As I write this I’ll admit I’m have a little trouble putting the idea in my head in any sort of format that makes sense in written form. So bear with me or skip it entirely.
Both have things in common. As I look over the early and mid twentieth century Washington Post articles descriptions of life in slums there are some small similarities with the eco-friendly low energy use folks I admire.
The modern American uses a lot of clean water. If you leave the tap going while you brush your teeth, that’s probably a gallon going down the drain there. Flushing the toilet, that uses a couple or 3 gallons, more if not everything goes down. And we can do this because of indoor plumbing, wonderful, wonderful indoor plumbing. Tucked away in some eco-media zines and sites are compostable toilets and other contraptions to help reduce water usage. If you don’t have indoor plumbing it is a pretty good guess that’s you’re not going to be using a lot of water if you have to trudge out to a common source to grab it.
Mother gave me a decent description of a rural outhouse’s workings. However, I’m still baffled by an urban outhouse, such as the ones in historical Shaw. Is it hooked up to the sewer system? Is it a regular toilet in essentially a tool shed?
Another aspect of slum life was lack of electricity in some homes and the strong use of kerosene. In an article*, a slum dwelling wood and ice man was lamenting in 1954 how he was going to be put out of a job because people were going to refrigerators. Before you had the ice box, where you would have a huge block of ice, in a box, to keep food cold. Think of it as a cooler with a door. So not every place was hooked up with enough electricity to support a fridge and I noticed a lot of kerosene usage. Kerosene to light lamps. Kerosene to heat the homes. Kerosene to use for cooking heat. Kerosene is one energy alternative, but seems like a sure way to burn your house down. Wood was still in use as a cooking and heating fuel, as well. Kerosene isn’t eco-friendly, like water, if you have to haul it home, and you’re probably more conscious of its use.
Wen asking mom about heat she said the house was heated with the stove and at night the stove was off or out, so they bundled up at night. You had several layers and a blanket and a sibling sharing the bed to keep warm.
Why am I trying to tie slum dwellers and eco-living together? Well it was some small similarities such as the low energy and water usage that I kept noticing. However the big difference in that area is that one uses less because of economics and the other uses less because of choice, which then impacts other areas of ones’ quality of life. And with the passage of time and enforcement of building codes, indoor plumbing and electricity help, however the other scourges of slum life, crime, poor education, overcrowding, unemployment, remain.
*No. 2 Leads City in :WASHINGTON’S WICKEDEST, THE SECOND PRECINCT by S.L. Fishbein Post Reporter March 14 1954. The Washington Post.