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Living City

The blog Wall Street 24/7 re cently listed Albany as one of America’s Ten Dead Cities, along with Detroit, Flint, Cleveland, and Atlantic City. I don’t mention this because I’m going to bother spending an entire column explaining why this is stupid. Even if you can presume to label a city “dead” based on stats about shrinking population or losing jobs (which is a questionable and questionably useful proposition in and of itself), only a myopic New Yorker with a bone to pick with “Albany” as in state government and who can barely think of more than 10 cities outside of New York could consider Albany to belong on that list. Above Youngstown, Camden, Utica, Gary, Schenectady? Please. I’ve seen the data. Admit your biases and don’t pretend to be basing this on “analysis” of anything. (For the record, I wouldn’t consider any of those cities “dead,” either, but they’re a lot more hard up than Albany.)

It’s so absurd as to not even warrant being insulted about.

So instead, let’s talk about some of the great stuff being done with our not overcrowded or overpriced urban land.

On Saturday I biked down with my daughter to the South End where Grand Street Community Arts and the Capital District Permaculture Guild are cleaning up two vacant lots on Catherine Street. They are planting an urban meadow on one side with plants that will remediate the soil, pulling up toxins, until it is safe to plant vegetables in. On the other side will be beds of native plants, a shelter with benches and a rainwater catchment system, and sculpture by Albany High students. My kid “helped” paint rock markers for the native beds and I managed to clear less garbage than I might have liked before I had to leave again, but it made me extraordinarily happy to be there and see that in progress.

If my college self, who spent years battling with the people from whom I was getting an environmental studies degree about the relevance of social justice and urban issues to the environmental movement, had gotten a sneak peek at this kind of merging of those worlds, those expertises, those groups of people, I think I would have felt a lot more hopeful about the future.

If at the same time I’d been given a prophetic vision about Austin’s Rhizome Collective, some of whose founders are now starting the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center here in Albany, I probably would have moved to Texas just so I could be there when it started.

But now I get to be here when Radix starts, and so do you.

Stacy Pettigrew and Scott Kellogg, authors of The Toolbox for Sustainable City Living, have purchased a .6 acre lot at the corner of Grand and Warren, at the edge between the Mansion neighborhood and the South End, and they have a variance to use it. Among other things, they plan to build a greenhouses and chicken coops and rainwater systems. They plan to graze goats, remediate the soil naturally, grow mushrooms and raise tasty fish and duckweed in aquaculture systems. And build a workshop space where they can show you how to do all this and more.

The physical center’s in its early stages, but Pettigrew and Kellogg have already been offering Rhizome’s well-known RUST (Radical Urban Sustainability Training) program here at various sites for several years running. Toolbox was originally known as the RUST Manual, and even its acronym gives a sense of the ethos behind both it and the trainings: No $1,000 10-day long permaculture trainings that focus on agriculture and forestry here. RUST aims to be both accessible and relevant to urban populations, which, after all, are more than half the earth’s population at the moment, and far more of the United States’.

Salvaged materials, a DIY ethic, and an understanding that not everyone has a large yard, a driveway, or a roof and bank account suited to solar panels underlies the practical stuff the RUST Training offers, but you also (if you want) get a good dose of the science and politics behind it all.

People come from all over, even Canada, to little ole’ Albany for this training, so if you want to get into this year’s (Oct. 2–3), sign up quickly.

In the meantime, happy start of harvest season. Enjoy the farmers markets, community gardens, arts, and fall weather (I’m sure it’s coming soon!) in all of our region’s indisputably alive urban centers and the land that surrounds them.

Miriam Axel-Lute

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