Thursday, January 20, 2011

America reCycled: cross-country by bicycle

By Elizabeth Flock
Read it at the Washington Post

At this very moment, two brothers are pedaling their way across America on bicycles recycled from trash, documenting Americans who are trying in bold ways to relocalize their culture and communities. In some ways, they're documenting the search for America's lost communities.

The brothers are Tim Hussin, a young award-winning photojournalist, and Noah Hussin, a Fulbright scholar. For this year-long journey, they're "digital hobos," as they call it, who will be eating out of dumpsters and sleeping under bridges and pulling out a notebook computer or microphone when they have something to say.

They were funded by raising money on Kickstarter, a nonprofit organization that helps fund entrepreneurs. Since they hit the road on Nov. 6, the Hussin brothers have populated the America reCycled blog with stories about people who say America has been losing communities for 60 years to subdivisions and strip malls and the country needs to get those communities back. 

Matty, a bicycle mechanic the brothers met in Asheville, N.C. who makes bikes only from recycled parts, says, "People have to get a connection back to themselves and the people around them. If everyone's doing that, it's this ripple effect. Change is gonna come from the ground up." Matty hopes to be part of that change.

Tim and Noah Hussin share a similar philosophy. On AmericareCycled, they write, "The modern American is so disconnected from those who make our lives possible. The farmers that grow our food, the artists who write our favorite songs, the manual laborers who build our homes...the very building blocks of our lives do not comprise our community. Rather, we find ourselves lost in an endless economy of strangers."

The Hussin brothers are documenting initiatives like eco-villages, urban farming, and reclaimed ghost towns across America. They're talking to people rethinking business models, such as the Recyclery, which made the brothers' bicycles from waste; and people reinventing living spaces, such as the 17-person urban homestead they visited in Asheville, N.C., in which everyone lives cheaply and is free to pursue his or her creative desires. When Tim answers the phone for this interview, they are in the Bible Belt in Tennessee.

Through these people, the Hussin brothers write that a "new America" is being born. But what they also realize is that the "new America" really isn't new at all.

City dwellers today marvel at that earlier time, before mass media or urbanization, when people still got their food from their neighbor or sang songs with family around a campfire for entertainment. City dwellers marvel at it and sometimes try to replicate it, through small habits like attending farmer's markets, joining community groups, or wasting less.

But America reCycled is documenting something more than farmer's markets. "We're showing a different lifestyle than the American dream of career, house and family," Tim says. "We're showing people who live in another way than the production-consumption model we've all followed since WWII."

The folks they've documented so far, like the urban homesteaders and mechanic who works without waste in Asheville, have this in common -- they waste, spend, and travel far less than the average city dweller. Their lives are simpler.

When asked what the goal of America reCycled is, Tim doesn't say he wants every follower of the project to adopt these lifestyles. "We don't have grandiose plans," he says, and hesitates. "But if we can get even one person who's never considered this lifestyle to watch a short film all the way through, well, then that's something."

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