Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Permaculture Garden[ing] Cities

Permaculture Garden[ing] Cities
“How would you we [design &] deliver a new Garden City which is visionary, economically viable, & popular?”

Cities have their champions and their doubters. The opinions of the first camp might neatly be encapsulated in the title of Leo Hollis’s international bestseller of 2013: Cities Are Good for You; The Genius of the Metropolis. The reasons for doubt are perhaps more various, but at the opposite extreme from Hollis we find those who would argue that cities are bad for us, part of a wider critique of civilization  the culture of city dwellers, because:

“cities must import resources, a process also known as conquest, colonialism, and these days, the global economy.” (Derrick Jensen, Endgame).

Hollis is not in complete disagreement with this proposition, although he might interpret the political implications differently, in the preface to his book he notes:

“Cities take more than 2% of the Earth’s surface but use at least 80% of all energy. If we cannot make our cities more sustainable they could easily become our coffins rather than our ark”

In William R. Catton, Jr.’s Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change he argues that any environment’s carrying capacity is the number of creatures living a certain way who can be supported permanently on a certain piece of land. This carrying capacity can be exceeded but only by the use and degradation of the carrying capacity of other places. This is how humanity manages to exceed the Earth’s biocapacity each year. This is not a permanent solution, Jensen notes:

“As we’ve seen, when the resources of that other place get depleted—when its carrying capacity has more or less been permanently reduced—those who are importing resources will attempt to find another place to exploit.” (Derrick Jensen, Endgame).

This is the primary challenge facing the permaculture design of a city: the existing mode of cities contravenes the permaculture ethics: it does not demonstrate sufficient care for either earth or people and it is based in inequity. Even without consideration of these ethics, the city as it exists today fails the fundamental test of being capable of continuing permanently.

A permaculture city must exist within the carrying capacity of the land it occupies, or at the very least it must be a productive part of a re-inhabited bioregion which exists within its carrying capacity.

New cities in the UK are likely to displace existing agricultural or otherwise productive land, they must be more productive than the land use they displace, they must be regenerative and flourishing, they must build multiple forms of capital, they must care for Earth and people, they must be fair.

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