Notes from Toby Hemenway keynote (2014)

Submitted by Ben Stallings on Fri, 08/29/2014 - 15:02

Keynote address by Toby Hemenway, August 29, 2014 at North American Permaculture Convergence

Urban permaculture: transformations on the edge of chaos (soon to be a book)

More than half the world's population is in cities.
Cities are complex self-organizing, self-adapting systems.
Attempts to plan cities have been mostly disastrous.
Jane Jacobs in the 1950-60s opposed urban renewal and wrote "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" before fleeing the country. What works, she says, is to set up initial conditions and then just let it happen.
How to create these places? TH started thinking of it after he fled Seattle and moved to Oakland, Oregon.
Wanted to go back to the land, but found that resource consumption went up instead of down.
It's possible to have a small footprint in the country, but that's not how Americans do it. We just become suburbanites with really big lawns, still tied to civilization, just by a much longer cord.
Moved back to the city (Portland) and found he could leave his car parked for weeks, everything was economized.
Census says a city has >25,000 people; TH says it's where there's more pavement and people than plants. So urban permaculture applies to cities, towns, suburbs, and villages.
Oldest known city was built 11,800 years ago in Turkey by hunter-gatherers, before agriculture. This indicates primary draw of cities was spiritual practice, not agriculture. "The temple first, and then the city."
Shared features of cities: commerce, security, inspirational public space & monuments. These suggest the functions of cities: security, exchange of goods/ideas/people, community gathering places, inspiration, administration. All these features interact and build on one another.
97% of product innovation comes from cities. Creative output rises exponentially with city size.
What's missing from the list? Food production! Cities have never been significant food producers.
Why not? land is expensive, and food is cheap; vegetables are low-calorie crops; won't feed the poor; all feed and fertilizer is imported; soil and air are polluted; veggie gardens are poor habitat for creatures; and city boundary is not an ecological unit.
Food miles are not a strong argument for growing locally; most fuel goes to production, not transport.
The ancient pattern was to have crops right outside the city boundary.
PC zones for foodsheds: 1 = your garden; 2 = CSA or community gardens; 3 = farmers market; 4 = independent groceries with regional focus; 5 = chain supermarkets.
In abundance, cities have people, buildings, salvage, money, jobs and commerce, innovation.
Scarce in cities: land, organic matter, raw materials, time.
Match: use buildings as land.
Diggbable City initiative in Portland identified small & large sites that could be used for food production, found much of the existing urban ag was going on in areas where ag was prohibited by zoning! Solution: legalize it.
Rooftop gardens are a second resort after soil. Containers are easier and more flexible than rooftops.
Aquaponics allows intensive production where land is limited and soil is toxic.
Community gardens, apartments, offices, churches.
Public food forests: first was in BC. "What if someone takes all the food?" then we need more… "Is it safe to eat food grown here?" if it's safe to breathe the air…
8 forms of capital: intellectual, spiritual, social, material, financial, living, cultural, and experiential.
Start small and grow by chunking!
Group in LA didn't have money to start a grocery store, so they bought a delivery truck, then started a community garden, finally opened a storefront.
Market Creek Plaza in San Diego is financed by the customers, so they have an investment in its success and shop there.
Least effort for greatest effect: paint an intersection so that no place becomes Our Place. (cityRepair.org) Enlisted help of boys most likely to be vandals, so they won't. Crime reduced, speed through intersection decreased.
TH now lives in Sebastopol, CA with Paul Stamets and (soon) Elaine Ingham. City Hall and Library will soon be permaculture-designed.
Francisco Reservoir project
Pataluma Stormwater management project
PC can help with urban first responders in emergencies
Putting it together: go around the spiral of needs from the personal level to the local and regional level.
Cities are an excellent scale to work on, because they are the human scale, and because creativity is highest there.