Self-Sustaining Communities is an amazingly effective non-profit that engages directly with underserved populations and produces significant visible and social impacts on the communities it serves. The dynamic Executive Director, Linda Schneider is especially effective at leveraging community, municipal and industry support to increase the backing of projects and their likelihood of success.
I became involved with the organization from the academic research side when I included Self-Sustaining Communities projects in my Community Design Outreach architecture studio classes at the University of San Francisco. These courses have upper level students working on real projects for local and international communities in need. Bay Area projects generally center around food desert/food security gardens and community environmental issues. The ongoing projects with SSC are a rain garden project that accomplishes both flooding remediation and crime reduction by converting a hidden loop road into a California natives natural habitat; the design of a community tool shed built of natural materials, and a rain catchment bench. These projects are now leading to a focus on integrating more community needs into future projects, including self-built shelter dwellings combined with urban farming, alternative energy installations, and the associated skills training.
It is important to note that Richmond California is an urban city with significant problems of generational poverty, environmental pollution from local industry, two major freeways, freight trains, storm water and sewerage releases from low elevation interaction with the tidal flows of San Francisco Bay, substandard, absentee landlord housing, and drug/gang activities and violence. There are enclaves of middle class areas on the peripheral hills along the edges of the city, but the flatland majority of the city is rife with difficult social and environmental issues. For decades the city has thrown tens of millions of tax dollars at each of the problem areas, with little effect. It is this context that makes what Self-Sustaining Communities is doing all the more amazing.
What we have here is an authentic working model of a grassroots non-profit, successfully encouraging and guiding communities in low income, high crime areas of Richmond to create, expand and maintain natural landscapes and food-growing gardens on empty urban lots in their neighborhoods. Executive Director Linda Schneider’s goal with these projects is that they be hands-on, where the members of the community are learning to design and build for themselves, toward eventually taking on management of each site as they are completed.
I have worked with this organization as an engineering resource, helping them actualize some of there more mechanically ambitious projects. The biggest project I have helped them complete is an Aquaponics system that lets them grow fruit, vegetables and fish in a highly efficient closed system. This project not only helps provide food for the local community but also shows how much can be done and grown in a very small space. Our completed project used a lot of found and re-used materials showing that you don't need massive amounts of resources to set up such a system. I am really looking forward to helping this organization provide other working systems (conventional gardening, more aquaponics, honey production, composting, chicken raising, etc...) that will serve the double duty of providing service to the community as well as modeling how more of the same can be built and maintained in an underserved urban setting.