Monday, October 25, 2010

Floating Cities

My brother Scott Berger and his wife Jan are spending a few days on board the Dragonfly. Scott is a chemical engineer whose work involves helping chemical plants to pollute less . . .  while saving money.  This is his guest blog:

Engineer on deck!
Jan and I have had three great days aboard the Dragonfly.  Today we will be doing a land voyage with Cynthia, while Bill attends the "Looper Rendezvous," a conference run by the American Great Loop Cruisers Association at Joe Wheeler State Park

Spending some time on the river has given us a good appreciation of how the boating lifestyle, which one might consider to he pretty unsustainable--especially in terms of fossil fuel consumption--can be made more sustainable.   

Certain aspects of “Looping” are already more sustainable than staying put.  By following the seasons, Loopers require less heating and air conditioning than those who stay at home, and they can also have access to fresh local produce that doesn’t have to be transported from great distances.  Also, people who live on boats generally occupy a smaller space than those who live in suburban MacMansions. 

Dragonfly has been quite an attraction to the assembled Loopers.  Many have heard about her by word of mouth or by various blog posts, and a constant parade of visitors has been coming by since we docked.  A few of the visitors have experimented with solar power on their own boats, and one massive catamaran a few slips down has 8 solar panels, the same as Dragonfly, to power the ship's utilities.  This catamaran, Next Endeavor, is probably the second most sustainable boat in the marina.

It’s important to pause here to comment that when thinking about sustainability, we can actually be sure if an activity, a way of life, or a community is sustainable.   The Bruntland Commission definition of sustainability says that "sustainability is meeting the needs of one generation without preventing subsequent generations from meeting their needs."  All well and good, but what does that mean?  What will subsequent generations need, and what technologies will they have to address these needs?

Most people give up at this point.  We have to reduce our energy footprint by how much? We have to give up (insert favorite guilty pleasure)?  Where does it say that in order for future generations to meet their needs, our needs can’t be met? Hey, I’ve got needs, too!

Relax.  Our goal should be to seek increased sustainability, rather than to insist on absolute sustainability, which can be a very tall order, and maybe not achievable.  Sustainability can be increased by doing lots of little things that we are getting used to, by thinking out of the box, as well as by boldly trying new technologies.  You don’t even have to go the extent of Cynthia and Bill of outfitting a boat to run on solar power.  Just consider the environmental footprint of an iPod vs. a 1970’s era stereo sound system, or just their relative power consumption.  Oh, that’s sustainability too?  Sign me up.

We spotted this 5 x 3 tow close to Joe Wheeler State Park,
where the Looper Rendezvous is taking place
At the opening of the Loopers' convention last night, we walked over to hear Cynthia and Bill introduce themselves, as is customary for all new Loopers to do.  On the literature table we saw a brochure for a concept called “River Cities,” floating communities where people can buy condominiums and travel as a community along the Midwestern and Southern waterways.  The “River City” is the size of a 5 x 3 towboat (five barges long by three barges wide) so it can fit through the locks. It can also split in half lengthwise to fit through the Inter-coastal Waterway.  A few days ago we saw a much smaller version of this concept in the Florence Harbor Marina--a kind of floating condominium that is already selling spaces.  So the idea's not as crazy as it sounds. 

Dragonfly just has herbs in its roof garden, but in the Netherlands,
people are experimenting with barges that have
rooftop vegetable gardens.
Why mention this?  This "floating city" idea may very well be a more sustainable living alternative. As I mentioned earlier, following the seasons helps moderate energy usage for heating and cooling and gives residents access to fresh local produce.  People also live in smaller spaces (so they need less stuff), have more of a sense of community from sharing common areas, run stores cooperatively, and travel from place to place by river, which as Cynthia has already pointed out, is more energy efficient than other modes of transport.

Could the floating city be more sustainable?  Sure.  I noticed that the conceptual design for River City puts a chip-and-putt course on the topmost deck.  With something like 10,000 golf courses along the city’s planned route, this seems unnecessary.  Wouldn’t a community garden… and a bank of solar panels … be better?

1 comment:

  1. Go Dad! Hope everyone had a wonderful time this weekend, I look forward to more stories from my parents from their time aboard the Dragonfly.