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What is Urban Permaculture?
Urban Permaculture, and Urban Permaculture Design are emerging vocations within the broader disciplines of Permaculture. Permaculture is a design system for sustainable living and land use that adheres to natural logic.
Wikipedia defines permaculture as conceived by co-founders Bill Mollison and David Holmgren: a set of design principles centred on whole systems thinking, simulating, or directly utilizing the patterns and resilient features observed in natural ecosystems. It uses these principles in a growing number of fields from regenerative agriculture, rewilding, and community resilience.
That’s a handful of somewhat complicated information for busy people to understand or dive into on introduction, so I prefer to consider permaculture at its most fundamental, as biomimicry in all things, at all times, whenever one can or is permitted.
Whereas permaculture suggests adherence to Holmgren's prescribed set of 12 thoughtfully developed design principles and three foundational ethics best-suited to purpose-built and designed rural or larger properties, my interpretation of urban permaculture embraces the ethos of permaculture and encourages interpretation of these same principles and ethics — using them as guideposts to help us design our urban lives and landscapes.
The path forward must be forged anew — we must expect and affect change, but we must do so realistically, respecting both the limitations and possibilities of human nature and contemporary society.
A raised vegetable bed traditionally located in permaculture zone one (see below), may be re-imagined by urban permaculturists as a potted tomato plant situated on a sunny apartment windowsill, fed by municipal compost tea and resident worm castings.
A foraging and wild-food gathering area on the meadowed edge of a forest might be labeled zone four (see below) by permaculturists, whereas a city dweller might find these same resources along the margins of a city park.
Urban permaculture is fluid, and moves with us. It is a way of thinking and assessing, and of making decisions. It informs our view of the world and our relationships to nature and to each other. My intention with this website is to illustrate and discuss traditional permaculture principles and ethics, and give examples of how we might interpret them in small and medium-size urban and suburban spaces, in layers, working toward the creation of whole systems that mimic those found in nature.
I guarantee, that once you start observing nature, mimicking nature, and anticipating nature in your gardens, your food systems, and in your life, you will become your own permaculture life designer, and you will become part of change for the better.
The planet has sustained life in a complex, self-regulating way for millions of years, and it is only our commercial-scale disruption and industrial degradation of this natural balance that has wreaked havoc on natural ecosystems, sending the planet tumbling into world-on-fire chaos.
I believe however, that the tens of millions of us who live in urban and suburban environments, if duly inspired and informed, can make a serious dent in the universe, and reverse the trajectory of catastrophic climate change. We can do this one well-intentional initiative at a time — one windowsill tomato plant, one balcony garden, one mushroom grow bag, one front yard urban farm, one homegrown zucchini passed over the fence.
We witnessed, during the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown, how quickly the planet began to heal herself when people were forced to reduce their environmental footprints. Granted, much of that reduction was industrial, but nonetheless the healing proved that we have options; that continued extinction of species (including ours perhaps) and habitats is not inevitable if we take action now. Millions of small steps equal one damn giant leap.
Permaculture itself is relatively unknown in mainstream North America, perhaps due to the somewhat vague nature of its definitions, and its reliance on anecdotal evidence, natural farming, and ecological first principles.
Proponents of conventional farming and industrial agricultural have been known to consider permaculture as a pseudoscience, while at the same time stalwart permaculturists and organic market gardeners guffaw state-of-the-art solar-powered hydroponic container gardens in food deserts.
Let’s all just do our best to heal the planet and ourselves, and deliver sustainable food security to every living person, especially the children who inherit the mess we’ve made. Let’s start at home, then share what we know.
Let’s get growing!