by Chris Carlsson
278 pages, AK Press, 2008
Been daydreaming of living in a vibrant neighborhood where you bike to your community garden to harvest your lunch, volunteer at a bike co-op, and run your computer on free software? According to Chris Carlsson’s new book Nowtopia, these kernels of the future are being sown now. Nowtopia touts a green post-capitalism where these ways of living are not merely lifestyle choices or get-rich-quick schemes but the outcomes of self-organized movements that subordinate the drudgery of work to efforts to build vibrant, autonomous communities of urban gardeners, bike rebels, biofuel co-ops, and open-source software pirates.
In Nowtopia, saving the planet is inseparable from “taking initiatives outside of wage-labor and business to make the world we want to live in now.” Such projects create new, often short-lived spaces that are outside of or antagonistic to the objectives of control and profit.
Vacant-lot gardening is one of Carlsson’s most inspiring case studies. Tracing their history back to WWII “victory gardens,” urban gardens have long been terrains of conflict between the imperatives of the bottom line, support for the state, and decentralized local self-sufficiency.
Urban gardening is inspiring because “while contending social forces seek to control land and the political structures that administer it, space is also provided to unregulated social interaction.” Urban gardens produce non-monetary sources of wealth by resurrecting community, passing along generational knowledge, and producing and sharing nourishing food outside the circuit of the market, thereby reducing the need to work for money to buy it.
After three decades of the dismantling of America, Carlsson writes, through “the practical work of clearing vacant lots and planting and nurturing gardens, a different kind of working class emerges, independent and self-sufficient, improvisational and innovative, convivial and cooperative, very often led and organized by females and recent immigrants” as we’ve seen in Oakland, NYC, Fresno and Los Angeles. In urban areas, these gardens become “liberated zones” that are earthen barricades to profit, control, and the market.
For Carlsson, urban gardening has the potential to link together working class, green, and immigrant communities into a powerful new social movement that makes the connection between the drudgery of work and the catastrophic ecological crises we are facing.
– Robert Ovetz, PhD