What Is Urban Permaculture?

Carol Luther
Carol Luther
City foresters -- a part of urban permaculture --may decide where new trees should be grown and when old ones should be cut down.
City foresters -- a part of urban permaculture --may decide where new trees should be grown and when old ones should be cut down.

"Permaculture" is a term coined in the 1970s by two Australians, David Holmgren and Bill Mollison. It broadly describes ecologically responsible agriculture, landscaping and habitat design techniques. Urban permaculture is permaculture that is practiced in cities, and it observes and incorporates the symbiosis that already exists in nature's ecosystems. It translates these examples into best practices for sustainable city planning and design.

Urban transportation patterns, habitat destruction and excessive natural resource consumption has led to degradation of the human environment worldwide. The objective of urban permaculture is to create more sustainable urban communities. It encourages city governments and residents to nurture and rehabilitate public and private spaces with techniques that duplicate nature's harmonious self-regulating systems.

The philosophy of urban permaculture requires that city dwellers live gently on the Earth and do no harm to the environment. The main tenets are taking care of the Earth, taking care of people, limiting resource consumption and distributing surpluses equitably. The principles of urban permaculture require resource conservation and implementation of strategies that rehabilitate the ecosystems in urban areas through intentional design.

It requires that people respect and work with nature to create an environment that sustains humans, animals and plants. Urban permaculture also embraces policies that help prevent further degradation of the air, water and land. Its best practices employ multipurpose land use as a cornerstone of urban planning. These design techniques create smart cities that integrate activities such as working, shopping and recreation with housing.

Permaculture incorporates green building techniques for residential, commercial and public construction. These include using recycled materials, carbon-friendly heating and cooling systems and water systems that harvest rainwater or reduce the usage of fresh water. Strategies such as green roofs increase the amount of vegetation available to help clean urban air. They also reduce energy utilization by providing natural insulation in both cold and hot weather.

Native-plant cultivation is an important urban permaculture practice that helps balance natural resource utilization. It also encourages the return of wildlife that forages on local vegetation, and it decreases the need for pesticides to control non-native plants and weeds. This supports the rehabilitation of urban storm water runoff systems.

Edible landscaping and community gardens are permaculture strategies that decrease food security in urban areas. They also provide opportunities to enrich and replenish urban soil by composting post-harvest waste instead of relying on chemical fertilizers. Planting fruit and nut trees also improves biodiversity. The increased availability of locally produced food also reduces energy used for transportation to deliver food from distant locations.

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Discussion Comments


@Iluviaporos - If anything, we should be doing more research into permaculture in urban spaces. It's been shown that humans live far more sustainably when they are in close quarters, like a city. They don't have to transport goods as far and they use fewer materials in general per person.

But there is so much potential in cities these days to be better. There are some cities that are investing a lot into creating safe cycling areas, for example, which I think is a good step forward. I've heard that Seattle is planning on making a food forest at some point, which could be excellent and hopefully will work out.

We have so many solutions at the moment that could help to make our existence better and more sustainable, but it seems like few of them are being used.


@Mor - I'm all for people growing food in their homes, but be careful you don't do anything to block a fire exit. Those things are there for a reason.

And, while people should try to do all they can in their own homes, I do think this needs to be a wider effort. There should be more chances for people to grow their own food in allotments and more permaculture courses being run to teach city dwellers what they can do to help the environment.

Permaculture is supposed to be about creating a sustainable system, which might seem impossible in a city, but it's not.


I have a really good book on permaculture that claims you should be able to feed a family of four on less than an acre of land, so I think in a city environment you could probably do quite a lot with very little.

Even if all you have is a tiny balcony, or a fire escape, or even just a window that catches the sun, you could be growing herbs and vegetables.

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    • City foresters -- a part of urban permaculture --may decide where new trees should be grown and when old ones should be cut down.
      By: SophySweden
      City foresters -- a part of urban permaculture --may decide where new trees should be grown and when old ones should be cut down.