As the executive director of Northwest Environment Watch and author of several works dealing with sustainable lifestyles (How Much Is Enough? The Consumer Society and the Future of the Earth, LJ 9/1/92), Durning returned to Seattle with his family to attempt to build an ecologically sound way of life. Contending that many of our environmental problems stem from a lack of rootedness, the author believes that once people become attached to a place and community, they will be more likely to make choices that will preserve those surroundings. Durning presents the natural, political, and economic history of the Pacific Northwest in the context of sustainability and provides a running description as his family attempts to create a safe urban neighborhood with a strong sense of community. Recommended for most regional and larger environmental collections.Tim Markus, Evergreen State Coll. Lib., Olympia, Wash.
A thoughtful portrait of the Pacific Northwest from a recent returnee there.
With family roots in Seattle, Durning spent several years working in Washington, D.C., for environmental-policy groups. While he was visiting the Philippines in connection with his work, however, a tribeswoman asked him to describe his home. He could not, he relates, answering weakly, "In America, we have careers, not places." Seeing the pity in her eyes, he decided to bring his wife and young children back to the Northwest and make a true home there. To gauge by this modestly written but rich book, he has done well. By making a home, Durning means knowing the geology and ecology of a placebut also knowing the patterns of human history and change. Dense with information lightly presented, Durning's book turns to discussions of such matters as recycling, the history of suburbs, and the causes of urban sprawl. He notes that the assumption that mobility, not accessibility to goods and services, underlies Americans' desire to own private cars "is lethal to cities," and that each of us lives at some cost to the planet ("at one cup a day, I go through the harvest of a coffee tree every six weeks"). Durning proposes ways in which we can trim that cost by reducing materialist expectations, by recycling, and by sharing things and talents with our neighbors, making community as a result. (His account of erecting a recycled basketball hoop for the neighborhood children is a charming case in point.) Along the way he looks at large-scale efforts to make the Northwest more livable, among them the Boeing Corporation's installation of energy-efficient lighting at an annual savings of $375,000 and downtown Portland's closing several thoroughfares to create pedestrian malls.
"The politics of place is a politics of hope," Durning observes. This is a hopeful, and welcome, addition to the literature of place, and there is much to learn in its pages.