The Permaculture City
The Permaculture City

The Permaculture City

ecosystems. We search for the principles that generate life’s resilience, immense productivity, diversity, interconnectednesss, and elegance. (Location 134)

microfood forests in narrow urban backyards, food-producing wildlife gardens in suburbia, and productive farms out in the country. (Location 156)

What permaculturists have learned in the garden is precisely what systems theorists, ecologists, neuroscientists, economists, and many others have been learning in the lab, field, and office: (Location 162)

When many parts are assembled so they can interact and influence each other, new properties emerge, such as self-regulation, feedback loops, self-organization, and resilience. (Location 163)

As a permaculture book, this volume’s aim is to show how to develop plans for smart urban living and how to best choose the techniques, out of the multitudes available that will serve those plans. (Location 260)

The goal of this book is to teach readers how to think like permaculturists, to become adept at a whole-systems approach to living in and finding solutions in cities, towns, and suburbs. (Location 267)

they leave in their wake—and I count myself among the guilty. Our culture is enamored with things and how to make them and spends little time exploring which things we truly need, where (and when) they belong, and what their effects will be when we make and use them. (Location 269)

But after a year or two, I noticed a few persistent glitches in our dream. Even though we worked at home, our gasoline use skyrocketed, because we were miles from any supplies, friends, and culture. (Location 302)

They noted that in every city and town, marketplaces teem with crowds buzzing in the age-old banter of buying and selling. At every urban core sits a central park, a gleaming complex of temples, or some other embodiment of dedicated, even sacred public space. (Location 343)

commerce, community, and security—are (Location 348)

Thus this book will use the term “urban permaculture” broadly, to mean permaculture that is practiced wherever the technological and social functions of the built environment outweigh the biological processes of nature, or, to put it more succinctly, wherever we live amid pavement and people more than with plants. (Location 358)

The importance of the three primary functions of cities—inspirational gathering space, security, and trade—is also visible in the negative. (Location 431)

The movement of people in and out of a city is useful feedback about how well that city functions and what needs to be redesigned. (Location 434)

but food production has never been a fundamental role of cities. The world’s cities, towns, and villages have always relied on their surrounding regions for much of their food and other raw materials. (Location 437)

needs. Big cities don’t have a monopoly on public squares and churches. Small towns have police and a legal system, and during unstable times a walled village of a few hundred people would be large enough to intimidate all but the largest bands of marauders. (Location 466)

They found that indicators of innovation and creativity didn’t scale up at a simple linear rate but at one that mathematicians call superlinear. A city that was ten times larger than another didn’t produce just ten times more patents or new startups but seventeen times more. (Location 472)

us. On average, a person in a city of five million souls, the report suggests, will be three times more creative than a person in a town of a hundred thousand, in terms of generating original works, ideas, patents, publications, performances, and other innovations. (Location 476)

Although the parts that make up these systems help define their qualities—a collection of cells and a group of people aren’t the same—their interactions and relationships are what gives these systems their character. (Location 486)

Researchers who study complex systems have learned that certain critical functions, such as adaptability or creativity, aren’t carried out well, or at all, in systems until a certain threshold of complexity is reached. (Location 492)

Understanding that cities are a form of complex adaptive system has helped urbanists restore some vibrancy to moribund metropolises, so it’s worth understanding a little about these systems. (Location 511)

mammal, for example, maintains its body temperature independent of both the air temperature and how hard it is exercising. If it were at equilibrium, it would be at air temperature—and it would be dead. (Location 548)

Those principles suggest that rigid planning that leaves no room, or even not enough room, for spontaneous self-organization will create sterile cities. (Location 565)

On the other hand, pure bottom-up accretion of elements with no rules or pattern at all approaches chaos and can result in grossly unequal distribution of resources, incoherent layout, gentrification, food deserts, and the other ills that plague many cities. (Location 567)

Geddes taught that every city evolves in both a historical context and a unique geographical setting, and any planning that ignores or attempts to remake these will harm those who live there. (Location 575)

She argued that healthy city life depended on urban buildings and neighborhoods that had diverse uses, ages, appearances, layouts, and income levels. (Location 581)

Jacobs was an advocate of complexity before there was such a discipline, and her book, arriving at the cresting of the high-modernist tide, became a rallying point for those angered or victimized by inhuman schemes of urban renewal. (Location 583)

In contrast, Jane Jacobs did not view cities from planes or distant cruise ships but from strolls around her neighborhood, chats with shopkeepers, and people-watching in parks. (Location 609)

The failure of the high modernists was to view order only as aesthetic and not functional. By reducing the city to geometry and isolated areas of activity, they killed it. A living thing is never built of straight lines. In a phrase that anticipated the formal science by twenty years, Jacobs referred to the city as “organized complexity.” (Location 614)

She argued that a healthy social order does not follow the same rules as architectural order and cannot be imposed by a plan. (Location 617)

Jacobs’s book became a fulcrum on which urban planning pivoted away from rigid, deadening order toward spontaneity, organic development, and a human scale. (Location 624)

This is the genius and elegance of natural systems design. It offers just enough order to create a functional framework but plenty of room for variation, spontaneity, and adaptation to the context. In a sense, this is design without design. (Location 650)

No ecosystem or city or any other form of complex adaptive system is designed in the conventional sense of the word, but each follows patterns shaped by and specific to its elements and context. (Location 653)

Over time, patterns develop, and a good observer can begin to spot some of the operating principles and rules of thumb at work. (Location 655)

In city ecosystems, we see patterns such as gentrification, neighborhood development and decay, and shifting concentrations of political and economic power. (Location 657)

With CAS, design resembles real-world garden design: we come up with a plan, we build it, then nature takes over and carries it in directions we didn’t foresee. (Location 662)

This is where a deep understanding of patterns of systems is crucial. When we know that systems will evolve, will undergo succession in their own specific ways, and will self-organize in patterns characteristic of that system, we can then develop a “pattern language” for the particular patterns of the system we’re working with. (Location 668)

Cities, as complex adaptive systems, seem best to be “designed” this way. (Location 677)

We set up a minimal number of conditions and guidelines, then let the autonomous agents within them—the people, the neighborhoods, the social groups—explore the possibilities that emerge. (Location 678)

towns. As an example of a large-scale project, a few cities are experimenting with self-organizing traffic lights; that is, “smart” traffic lights that operate under a few simple rules and adapt their sequencing to current road conditions. (Location 683)

In Oakland, California, entrepreneurs Alfonso Dominguez and Sarah Filley have created Popuphood, a business incubator for reinvigorating depressed neighborhoods that attempts to set up the conditions for success, then let it unfold. (Location 690)

The project jump-started retail business in the neighborhood and is now being repeated in other areas. (Location 694)

It seemed as if at some point in its refinement, every technology sailed toward its own apex of unsuitability, its own Peter Principle where simple, useful devices were plastered with complicated features until they failed. (Location 730)

Piecemeal design of complex technologies has often had harmful, or at best unexpected, effects on the physical, social, and ecological systems that they are embedded within. (Location 734)

chain. A change in one system, such as the engine or the brakes, might prompt shifts in the systems on the same level (steering or suspension), and some changes spin off effects that bounce up and down the levels, too. (Location 737)

such as commerce, legal systems, and others, each with its own many levels of components. (Location 753)

The writer Arthur Koestler coined the term “holarchy” to describe this webwork of interdependent tiers, and each level he called a “holon,” to reflect that each component is both a whole and a part. (Location 755)

Whole-systems thinkers recognize that any holon that they are working on—whether wheel, car, or highway network; seedling, raised bed, or market garden; patient, nursing staff, or hospital; local ordinance or town government—is a system made of connected holons and fits into a tier of different-level holons. (Location 764)

The key elements to remember are that we draw a box as a tool and not as reality, and that the box’s boundaries may need to be adjusted as we learn more. Designers are also aware that those boxes connect with each other and to other holons, and changes in one can propagate through many other boxes at many scales. (Location 770)

At its heart, design is about placing the right parts in useful relationships so that the desired processes can happen. (Location 780)

The relationships are just as important as the parts—sometimes even more so. Often we can swap one similar part for another—a plastic tank for a pond—but the relationship must stay the same for the system to work. (Location 782)

work. Function means that this does something to that. In other words, this and that are connected in some way. A whole system—an organism, a community, a business, or an ecosystem—exists only because of the connections and relationships among its parts. Remove the connections, and there’s no system left. (Location 785)

For example, in rainwater harvesting, the roof functions to deliver rainwater to the tank. That’s one relationship: roof to tank. (Location 788)

Thinking about the tank in terms of some static quality such as its shape or color or weight is only part of getting its location right. But if we think about its potential functions (and usually more than one), we know a lot about what it needs to be tied to and thus where an optimal location is for it. (Location 791)

Reinvesting resources builds the capacity to capture yet more resource flows. (Location 839)

Systems evolve over time, often toward more diversity and productivity. (Location 852)

Design for both immediate and long-term returns from your efforts: You can’t work on an empty stomach. Set up positive feedback loops to build the system and repay your investment. (Location 862)

better. There is usually little penalty for mistakes if you learn from them. (Location 867)

To set us on the path, we can think of the design process as a holarchy of four major levels, or holons, of activities. As with any holarchy, each level encompasses and incorporates the levels below it. (Location 884)

Permaculture focuses primarily at the level of strategy and goals. Strategy—planning—is the linchpin of good design. It also turns out to be the toughest, most slippery part of design. It’s where many designs and designers go wrong. (Location 918)

Strategy is much harder to do well than the other three levels of design. Devising the mission of a design comes from the heart, the psyche, and the life experiences of the people involved. (Location 921)

For a mission to be successful, most or all of the bases have to be covered. Basic needs must be met. If we look at the goals we listed for our “surviving peak everything” mission, we see that they each have to do with meeting a fundamental need such as food, energy, security, and livelihood. (Location 925)

What is strategy? Simply put, it’s a plan. It’s a set of ordered steps to achieve a solution. One of my favorite definitions of strategy is that of management consultant Henry Mintzberg: “A strategy is a pattern in a stream of decisions.” (Location 936)

First, a strategy is built of decisions, choices to be made and carried out, and nearly always not just one but several. The decisions are in a stream; that is, a flow or sequence, in which one choice leads to and opens the door for another. (Location 939)

Set up right, good strategy creates the same feeling as jumping multiple pieces in a checkers game—click, click, click, click, and there’s no stopping it. That’s what we’re hoping for in good design, to create the conditions for our desired outcome to be inevitable. (Location 944)

“What are the obstacles keeping us from our goal of reliable, ethical food sources?” In permaculture design, we call this the observation step: What are we working with? What are the features of the landscape, including the parts that may get in the way of our project? So we list them. Some potential obstacles to gaining secure food sources include: (Location 969)

This is when we begin the process of arranging how, when, and where to implement our solutions. It’s the part that most people think of as the design process; that is, it answers the question, Where does everything go? (Location 1004)

Every meal that is prepared generates food scraps. Often these go straight into the garbage, so there’s no yield at all from them. (Location 1043)

Many people, consciously or not, apply highest use to their work habits. At the beginning of my workday, my brain is at its best, so I do the most intellectually challenging tasks, such as studying new material that I need to master. (Location 1094)

I answer e-mails and make phone calls. It takes even less brainpower to sort, file, and organize tasks and materials, so I do that next. When my brain has deteriorated to an inert mass, I find physical work to do. (Location 1097)

Highest use tells us how to connect design elements or activities in time by linking their functions or uses in a sequence. It tells us what to do first. (Location 1104)

It also forges beneficial working relationships among the parts, which is the hallmark of whole-systems design. (Location 1111)

The focus of this method is to look for ways to meet the needs of each design element by connecting them to the yields of other elements in the design. (Location 1116)

Needs and resources analysis tells us how to connect the parts of a design to one another. (Location 1161)

Permaculture’s zone system is based on a very simple concept: Place the things you use the most or that need the most attention near where you are. This seems like common sense, but it’s astonishing how often it’s not done. (Location 1168)

We can also usefully apply zones to organizations of people. In a business, school, or nonprofit corporation, people could be placed into zones according to the intensity or frequency of their involvement or their relative proximity to or influence on the power or decision-making center. I’ve included one example of how this could be done in table 2-3. (Location 1227)

Relationships with others fall into zones as well, and in chapter nine I offer some examples of how to use the zone system this way. We can use zones in several other ways. In our example on meeting food needs above, we began to touch on zones in looking at where our food comes from. If we think of food sources in terms of zones, those sources that we have the most control over and work the most intensively toward are in the inner zones. (Location 1232)

yard. Instead of just dropping the idea into the “I’ll use it someday” pile, he realized that in his case the core concept of zones—frequency of use—could be linked to the type of transportation he used to get places. (Location 1249)

The zone system organizes the parts of a design in relation to the user or center of use. (Location 1264)

Sector analysis organizes design elements into useful relationships with outside influences that we cannot directly affect. (Location 1330)

The home’s central place is told in the roots of the word “economy”: the Greek oikos, or “household,” and nemein, “to apportion or manage.” Managing our households spins the wheels of nearly all economic activity. (Location 1445)

Those productive home economies are packed with lessons about designing yards that can unplug us a bit from the industrial leviathan, improve the quality of our lives, and reconnect us to land, family, and community. (Location 1454)

Modeling our yards on the tropical home garden can show us how to move some of the pieces of our globe-spanning economy out of far-off factories and offices and reinstall them to benefit us more directly, and with far fewer toxic consequences, near home. (Location 1460)

After we take a quick look at how tropical home gardens work, we can explore how their design principles can be translated for our own yards. (Location 1464)

Many home garden plants are multifunctional as well. The leaves of a tree used for roof beams ooze an insecticidal sap; an edible tuber can be mashed into a glue. This stacks more into a small space. (Location 1473)

In cultures with these kinds of gardens, we’re no longer separating consumption and production, an inefficient and often soul-killing setup where we leave home to go to work to earn the money to shop for the things that we bring home to use. (Location 1502)

One pattern here is that in cities, not surprisingly, products from the natural environment are harder to get than human-made resources. (Location 1541)

1. Space-saving arrangement 2. Easy access 3. The right microclimate and setting 4. A sense of defined space for the activity within (Location 1596)

There are few formal rules for what should go into your yard. It’s an intensely personal decision, and although permaculture’s design tools will help you decide, your own passions and needs will dictate the list of possibilities that you’ll choose from. (Location 1607)

Of course, I’ll start by reducing my water use in as many ways as possible, but right now I’m focusing on how to deliver water to my plants. So I begin with listing the possible water sources: (Location 1612)

Being a permaculturist, I want to reduce my use of city water since it costs money, pulls water away from other users (human and wild), and relies on complex physical and political infrastructure. (Location 1618)

I want to do that eventually, but I need to save up the money. And street runoff comes only with rain; maybe I can direct it into a large pond to store it, but I don’t have one yet. (Location 1622)

Once we’ve selected the elements we want via needs and resources (and probably other methods listed in chapter two as well) we can use the zone method to start arranging roughly where those elements and activities should go in relation to the house and to where we spend most of our time. (Location 1629)

For example, an orchard is usually a zone 3 feature because fruit doesn’t need harvesting more than once every week or two. (Location 1636)

In our Portland, Oregon, yard grew a huge European prune plum that each summer groaned under a load of fruit so immense that a marathon of frantic canning, drying, and belly-stretching eating fests hardly dented it. (Location 1638)

Keep your zone 1 as small as possible, so that none of it will be neglected. How big is that? Again, it depends on the context. Is your yard flat? Then the area you’ll shuffle across every day will be larger than in a sloped yard. Are parts of the yard far from doors or paths, behind hedges, walls, or large raised beds, or in some other way less accessible? (Location 1662)

Rare is the person who enjoys stepping straight from indoor heated and carpeted comfort into full sun, gusty winds, and crumbly earth. Most of us prefer gradual transitions from inside to outdoors. Good landscape design dictates gentle gradations from a space that is fully indoors, domesticated, and 100 percent constructed through a transition space in which the wild gently seeps in and the built slips away, until we are in full contact with nature. (Location 1676)

Especially in cities and towns, our yards need to be places to connect with nature, but our psyches prefer gradual shifts between their tame and wild sides. (Location 1680)

But in temperate climates, the indoors and outdoors are sharply distinct. Much of the year the environment and activities inside a temperate house are very different from what is—or isn’t—happening in the frigid realm outside, and the houses are more or less impermeable. (Location 1686)

As the list in chapter two attests, many urban sectors are unpleasant, human-spawned ones such as crime, pollution, or a stop-work order tacked to the door. This means that a variant on the third strategy—avoiding a sector altogether—is often the best to use. (Location 1736)

The ecovillagers’ strategy vaporized the schoolchild sector with no additional work while preserving the yield of sweet, ripe tomatoes. (Location 1743)

The key to good strategy here is to change the rules of the game and use subtlety rather than brute force. (Location 1744)

Permaculturists are fascinated by edges. Edges—the transition from one set of conditions to another—are often full of life, busy, and where innovation and novelty blossom. (Location 1759)

In design we manipulate edge to save energy and work and to enhance desired qualities. The decision to increase or decrease edge depends on what lies on either side of the edge and what our goals are. (Location 1765)

Out in the countryside, edges are often soft, gradual, and fairly permeable. Think of walking from full sun toward the trunk of a tree. (Location 1769)

We live in a regulated culture. The old (albeit patriarchal) adage “A man’s home is his castle” has been perforated by accumulating laws and customs, and our designs must acknowledge these intrusions upon our autonomy. (Location 1806)

An unprovocative front yard also raises the odds that your backyard experiments will thrive unchallenged. (Location 1812)

Like almost everything else in cities, urban windbreaks must be compact. On farms windbreaks stretch for hundreds of yards and may be single purpose: shrubs and trees chosen primarily for having the right size and permeability for slowing wind. (Location 1836)