The Real Life Adventures of Polar Sam-Village in a Box Hits the Streets

A polar bear, sent by his people to save their way of life, finds himself driving an ice cream truck around suburbia, on a mission to reverse global warming, one ice cream at a time.

Polar SamEpisode #4

Village in a Box hits the streets.

EPISODE #4 (previously…..Polar Sam is unveiling Village in a Box; He brushed all the thoughts away to focus on the task at hand, and gleefully announced to his small but entirely captivated audience. “It’s Show Time!”)

The same lively village scene that was on the outside of the Village in a Box container, filled the entire side of Polar Sam’s truck.

“This”, said Sam, “is how you could be living. Suburbia can be transformed into a…” Like an orchestra director, Sam raised his arms, and while pointing to the words across the bottom of the scene, he led his audience in a group chant “mixed use, mixed income neighborhood, with lifelong learning and open space……everywhere!” the boys cheered. Doc and Kid Suburbia clapped and grinned, totally caught up in Polar Sam’s enthusiasm.

Blown up to the size of the big screen, the details became clearer. “Look! there’s little sail boats in the lake.”

“Remote controlled” chipped in Sam.

“And a guy kayaking” “and two swans”, “and three ducks!” “ and those people are fishing?!” All the water captured the boys’ imaginations. The Santa Fe River hardly ever ran, and then only for a month at the most in the Spring. Or during a big rain in August’s “monsoon season”.

“Where would we get the water for all this?” Doc Plaza asked skeptically. “Certainly compelling, but as Santa Fe’s gotten bigger, the water’s all gone to new homes, and the river’s pretty much dry.”

“Those ‘Living Machines’ are remarkable. Imagine every block had a couple of greenhouses. The biologies can break down any thing, even PCBs!” Sam was on a roll now. “So we tap into the sewer lines, solar pump to the greenhouses and in a series of those above-grade translucent fiberglass tanks, the water gets purified by the biologies. Add a UV sterilizer, and Wallah! fresh water, higher quality than the original tap water! So the neighbors get fresh fruit and vegetables and fish raised in the aquaponic tanks, the river gets filled year round, the aquifer is replenished, and the water ends up feeding back to the Rio Grande without any pollutants like pharmaceuticals!”

The boys cheered again. Kid Suburbia stared at Polar Sam in disbelief. In his ice cream delivery “Uncle Sam” vest and tails, and with his Red and White stripped top hat, “he looks a bit like a buffoon,” Kid thought to himself. But seeing the elegance and beauty of the vision before him…”The guy’s a genius”, he muttered to himself.

Out loud, Kid Suburbia jabbed, ”ya get this off a Peace Pop stick?”

Sam just grinned back at him. “Oh, there’s more!”

Sam continued, “ Ya know how you were saying what a bummer it was, there’s a bunch of elderly ladies still in the homes in your neighborhood, living by themselves in a 2400 sf house? the kids have grown up, and either the husband died, or they got divorced, but she’s living alone and she wants to stay in her neighborhood? Well, imagine one of these little plazas surrounded with casitas. Your lady friends can downsize and stay in their neighborhood. She can stay independent, live within walking of long time friends and shopping. And get assistance from the kids at the local elementary school if she needs it.”

Doc Plaza chimed in, “Sounds like a new version of the way it used to be, like an extended family. I could live with that.”

Kid Suburbia laughed. “Yeah, that way all your girlfriends would be in one place.”

“Hey, don’t be knockin it”, Doc fired back. “If I don’t shoot you first, you could outlive your wife, and having folks to conveniently do things with in the middle of the day is a really good deal.”

Kid Suburbia got quiet. “My best friend Harold has been complaining about moving to a smaller place. He wants to stay in the hood, but he’s tired on keeping up such a big house. I was missing him already. If our neighborhood had one of these Senior Placitas that would be really great!”

“Hey Bro!”, Sam nearly shouted. He held up his paw for the Kid to high five ‘em. “Welcome to the amazing power of Village in a Box!“ High fives were exchanged by the entire audience of four.  None of them knew exactly why, but the Bear’s enthusiasm had them sold in that moment. READ MORE >>

A Map to the Pot of Gold-Sustainable Urban Villages

Here ya go… one simple diagram to guide your people to the New American Dream- Sustainable Urban Villages.



Every community needs a Coalition for Sustainable Community!Together, we can make sustainable real!… READ MORE >>

Share Your Ideas of A Sustainable Urban Village in Santa Fe!

What would you include in a Sustainable Urban Village in Santa Fe, that made it so great, you’d move in?! The September issue of the Green Fire Times is going to be a compilation of ideas and visions, and you’re invited to contribute!

Download the flyer here. Download tri-fold brochure here. (two sided print). Share this invitation with your friends and networks! Submittal deadline for article and images is August 5.

Image courtesy of Spears Architects

Suburban sprawl could well have run its course. It’s time for something new to emerge and resurrect the economy. Polls have shown that 1/3 of the Boomers are looking for a simpler, walkable lifestyle, and 88% of their children, the “Millennials” want to live in a creative, alive urban environment. 9000 Santa Feans currently commute to their jobs in town. Many of these people (and others) would welcome an alternative to car-dependent sprawl. This sizable unmet market demand could help the emerging sustainable economy….emerge!

Because this is a new market, your ideas and visions are key; Design it to your specs and needs, and I believe the planning and construction industries will work to make it real!

What would make this neighborhood so compelling, so supportive and fun, that you would move in??!!

Download the flyer here. Download the tri-fold brochure here. Share this invitation with your friends and networks! Submittal deadline for article and images is August 5.

Brian Skeele, June 16, 2011


A Deeply Affordable Sustainable Urban Village (SUV); a lively, 3-4 story, mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood with enough density to make the commercial successful, say 5000 residents within walking distance.

Located Where?

To give these sorts of visionary ideas a place to focus, let’s look at an area in Santa Fe that has the potential to actually be transformed for the betterment of residents and businesses. With 72% paved parking area, Rail Runner access (commuter train), vacating car dealerships, an art/design college at one end, a hospital at the other end, and nearby Santa Fe High, De Vargas Middle School, two elementary schools, and Llano Library, St Michaels Drive is a good choice for visions of a major redesign.

SUVs can exist in rural, suburban, as well as urban locations. The key is to have the commercial and services supported by the residential within pedestrian-friendly distances, making non-car ownership a viable option. Not having to purchase, maintain, fill up, and insure a car is a substantial savings, and frees up disposable income for a wide range of benefits, such as local food, innovation start ups, as well as creates a healthier, walking lifestyle.

In a rural community, farming families and farm employees need affordable lifestyles, including affordable housing, transportation, land, water, organic fertilizer, etc. A rural SUV with the focus on agricultural production is an essential part of a regional food “shed”.

Similar dynamics exist in a suburban environment. Evolving into a pedestrian-centered lifestyle will increase the vitality and resiliency of up and coming mixed use, mixed income community. As we surpass global peak oil production and gasoline prices continually rise, the long commute is deeply threatened. Soccer Mom chauffeurs are soon to listed on the endangered species list.

Benefits Why

If Santa Fe was to create a SUV, the benefits could well be substantial;

A compelling reason to visit Santa Fe-with a world renown demonstration showcase site, a destination attracting eco tourists, students, government officials, and business owners from around the world, such has happened in Gussing Austria.
economic growth-as in Gussing, many companies focusing on sustainability relocated (50 companies) and 1000 jobs were created.
a significant revival of the local construction industry
the development of Santa Fe’s capacity to collaborate.
a Pathways curriculum, hands on, relevant learning, giving high school students the real world challenges that deeply respect and call forward their innate capacity.
Neighborhoods can once again become vibrant and alive- with safe, pedestrian- friendly streets and a simpler lifestyle supporting rich diversity; a mix of incomes and housing, young families and retirees, employers and employees, artist and patrons – a lifestyle that’s based on real, lasting values; a lifestyle that’s good for people, good for the planet, and good for the polar bears!

Smart growth for an economy built in real, lasting values

Today’s local newspaper, the Santa Fe New Mexican, talks about a big cut to the new nuclear facility at Los Alamos. The US Senate’s new budget cuts the funding in half. What irritates me about Los Alamos National Laboratory is its focus on bombs and nuclear industry. I can’t believe we need more of either. I hear this “oh but we need the jobs… what about the economy?”

Hey, these are disruptive times…a job for the sake of a job isn’t enough. Jobs created from building a bomb making facility on top of a earthquake fault is not a justification of stupid.

I’m a general contractor. The jobs have gone away. The construction industry is comatose, on life support. Is this justification for building more suburban sprawl?? Hell no.

It’s time to get smarter. Find the unmet market demand, and build Sustainable Urban Villages!

Stupid jobs, that ultimately take out species, cause cancer, or put too much at risk further down the line, are not good options… I know, we will sell anything to anybody, if it’s good for the economy. Those days are over….tobacco, asbestos, DDT, plutonium, and sprawl just aren’t viable options!

It’s a new day! Get smart! Together we can make sustainable real!…

Image courtesy of Fundly

Gaviotas-World Class Sustainable Village

This article points out the incredible power of human ingenuity.  As I keep taking steps toward sustainable lifestyles, I run into all manner of inner limiting belief systems.  A major one is “Don’t Make Mistakes”. The correct answer is rewarded in school. But check out the learning from Gaviotas. Try stuff, learn from “the mistakes”…. genuis appears through trial and error.  So Go For It!!! There aren’t mistakes, they are the path to amazing.

It became clear to us that most of the successes at Gaviotas were not a result of brilliant planning but of a trial and error process, replete with wrong turns and detours.

Gaviotas showed us that there is not an orchestrated march toward a finished product—there is only the process, the unpredictable evolution of strategies and ideas… READ MORE >>

One Brighton, Sonoma Mt. Village, One Planet Communities

Here’s the givens…a walkable, green lifestyle.  “5 minute living”, is how the Sonoma guy refers to it.

Now add the amenities you’d like to have in your neighborhood.  Make it so compelling you’d move in! The beauty of the situation is you’re not alone. You share your ideas, your inspirations.  Others share theirs. Together, we can make sustainable real!  READ MORE >>

Map to the Sustainable Gold! Part 3

Continued from Part 2…An Interactive Website and a Brochure are the 1st elements of the map to the Sustainable Urban Village!

The idea of the brochure, is as I come across people who might want to submit their ideas,  I can leave them with some info, the guidelines and a reminder. And something they can pass on to a friend.

Another interact tool I’m conjuring up works off of Zoomify. The idea is the viewer can zoom into a site plan, look around, and click on points of interest (“hot spots” in Zoomify speak), and more info comes up. So it’s like a narrative, a walkthru.  This is very useful.

Al Moore's St Mikes center section

A year or so ago, the City of Santa Fe commissioned seven planners/architects to come up with their ideas on how St Michaels Drive could be remodeled.  My experience, standing looking at each of these site plans was pretty empty.  A couple of days later, one of the architects, Al Moore, gave me a verbal tour through his ideas, and the neighborhood came alive…It was a fabulous place to live…sexy,  contemporary architecture, a fun creative environment.

So here’s my idea…not only would Al provide a written tour with Zoomify, but other viewers could take Al’s layout, and change the names/functions of the buildings.  You could create a whole ‘nother mix of commercial businesses and  services using the same layout. Or you could invite your friends, classmates, or fellow employees to participate, and together another Village mix would be created.  Name em, post em to the  website, and everyone can vote on their favorites!… READ MORE >>

Map to the Sustainable Gold! Part 2

All together now…  “We all live in a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine…We all live in a yellow…”

I’ve embarked on this adventure that leads, I fully believe, to the promised land, the gold at the end of the rainbow, the treasure…Sustainable Urban Villages.  I bought this map from a guy in the alley…. the story unfolds from Part 1…

treasure map

Yar Maties, we be in the hunt for the Sustainable Gold!

The Map, as best as I can read it,  says we’re starting with Stories from a Sustainable Future.

Over a short  meeting in Seth’s office, he offered to make Sustainable Urban Villages the theme of an entire issue (40 or 48 pages). I immediately saw the opportunity: we could get the word out across North Central New Mexico…  one of those “Yar Mates, thar she blows!” moments…

I’ve put a draft  of a brochure together. The front panel reads:
What if You Could Design Your Thriving, Alive, Resilient, and Sustainable Future?

What Would Make the Design of Your Neighborhood So Compelling, You’d Move In?!… READ MORE >>

Yar Maties! The Map to a Sustainable Pot of Gold!Part 1

As I’m gathering the images for this post, the kick off of the Map to the Sustainable Gold, the sound track kicks in… I’m hearing the theme to Gilligan’s Island.  Please feel free to insert your favorite sea shanty! Hey, how bout “Yellow Submarine!”

treasure map

Yar Mates!, we be in the hunt for Sustainable Living!

The Map, as best as I can read it,  says we’re starting with Stories from a Sustainable Future.

If the stories are compelling enough, and the stories are from people who want to move into a Sustainable Urban Village, all the stakeholders will stay committed and persevere to the end! There’s that’s my theory, anyway.

The treasure needs to really compelling, as all manner of monsters may come roiling out of the depths!

If the landowners, investors, Architects, planners,  city policy persons, the secondary mortgage market, etc can see the value, they too will add their creativity to make this SUV real… READ MORE >>

More Dwindling Natural Resources…Bummer Dude!

“‘Hold on you guys…it’s my wife’s car!”  You should have seen it… just like that scene out of Bullitt, ya know where Steve McQueen casually fastens his seat belt while looking in the rear view mirror?  Well we’re sitting at this stop light, and the car next to us rolls down his window… I’m thinking he’s gonna ask directions… “Nice Prius, what year??”  My wife’s been here before, she casually lowers her sunglasses, mutter’s something about the guy’s mother, and the next thing I know, we’re flying down the road, sliding sideways thru turns taking bullets from an automatic assault rifle.  After a couple miles, she rolls down her window, salutes the guys goodbye with the Hawaiian peace sign, and let’s loose with an ear piecing holler…”Damn I love my Prius!!!”

We live in unprecedented times!!

My wife's Prius almost got jacked!

And I thought buying our Prius was gonna save Western Civilization….Bummer!   I guess I’ll have to add another Impending Bummer to the list. But hey, when the price of rare earth metals goes through the roof, our Prius will be worth more than gold!!!

Turns out,  rare earth metals are rare. Just when gold seems ridiculously high, the neodymium and dysprosium come along.

Desperadoes have been crawling under Toyotas, and cutting the catalytic converters off with battery powered saws. In a few years, the rare earth metals in the battery powered saw’s batteries will be worth more than the platinum in the catalytic converters…then what?? A real dilemma!


Electric cars and wind turbines may indeed help wean the U.S. from oil dependence, but these technologies rely on rare-earth metals to operate—metals that are in short supply, and that leave radioactive waste behind after extraction. According to a recent article in MIT’s Technology Review, 95% of the rare-earth metals needed for everything from compact fluorescent bulbs to magnets for electric vehicle motors and wind turbines come from China—and these metals are increasingly difficult to find.

The article reports: “Of particular concern are neodymium and dysprosium, which are used to make magnets that help generate torque in the motors of electric and hybrid cars and convert torque into electricity in large wind turbines. In a report released last December, the U.S. Department of Energy estimated that widespread use of electric-drive vehicles and offshore wind farms could cause shortages of these metals by 2015.” There is no real known alternative to these metals needed to make magnets that are incredibly strong. The article reports that a Toyota Prius motor uses about a kilogram of rare earth metals, while offshore wind turbines need hundreds of kilograms of such metals each. Here’s the full article

OK, our options seem to be getting fewer… guess it’s time to figure out what makes sustainable real!…

Images courtesy of Norcal minis

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