consider.

  1. Start by drawing a plan of the garden/space you have, including any existing features you do not plan on changing (e.g. buildings, trees, etc.).
  2. Identify north. This helps identify the path of the Sun, and also the direction of prevailing wind(s).
  3. Identify any areas that are very dry or wet.
  4. Identify any wind paths or corridors, and any sheltered areas.
  5. Consider the path of the Sun (including seasonal variations) and shade.  The Andrew Marsh 3D Sun Path shows sun paths for around the world and across the year.
  6. Identify frosty spots (they are good for killing some bugs, but also good for killing some plants!)
  7. Identify slopes and other topographical features.
  8. Understand soil type and fertility.
  9. Identify zones. Here are some useful links to understanding zones from a permaculture perspective: Zones and Sectors by Deep Green Permaculture, and Zones from permaculture.wikia.com.

Whatever the weather

Understanding and knowing what to expect (kind of, at least) from local weather can be helpful when designing your garden/space.

Some useful websites include:

  • yr.no – said to be very accurate
  • Ventusky – app for interactive maps of real-time weather systems
  • MetService – New Zealand specific and probably most well known
  • MetVUW – New Zealand specific, lots of detailed information
  • Earth.nullschool.net – mesmerising maps of real-time winds and currents

So, for example, in the Waikato Region there is highly changeable weather, high humidity, frequent frosts during winter (because we are in a basin), and not a lot of wind (leading to a lot of fog).

Wherever you are, it is worth considering your local weather and climate conditions. It is also important for us to start considering how different climate change scenarios might affect our local climate and weather.

Planning and designing a garden 

Tania Ashman (gardener, permaculturalist, inspirational friend, and more) has come up with some ‘top tips’ for creating a productive, biodiverse, resource-efficient, ecologically considerate garden:

Keep a diary so you can organise, observe and interact. You can look back on what you did when and learn from successes and failures. A gardening calendar can be useful so you know when to sow and when to harvest different plants.

20161002_134819Choose plants that complement each other. Different plants have different needs, so planting those that have similar needs together. For example, planting ones with similar watering needs together means you avoid over- or under-watering.

You can plant in guilds to help promote the health and productivity of the different species.

Practice crop rotation. Try not to keep growing the same thing in the same year season after season, as this is not good for the soil (upon which your whole garden depends). Check this page for really easy-to-follow information on how to crop rotate.

We are wanting to create ecological systems, so letting some plants go to seed means they can self sow for next season. Also, even if there are ‘weeds’ growing… unless you are going to put something else where they are, consider just leaving them there because anything is better than bare soil.

Don’t leave soil bare, as it strips it of nutrients and life. The only time soil is bare in nature is after an ecological disaster… we don’t want this in our gardens.

Tania Ashman

If you want to start actually loving ‘weeds’, you might want to check out this post by Tenth Acre Farm. Or if you would still like to get rid of weeds, but without dangerous chemicals, try salt, vinegar, or boiling water.

Closing the loop

Nature is amazing in that it naturally composts everything biodegradable for us. By having a compost heap/bin/system in our garden it means we can actually collect the compost and obtain a yield. It is a great way of managing our kitchen and organic waste so that it does not end up in landfill, where it causes many environmental problems.

Animals in the garden – why and how?

Bees are a keystone species. Our food systems, environment, and life as we know it is directly dependent on bees. So keeping bees is great for the Earth. And you get honey and more! In fact, read 16 Reasons Why Beekeeping is Awesome for a comprehensive and highly convincing article about why beekeeping is amazing.

Or if you prefer melodic creations by Flo and Jean (with some adult language)…

Chickens and ducks, on the other hand, offer weeding and waste management services, as well as giving eggs and making (sometimes) very loving pets.

Tania says that no matter how we design our gardens, it is good to remember that they aren’t just for us. Gardens provide nature spaces for us but also other species. So when we are creating these spaces, how can we encourage other species to enjoy them?

Here are some ideas:

How are permaculture principles expressed in your garden?



Save Energy, Save Money, Save the Planet

Energy bills seem to be designed to be difficult to understand. That way, we just pay the bill and don’t ask too many questions! Understanding our energy bills are the first step to reducing them, and ringing your provider to ask them to talk you through it can be helpful. For New Zealand, Canstar Blue has prepared a resource to understanding energy tariffs and Powerswitch helps Kiwis find the energy provider that will be most cost effective for their household.

Below is a diagram from EECA that offers some useful first steps to reducing energy use.

Infographic with tips on saving energy in your home

Approximately a third of the energy a household uses is on heating (and/or cooling). To reduce your need to heat or cool your home, this post about Passive Solar Design and this post about making warm and dry homes can help.

Another third of our energy goes to providing us with hot water. To reduce this component of our energy use, check out Cool Ways To Save On Hot Water.

The final third of our energy use is associated with lighting and appliances.

The Lighting section of the EECA website offers great support for all things relating to lighting, including choosing the right bulbs, looking at down lights, and making the most of natural light.

EECA also have a brilliant section on Appliances, which looks at how to effectively use different appliances, and how to learn about how energy efficient they are.

Each programmable appliance (dishwasher, microwave, computer, etc) or appliance that uses a remote control (TV, stereo, etc) uses approximately $20 NZD a year in standby mode. That is for each appliance. Conducting a simple appliance audit (i.e. walk around your home and note how many electrical appliances you have, and also how many of those are on standby) can help identify sources of electricity inefficiency and wastage.

Tip: Stand up and walk around to do the audit, rather than sitting in one place and trying to do it from memory – it will be much more accurate this way!

And finally, if you want to learn how to monitor the electricity consumption of different appliances or your home in general, check out this video:

Remember: increasing energy efficiency and reducing waste is often about taking a lot of small steps, rather than a few larger ones. But the small steps accumulate into big effects!



Your Home: Cold and Damp, or Warm and Dry?

As someone who was raised in Germany and now lives in New Zealand, I’ve got to say I love this videoclip!

Most of New Zealand’s houses have poor thermal performance. In winter, most of them are cold and damp. The remainder are warm but expensive to run. Ian Mayes says the problem is most Kiwis have not lived in warm, dry homes; poor quality homes have been normalised. It is so common, that  parts of the Census is dedicated to asking whether your home is cold and whether these is mould growing in it.

Thermo-Hygrometer: Modell HM 16We should all have thermo hygrometers in our homes. If everyone had one, there would be riots as people realise they are paying so much for cold, damp, poorly performing homes.

Ian Mayes, 2018

Making our homes warmer

Our homes can be made warmer by heating them well and reducing heat loss.


There are different ways we can heat out homes, and EECA has created a great resource to compare the options, depending on the size and use of the space you want to heat.

Reducing Heat Loss

Tips on insulating and reducing heat loss can be found in this blog post but here’s a little bit of extra info about my favourite topic – windows!

A single pane of glass only has an R-value of between 0.15 and 0.19. Standard double glazing is around R 0.26 and the fanciest double glazing might reach R 0.6.

Because even the best double glazed windows still have low insulating abilities, curtaining is very important.

The 4 rules for good curtaining are:

  • Cover ALL glass. Windows. Doors. Funny glazed spots. The lot.
  • Always 2+ layers. It is the air around and between layers that insulates, rather than the material itself. A single layer doesn’t trap nearly as much heat as a double layer.
  • Energy saving curtains should close off airflow over the window glass
    Image from http://www.green-energy-efficient-homes.com/energy-saving-curtains.html

    Stop reverse convection currents. By having curtains touching the floor, or  pelmets, or both!

  • Good behaviour. Close curtains in the afternoon, to stop daytime heat escaping. Open curtains in the morning to allow heat in during the day.

Making our homes drier

Ventilation and moisture control can help us make homes drier.

Note: Ventilation is different to draughts in that the former is a chosen air exchange, while draughts are uncontrolled air exchanges and heat leakages.

We want less moisture in our homes because it makes them healthier and less prone to mould. Good ventilation combined with other moisture control practices can reduce relative humidity.

Once again, EECA have created a great resource for tackling dampness and reducing indoor moisture, which can be found here: www.energywise.govt.nz/at-home/dampness.


Three Waters

In Aotearoa New Zealand we like to divide water into three types:

  • Supply water (which can be potable or non-potable)
  • Storm water
  • Waste water

At least 60 million litres of water are abstracted from the Waikato River every day. This is treated to drinking water standard – at great financial cost. Approximately 500,000l will be drunk, so 59,500,000 litres of water made drinkable will not be consumed. One must ask whether this is a good use of resources and money!

rain harvest

What’s more, most homes have a water collection device on them: a roof and pipes! But we do not harvest it; we just send it straight to stormwater.

Stan Abbott is very knowledgeable about rainwater harvesting. His published materials can be useful for people wishing to learn more about rainwater harvesting. Some links to his work include:

Checklist for a good rainwater collecting system:

  • Clean roof (would you lick it?).
  • Clean and clear gutters.
  • Have slopes on the gutters, to avoid water stagnation.
  • Good tank (Plastic can leach. Concrete is self-healing, maintains a good pH and regulates temperature).
  • Minimise bends and curves in the piping if possible.
  • Have a ‘first flush diverter’, which diverts the first 200 (or so) litres of water, as these will contain the most impurities and sludge.
  • Put the tank out of the way, e.g. under garage or drive.
  • Try to get the water as clean as possible before it enters the tank, as then there is less you have to process afterwards.
  • Have a calming inlet (e.g. at the bottom of the tank) so that it does not splash and disturb water/sediment when it enters.
  • Have tap part the way up the tank, so as to avoid sediment. A 1 micron filter should be sufficient.
  • Install overflow at the bottom, as it will self-clean the water by sucking up sediment.


Managing stormwater

  • If you are harvesting rainwater, you are already storing/managing a lot of it
  • Avoid concrete and impenetrable surfaces, as these result in surface run off and erosion.
  • Only gather the water you will use – let the rest go into the ground.
  • Keep it on land as long as possible. Our modern stormwater management systems try to get stormwater into rivers as quickly as possible, leading to flooding and erosion. If we can slow the rate it enters waterways, the results are less extreme.
waikato river
Waikato River (image from Pixabay)

Managing ‘Waste’ water (‘waste’, because we should reconceptualise it to ‘nutrient-inriched-water)

It can be useful to separate black and grey water.

  • Grey water has high volumes and low toxicity
  • Black water has low volume and high levels of BODs and suspended solids

Blackwater can be sent to a worm farm for processing, before being sent to a reed bed. Grey water can go straight to reed bed.

waste water

Passive Solar Design – Building an Eco Home

Bigger Picture

In Aotearoa New Zealand, the majority of homes perform to a very poor standard. They are cold, damp, expensive to run, and making us sick. Each year there are 1600 deaths caused or contributed to by poor housing conditions.

New homes are usually also poorly designed; constructed to minimum Building Code standards.

‘The worst house you are legally allowed to build’

In addition, we are building these poor quality homes on some of the world’s best farming land. And not with diverse people and households in mind:

BRANZ is an independent and impartial research, testing, consulting and information company providing services and resources for the building industry – www.branz.co.nz. They have created a resource ‘Measuring our sustainability progress: Benchmarking New Zealand’s New Detached Residential Housing Stock’.

According to the World Health Organisation, the following temperatures lead to health implications:

  • Less than 16oC affects respiratory system
  • Less than 12oC affects cardiovascular system

(These values are for healthy adults. Children, elderly and people with illness or disabilities require at least 2 degrees warmer than these values.)

Living areas should not fall below 18 degrees and bedrooms should not fall below 16 degrees. Yet in New Zealand, 17.9% of living rooms are colder than 18 degrees during winter months (despite active heating), and 13.6% of bedrooms are colder than 12 degrees. In addition, 55% of our homes have visible mould.


This is making people sick, but we can do a lot to avoid it.

For example, it has been calculated that for every $1 you invest into insulating your home, you save $6-10 through direct cost savings (e.g. power bill) and indirect savings (e.g. lower medical bills, better school attendance and education, etc.).

When designing or retrofitting a home, it is important to consider the three factors:


If you try to cut on one, you will end up cutting on the others as well. We spend 55% of our lives in our home, so it is important to make sure we make it good.

pexels-photo-280221.jpegPassive Solar Design


There are 5 key principles to Passive Solar Design:

* Orientation

* Insulation

* Thermal Mass

* Airtightness

* Shading and venting

Orientation (inverse North and South if you are in the Northern Hemisphere!)

By getting the shape and size of the building right, and by facing it to Solar North, we are able to harvest ‘free heat’. This is because windows are energy loss and gain points. Some windows lose more than they gain. Too much glazing leads to too much heat loss. Most glazing should be to the North, with moderate amounts to the East and West. There should be as little glazing as possible to the South.


Surface area is also a factor to consider. The greater the surface area, the greater the heat loss; the more compact the shape, the less heat will be lost. We can think about this in terms of volume: perimeter ratio.

surface area

It is also important to be aware of corners, as they are difficult to insulate. Every external corner is a weak point in the structure, and the more corners, the greater the thermal weakness of the building.


energy use

There are 3 sources of heat in the home:

  1. Solar heat that is harvested
  2. Occupant load (heat generated through people living, e.g. bodies, appliances, etc.)
  3. Added heat (e.g. heat pump, etc.)

In New Zealand, our main aim (for most of the year) is to keep warm air inside. To do this, we need to insulate.

In an uninsulated house, heat can be expected to be lost in roughly the following ways:


Insulating different places (e.g. ceiling, underfloor, etc.), reduces the overall heat loss speed. However, it is important to think about the whole thermal envelope of the house. It does not make sense to just insulate one area of the house as the heat will then just escape somewhere else. It can be likened to being naked in the cold: it helps if you put on a jacket, but to get truly warm you will also need trousers, socks, hat, etc. 3 jackets but no trousers/socks/hat is not as useful as one of each.

When insulating, another important factor to consider are thermal bridges. Thermal bridges are materials that connect from the inside to the outside of the house. It is very easy to lose heat through thermal bridges. As with house design, edges are often the weak point of insulation, as well.

Curtaining windows is important because windows allow a lot of heat loss. There are 4 rules to good curtaining:

  • Curtain all glass (or cover it in some way if it is not possible to put a curtain on)
  • Have 2 (or more) layers
  • Stop convection currents through pelmets and having curtains to the floor
  • Good curtain behaviour – close curtains before heat is lost, around 4pm.

The diagram below illustrates the difference between a well and poorly performing curtain:


Shading and Venting (inverse North and South if you are in the Northern Hemisphere!)

shadingNorth facing side needs to have shading that is moveable and non-permanent, because it has to be able to let sun in in winter and shade from sun in summer à otherwise it will be too cold in winter and too hot in summer.

Deciduous trees are not the answer to shading in this climate, as even with no leaves they still shade at least 50% of light and heat.

The ways to keep the home cool in summer are:

  • Insulation (keeps home cool in summer, as well as warm in winter)
  • Shading
  • Ventilation


Generally, we over ventilate New Zealand homes, plus many homes are draughty. Draughts are uncontrolled air exchanges, while ventilation is when it is controlled (i.e. we have taken control over when and how the air change takes place).

We need to change air in the house every day to ensure good health. We want to do it quickly, not trickling (e.g. through draughts and by leaving a window open a little bit). By opening a window in one part of the house and another on the other side, we can create a path of air movement so that the air exchange is quick. This is especially good in winter, as fast air exchange means thermal mass will not cool down, and so the home will remain warm.

Thermal Mass


Further Resources

“Remember, we don’t have to do everything; we just need to do as much as we can. And if more of us do more, that will be enough; we don’t all have to do it all.” – Ian Mayes

Enough is Enough (2): Complementary and Alternative Economies

(Based on workshop by Dr Anna Casey-Cox, Dr Kyro Selket, and Dr Rose Black)

The Economy as an Iceberg 

With so much focus on the financial economy, it is easy to forget there is a diversity of economies, trade and exchange relationships operating in our communities.

The visible part of the iceberg (from Community Economics) represents the capitalist market-based economy, but there is so much of the iceberg we cannot see; so many other relationships and exchanges happening.

Here are some of the alternative economies and complementary economies that exist:



Reciprocity is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.

In cultural anthropology, reciprocity refers to the non-market exchange of goods or labour ranging from direct barter (immediate exchange) to forms of gift exchange where a return is eventually expected (delayed exchange) as in the exchange of birthday gifts.


Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward is an economy/interaction where if one is the recipient of a good or service, instead of ‘returning the favour’, a good or service is repaid to someone else.

There are many ways to get involved in local, national and international Pay If Forward initiatives.


Timebanking is similar to Pay It Forward economics in that you receive a good or service from someone without the exchange of money, but you do not necessarily return the exchange with them. Timebanking is an example of a complementary currency, where the currency is time instead of money.

Local Currency

Another example of complementary currency is a local currency, which is currency that can be spent in a particular geographical locality or at participating organisations.

A local currency acts as a complementary currency to a national currency, rather than replacing it, and aims to encourage spending within a local community, especially with locally owned businesses.


There are a growing number of local currencies. Some that are receiving a lot of attention for their success are the Brixton Pound and the Totnes Pound, though there are many, many more.

Collaborative Consumption and the Sharing Economy

Also known as shareconomy,collaborative economy, or peer economy, a common academic definition of the term refers to a hybrid market model (in between renting and gift giving) of peer-to-peer exchange.


Collaborative consumption is an arrangement where participants share access to products or services, rather than having individual ownership.


Cooperatives are enterprises owned and governed by people that have voluntarily united to meet their needs and aspirations. CO-OP offers useful information to understanding what cooperatives are and how they work.


Improving The Current System

As well as incorporating alternative economies into our current system (and recognising where they are already incorporated), there are also ways that we can improve on the business-as-usual approach: even if we want to operate in the capitalist, conventional system, we can improve on it by embedding our values in the way we do business.

Some examples of how we can do this are by being committed to the welfare of the people we work with (e.g. by paying a Living Wage or ensuring Fair Trade standards are upheld), the communities we work in, and the local and global environment.

Social Enterprises are an emerging type of business that work towards social value (like traditional charities) and financial value (like traditional businesses): they are the place where not-for-profit meets for-profit to for not-just-for-profit organisations.

social enterprise.png
Image from Ākina Foundation, who support social enterprises across Aotearoa New Zealand


Enough is Enough: Growth, GDP and Alternative Measures of Progress

(Based on a workshop delivered by Dr Maxine Campbell and Dr Beat Huser)

Introducing Capitalism, Neoliberalism, and the Free Market

Capitalism is an economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profits. Some of the key characteristics of capitalism include the accumulation of wealth and capital, wage labour, a price system, and competitive markets. It is the economic system that has come to dominate Western countries.

Image result for free market
Image from http://bloggingblue.com/2012/04/free-market-capitalism/

The idea of a free market has become almost inextricably interwoven into the ideals of the capitalist economic system. A free market is an idealised system in which the prices for goods and services are determined by the open market and consumers. The desire is that the forces of supply and demand are free from any intervention by a government, price-setting monopoly, or other authority. However, unfortunately without some universal values towards the environment and human welfare, it has become clear that free market economics can become abusive to people and planet.

Neoliberalism is the political ideology associated with free market capitalism. It calls for a laissez faire approach to the economy (i.e. let it do its own thing without regulation) that celebrates markets, profits, and risk-taking.

Many (particularly but not exclusively the political left) argue that some or all of these concepts are resulting in widening inequality between rich and poor, and are fueling practices that lead to environmental destruction; as their largely unregulated practices mean profits are internalised, but negative environmental and social consequences are externalised and considered beyond their scope of responsibility.

Put simply, if you focus on growth, competition and profit maximisation, you place value on them. Market capitalism and neoliberalism put these things in front of everything else, including the welfare of people and the planet.

Image result for capitalism is the astounding belief

Why neoliberalism, capitalism and the free market clash with environmental and social ethics is because if you are in a closed system (like, say, a planet), because there are a fixed number of resources within the system, anything you gain is at the expense of someone else.

We need to think about how we can be happy with this much:

enough 2.png

Instead of this much:


Maxine Campbell

Many people, across the political spectrum, note that in all of history there has been an unequal distribution of power and wealth. However, that does not mean it must or will always be that way: power and wealth is a socially-constructed, man-made feature of our species. And it can be changed.

Image result for sorry for the inconvenience occupy
Image from Image from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/occupy-wall-street-anti-capitalist-protesters-demonstrate-wall-st-corporate-greed-gallery-1.963450

Economic Growth, Gross Domestic Product, and interesting alternatives

The videoclip below offers an easy-to-follow description of economic growth and GDP.

Most countries use GDP as the only or most important indicator of success. There is no denying, GDP is a good indicator of economic activity.

However, it is NOT a good measure of progress and well-being, of non-market items (e.g. volunteering). Also, it values all dollars equally, regardless of societal consequences; a dollar spent on health is valued the same as a dollar spent on weapons production.

‘We cut down green spaces and build mental health facilities, but the green spaces were mental health facilities to start with’

Beat Huser

Ironically, the developer of the GDP, Simon Kuznets, warned not to use GDP as a measure of welfare or as a sole measure of success – but that is exactly what most countries have done.

Image result for what is the genuine progress indicatorGenuine Progress Indicator – GPI

Unlike GDP, the Genuine Progress Indicator incorporates aspects of the non-market economy, separates welfare-enhancing benefits from welfare-detracting costs, corrects for the unequal distribution of income, and distinguishes between sustainable and unsustainable forms of consumption.

The GPI is still based on economic activity, but it is more inclusive than the GDP.

There is a strong case for measuring progress with indicators beyond just economic growth, and there are many examples that have been developed, including some which are used around the world, today.

Sustainable Economic Development Assessment

Gross National Happiness – a case study in Bhutan


Urban Biodiversity – Fairfield Project

Urban areas are not only the living areas of humans, but flora and fauna, as well.

Bruce Clarkson, University of Waikato

No automatic alt text available.
The Fairfield Project

Urban design is not just about designing for humans, but for all species. For us, green spaces provide areas for recreation, physical and spiritual well-being, mental health, and more. For other species, they can provide food, safety, and temporary or permanent shelter.

The Fairfield Project is an amazing project taking place in one of Hamilton’s suburbs.

With a population that is youthful, ethnically diverse, and sometimes financially constrained, the Fairfield and Enderley communities decided that there needed to be a local area that encouraged people -especially young people- to be out in nature and involved in their neighbourhood. And so The Fairfield Project came about.

Situated behind Fairfield college was a large, under-used grass paddock, bordered by a neglected gully filled with some native plants and all the invasive weed species one could think of.

fairfield project
Urban green spaces are the lungs of a city

In an effort to stop it being sold to private developers who would build houses on it, the community came together to transform the area into a hub of learning, ecological restoration, and community capacity building.

Now, work has begun to restore the gully, and replant some of the grassy areas so it can return to native bush. An organic community garden has also been established in the north east corner; with 6-8 small allotment plots, and a large kumara area maintained by the local Tongan community. There are plans to develop a living classroom, a plant nursery, an edible orchard, a rongoā garden, and more.

School and other education groups visit, care for and learn in the space, and it is hoped that as the project continues, more an more community groups will use and enjoy the space.

Lynette Rogers, co-ordinator of The Fairfield Project, says the decision-making is always a participatory process and council is sought from mana whenua and local kaumātua.

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Image from https://www.facebook.com/thefairfieldproject/photos/a.607228189346835.1073741833.545225375547117/1420152774721035/?type=3&theater

Further resources:

Urban Design: People, Places, Spaces


Today, over half the world’s population live in urban areas. By 2050, it may be as high as 80%. Despite cities only occupying approximately 2% of the world’s land surface, they account for approximately 70% of global CO2 emissions, and this is only going to increase in the future.

In addition, spaces are designed for economic growth, rather than people: parks, playgrounds, community centres and dwellings are pushed out of the centre – to make space for businesses and parking lots.

(Full movie available here: https://vimeo.com/162029805)

Image: AcidFlask via flickr.  CC license: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Sustainable Cities Net http://www.sustainablecitiesnet.com/sustainable-cities/future-biodiversity-the-role-of-cities-and-local-authorities/

So how can we ensure cities and city developments keep people at their heart? And how can we make sure we look after the earth, and the other fauna and flora we share urban spaces with?


A Good Use Of Space…

Until recently, many urban designers were not aware that the way a city is designed determines how people behave, interact, and enjoy it.

A well designed city (or area within a city) will look different to everyone, but some key features are:

Elliott St has become more liveable thanks to Auckland Council's laneways programme.
Elliott St, Auckland  https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/better-business/78403950/laneways-inject-liveability-back-into-new-zealand-cities
  • Foster interconnectedness: there are many opportunities for people to meet and interact. Cul-de-sacs are great for dwellings as they do not have any through traffic, and are often relatively safe. Pedestrianisation of areas has also been found to radically change how people use a space; with more pedestianised areas resulting in more people coming out, walking, and socialising.
  • Foster well-being: there are opportunities to connect to nature, education centres, community services, and these are accessible to all.
  • pexels-photo-878000.jpeg
    Fostering interconnectedness and well-being.

    Working within the bioregion: ideally, urban and rural settlements within a bioregion will be self-sufficient, or almost. Bioregional self-sufficiency means the area will be more environmentally sustainable (for example it may have lower emissions, as less needs to be imported), it will have a vibrant local economy (as people will be supporting their local initiatives and businesses), and there will be a stronger identity (as each bioregion develops to suit its local area).

  • Make the most of available resources: good design turns ‘waste’ into resources, utilises horizontal and vertical space, and means features have more than one use (e.g. a living wall can produce food, help purify air, and provide insulation to buildings). Even space itself can be a resource; if buildings are arranged randomly, a lot of ‘lost space’ can exist, but with some care, space that can be used positively is found.


Aiming For Utopia…

After the industrial revolution, many cities became progressively less liveable; congestion, pollution, and unreliable supplies of resources meant many people suffered or lived in poor conditions.

There have been many ideas and movements to try and find solutions. Some have been somewhat successful, and others have resulted in additional challenges. One thing that has been discovered, is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution: to be effective, ideas need to be tailored to the local social, cultural, political and environmental circumstances.


Ebenezer Howard is the founder of the garden city movement. As well as the links, this video offers an informative summary:

Though he and many others have attempted to solve city problems, those that forget to put people at the heart of design may find their ideas less successful.

For example, many past and present city planners like to zone the area they are working in. Zoning is the process of diving land into different zones and encouraging certain activities within each. While this may seem rational and make a place appear more organised, it is likely to be less practical for the people that live, work and play in the city.

In mixed use spaces, everything is much closer and convenient. Zoning can be a result of a disconnect between urban design and the people that use the space.


Image result for waimarama papakainga
Waimārama opens first papa kāinga

Bringing Back Papakāinga…


When New Zealand was colonised, traditional Māori settlements experienced extreme disruption and destruction. With traditional lifestyles threatened, many Māori migrated to growing cities and were made to live in culturally inappropriate houses.

Fortunately, there is now a growing movement to bring back papakāinga.



Introducing Jane Jacobs…

Jane Jacobs.jpg

Jane Jacobs was a writer and activist who was greatly influential in urban studies, sociology, and economics.

Her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities became one of the most influential American texts about the inner working and failings of cities, inspiring generations of urban planners and activists – Project for Public Spaces.

jane jacobs
From Project for Public Spaces

For example, in many cities, 90% of road space is for cars and 10% for people. However, 90% of the street population is pedestrians. So, it is time to stop catering for cars and start catering for people.

City Nature and Nature in Cities…

Ecosystem services are the services an ecosystem provides us for free, and include resources (e.g. raw materials), regulating services (e.g. air quality and pollution management), habitat services (e.g. maintenance of genetic diversity), and cultural services (e.g. tourism).

A healthy, sustainable city values ecosystem services and encourages biodiversity.

Urban areas are not only the living areas of humans, but fauna and flora as well.

– Bruce Clarkson, University of Waikato