To say I was excited when this book arrived in the mail would be an incredible understatement. Since my husband and I married we have been searching out and trying to find a place to settle down for good, and one of our criteria is that it has to have the potential to grow a vibrant, interactive community if at all possible. After reading Sharon Astyk’s Making Home, wherein she breaks down the sustainability and community potential of urban, suburban, and rural life, I was even more certain that we were on the right track with this. Superbia, by Dan Chiras and Dave Wann, is packed full of ideas to revive and enrich not just suburban living, but neighborhood living in any environment.
Chiras and Wann begin with a detailed history of the suburbs; when and why they were built, and the advantages that people were looking for when they moved to them. They then go on to point out the deficiencies in suburban living, including the cost to the environment and human interaction- that indefinable “something” that makes a bunch of people living in houses near each other into a real community. My husband and I had read something from David Holmgren, one of the founders of Permaculture, in which he lays out very systematically how suburbs could be revamped to be productive and sustainable neighborhoods with people cooperating and building upon their strengths. Astyk also give many ideas and examples in her book, Making Home. This book takes it a step further, listing and explaining thirty-one different ways in which we can work together to bring our neighborhoods back to life, creating a healthy, sustainable environment- essentially changing suburbia into superbia.
The whole process begins with having the vision, and often this begins with one person who then spreads it to others not just by sharing it verbally but by beginning to make changes on a personal level and leading by example. One of the things I thought was most interesting was the idea of working with the strengths of the people in the neighborhood. Bob might be really great at remodeling and could use his talents to help others make their houses more environmentally friendly. Mai might raise goats and share milk and cheese with the whole neighborhood. Ahmad could use his van to take people on trips to the dentist and such so that the people could cut down on car ownership and make a more bicycle and pedestrian friendly neighborhood, and so on and so forth. This is more realistic that saying that everyone has to grow their own food, or everyone has to learn how to keep chickens- because not everyone has the time, ability, or desire to do those things. In superbia each person contributes to the community as a whole in the way that he or she is most able to do so.
Chiras and Wann guide us through the process of building superbia, from the dream to the implementation. They give suggestions and advice, knowing that every neighborhood and community will have different visions and capabilities. They offer ideas for everything from making a neighborhood workshare program to retrofitting homes, and neighborhoods, to be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. They discuss car sharing, composting, and chicken raising, and urge neighbors to have regular gatherings like potlucks as well as having shared spaces like parks and a central meeting house- for Muslims, a Masjid would be vital. Every suggestion will not fit every situation, but there are so many that I am pretty sure that there is something in there for everyone hoping to create a more sustainable and vibrant community.
Chiras and Wann write in a very engaging, interesting and upbeat manner, full of hope and encouragement. They also give real-life example of people who have done the things they are suggesting, showing that they aren’t just spouting pipe dreams or unrealistic ideas. Their hope and enthusiasm is contagious, making the reader want to start making changes right now, wherever they may be.
So, how about you? What ideas do you have for turning your neighborhood into superbia?
(NOTE: As with all of our reviews concerning books that are not directly related to religious issues, please remember that we do not wholly endorse all and everything that is in the book, and that, since these books are written by non-Muslims with a different world-view from our own, you will find content in them that may not be sound within our own Islamic ‘Aqeedah. We review them keeping this in mind, and hope that you will understand them in the same light, insh’Allaah. If you find any statements of scholars that discuss or give more detail about a practice discussed, we advise you to take it from that reliable source.)