Thursday, January 17, 2008
Bringing Back the Aesthetic of the Useful
One of the most common objections I hear to implementing more energy-efficient solutions in our everyday lives is that people don't like the way they look. Standing at a solar panel display at a home and garden show, you could hear people talking with one another about how solar hot water would be nice, but who wants such an ugly thing on their roof? Neighborhoods in many parts of the USA have CC&Rs prohibiting hanging out one's laundry, and vegetable gardens in the front yard are equally forbidden. Right now, our country is caught in the last thralls of the Aesthetic of the Useless.
This aesthetic can be seen everywhere from the starving fashion models on the cover of magazines (in countries where food is scarce, thinness is hardly to be valued - only in a culture of plenty can we exalt in emaciation) to the sterility of the bark mulched and shrubbed subdivision landscapes, devoid of any biological diversity let alone food-growing potential. I think a sea change is blowing in, but people will hold tightly to their last public displays of uselessness.
Myself, I'm finding that the more I live around people who value utility, the more aesthetic I see in this kind of lifestyle. After all, how many fabulous photographs of clothes dryers do you see? Meanwhile, Flickr has entire groups dedicated to beautiful pictures of nothing more than drying laundry.
In the caption for this stunning image, the photographer tells us that "Nearly everyone in Barcelona, if not all of Spain, hangs their clothes to dry from balconies and roof tops."
Meanwhile, photographer g. s. george shows us an image of well-utilized urban space in Venice:
And homeowners Stan and Priti Cox in Salina, Kansas have transformed their suburban front lawn into an edible paradise, paving the way for other homeowners to embrace the aesthetic of the practical in this Edible Estates project. In returning to more sustainable lifestyles, we might shy away from making such bold moves, worrying about "what the neighbors will think". I've had people ask me whether my neighbors mind my chickens roaming the front yard, or my wintertime laundry solution of hanging clothes in the open doors of our south-facing garage. But often, it just takes a few "early adopters" to turn the tide in the other direction from where things are currently headed. So go ahead, hang that laundry, grow those tomatoes!