Jenny Pickerill and Larch Maxey (eds), 'Low Impact Development: The Future in Our Hands'

IssueMay 2009
Review by Kelvin Mason

In the foreword to Low Impact Development, long-time promoter Simon Fairlie favours a definition of the eponymous concept as “development which, by virtue of its low or benign environmental impact, may be allowed in locations where conventional development is not permitted.”

The book sets out by putting low impact development (LID) into context, stressing the urgent need for such environmentally-friendly housing to be considered as a mainstream approach: “LID has huge potential to deliver truly sustainable development.”

A number of practitioners’ stories are collected and LID examples from around Britain presented, including the Brighton Earthship, Hockerton Housing Project and the pending Lammas eco-hamlet in Pembrokeshire.

A look into the future of LID focuses on the need to change the planning paradigm, extend the idea to urban locations, and simply take action: “Just do it!” The book concludes with ways to get involved in LID and a list of further resources.

One point that stands out is the British state’s unwillingness – or perhaps fundamental inability – to deal with the individual, the different, the exceptional, the unique and the creative. The story of Lammas indicates that even in Wales – “the ray of light shining over this dismal Saxon landscape” – bureaucracy casts a stultifying shadow.

Lammas is a proposed permaculture development of nine eco-smallholdings intended as both a community and a living demonstration of LID. Despite having contributed to Pembrokeshire’s progressive Low Impact Policy, however, Lammas’ application has twice had its application refused by the County Council and the project is currently being strung along by officialdom proffering the dim, distant and demoralising prospect of a hearing.

Quoting Simon Fairlie again: “ultimately democracy depends on the resolution of people to claim self-determination, and to riot when denied it.”

LID is evidently activism via habitation because choosing to live beyond a subjective norm is a challenge to an authority, an authority which cannot make the norm peaceful, just or environmentally sustainable.

Low Impact Development contains some inspiring stories and insights from all over Britain. It is illustrated with many land-use maps and photos, including a vivid centrefold of some wonderful buildings and settlements. Via a mix of contributions on the ideas and practices of LID, the book successfully raises meaningful questions of how we think about housing, community and environmental sustainability. And how we could think again.

Pro Lammas riot, anyone?

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