Self-Sufficiency and the City

The Waterpod (Photo by Michael Nagle for the NYT)
The Waterpod (Photo by Michael Nagle for the NYT)

Living on a sustainable floating barge for the entire summer sounds like a complete nightmare to me as I tend to require the finer things in life like flushing toilets, air conditioning, and the occasional burger.  However, a leisurely visit to observe a bunch of other people doing exactly that?  Well that sounds like a dreamy way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Currently docked near Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Waterpod is an eco-artistic experiment in sustainable living that was launched in June by photographer Mary Mattingly with the help of funders both public and private.  A cluster of white domes made from recycled materials like old billboards provides shelter for the people and plants living on-board, and all power is generated through solar panels and bike-pedaling.  Nourishment comes from what they grow themselves, and the freshwater supply is collected rainwater.  A few egg-laying hens are the only source of non-vegetable food they have on the Pod so it’s definitely no picnic for the carnivorously inclined.

The recent NYTimes piece by Melena Ryzik provides a more complete picture of what the past couple of months has been like for the rotating cast of pod-dwellers, as well as some interesting trend commentary:

Situated at the intersection of recession escapism, do-it-yourself culture and ecomania, the Pod neatly sums up many current lifestyle trends — the compost container gets a lot of “this is how we should do it at home” comments from visitors. “It’s navigating our relationship with the environment in a capacity that doesn’t occur when you live in the city,” said Matthew Aaron Goodman, 34, a novelist from Brooklyn who visited the Waterpod when it was docked at Governors Island in July. “The advancement of technology has limited our ability to know what we can do with our own capacity. Something like this reminds us.”

While few of us would be willing to live on a solar-powered barge anytime soon, it’s undeniable that an increasing number of urbanites are finding ways to be more self-sufficient.  Even if you’re not raising chickens in the back of your apartment à la the current craze, you’re probably behaving a lot more eco-frugally than before and discovering that there are a lot of things you can do without.  The convergence of the forces of recession and environmental urgency has resulted in a trend towards conscious consumption.  Even if it’s led more by a concern for the wallet rather than concern for the planet, what matters is that more people today are actually stopping to think before they consume.  Why pay for a cab when you can bike or take the subway? Why own a car when you can share ZipCars with your community?  Why buy herbs when you can grow them on your fire escape?  Why buy a new pair of shoes when you can resole the ones you have?  (Unless of course, the purchase of a pair means someone else who really needs them also gets a pair.)  You get the point.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the vast majority of us still love to have things as much as ever, but as the recent popularity of farmer’s markets, flea markets and crafts fairs suggest, I think the types of things we’re buying are shifting.  We care a lot more about where the stuff is coming from and where the stuff is going…not just from an environmental point of view but from that of desiring human connections.  This shift is pretty fundamental and I don’t think it’s just because that happens to be the trendy thing to do right now.

In any case, if you’re in NYC this Sunday you can head over to the Waterpod to experience all sorts of urban gardening fun and games like a lesson in hydroponics by Bushwick’s very own Boswyck Farms, and a DIY window farm building workshop by The Window Farms Project.  God, I love this city.


About suite2046

Trend Analysis & Applied Futurism. London / NY / Tokyo.

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