Regenerative Suburban Dreaming

Living in suburbia is just about as far from my envisioned dream life as one could get, but since we’re here, I figure one might as well envision what it could¬†look¬†like, done regeneratively.

Presuming that the housing layout doesn’t change all that much — we just remove every other house. So now each home has the equivalent of a city lot on which to build a home garden plot and a little private area if they like; alternatively, if it was planned, empty lots could be made adjacent to each other so that two homes effectively share a double lot.

Amend that, too: rather than a double-row, each row of houses is backed by a Zone 2 where fruit trees, longer-season vegetables, and poultry might be run for egg production. Greywater systems provide irrigation to trees and gardens, and stormwater is collected into tanks (minimum 5k per house) and catchment basins. In Southern California, rows of banana circles interspersed with other crops or animal enclosures would work well.

Every suburban development has a park – we need our parks – and these are planted out with trees to 60-70% shade cover, the amount that, from an evolutionary standpoint, we’re most comfortable under. Sloped areas drain into raingarden and rock-lined catchments; small, short terraces provide spaces for seating areas amongst herbaceous shrubs (lavender, sages, buckwheat, rosemary) that are trimmed but don’t really need regular harvesting as fruit trees do. Amongst the trees and small planted areas, livestock are managed: goats to browse amongst the shrubs and keep dry woody stems trimmed back (see Provenza, Nourishment and his research on goats and blackbrush), sheep keep the mixed cover crop lawns trimmed neatly short. In these park areas, flocks are primarily ewes with young lambs, providing ample opportunity for kids to witness lambing, while also interacting with the livestock as they grow and manage the parkscape. Bridle paths provide easy access between neighbourhoods, and compost bins at each park provide easy dumping grounds for pet and horse waste, lunch leavings, and so forth. Tree prunings are dropped for the sheep and goats in their night corrals while more herbaceous plants can be collected to feed meat rabbits closer to homes. Grazing lawns are interspersed with fruit trees of various species: loquat, guava, olive, sapote, medlar and mulberry are easy choices, not for their commercial harvest potential but rather for their ‘wandering by, grab a handful’ potential. Shed roofs provide gathering spaces and rainwater collection into 10k+ tanks, which can be used for livestock water and irrigation.

Further out, both on the borders of larger parks and as a gradation into the Wildlands Urban Interface, fruit trees are arranged into more commercially-oriented orchards: clumped by harvest time and equipment, designed for good access and production. Weed rows, shelterbelts and cover crops are provided for pest management and pollinator habitat. This would be Zone 3.

Into Zone 4, shepherds are tasked with managing the larger flocks of older lambs and sheep, goats, and possibly (depending on ecological opportunities available) cattle. Younger, apprentice herders have the opportunity to practice and hone their skills under supervision before moving out further into rangeland and wildlands, where more experienced shepherds actively manage. Within the parks are trailheads of numerous routes into the true wildlands, allowing easy access to trail experiences and also, limiting vehicle access into wildlands for the sake of recreation.

So on a given day, young families with babies could head out to the park, gather under the shade of a flowering loquat while snacking on the last handfuls of medlars as they go out of season. The more ambitious might head out on a 3-mile loop that takes them through an olive orchard where a flock of 40 market lambs are being grazed by a highschool student keen to learn shepherding skills; then past a small vineyard where another small flock of sheep — a heritage breed being trialled for a niche market — is being tended by an older man who doesn’t have the stamina to herd ‘out in the hills’ any more. Beyond the vineyard, the small family could hike through a short canyon that is rapidly greening, cleared of old brush by the herd of Toggenburg dairy goats that was grazed through the week before and is now returned to the park to begin kidding. They hike along a short crest, looking over the green valley to the east where distantly, two herders on horseback work a couple of border collies on a herd of some three hundred sheep. To the west, they look down over the suburban community of which they are a part, and descend back towards the park, overlooking as they come down the ridge the arches of the poultry enclosures behind the homes, hearing the contended sounds of horses in the pasture park, and the happy music of laughter and conversation drifting up from numerous directions.

It’s utopian, sure, and incredibly easy to envision. Now only to make it happen.

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