Best Resources for Retrofitting Suburbia Permaculture Style

by @gaiapunk
One of the major reasons I work in permaculture is because as a eco-city researcher I’ve seen the devastating effects of urban and suburban environments out of balance with natural principals.  It was my investigations in eco-city research that made me into a passionate permaculture activist because I saw how beautifully the design principals in permaculture imitated the evolutionary intelligence of nature’s own design work.  This new outlook changed the way I looked at our modern challenges and gave me a new story to believe in regarding humanity’s potential to help in the regeneration of our planet.  A huge modern challenge to this end is retrofitting our urban and suburban to be more resilient, productive, and ecologically harmonious.  One important thing to make note of is that as we make areas more attractive we need to be cognizant of economic divisions and use models like community land trust, co-ops, and mixed income planning to make sure the benefits of improvements can be shared by everyone.  This retrofitting revolution is a massive and essential undertaking presented nicely above by Ellen Dunham Jones author of Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs.  I’m dedicating the rest of this post to give you best retrofitting resources I know so you can join me in creating better places both for the health of ourselves and the planet.
Shareable.net: This site features some of my favorite retrofitting content and has a focus on making society more shareable.
City Repair: is a retrofitting force to be reckoned with which started in lovely Portland Oregon and whose model of community based organizing and place making has spread all over the US
Suburban Permaculture: Jan Spencer is a consummate expert on suburban permaculture retrofitting, a good friend, and a great inspiration.
inhabitat:  Features great articles on urban retrofitting.
Planetizen: Great place to find recent retrofitting articles
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Dirt the Movie!

Vandana Shiva

I’m really excited to see this film and debute it in my community.  It has a great cast of main characters:

Jamie Lee CurtisBill Logan Andy Lipkis Vandana Shiva Wangari Maathai Wes JacksonSebastiao SalgadoLelia Deluiz Wanick Salgado Paul StametsMiguel AltieriPierre RabhiDavid OrrMajora CarterJames JilerFritjof CapraPeter Girguis |Alice WatersGary VaynerchukJanine BenyusJohn Todd

but it also stars my most favorite environmental super-celebrity DIRT!       [tweetmeme]

Can Permaculture Save Detroit?

Detroit Permaculture

Here is some completely heretical news in for the world of eco-capitalist dreamers; no silly white multi-million dollar media men will ever solve the worlds ecological or social problems.  Yeah I know what your thinking blasphemous right?  Specifically, I am referring to the uber opportunistic and freshly greenwashed faces of Al gore, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Richard Rainwater, and now John Hantz.  Hantz, a big time financial investor and longtime Detroit resident is proposing to put 30 million down of his own money to build a high tech farming operation that will be coupled with “green” estates.  In Fortune Magazine’s limited interview Hantz said that Detroit is suffering from a lack of scarcity and that the only way to save housing prices is by taking as much property off the market as possible, hence the massive farm and real estate combo.  But, couple this seemingly benign idea with a one track profit motive and instead of community revitalization one gets rampant community gentrification that pushes out the very people (the poorer residents of Detroit) that one is purporting to be “helping”.  The team Hantz has assembled thus far is glaringly white in a city that is over 80% black which is highly suspicious to say the least not to mention naming the entire operation Hantz Farm doesn’t inspire thoughts of “community”.  Rather than going to the folks who have already spent immense amounts of effort to bring local organic food to their communities and bring jobs in their neighborhoods, and then offer to assist financially in their efforts, thus far Hantz is developing a hierarchal strategy that may put those very folks out of business. Hantz’s preliminary proposals have garnered lots of unwarranted media attention even though very few details have emerged about how this farming project will be managed and who exactly will manage it.

The Hantz Farm site is just a  collection of stock photos that to me seem as hollow as their message.  Okay perhaps I’m being too cynical but right now important questions remain around what exact types of technology the farm will employ (already energy expensive technologies like hydroponics and large scale harvesters have been mentioned) , if there is even a viable market in the region, and most importantly, who will this for profit enterprize benefit the most.  “I’m concerned about the corporate takeover of the urban agriculture movement in Detroit,” says Malik Yakini, a charter school principal and founder of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, which operates D-Town Farm on Detroit’s west side. (from CNN)

Organic farming is enjoying a nice trendy resurgence as a solution to urban, rural, and ecological ills. Unfortunately, farming no mattter how popular can only do so much.  It is well known that various economic events some deliberate and some unexpected have cost the United States and urban manufacturing centers like Detroit obscene amounts of jobs.  What is not well known, is that neither local organic farming, or any green high tech green wizardry, is likely to bring these jobs back in the near future.  But, never fear, there are three simple solutions to this whole mess we’re all in along with Detroit.

ONE: Permaculture

Detroit honestly doesn’t need anymore scarcity (though real estate barons may see it differently) it desperately needs abundance, and permaculture is a complete system that designs for abundance.  If the polluted landscape of Detroit is going to be regenerated then organic farming is just not enough.

TWO: Cooperatives

The entire history of Detroit is one of total abandonment by the world of capital and a complete lack of responsibility or loyalty to the local community.  Cooperatives by their very nature encourage horizontal investment, diversity, democracy, and local responsibility.

THREE: Community Land Trusts

Community Land Trusts are set up in such a way as to encourage low income buyers into positions of ownership and avoid volatility in housing prices.  There are few communities in the the US that have suffered worse volatility in housing prices than Detroit.  What Hantz is proposing is just green veiled gentrification while the real solution for the people of Detroit lies in Community Land Trusts.  Burlington VT has many successful examples of how and why CLT’s can close the gaps of classism.

Note, I did not mention 30 million dollars from some rich white guy!  Now if that 30 million was invested in those 3 things I would surely change my tune, but if it’s invested in anything else, I really wouldn’t get my hopes up.  Currently, Detroit will likely be the venue for the 2010 US social forum and I plan on being there purposing real solutions based on living permaculture and cooperative principals not on selfish, dead, capitalist oriented ones.                                       [tweetmeme]

Organizations doing the real work in Detroit:

Evolve Detroit    http://detroitevolution.com/

Detroit Agriculture Network  http://www.detroitagriculture.org/

Detroit Summer http://www.detroitsummer.org/

Midwest Permaculture  http://www.midwestpermaculture.com/

Cities designed around local food

urban farm

Good day to you from Gaiapunk,

It is official Punk Rock Permaculture e-zine and Permaculture.tv are teaming up for a new permaculture media worker co-op that you can be a part of.  This media co-op will cover:

  • Permaculture Development, Techniques, People around the planet.
  • The merging of the open source technology, cooperative, transition towns, permaculture movements and more!
  • Radical permaculture and farmer movements in the 2/3rds (developing) world.
  • Ecocity ideas that will make a real difference in the next decade.

If your interested in these topics or others  and would like to learn more please contact thejulianeffect@gmail.com with the subject line “media co-op”.

Now please enjoy this awesome TED talk by Carolyn Steel on how local food is intrinsic to the design, function, and success of cities past, present, and future.

Permie Punk Profile: Ethan Roland

Get Your Forest Garden On…

Hey Gaia Punk here,

So I was just recently accepted for a 3 month Advance Permaculture Design internship with Ethan Roland of Appleseed Permaculture in the Hudson Valley area of New York.  I am very excited for this opportunity to deepen my skills and I’m dedicated to the helping make permaculture design accessible to even more people than ever before.  Ethan is such an awesome force in the world of permaculture and vital mentor to so many wonderful folks that I decided I would take a moment to highlight some of his work.

Ethan is a full time Permaculture designer and teacher and expert in the areas of large scale perennial polyculture systems and ecological community design.  See slideshow:

Ethan studied at Haverford College and later obtained a M.S. in Collaborative eco-social design from Gaia University a innovative and global growing university through which he now occasionally teaches courses.  Ethan is the principal of Appleseed Permaculuture which collaborates with permaculture and ecological designers from all over the world.  Ethan currently sits on the board of Permaculture Across Boarders which assists permaculture projects in the developing or 2/3 rds world.  His work has brought him all over world (Thailand, Azerbaijan, Kazakastan, the Virgin Islands,) with direct learning experience and mentoring from folks like Geoff Lawton and Dave Jacke.  Ethan is directly involved with the Carbon Farming and Financial Permaculture movements.  He supports and promotes sustainable community based cooperative enterprises like the innovative cocao CSA Booyacacao.  Ethan contributes contents and expertise for Earth Activist Mentor a amazing site and service for up and coming designer like myself, folks looking for detailed in depth resources, or distance mentoring for permaculture diplomas.  Well, I hope to do a video interview shortly with Ethan and Nicolas Roberts from Permaculture.tv but until then enjoy this inspiring lecture Ethan presented to a group of UMASS architecture students and Greg Landua presentation of Booyacocao “Theobroma” production.

A Peace of the Anarchy!

What do punk, permaculture, and anarchy have to do with the 21st Century?

Answer: Everything!

A Peace of the Anarchy produced by lovearchy.org is a quick summary of 20th century radical activism in the USA featuring prominent antiwar hero Kathy Kelly and permaculture eco activist Star Hawk.  Has notable focus on the pacifist christian anarchist Ammon Hennacy. Folks from the War Resisters League, the IWW, Earth First! and the Catholic Worker, along with Mr. Hennacy exemplify the marginalized prophetic witness for peace and justice in the USA as they attempt to appeal to the dominant culture. These people speak on the benefits of anarchy and peace, following the radical (rooted/basically grounded) ideology and optimism that goodness will overcome evil, love is superior to hate and truth trumps falsehood.”

~evan (@gaiapunk) [tweetmeme]

Growing Power going to Africa!

allenWill Allen: Growing power—and gaining influence in development circles, too.

From Grist.com

At the Clinton Global Initiative wrap-up on Friday, ex-President Clinton made waves in the sustainable-ag world by declaring Will Allen of Milwaukee/Chicago-based based Growing Powerhis “hero.”

The real news was buried in the press release, though. Toward the bottom of a listing of verbal “commitments” from NGOs and foundations, we findthis:

Growing Power commits to strengthen food security for school children and their care givers in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Growing Power will build a new model of local food systems to ensure adequate nutrition in the short-term and build a long-term foundation for competitive African human capital in the global market place.

So Growing Power will be bringing its community-based, low-input style of agriculture to Africa—under the aegis of a group most known for its top-down, Big Solution way of development work.

I got Erika Allen, daughter of Growing Power founder Will and leader of the group’s Chicago operations, on the phone Monday to talk about the announcement.

She told me that in the current phase, Growing Power is hoping to raise $2 million to get its Africa initiative started. (The Clinton Global Initiative doesn’t so much fund specific projects as match funders with projects.)

Allen described the proposed initiative as a “cultural exchange”—Growing Power reps would be learning about how food production currently works in South Africa and Zimbabwe; looking closely at local assets, resources, gaps, and needs. And food-system actors from those places would visit Growing Power sites in the United States—not just at the flagship enterprises in Milwaukee and Chicago, but also at partner projects in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Mississippi.

From there, Growing Power and its partners in southern Africa would work on “modifying our production systems to local resources there.”

She stressed that what works in Milwaukee won’t necessarily fly in Zimbabwe. Here in the United States, Growing Power essentially siphons off some of the enormous food waste generated by a modern U.S. city and transforms it into fertile soil, which is then used to grow food. But African cities generate less compostable waste.

erikaErika Allen of Growing Power.“The challenge will be to find the systems that work in areas with less excess,” Allen told me. She cited Growing Power’s aquaculture setup, where waste from tilapia tanks is used to fertilize watercress, one example of a low-input system that could work in Africa.

“Overall, it’s about helping people use their resources to build soil and grow food,” she said.

In a single sentence, Allen had articulated a vision completely counter to the top-down model of development that has dominated U.S. policy since at least the Cold War—the agricultural model most famously promoted by the recently deceased Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug. In this model, imported agrichemicals and seed varieties provide the path to food security in the global south. And trade is venerated with an almost religious zeal—nations should only produce food insofar as they have a “comparative advantage” in a particular crop. “High-value” crops like fresh produce should be exported to the industrialized north, where consumers can pay top dollar for them; “low-value” staple crops should be imported when expedient.

Make no mistake—even though more than a billion people globally lack sufficient access to food and farmers in the global south operate in a state of permanent crisis, that model still dominates today. The“Millennium Villages” concept for Africa championed by Harvard’s Jeffrey Sachs hinges on “new advances in science and technology.” To help boost food security, these showcase villages receive subsidies for imported fertilizers and seeds.

And the Gates Foundation, which has been organizing a massive attempt to transform food production in Africa,  has made a game attempt to be open to new models of ag development. But as Annie Stattuck, Raj Patel, and Eric Holt-Gimenez show in an excellent recent article in The Nation, the overall thrust has been in the direction of high-tech “solutions” to the continent’s food problems.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has recently taken a deep bow to the conventional ag-development gods, by putting agrichemical-industry stalwarts in charge of both agriculture negotiations at global trade talks and USDA-funded research. Analyzing the latter appointment, that of the Monsanto-affiliated Roger Beachy to lead the USDA’s new National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Science blog recently wrote that:

Beachy’s interests in biotechnology and the developing world closely match those of his new boss, USDA’s Under Secretary for Research Rajiv Shah. They also fit with President Barack Obama’s desire to increase agricultural assistance to developing countries.

The Growing Power initiative points to a new direction. In place of costly and often ecologically and socially ruinous high-tech methods, the Allens present a vision of appropriate technology: techniques that communities can own and manage themselves, without the perpetual need to commit precious resources to toxic agrichemicals and patent-protected seeds.

As debate rages about how to “feed the world” amid population growth, climate change, and fossil-fuel depletion, projects like this one are critical. I’ll be watching it closely.

The G20 Protesters and the new face of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, PA–

It seems as though Pittsburgh is either the De facto capital of the rust belt or a city in the midst of a revolutionary transformation.  In recent years Pittsburgh has become a epicenter for green building, bike paths, solar composites, and one of the professed launching pads of the new “green economy”.  This is fascinating because Pittsburgh could also be considered one of the many coal capitals of the world, and anyone who has studied the issue knows that there is absolutely no way to make coal “clean” as long as your using mining techniques such as “mountaintop removal”.  There is nothing like synthetic stench of two faced liberalism to hide the odious fact that the root of some very serious issues like housing, poverty, gentrification, and classism are not being addressed.  The city of Pittsburgh’s role during the current wholly undemocratic G20 summit is to act as a PR spin machine to distract the public from the main show of global power grabs behind the scenes and behind closed doors.

While the media is very focused on equating anarchists with terrorists, they’re also wholly ignoring the police harassment and abuse that has already taken place even before the summit.  The Seeds of Peace collective has been repeatedly attacked by the police solely because of the fact by that by bringing a bus to act as kitchen and medical support for the g20 resistance they’ve been made an obvious target.  Yesterday, the Landslide Community Farm and the Cyberpunk Apocalypse Writers Guild house were raided for no plausible reasons by swarms of cops trespassing without warrants or accurate justification.  The Landslide Community Farm and the Cyberpunk Apocalypse house are centers of different type transformation happening in Pittsburgh, that of radical culture.

These centers are the works of truly earnest folks, that divide up what free time they can muster into making art, hosting cultural gatherings, giving out free food, planting permaculture food forests, building bike co-ops, fighting all forms of oppression, and re-envisioning all that has been abandoned in the shadows of steel that is the forlorn rusty spine of Pittsburgh.  Some of them are even proud to be called anarchists.  These groups and many, many, others like them are true community builders something the G20 aristocrats will most likely never understand.  Perhaps the new face of Pittsburgh is not the gilded “green” skyline for the rich but the rainbow of diversity in an urban farm for everyone.

For more info about the Landslide Community Farm visit:  www.punkrockpermaculture.com

For real time updates on the G20 resistance visit: pittsburgh G-finity