Well, maybe it should be called mining urbanite? Urbanite is what we call the chunks of broken concrete that we use to build terraced garden bed projects like las trincheras. I didn’t coin the name urbanite… some visitor to eco-village many years ago called it that, and it stuck. I am a big proponent of urbanite and use lots of it in my garden.

LA Conservation Corps crew breaking up concrete for tree wells on Vermont Avenue.  Note my hand truck loaded up with urbanite in the foreground.

LA Conservation Corps crew breaking up concrete for tree wells on Vermont Avenue. Note my hand truck loaded up with urbanite in the foreground.

This week I was bicycling up Vermont Avenue, and, in front of the Rite-Aid just below 3rd Street I came upon a Los Angeles Conservation Corps crew. They were using a jackhammer to bust up concrete and create holes where street trees will be planted. There was a pile of rubble in their truck. I asked one of the crew if I could take some pieces. On my bike I could only take two pieces, which I carried under one arm.

I am really happy when I can get broken concrete within a mile or so of eco-village (during the shared street construction on our block each night I’d carry as much as I could,) that way I can harvest it without using fossil fuels. It’s great to be able to use waste where it’s generated. Sometimes, though, I across a big stash and then borrow a car or truck to haul it. Sometimes, I’ve been able to get folks to drop it off. They generally will need to pay a tipping fee to dump it at a landfill, so giving it to us saves them money.

When I got to eco-village I grabbed our hand truck and walked the two blocks back down to the site. I loaded it up with the nicest biggest pieces I could find. My general recommendation is that the really useful pieces are ones that are the size of a brick or larger. The bigger the better, as it’s easy to break pieces down, but impossible to put them back together.

The second, and somewhat heavier, load of urbanite, in front of the bicycle gate behind the Bimini Terrace

The second, and somewhat heavier, load of urbanite, in front of the bicycle gate behind the Bimini Terrace

I brought two loads of urbanite back to the village. The first load wasn’t so heavy, so then I proceeded to really load up the second time. It got too heavy to lift at that point, so I had to push it along the ground on four wheels. Thanks to Brad who I encountered waiting for the bus and who helped me get it up the curb ramp at 3rd and Vermont.

One urban permaculture strategy is to harvest the immense waste streams generated by our cities. Of course, nature is really good at this; the output from any natural process serves as the input for another. From trash to rainwater to sewage, we city folks generate and discard a lot of stuff that is really useful. If we’re going to live sustainably, then we need to close these loops; to use our outputs as input.

Clearly I can’t make a serious dent in the massive urban waste streams that are generated by the sprawling urbanity that is Los Angeles, but nonetheless, I am happy when I can divert some of our castaway things into good uses.

Nick, the security guard from the Taste and Style Plaza strip mall looks through the branches of the pomegranate at my haul of urbanite

Nick, the security guard from the Taste and Style Plaza strip mall, looks jealously through the bike gate and the branches of the pomegranate at my haul of urbanite!

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