"One way to envision a sustainable city (or world) is to imagine a sustainable household, then imagine more than one. Imagining a sustainable household, one dependent on no non-sustainable imports, is, however, merely a thing of the mind. Having a vision is a starting point, but of more interest would be creating such a household and living in it."
A small one bedroom, one bath 576 sq. ft. house, block built in 1946 in southern part of Tucson on commercial property (7405 sq ft, 0.17 acre) with shop (SolTech Designs) on front half of lot divided by chain link fence. The back half is "Grammy's Farm" that includes the transitional urban micro-farm, with areas for humans, plants (greenhouse, planters, trellis, garden) and small stock (rabbits, Guinea pigs, chickens, ducks, aviary, Nigerian dwarf milk goats) as permitted on commercially zoned property. A city bus stop is nearby providing access to the big city for those without a car, with a neighborhood market across the street from the tire shop.
The house is near turn-key furnished (bring your own clothes) and is conventional grid-tie with natural gas, sewer, water, garbage service, and as much coal generated electric as you want to pay for. It has a gas water heater and central heating and AC with the usual washer/dryer, refrigerator, gas stove, microwave and other electric appliances—the putative essentials.
Alternatives are also available. In the realm of possible futures, homes may not have natural gas/propane, city water, coal/gas/nuclear power generated electric, cable, sewer, garbage service... In the future, an ability to live off-grid in the city may be adaptive.
Transition House allows those willing to transition to experimentally live a low-power life of "enough" that is alternative to the current obligatory high-power life. Can those habituated to excess from infancy...can products of the fossil-fueled consumer society transition (descend) to a prosperous life of enough? Transition House is to be a laboratory for finding out. Inquiring minds want to know, both those living in the house and those wanting to know what issues the affluent may have transitioning to a lower consumption way of life. Specifically, what level of energy usage is needed to live a prosperous life of enough that meets actual needs as distinct from wants that decades of advertising has convinced people are needs?
Each inhabitant can live the consume-as-usual life of the average Tucsonian (transition = 0). Some, on the thin edge of the Bell curve, could live an off-grid, fossil-fuel-free life while consuming only what is actually needed and producing what others actually need in exchange for what is consumed (transition = 100%). Given a full range of options, how far can the average consumer, assuming only some degree of motivation, transition to a sustainable "green" life? Transition House measures use of city water and rain water, coal fired electric and solar electric, natural gas and biomass wood gas for cooking when solar cooking plans are rained on, and so on.
If it is too hot in the kitchen, a resident could adapt (transition) by sweating more and drinking more water than normal, or turn the central AC on, set it on 70 degrees, and not think about the unsustainable consequences. Alternative might be to use an evaporative cooler that uses much less city electric but uses water, 30 gallons a day of CAP water pumped 300 miles from Lake Havasu or such rain water as may have been harvested and stored on site. A creative adaptation might be to take most or all clothes off, use a small fan powered by solar electric, and have a spray bottle (several ounces of rain water) handy while working in the kitchen, thereby keeping cool (enough) while using a fraction of the electric/water of a swamp cooler. Or do as Tucsonians did 200 years ago and work/cook in the outdoor kitchen in the summer to not overheat the home. Other possibilities include cooling only the bedroom, using a window AC and/or swamp cooler instead of whole house cooling, and staying in the bedroom to escape the heat of the day as needed. Alternative might be to walk to the public library that is air conditioned. The efficiency of a swamp cooler could be increased using an earth tube to precool the dry air coming in.... Transition House can be used to test and develop appropriate technology.
Transition House has light switches that turn on conventional LED bulbs to flood an area with light. Flipping a switch, however, is optional. The off-grid alternative is to use small LED battery powered personal lights that could be pointed where needed (e.g. a headlamp such that where you look, as you move about, the only area lit up is where you are looking for only as long as you are looking). Rechargeable AAA and AA batteries would be recharged when the sun shined. Those having a cell phone could recharge it using solar.
Solar power is alternative, but not on the same scale of the coal produced high-power we have been oversold on. If you envision a solar powered future, one is possible, but the question is can everyone on the planet have 30Wh/day of solar power for personal use? Maybe 90Wh/day? Perhaps elites (or elderly or disabled with special needs) might have 300Wh/day for personal use, but 5,000Wh/day (average US consumer) x 7.4 billion (or whatever future population is) is not a reality-based vision of the future. Humans may be able to live a good life of enough while consuming less. This guess needs to be tested.
The EYR (emergy yield ratio--measure of real wealth/"value") of solar is much lower than for fossil fuels. Transitioning means learning that we don't need to live the high-power life, but may hope to have real needs (as opposed to manufactured wants) met by present and future low-power technology. The problem isn't one of providing for all consumer demands (on demand) using "alternative" power as there is no alternative to the amount of fossil fuel energy currently powering the industrial society. The problem is one of changing behavior/expectations to shape human behavior to align with available planetary resources. Current rates of consumption cannot be maintained. This is a fact, not an opinion. Transitioning now is an option.
The vision of the "sustainable" life where everything you want, whenever you may want it, from electric can opener to the Tesla in the air conditioned garage with electric garage door opener that also automatically unplugs the Tesla when opened--all powered by a few solar panels on the roof to eliminate the not so wonderfully green fossil fuel energy, is questionable (as is images of vast solar arrays next to the 20 pumping stations needed to keep CAP water coming....). Elites may always be able to live (and think) in this manner, but commoners may not. Commoners may become more common. By global standards, 99% of Americans are the 1% of elite consumers, 4.6% of human population consuming a quarter of planetary resources. In the US, 0.08% of households live on less than $10/day. In Africa 95% of households consume less than $10 worth of stuff a day. Globally 1.5% of households get by on more than $200/day. Of those 53 million, 58% live in the USA. Those who live like Americans, whether they live the elite life in Africa or Sweden, are the ones who need to transition, and the reality-based vision notes that sustainable means lessable. As E.O. Wilsion noted, if humanity wants to (thinks they have to) live like Americans, world population would have to be limited/reduced to maybe 250 million, a 30-fold reduction. Alternative is to reduce consumption. The claim that living on less than Americans have been oversold on can still be a prosperous and productive life needs to be tested and detailed.
By monitoring usage, inhabitants will receive feedback as to how they are doing. Moderation can be reinforced, and doing so would be alternative to incessantly reinforcing excess per business-as-usual. The average Tucsonian uses 130 gallons of water a day. Turning the shower/bath on whenever, adjusting so the water is not too hot, and "luxuriating" in it as long as you want is an option (we have been told we deserve). Learning over time how much water is needed to bathe (intermittent low pressure showering or sponge bath), putting precious rainfall, nature's gift, in a black bag, hanging in the sun until it is hot enough, hanging the bag next to the CAP shower nozzle, and bathing to satisfaction using a few quarts of water, is an alternative learned behavior. Alternatives will also exist to tossing clothes in the electric washer then electric dryer whenever doing so seems "needed." How far "normal" people can transition has to be determined by testing in an environment that provides alternatives. Welcome to Transition House.
Transition House will be availble for others to try. Occupancy may be by the week or year. The facilities are currently not being funded, so something like "rent" will be required, perhaps along the lines of "extended stay" rates, but a sliding scale will be factored in, so all interested should apply as the "high bidder" may not be the chosen one. Having interest and motivation counts. Those wanting a place to live, perhaps just a tent on the shop side, who also want to help with construction/testing, may find a free place in the city to live for the asking. Transition House is not a money making scheme, though at present, some consideration of the money thing is involved. We own the propery, as in it is paid for, and we are limited to a $852/month social security check, which slows the transition down a bit.
Projects needing interest and funding: