by 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 Urban Commons
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 material 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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