with Becky Ellis
Excerpted from our double certificate design course.
The permaculture movement began as a re-imagining of agrarian landscapes but it has exciting emancipatory potential in re-imagining how cities might become places in which humans and nature co-create and co-operate. Urban permaculture allows us to create ecologically regenerative spaces in our individual lives and in collective spaces.
Lack of access to land is often raised as a barrier to participation in permaculture. Land ownership in North America, both rural and urban, is prohibitively expensive for many people. Many permaculture practices are based on land ownership including the creation of perennial gardens, the growing of food forests, major earthworks such as berms and swales and the building cob structures.
In cities, access to land is one of the biggest obstacles for people hoping to practice permaculture. Land in the city tends to be very expensive and zoning rules mean that some practices may be forbidden in certain parts of the city (for example, animals considered ‘livestock’).
In this mini class we will discuss strategies for accessing land in cities.
Although access to land for urban agriculture projects can be an obstacle, people have found a variety of creative ways to overcome this barrier.
Additionally, there is a growing movement around the world for public food forests, community farms and collective apiaries. Collective projects in public spaces can be an important way to begin to reclaim the commons and can help to disrupt the concept of private property. This is an important part of beginning to grapple with what it means to decolonize our cities. We can begin to shift our language and practice from one of ownership of land to one of care-taking and attachment. I have found it very useful to, while retaining my community activism and grassroots organizing, find some allies within city governments whether that be staff or city councilors.
Now that we’ve discussed strategies for accessing land in cities it’s time for you to explore these strategies first hand. A recommended way to start would be to find an urban permaculture project and volunteer for one hour. Do whatever is needed but be sure to talk to people about their experiences while you work alongside them. If you can’t find an urban permaculture project, find a community garden or urban farm.
This miniclass is excerpted from the Urban Permaculture module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Becky Ellis.
Becky Ellis is a permaculture educator and community activist in London, Ontario, Canada. Becky is a PhD candidate in Human Geography at Western University. Her research project is focused on the relationship between people and urban bees. Becky maintains the blog Permaculture for the People https://permacultureforthepeople.org and regularly gives workshops and presentations about urban permaculture, community gardening, and gentle beekeeping. She embraces the challenge of bringing permaculture (and honeybees!) to the suburbs.
Further reading on this topic:
Thomas, Pandora and Starhawk. “Black Lives Matter: A permaculture perspective”. Permaculture magazine. July 11, 2016. Accessed December 8, 2017. A statement of solidarity with Black Lives Matter activists. A must read.
Flores, Heather. Food not Lawns: How to run your yard into a garden and your neighbourhood into a community. Chelsea Green, 2006. A fabulous, in-depth guide to permaculture, especially focused on cities by our very own Heather Jo Fores. This book has a very good focus on community organizing - unlike some permaculture books it does not simply focus on transforming private spaces. It’s so inspiring that it spawned, Food not Lawns activist groups throughout the continent.
Piven, Frances Fox and Richard Cloward. Poor People’s Movements: Why they succeed, how they fail. Vintage Books, 1977. This is another older book that is a classic. In this book Piven and Cloward examine movements of and BY poor people. This book has been deeply influential and also puts forward the argument that poor people’s movements must be self-organized not implemented for them by well-meaning (or not) do-gooders. One of my favourite activist organizations is part of this movement - the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.
#urbanpermaculture #communitylandtrusts #guerrillagardening #publicland #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen #foodnotlawns
The permaculture movement began as a re-imagining of agricultural, rural landscapes but it has exciting emancipatory potential in co-creating cities that are filled with multispecies abundance. Urban permaculture allows us to create ecologically regenerative spaces both individually and collectively.
People have lived in cities — large, permanent settlements — for thousands of years. Since the turn of 20th century, the rate of urbanization has increased steadily throughout the world, with an especially intense growth after the 1950s. Currently, the majority of the world’s people live in cities, a trend that is expected to continue into the future which makes the potential impact of urban permaculture huge and far-reaching. There are multiple problems with cities but at their heart they are dynamic, vibrant, and diverse. Cities have the potential to be destructive and to increase people’s sense of alienation from each other and non-human nature. But they also have the potential to be lively and vibrant places filled with collective innovation and creativity. Creating ecologically regenerative and socially just cities is one of the most important tasks of permaculture.
Although urban permaculture can be limited to private, backyard spaces, many practitioners either have no access to private property or, want to extend beyond the limits of their property to collectively envision and create vibrant and revitalized collective spaces.
Benefits of Permaculture in cities
The flourishing of urban nature
While cites are sometimes dismissed as concrete jungles they are in fact filled with an abundance of non-human nature. In fact, some animals and plants thrive in cities. Recent studies by entomologists, for example, have found that some species of native bees prefer cities to the countryside due to the presence of less pesticides and more floral and habitat diversity. When we consider that many rural areas are filled with oceans of monocultures with islands of intense animal agriculture, it makes sense that many animals and plants flourish in cities.
Urban permaculture is especially important in co-creating spaces in which non-human urban natures thrive alongside people. The regenerative urban ecosystems we create will be filled with an amazing variety of insects, mammals, birds, and a wide diversity of volunteer plants.
This relationship is not one-sided — we can also benefit from the diversity of non-human nature in cities. For example volunteer plants — commonly known as weeds — can be important sources of food and medicine.
Access to Resources
Cities are wonderful places to practice permaculture because they contain a wide variety of resources, sometimes in the form of other people’s garbage. In many ways cities epitomize the permaculture principle that the problem is the solution. The things that people consider garbage — or sell cheaply at garage sales and thrift stores — may prove to be very useful in permaculture projects. For example, all kinds of containers useful for gardening can be found on the curb on garbage day.
Cities also contain other resources that are under-utilized. For example, cardboard boxes can be used for sheet mulching, newspapers can be used for vermicompost bedding, and leaves make perfect mulch.
Lastly, cities contain anywhere from thousands to millions of people. Many people have both resources and skills to share. This has led to the development of a true sharing economy with the creation of little free libraries, tool libraries, seed libraries and co-operatives of all kinds. Although still on the edges of mainstream society, people have experimented with the sharing of skills in a variety of ways including community resource mapping and bartering networks.
Communities of difference
One of the most important benefits of creating permaculture projects in cities is that urban neighbourhoods can more easily develop into vibrant communities based on difference.
This reaffirms one of the most important principles of permaculture — that diversity creates resilience. Perhaps the most exciting thing about permaculture in cities is that it allows us to collectively imagine a different kind of world, one that is ecologically regenerative and socially just. Join the permaculture movement and actively create a regenerative future shared by all.
Thanks for reading!
I'm a permaculture educator and anti-racist, feminist activist in London, ON, Canada. I am currently a PhD candidate in Geography at Western University, where I study the relationship between people and bees in cities. My M.A. in Anthropology, also at Western University, focused on gentrification and belonging in a community garden in Toronto. I live in a suburban permaculture sanctuary with my family, two dogs, three cats, two bunnies, and thousands of gorgeous, busy bees. I maintain the blog Permaculture for the People.
Want to know more?
I am so excited to be teaching urban permaculture as part of the first online Permaculture Design Certificate taught exclusively by women. If you would like to know more or would like to have me as your permaculture design reviewer, please check out my blog and get in touch with me at email@example.com.
#growyourown #foodnotlawns #urbanpermaculture #permaculture
with Ridhi D’Cruz
Excerpted from our double certificate design course
We often think about permaculture as the noble practice of regenerative land management. But as I’ve walked this path, I have also realised that collaborating with land is a source of deep healing for people that is differently accessible to people. For healthy human and ecological communities then, we must look at the barriers of access to land and creative solutions to equitable distribution of resources and opportunities.
Some groundbreaking work that I’ve had the opportunity to participate in is my work in Portland with City Repair. We work hard to increase opportunities for stewarding land in urban areas in unconventional ways. City Repair has facilitated over 500 projects in the public right-of-way, or on private land but for public benefit, through education all over the city of Portland. In this way we are able to cater to both landowners and renters. Projects have included over 50 intersection paintings, over two dozen earthen buildings and various gardens.
The main idea behind these projects is to revive the urban commons by reclaiming street intersections with public art, ecological landscaping, earthen buildings and other community amenities that invite hyper local community building and resilience. These projects are scalable to meet the needs, desires and capacities of the communities themselves. In fact, project proposals come from the communities, and City Repair just supports these initiatives with our experience and social capital.
We focus on the commons because it is an integral piece of a regenerative culture that often gets lost in big cities. In most of contemporary society, economic capital is valued so much more than social and ecological capital that we often make decisions that fray the complex web of relations that support a healthy place. Our creative placemaking initiatives are an attempt at physically and psychologically re-patterning cities with a more sustainable culture by giving people the opportunity to have power in their places irrespective of whether or not they ‘own’ it.
People have gone on to make various community amenities including cob ovens, benches and kiosks, permaculture gardens from parking strips to community orchards, little free libraries and intersection paintings that tell the unique story of that place and its inhabitants.
The Dialogue Dome cob bench in the background is one of the main reasons I ended up choosing to pursue my Masters degree at Portland State University (PSU). There is something profoundly powerful about an earthen building in a public space in the middle of downtown Portland, adjacent to our student union building. This picture was taken at the end of the Village Building Convergence (VBC) 2014, where the last day of the 10-day urban permaculture festival was hosted by us students at our cob oven just to the right. Due to fire-related issues, the cob oven was removed in 2017.-- Photo by passerby, 2014.
A colleague at the Student Sustainability Center (formerly the Sustainability Leadership Center) had worked out an agreement with our State Department of Transportation via the Adopt a Highway Program. We made an agreement to steward the strangely triangular shaped plot of land adjacent to the freeway as a community orchard and gathering place. For our opening of the space, we inoculated mycelium into cardboard and embedded them into the soil. Photo taken by campus photographer, 2011.
We hosted a VBC placemaking site at PSU and built a Peace on Earthbench in our new community orchard. The site has had challenges in terms of activity with transient folks that we are still trying to work out. My dream is to integrate a program that includes transient people into the site’s stewardship, turning a problem into a solution..
This parking strip food forest designed by fellow permaculturalist Marisha Auerbach has transformed my understanding of urban food production. We collaborated with our sister organization Communitecture, and harvested pounds upon pounds of fresh delicious fruit every summer when we were renting our shared office space there.-- Photo by passerby, 2016.
In 2017, we won a grant through the Bureau of Environmental Services to install pollinator-friendly species on parking strips adjacent to intersection repairs. This is a picture of us installing a pollinator parking strip at SE 11 & Clatsop by Ayomide’s rental home. With limited financial resources and as a renter, these small interventions substantially impact the lives of our community members.-- Photo by one of our City Repair volunteers, 2017.
First created at our campus garden is the Grazing Garden, adjacent to the cob oven and dialogue dome on campus. This public altar was the culmination of us reviving the garden after it had been lying dormant for a few years. One of the biggest challenges with the commons is creating a resilient culture of stewardship that maintains its health along with the neighboring communities’ health.
Painting the street outside my current residence, Portland’s second mid-block street painting. The mid-block painting was an amendment we made in 2015 to our intersection painting ordinance from 1996 to ensure that one of our community members was able to breathe life into the vision of her community.-- Photo by Ridhi D’Cruz, 2015.
A suggestion for how you could tend the Commons in your area would be to volunteer with an ecological restoration project including: water commons (river/beach clean up), nature commons (invasive species removal in a park), food commons (work parties at community orchards/ food forests).
This miniclass is excerpted from the Placemaking module of our double-certificate design course, taught by Ridhi D'Cruz.
Ridhi D’Cruz is one of three co-Executive Directors of City Repair, a Portland, Oregon based nonprofit working on community development, permaculture and urban design. As an intercontinental cross-pollinator, sociocultural anthropologist, and permaculture educator who has been living in Portland since 2010, Ridhi participates, facilitates, and supports various initiatives in the areas of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Placemaking, Capacity Building, Houseless Advocacy, Native American Allyship, Cultural Sustainability, and Social Permaculture. She is also a passionate herbalist, urban wildcrafter, natural building and participatory technology enthusiast, animal lover, and urban permaculture homesteader.
You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Further reading on this topic:
Kaddachi, Aurore and Sapru, Tanviya. Vruksha: Bangalore’s tree doctor is determined to save the ‘Garden City’ of India.
Citi Io. Our Modern Grid Design for Cities: Not so modern after all.
#urbancommons #urbanpermaculture #freepermaculture #permaculturewomen
#streetpainting #foodforest #foodnotlawns
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