Permaculture—a compound of the words “permanent” and “agriculture”—is a design approach that integrates human communities and agricultural systems by mimicking complex ecological relationships. Permaculture focuses on the interrelation and placement of plants, animals, buildings, and infrastructure in the landscape, emphasizing food production while working to conserve energy and resources. It relies on core ecological principles and pairs traditional farming with modern technology, making it broadly applicable to urban design on an individual, neighborhood, or citywide basis. For example, homeowners can build urban soils by constructing a backyard worm- composting system or create habitat by turning an entire yard into a mini-farm, complete with fruit trees, vegetables, and plants that attract beneficial insects. Neighbors or urban planners can transform abandoned lots into community gardens, urban orchards, or cooperatives that raise chickens or honeybees.
“Zonation” dictates placement of various elements within a permaculture design, where Zone 0 is the center of activity, usually a house or business. Although typically illustrated as concentric circles, zones are flexible, merging into one another and changing over time as needed. Urban applications of permaculture primarily focus on Zone 1, where intensive gardening occurs, and Zone 2, which is often devoted to things like orchards and windbreaks.
Beyond the concept of zones, permaculture depends upon a core set of ecologically based principles, which include the ideas that:
• each element in the system, including plants, people, and structures, supports other elements and performs many functions;
• each function is supported by many elements;
• using biological resources saves energy and labor;
• energy cycling creates a closed system that catches, stores, and uses energy before it is degraded;
• small-scale, intensive systems are the most energy efficient;
• nature abhors a monoculture.
There are a number of ways in which permaculture can serve urban environments and ultimately create community self-reliance while using fewer fossil fuels and mitigating climate change. In addition to increasing local food production, permaculture can revitalize neglected urban areas such as brownfields, making more efficient use of space, building soil, and planting tree species that provide habitat and help to filter the air. Incorporation of vine plants and green walls into a design can moderate the heat, sunlight, noise, and wind that are often more apparent in cities. Finally, permaculture stresses the use of renewable energy, giving priority to solar, wind, and other forms of community power generation and fortifying the focus of environmental sustainability and neighborhood preservation.
April 1, 2010
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