Conversations with Jesse & Milton – City Permaculture

Jesse Tack and I have been sitting down and filming ourselves in conversation. Our first session was wide ranging on the theme of social permaculture. This, our second, was much more focused as we talked about ways that we could address the design deficiencies of our current living situation.

Permaculture is an operating system for problem solving. It runs the programs of appropriate technologies from all human cultures, at all locations on Earth. This is our field of study. The designer chooses the programs for any given situation based on timing, location, and pattern understanding/recognition.

City permaculture would therefore be specific to the particular city, climate, hydrology, stage of succession, people, shape and size of neighborhoods, and a host of other factors. However most cities share many common features and many common fragilities.

In brief, some fairly reliable appropriate programs to run in most temperate climate cities would include:

  • Micro-communities: Groups of people working together toward common goals. 100 people is a good target.

  • Increase water storage in soils, ponds, and roof water collection by several orders of magnitude. Measure results.

  • Use buildings for South-facing trellises for lowered energy costs of most buildings.

  • Link roof water and grey water systems (toilets, sinks, washing areas) to pond systems.

  • Subsidized forest gardens through programs like Swan Song for the Lawn, free trees, wholesale purchase, tax breaks, grass tax, et al. Establish beautiful, breath-taking demonstration sites within each neighborhood.

  • Season extension for leafy salad greens. Cold frames. Tunnels. Glasshouses. Root Cellar winter production of nutrients and vitamins. See mental health numbers improve. Measure results.

  • Use time banks and gift economies to establish an abundance of time and an abundance of the giving spirit. Get creative and imagine systems that reward time and giving.

  • Use of wood efficient heaters and radiant thermal mass heaters combined with coppice tree systems for endless firewood.

  • Compost ⅓ of all city waste for fuel and compost. Raise chickens on compost.

Remember, the unique mix of elements you will find in each location may mean that these items will have to be adapted to the locale. This is not an exhaustive list, merely a place to start. The implementation of just one of these ideas would be a great step forward towards a future worth living in.

Published by Milton

C. Milton Dixon is an permaculturist, forager, educator, and computer wizard. He is co-manager at the emergent Cooperative at Dawn Farm and teaches with Three Waters Permaculture. You can reach him at or 773.789.8887.

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