Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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Extreme Simplicity – Nyerges & Nyerges (2002)

**Extreme Simplicity – homesteading in the city. Christopher and Dolores Nyerges (2002)**


It is estimated that by 2015 over 90% of the world population will be living in cities. Urban dwellers can sometimes have the ideas that in order to do permaculture ‘properly’ you need to buy your acre in the country. It is the cities, however, where the real challenge is. If we are to really practice Bill Mollison’s exhortation to ‘grow your food no further from the back door than you could throw the kitchen sink’, then we have to look at strategies for urban self reliance as a priority. This excellent new book from the USA is about practicing a simple lifestyle in an urban context.

The book covers many aspects of a city dwellers lifestyle, food, water, energy, recycling and economics. It offers solutions based on the authors experience, which is considerable. The depth of their thinking shines through, their section on ways of reusing washing up water is very interesting, as are their discussions as to whether or not to compost dog faeces (an abundant urban resource after all!). Whether they are talking about their choices of herbs and fruit trees, a wealth of ideas for recycling old telephone directories, or discussing various designs for solar cookers, the key to their approach is a philosophy of ‘enough’, of living simply. This book is, in effect, a practical companion to Anne B Ryan’s excellent ‘Balancing Your Life’ (reviewed in Walnut Books Update December 2002).

Although its context is American, it still has much of relevance to us. Its collection of ideas for the reinvention of city life is clear and accessible. Their approach doesn’t have the integrated design approach of permaculture, although it shares many of its elements. Indeed, permaculture doesn’t get a single mention in the book, leaving what is, for me, a yawning chasm in the index between perennials and Peruvian Mint in the index. They prefer the term ‘integral gardening’, an approach they discuss in some detail but which seems to focus more on technique than on design. The book does, very occasionally, veer a bit far into American survivalist territory, their idea for recycling old copies of the Golden Pages by using them for shooting practice may not go down too well in the back gardens of Cork or Limerick, but taken as whole, this book has much to offer to Irish city dwellers as both a practical and philosophical guide to practicing a simpler, more ecological lifestyle, and enjoying the improved quality of life this will bring. The ideal companion to this is ‘The Edible Container Garden’, which is full of the plant-by-plant practical gardening in small spaces information this books doesn’t include.