Naked City

Showing Rhizome the Money

Big changes are in store over at Rhizome Collective, the bustling progressive activism and "urban sustainability" complex housed in a couple East Austin warehouses.

"I used to be a career anarchist. Now I'm a federal contractor," says Scott Kellogg, the project director for the collective's sustainability project. He got the new job title when the collective was last week awarded a $100,000 EPA grant to turn a 9.8-acre brownfield (vacant, contaminated urban land) into an environmental education park. Their application was one of just 180 selected out of 1,300 applications nationwide.

To the 12 collective members, and their larger community of like-minded volunteers, winning the prestigious grant is a dream come true – but a hell of a lot of work. The 5,000 cubic yards of debris currently covering the site pose a formidable enough challenge that the previous owner chose to donate the land to the collective for the tax write-off rather than paying to clean it up.

But that's what the Rhizomians intend to do. In keeping with the group's emphasis on finding utility and beauty in what others have thrown away (a philosophy that in practice becomes "building with trash"), the group will use much of the debris to build the infrastructure of the park. Tires will be filled with earth and mounded into kiosks explaining green-building and permaculture principles, and offering low-tech suggestions for living cheap and gentle on the land. Lumber will become wood-mulch trails for educational strolls among the kiosks, as well as to connect the Montopolis neighborhood to the adjacent Colorado River Park. Other trash will be more conventionally recycled, such as by carting off shingles to a facility that can turn them into roadway.

The park will help the Rhizomians pursue a second goal – playing trial-and-error with cutting-edge, largely untested, urban-sustainability techniques. For example, the group has been way into mushrooms lately – no, not that kind, but edible fungi that hold potential to "micro-remediate" contaminated land by breaking down pollutants into their constituent parts. That is, the mighty mushroom seems to be able to rip apart molecular chains, thereby turning nasty ol' hydrocarbons into benign hydrogen and carbon molecules. The group wants to find out more; they'll devote part of the land to a series of careful pilot projects to see which mushrooms grow best in Austin's climate and which do the most to remediate soil contamination.

If you've ever wanted to get into green building, permaculture, or mushrooms, the collective would love your help. Check www.rhizomecollective.org or call 294-9580 for details.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Rhizome Collective, EPA, brownfield, Scott Kellogg, permaculture, green building

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