09 June 2010

permaculture design

Ah Larry Santoyo, I am so looking forward to sharing ideas with you and the community of So Cal Permaculturists meeting in Orange County for the next six months. (Thank you to Toby Hemenway for the referral.)

Ecological and Economical Design

by Larry Santoyo

Imagine living in a place that is blended into the natural environment. Your home is not only naturally heated and cooled, but is elegant and affordable. Integrated into the surrounding landscape are natural water systems where food is being grown safe from harmful chemicals, and waste is managed for productivity. A place where the neighbors, young and old, routinely help one another. There is less traffic, less pollution and more open spaces. Leisure time becomes abundant and recreational opportunities are close at hand. Also imagine that as a result of its design, this place saves you money, and most importantly, it saves the Earth its precious resources...

Through the simple and practical strategies offered by Permaculture Design, a village lifestyle like this is not a dream. Permaculture (a contraction of the words "permanent and culture"), is a highly developed Art, Science and Philosophy. Permaculture design sciences are used by homeowners, architects, land use planners, landscape designers, farmers and community service organizations.
 Australian ecologist Bill Mollison formulated Permaculture in the mid-seventies. He researched around the world with various cultures and ecosystems until he developed what would become a globally recognized, environmentally benign system of land use - a permanence in culture modeled on natural patterns.

In Nature, total resource efficiency is accomplished by managing waste for productivity and balancing its consumption with contributions from each of the elements in the system. Permaculture Sciences design human eco-systems that model these patterns of multi-function and inter-connections. Regional groups and colleges teach Permaculture Design, and design firms throughout the country are now offering Perma-culture services. Permaculture brings to home owners and design professionals an innovative approach to planning, landscaping, building and retrofitting.

Permaculture groups train designers in simple techniques to "read the patterns of the landscape" and methods that "turn any problems into resources." Permaculture designers consider that every property has a unique pattern of natural characteristics. Proper alignment with these natural patterns is the basis of the permaculture process. Instead of the "one size fits all" approach, Nature is allowed to direct the land use plan. By skillfully using permaculture methods of site analysis and evaluation, elements, such as buildings and roads and practices, such as farming and forestry are established only in areas with optimum conditions - working with nature in an efficient and economical way.
Other basic principles are taught to permaculture designers. One of the most important is relative location or the careful placement of elements within a system. Elements are placed not in isolation, but in relation to the dynamics of the total site. Proper placement is achieved when an element or a practice is designed to interact efficiently with all of the influencing elements. To do this, permaculture designers use simple physics and biology, as well as specific observation skills.
The permaculture designer treats the built environment and the natural environment as a whole. Houses are designed not only for optimum solar advantage but are carefully sited away from sensitive areas. Prime agricultural land and wildlands are protected. Precautions are taken for the predictable threats of fire, flood, wind, and cold air drainage. One of the primary objectives in permaculture is for designers to develop simple biological alternatives to reduce the need for the expensive and resource consuming demands of high technology. Proper shading alone has reduced cooling costs in desert areas by up to 20%.
Permaculture designers also learn to observe and research naturally occurring plant and animal assemblies (called guilds). This information is translated for use in sustainable farming. Perennial fruit trees, shrubs, and vines, together with livestock and animal commercial crops are selected to mimic natural assemblies; each plant and animal benefits the other, providing a permanent and maintenance free resource system.

Comprehensive water and soil conservation planning are integral to any sustainable design. For water conservation and flood controls, permaculture designers use roofs, parking lots, roadways and landscapes for harvesting run-off water. Basin and berm structures (called swales) and cisterns are constructed to collect this run-off and convert flooding problems into helpful resources of drinking water and low cost irrigation.

For economic development, Nature's model of resource efficiency is used again. In this process an inventory is meticulously prepared, examining a community's basic needs and cross referenced with its renewable resources. Needs that are not met by local resources are considered job opportunities for the community. Resources surplus to local needs are available as sustainable commodities for trade, thus creating a stable economy based on real need and renewable resources.
Mixed use zoning is recommended for community land use plans. Designing residential and commercial zones into clusters allows large areas of open and wild space to remain intact. This creates an access by proximity design allowing people to live, shop, work and recreate in the same proximity. Transportation and traffic problems are greatly reduced. Home based businesses can then be linked with other businesses for efficiency. Suburban and urban consumers can also be linked directly with nearby farms and other rural enterprise. Good planning saves money for an entire community. When our basic needs are provided for where we live, we create jobs, conserve natural resources, and enhance our sense of security. When community spirit is raised, economic vitality can be restored.

Reprinted with permission from the author. Larry Santoyo is a permaculture designer and teacher, a business consultant and land use planner. He can be reached through his website at Earthflow Design Works. Courses start in Orange County California in July and in Los Angeles in October 2010

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