The Bikecast Episode #5c: Goodbye, Rhizome Collective. Good Luck, Cathedral of Junk.

The last of a three part series of tangents (part I, part II). The thin ribbon that ties them together is the replacing peer-to-peer organizations with hierarchical state powers as a quick fix for a problem. The long-term repercussions of the adoption of violence as the tool for social organization has disasterous downsides. In this bikecast, I give a couple more examples–especially maddening–of city agencies whose ostensible purpose is to help and protect the inhabitants of Austin instead tearing down and dismantling beautiful works of art, engineering, and social organization.

Download this episode of the bikecast

Show notes Episode 5c:

The Rhizome Collective

My apologies first of all to the Rhizome collective for my unbelievably lame recounting of their feats of sustainable engineering on the podcast.

Here are the highlights please, go check it out–it’s really fantastic what these people were able to do with a burnt out shell of a building and an asphalt parking lot:

Rainwater harvesting: 3000 gallon system.

Polyculture pond: an entire ecosystem including edible plants, plants used for fertilizer, mosquito predators and a mechanism for protecting sensitive species while they grow in isolation.

Constructed wetlands: for treating household wastewater, or greywater, and making it safe for reuse in irrigating vegetable crops.

Vermicomposting: using worms to break down food wastes into nutrient rich fertilizers.

Micro livestock: chickens, turkeys and ducks for meat, eggs, pest control, lawn mowing and soil building (and compost eating).

Bicycle Windmill: a windmill built primarily from recycled bicycle parts capable of generating low, but useful amounts of electricity.

Food Forest:
numerous varieties of fruit and nut trees including: peach, plum, pomegranate, persimmon, pear, fig, jujube, loquat, kumquat, Satsuma orange, Mexican plum, apricot, mulberry, quince, olive, apple, almond, pecan and asian pear.

Passive solar tech: solar ovens, batch collector water heaters, and parabolic cookers.
Earth building: experiments with strawbale, cob, slip chip ,slip straw and clay based aliz paints.

Solar Bioshelter / Aquaculture / Aquaponics: a solar greenhouse that uses 55 gallon water barrels as a source of thermal mass heating with tilapia fish raised in the barrels. Tilapia fertilize algae in the tanks, which is eaten by the fish. Then water cress and water spinach are grown aquaponically (hydroponics w/o synthetic nutrients) in the water fertilized by the tilapia.

Bioremediation: experimenting with the properties of living organisms (fungi, plants, bacteria) to accumulate, bind up, or degrade toxins.

Compost tea: beneficial microbiological organisms applied to damaged soils to restore their microbial populations.

Biogas: mixture of methane, carbon dioxide and other gases produced during anaerobic decomposition. It can be burned, and used for cooking or heating in a house.

Biofuels: a tractor running off of waste vegetable oil.

Floating Island: raft made from recovered thrown away plastic bottles supporting a variety of water plants which filters the polluted urban stormwater runoff water that fills the pond following a rainstorm.

“What pond,” you ask? The pond in the middle of the 9.8 illegal dumping “brownfield” they cleaned up (yielding 680 tires, 10.1 tons and 36.5 cubic yards of trash, and 31.6 tons of recyclable metal from the site). They then installed erosion control, a fence and plan to build an “Ecological Justice Education Park.”

Justice is something the members of the collective are committed to fostering. They allowed their space to be used for Food Not Bombs, Inside Books (literature for the incarcerated), and as a bike shop where bicycles are repaired and then taken to community bike workshops in Mexico*.

This amazing group of individuals, organized as a consensus-based collective, reclaimed a wasteland within a wasteland. They were evicted for “code violations” in March 2009. Scroll down a couple pages on their web site for the heart-wrenching details.

The Cathedral of Junk

The cathedral speaks for itself:
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Here’s the google image link. I heartily recommend looking around the images. The pages that house these photos are also testiment to the value of the structure.

A reasonable article in the Wall Street Journal sums up the cathedral of junk fairly well. Here’s an article from a local weekly. It goes more into the details of the code violations. I didn’t know that the complaints came from people who had moved into the neighborhood in recent years. It’s sad, but not surprising. The fate of the cathedral is yet undecided.

In the podcast, I refer to a specialized code enforcement agency. They’re called PACE (Public Assembly Code Enforcement) to police groups of people assembling, I guess. According to this letter to the editor, PACE was formed to police the frats in west campus. Now they’re another way to avoid negotiating with people living in what formerly might have been called a “neighborhood.”

This instinct to “run and tell” is inculcated in us early in childhood. We are instructed not to seek to settle disputes on our own, but always to find the appropriate authority and plead our case to them. We gotta cut that shit out.

*I mentioned the Yellow Bike Project in the podcast. They’re separate from the Rhizome Collective, but also very cool: http://www.austinyellowbike.org/home.shtml

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