I was raised in Italy. My parents had a restaurant in a small coastal town called Sperlonga. The whole town was built with stone from the rocky slope it was situated on overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Cobblestone streets, the perfect width for people, forced modern vehicles to park outside the village. The whole town was pedestrian. There was no traffic, no fumes, no noise other than of people’s voices, their footsteps and the occasional donkey cart.
Homes were staggered many stories tall on the steep cliffs, one rooftop becoming the patio for the home above. Rainwater was harvested from the rooftops and directed into stone cisterns in the ground. Iron balconies blossomed with bright red geraniums. Laundry strung from one side of the narrow street to the other flapped like colorful flags against the backdrop of white-washed walls. Every few years the whole village welcomed spring with a fresh coat of lime paint.
Small shops lined the cobblestone streets featuring local wares; fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheeses, breads and pastries, daily made ravioli, meats and seafood, outdoor cafes and trattorias, handwoven textiles, pottery, a cobbler that made shoes, all owned and operated by the people who lived there. Arable land surrounding the village was reserved for growing food like olives, grapes, berries, orchards, grains and all manner of vegetables. It was a beautiful, fun, healthy, prosperous place to live. Everyone offered a skill valuable to the community.
Here in the “Great Southwest” we are honored by the Anasazi who also preferred to build on rocky slopes overlooking their crops. Tucked into the stone cliffs their homes were barely visible from below. Orienting their homes facing south, they took advantage of passive solar, collected rainwater from channels built into their walls and sunk their kivas deep into the ground where the temperature remained moderate throughout the year.
Could we not do as the Italians and the Anasazi did? Could we build pedestrian-friendly homes in the rocks along our Southwest-facing slopes using the materials at hand to build with? Could we invest in a community stone quarry, an adobe yard, foster jobs in skilled masonry, manage and harvest timber from a community operated wood lot in the La Sals? Incorporate water-harvesting, direct household gray water to the roots of shady vines growing on west facing arbors. Utilizing gray water and composting toilets eliminates the need for a sewer line. Done, gone, we don’t need it.
Do we always have to design our world around a car? A society that values nature and cares about food security would never have built in the valley in the first place. It makes more sense to me for us to make a slow migration to the rocks.
For inspirational reading, I recommend “The Blue Economy” by Gunter Pauli.