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The Monterey List:

Growing toward a sustainable future for ourselves and for the planet

*Now available in paperback!*

To purchase either the paperback or the Kindle edition, click the cover image at left.


The Monterey List originated as an actual list I made in a Monterey, California hotel room one November night in 1997 (hence the name). The items on the list were all short observations pertaining to sustainable living on this planet, couched as aphorisms, mostly made up on the spot. There were 112 of them. Over the next few years I rearranged the aphorisms into a coherent order, combined a couple of them with others (there are now 110), expanded them into essays, and collected them into a book. I am currently releasing the book on this web page - one essay at a time, once per week. This will take approximately two years. If you are impatient, you may purchase the whole thing from Amazon as either a paperback or a Kindle e-book by clicking the image at left. Then you will be able to read all of the essays without waiting. Otherwise....well, patience is a virtue, and anticipation can be sweet.


75. Plan for living things. Machines and concrete don't care.


Planning decisions - indeed, all the decisions we make - should be directed toward enhancing life, not enhancing buildings. In the battle between grass and parking lots, grass should always be presumed to be more important.


This doesn't mean that grass should always win. One does not tear down the Taj Mahal to allow dandelions to grow. Buildings, streets, sidewalks, freeways, and - yes - parking lots are necessary cultural features. Our task is not to stop constructing these things, but to make certain that they are scaled properly and are built with full regard to their effect on the living environment. Individual living things may suffer, but life as a whole must come out ahead.


So when attempting to decide whether or not to place a housing development in a meadow, the first thing to look at is the meadow. How does it compare with other meadows in the vicinity? Is it rare or unique? Who depends on it? What lives there? What sort of ties has it maintained to the rest of the living world?


Please note that no specific answer to any of these questions will automatically preclude building. What you have, when you have gathered all the responses, is an evaluation of the standing of life on that particular plot of ground. This must be put in balance with an evaluation of the standing of life after development has taken place, and you will notice that I said standing of life, not standard of living. Standard of living is a competitive thing among humans; standing of life is a cooperative thing among all living creatures, humans included. I have pointed out elsewhere that environmental protection is really human protection: it is the future of our own species that our careless attitude toward other species puts at risk. We inhabit this world together, and if we endanger the "together" part of that statement, we also endanger the "inhabit" part. Life is a wholly integrated phenomenon. It has a fair amount of protective redundancy, and can afford some sacrifice. But what always gets sacrificed are the species that are no longer well integrated into the rest. As we go about gleefully engineering our own separation, we ought to at least try to remember that.


So planning needs to look at the standing of life on a piece of property after development is complete, as well as before. The parameters are complex, and the following list of questions is meant to be representative, not definitive:

  • Is housing actually needed here, or will these merely add to the number of second homes in the country?
  • Will these houses increase the number of families with houses, or will they be replacements for homes disappearing elsewhere for unnecessary reasons?
  • If they represent a legitimate increase in the housing stock, is their scale also legitimate?
  • What does the total footprint of the development look like?
  • What percentage of the living earth will be covered by houses and pavement?
  • How many of the species that currently live here will still be around when this project is complete?

 To plan for life means to consider all the criteria raised in these paragraphs and to make decisions based, not on any individual criterion, but on the balance. Machines and concrete are going to necessarily be involved in some cases. But it is not the effect of life on the machines and concrete that we should concern ourselves with during the decision-making process. It is the effect of the machines and concrete on life.

Next week:  Section 76, "Design with nature, not against it."


CLICK ON THE LINK ABOVE to obtain a free copy of the first ten chapters of this book. The 57 sections comprising the remaining ten chapters will continue to be released on this website at the rate of one section per week, but they will no longer be accumulated here; each will be available for only one week. To obtain a complete copy of the book for a modest price, please click on the image at upper left.