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Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Urban Permaculture

The call to return to a more harmonious state of living with nature and the world is teeming in more and more people in this day. It’s a new age, a reawakening, and urban permaculture is one of the most important aspects of this awakening. Through the Permaculture Design Certification course I took at Prescott College,  I got an in depth look at the possibilities connected to this idea. Many are being drawn to returning to the land, many finding places far from cities to set up incredible ecovillages and off the grid homesteads that are stunning and elegant in their reintegration with nature.  There is an importance, though, in bringing the land back to the city. In fact, cities are where most of the world’s population lives, so it is even more pertinent to be working towards rewilding the cities as to bring about greater harmony between humans and nature on all levels, step by step. In the brimming of this acknowledgement of a need for change and regrowth are many who are pioneering and leading this new movement within humanity.

For instance, there is Brad Lankaster. He is working in the city to bring back nature by creating different projects like wild growth systems that support wild harvesting on the edge of streets and solar savvy structures that focus on the idea of less is more-humans don’t need as much room as we often think we need in to live comfortably. His “garattage” (a name for his conversion of a garage into his personal cottage) is small but large, well spaced with good flow, which he boasts can seat 20 for dinner comfortably. His work speaks to all the principles of permaculture, but he persists in using small and slow solutions, valuing diversity and integrating systems for greater yield. He has been a part of designing mini intentional communities within the city which raise gardens and even chickens in an inner city shared space that makes good use of a community house center so that the private living quarters can be smaller. His views on turning anything into something more, even a parking lot with which simple dips of earth which make the most of rainwater could provide good growing space for trees and plants of all types. Overall his work proves that everything can be drawn around permaculture and brought back to a more natural pace, even within a city that has generally spoken of humanity’s misuse of land and resources.

Barbara Rose is a hoot of a woman whose hold on the edge of Tucson shows bravery and persistence. Twenty-five years ago the city was nowhere near her home, now it is on her back doorstep. She loves the Sonoran Desert, though, and has been a part of teaching people how to work with permaculture philosophies such as humanure, rainwater harvesting, and foraging or “wild farming” as she calls it for years now. Barbara is a wonderful example of the permaculture principle of aptly catching and storing energy. When standing on her land if you look to one side you see the disastrous development of the bad planning of Tucson’s spread, but if you look to the other you see pure, beautiful wilderness. Her struggle has been working within the coding of city ordinance and politics in creating wonderful systems that are at this point illegal, such as using a composting toilet that is not to the city’s standards but a very simple and genius way to turn human waste to compost for her garden. She stands firm in civil disobedience, though, with sayings like, “I eat, I shit, I compost, I grow. I eat, I shit, I compost...” Another way Barbera breathes permaculture, by using and valuing renewable resources and producing no waste. She holds one of the edges between nature and industrialization, and through her living the example of what can be she has inspired many to rethink their connection to the land and become more permaculturally aware.

All around the world people are uniting in order to bring the urban environment into flow with the natural once again, by inciting use of permaculture and ideas of self-sustainability and living off the grid- even within a city. There are the Urban Farming Guys, who through their work and documentaries of “Farmin’ in the Hood” they have inspired many in the ghetto of Kansas City to turn away from gang crime and instead turn their life towards urban farming. They have created self sustaining systems of aquaponics, where the cycles of self-sustainability are mapped out and passed on to many. Their system consists of a fish and plant raising system where even the fish waste is used as fertilizer and also fuel in a methane biodigester which helps heat the greenhouse within which everything is kept. Another way to hold to the permaculture principle of using and valuing renewable resources. Nothing is wasted, and these people have brought together a community which was once wasting away in the fast pace grind of money and drugs and violence. These people are practicing creating invisible structures, networking people into a better connected, more compassionate way of life.

Cuba has also been an incredible leader in urban farming and the creation of invisible structures. When going through the struggle of losing the use of oil and being under a strict U.S. embargo, the people of Cuba learned very quickly that to return to producing food and being completely self-sufficient within their country was the only way they were going to survive. Thus, they have thrived. Every piece of land within the cityscape that could be turned to use for growing food was transformed. Through this process people became more and more connected and no longer swept in the industrial craze that seems to have a hold on a vast amount of the world. Also, the connections between neighbors has grown to being more like families. This has helped others see what alternatives can be had since peak oil has been reached, and inevitably all societies that are so dependent on oil will have to revamp their lives in order to no longer rely on such an unhealthy source. Better sooner rather than later.

In a documentary called “Radioactive Wolves”, aired by PBS, there was a study done on the effects of the Chernobyl disaster in Russia. Although radioactivity was quite high in the area surrounding the nuclear plant, it has been found that there has been a huge return of wildlife to the area, namely wolves, but many other creatures too. The nearby city of Prypiat, which had been evacuated after the accident and left buildings towering ghostlike in the midst of Russia, has been returning to a state of natural regrowth that scientists are stunned to find happening so quickly. Plants have crumbled and inhabited a good amount of the city, Peregrine falcons once on the edge of endangered now thrive within the many stories of abandoned buildings. Nature very quickly returns things to the good ways when given a chance, holding to the regenerative power of life.

Simply and incredibly, the humans of the world are awakening into a new state of reconnection. Humans have a very important role to play in being swept into the harmony of everything once again. Transforming some of the most destructive living zones of humans into urban permaculture sites that reintegrate nature is one of healthiest and purely good things that humans can do in order to support this reconnection to the world. With people rising everywhere to step into positions of leadership and activism in this movement, one can’t help but be inspired and filled with hope for the future of the world, and humanity’s place within it.

~Brittany Davis