Survival, self-sufficiency and sustainability

By Janette Corcoran

The tap’s run dry, the shops have been ransacked and there is no power – not quite the vision of a thriving vertical lifestyle. 

Recently an article about staying alive in the city caught my attention. Believing this to be about liveability and wellbeing, I was intrigued to find it was from the “prepping brigade”, that group of people dedicated to preparing (hence the name) for an impending doomsday. 

In a nutshell, they were not overly positive about the prospects of those of us who dwell in high density areas and, essentially, their advice boiled down to how to best escape.  

This led me to wondering what other schools of thought had strong beliefs about our impending future and what insight they could offer us of the vertical villages. And in view of Melbourne’s love of food, I thought it might be informative to see what each had to say about ensuring we did not go hungry. 

 A quick scan threw up three popular schools of thought.

The first group I termed the “survivalists”. They share the prepper’s focus on impending emergencies but their disasters are more Hurricane Katrina than the apocalypse. At heart, survivalists are scenario planners and approach their future by identifying the most likely disasters for their circumstances – fire, famine, fake news. 

For example, in Melbourne, a power outage during an extreme heatwave coupled with a fire outbreak is not the stuff of pure imagination. A vertical village survivalist would plan in detail their reactions which, as a rule, includes specialist gear (such as balcony ladders) which they always have handy and ready to “go-go-go!”. 

But our question is, post-disaster, what about the food? Perhaps unsurprisingly, a siege mentality was evident in their suggested strategies which included “hiding food in plain sight” (ie camouflaged) and “sprouting”. This refers to having on-hand a supply of sprouting seeds and grains which have great nutritional value and can yield crops year-round without taking up space. Interestingly, this group has partnered with Amazon to offer a supply of “survival seeds” - which could actually be a useful resource to have on hand. 

 My second group is all about self-sufficiency and is primarily interested in being independent and/or less reliant upon others, especially corporates and government.  There are different motivations for those advocating a self-sufficient vertical lifestyle.  

For example, some recommend self-sufficiency for economic reasons and focus primarily on ways of reducing costs. They grow food because (and only if) it is cheaper.   In contrast, there are those who want to take-back-control and be more self-determining (ie not tied into “things”).  

However, regardless of the motivation, the focus of the self-sufficiency group is less on dire events and more upon lifestyle. 

As for food, growing in popularity is urban livestock, such as rooftop rabbits and chickens (avoiding roosters!). In Paris, for instance, a 900 sqm rooftop farm garden is home to an array of chickens and bees. This is part of a project by Facteur Graine (Seed Postman) and their advice to vertical dwellers is that much attention needs to be given to establishing protocols and group agreements before any common area is commandeered for livestock (eg what will happen in a heatwave?) 

My final group is focused upon sustainability and, at first viewing, they appear to have much in common with the self-sufficiency brigade. 

They differ, however, in that their motivation is primarily environmental and their objective is to maintain balance within their ecosystems and avoid resource depletion. In regard to food, their focus is upon circular systems that ensure all resources are either returned to nature or reused within the system.  

In terms of our vertical villages, popular elements include the much-cited worm farms that use resident food scraps to create liquid “gold” (ie fertiliser) which then can be used on rooftop gardens.

There are emerging, however, more radical acts of sustainability such as guerrilla farming. This is when someone cultivates an area they do not own, such as a roadside verge. In terms of vertical villages, underutilised common property is a target. 

Forgotten areas under stairways and those oddly shaped spaces in car parks are being taken over by bespoke fungi farms and micro-composts.   While by definition, guerrilla farming is not an owners’ corporation-sanctioned activity, the point is that these innovative micro-projects could deliver some real insights for our vertical villages and, perhaps, could be subsequently scaled for greater participation. 

Maybe this vertical-circular system is something Costa could help us bring into to our high-rise lifestyle? 

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