Sunday, March 15, 2015

The cost of cars

I've written a couple of articles about how expensive cars are. The main two are what does it cost to own a car, and how fast do cars actually go?

However, both of these articles ignore a very significant cost: real estate. Let me show this by an example.

Last year, we visited Sydney. We stayed in a great little (and very reasonably-priced) townhouse in Sydney's inner-North (about 10 kms out). The house has space allocated for two cars to park, and this was about one sixth of the land that the house occupied. I don't know what that house is worth, but it would be at least $1 million, and probably $1.3 Million. Therefore, the value of those car parks was about $200000, or about $15000 / year [1] (the opportunity cost of having that money locked up in fairly useless land). This is in addition to all the other expenses I've outlined in the other two articles. Amazing stuff!

Our place is similar (though not worth as much money!). When we moved in, it had a driveway right down one side of the house, a double garage and a carport out the back. I think that between 1/6 and 1/5 of the land was given over to car infrastructure. That's a significant amount of money!

We've been slowly reclaiming that car space as a human space. The carport is gone, the garage will never have another car in it (and may serve as accommodation one day), and we are slowly digging up the driveway to plant more trees. My plan is to eventually have a single car space right at the front of the block, or perhaps none at all.

This weekend I did quite a bit of work setting up a new bed in the former-driveway. I've previously dug up the hard-dolomite-clay hideousness with a pick, and today I worked in some compost and straw and planted a few trees. This will give summer shade to our kitchen window, and the external split-system unit (which will help it function more efficiently on hot mornings, not that we use it much). I've attached a couple of photos below. This also has an added security benefit, because a would-be burglar now needs to leave their car out the front of the house, in broad view of the street.
Our former driveway, now with a bed. Today I planted a nectarine, plum and wooly bush. We'll put a whole lot more there, though -- lots of chook food (leafy greens, comfrey, etc), and some other understory plants. You might also notice that the  wall for this bed is made of broken concrete. I'm slowly removing concrete from elsewhere on my block and instead of sending it to landfill I'm trying to reuse it. This is a bit ugly right now, but I'll put some soil in the wall and let plants grow over it. It also provides shelter for lizards and other creatures.

We've also made the step to letting the chooks run free through the vegetable beds. This was a bit difficult for me, as I was afraid of the destruction. After reading a fantastic blog post about keeping chickens, which said that:

Paddock shift systems often improve the paddock. Some folks report five times more vegetation when using paddock shift like the one suggested here. This is something that vegans do not consider when designing gardens with no animals. So ... imagine .... your garden without chickens produces less than your garden with chickens where the chickens eat 30%. 

We decided to see what happens if we just let them go and see what happened. I must admit, the phrase that popped into my head was "embrace the chaos" -- where before we had straw on the beds and bark chips on the paths, and a garden that many would regard as wild, now we have straw all over the grass and paths, holes in the path, etc. We did lose a few seedlings, and I think in future I'll try to protect them better, but I can already see what a great job the chooks are doing at turning things over. I think this is a work in process that will continue. We're also getting more eggs now, perhaps implying that they weren't getting quite enough food before.

happy chooks -- this bed sustained little damage, though the kale was enjoyed! Seeing a chicken jumping to reach the higher leaves was pretty funny!

Happy hens
[1] I often use economic means to illustrate the stupid things people do. I'm not a money-driven person, and often don't do things for economic reasons, but I feel this is an easier way to communicate some of these ideas.

This article was written by Angus, and first appeared at

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