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The Green Life: Earthships Could Transform Philadelphia

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April 20, 2012

Earthships Could Transform Philadelphia

Earthship Greenhouse_repaired

More than 40,000 vacant lots, many piled high with illegally dumped tires, blight the city of Philadelphia. High unemployment and crime rates discourage many residents, but not Rashida Ali-Campbell, director of the non-profit, LoveLovingLove, Inc.

In Philadelphia's empty lots and abandoned, decaying buildings (approximately 75,000), Ali-
Campbell sees hope and unlimited possibilities. Her mission is to open a school for low-income residents to learn sustainable building techniques. She plans to bring the first urban Earthship to Philadelphia.  

Earthships are the brain-child of architect and inventor Michael Reynolds. His 40-year-old company creates 100 percent self-sustained buildings with a process he calls "Earthship Biotecture" and he has created thousands of them all over the planet. His life-changing projects have brought hope to communities in Europe, Africa, the Netherlands, and Haiti. (For videos click here)

These homes heat and cool themselves, produce wind and solar electricity, grow their own fruits and vegetables, (many even have a catfish pond and a chicken coop providing fresh eggs) they collect and sterilize water and maintain their own sewage system. This small greenhouse (pictured, above), is only a taste of Earthship Biotecture. A two-bedroom home can support a family of four without them ever having to go to the grocery store and their utility bill would be less than $100 per year.

Earthship bottle wall When Ali-Campbell came across a documentary about Reynolds called "Garbage Warrior" she got excited because the Earthships are made from found and recycled materials such as plastic bottles (used to create this greenhouse window at left), flattened aluminum cans, and tires.

"When I saw the movie, I wanted to go out and build one in my backyard that same day," she says. But working at a homeless shelter at the time, she felt that would be selfish, that an Earthship was something to share. "If only we had a self-sustainable building like that, the money we were always so worried about could be used to help people find a purpose, pay off their dept and send their kids to school." 

Ali-Campbell contacted Michael Reynolds; he enthusiastically supported her idea and drew up blueprints for a two-bedroom school. During a recent fundraiser for the project, he taught an Earthship Biotecture Seminar on April 6-8 at the Rainey Auditorium in the Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. His son, Jonah Reynolds says, "We plan to build an 'Embassy of Sustainability' in Philly this year."

It has taken Ali-Campbell nearly four years to negotiate the miles of red tape between her dream and the permit she needs to make it a reality. "No one in Licensing and Inspection had ever heard of an Earthship. No one on the city council had either. We had to start from scratch and educate all of them about what we were trying to do."

Building an EarthshipFinally, Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez offered to help her with licensing and permits, and they found an attorney to help negotiate the price of a vacant lot in the Kensington Area. It looks as though Ali-Campbell will have the first Earthship city building permit in the United States by early summer.

"Our vision is to see these homes built in all different parts of the city, some for shelters. We're trying to bring sustainability, love, nutrition and holistic education and wellness to low-income communities and this is a house that can bring all those things. . . . and be built by ordinary people like you and me. Hopefully construction sites like the one above with soon be popping up all over Philadelphia.

--Images courtesy of Rashida Ali-Campbell and Earthship Biotecture

Cyndy PatrickCyndy Patrick is a life-long animal-lover who opened her own pet salon and commenced to giving doggie hairdos (and bathing some pretty unhappy cats). She hung up her clippers to pursue a career as an environmental journalist and photographer. She is a student at San Jose State, loves to swim in the ocean and sleep under the stars.

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