By lambert strether, who blogs at Corrente.
Last year, we posted on food forests, and particularly on the Beacon Hill public food forest in Seattle. Here’s a recent long video from Jenny Pell, the permaculturist who designed and implemented Beacon Hill, which gives lots of concrete (and inspirational) information on that project, other urban food forest projects, and permaculture design philosophy generally.
Since the nature of “public purpose” and its relation to the State has been a topic of interest lately, I’m going to go through and pull out some snippets on how Pell interacts with the municipal government and other public entities (for example, utilities). There is also a wealth of horti- and polycultural thinking here. If you listen, you’ll also hear a “macro-ethic,” as Michael Hoexter puts it today, but that is a post for another day. So this is a good post for spring! Really gorgeous images, too.
[3:15] In Seattle, for example, there used to be ordinances that didn’t allow you to grow food on the streets because those plums might land on your car, and who wants a plum on their car? So we’re deferring our own health and nutrition to the cars! I’m done with that! So I am working with the city to help legalize, for example, growing food in the planting strips. So in the year of 2010, we had the Year of Urban Agriculture in Seattle, and one of the new laws they passed was that you can grow food in your planting strip. And you can sell good that you grow in your back yard and in your planting strip and seeds and other value-added products.
[10:35] The goal [of Beacon Hill] was to mitigate storm sewer run-off. We have, in a big storm surge, it overtaxes our sewage system, raw sewage goes out into the Bay, and it damages the salmon run. We are Federally mandated to fix this problem.
[12:49] So in the food forest project … I actually designed a bus stop edible guild of plants, so that people standing at the bus stop can eat berries that are seasonally going to be delicious.
[14:22] In one design course, a few years ago, some students for their final design project decided to take on this Parks property, where just for fun, to showcase what they’d learned in a year, so they went ahead and wrote a Department of Neighborhoods small and simple grant, and they won a $22,500 award, to do a design on [Beacon Hill]. … And so we had to do a public outreach process….
[19:35] Public utilties are a huge organization with an incredible amount of power. They have a lot of land, they have a lot of money, they have a lot of responsibility, and they’re used to getting their way. … My first meeting with public utilities was up on the 45th floor with me and the landscape architects, and one of the heads of the departments there, quite high up in the organization, and her opening comment was: “Do not mistake me — [smacking her finger on the table] — We will not allow a loose association of peasants to manage this project.” Opening comment. … So I went to my insider guy, and I said “What do I do?” …
[34:18] In Seattle we said to developers that you can get a whole extra floor if you put a greenhouse on your roof.
[34:35] People that want to keep bees the city, they have to have the pollinator landscape that goes along side it. So when they get the bees, they also have to get a permaculture design.
[35:10] We changed the rule from three chickens to eight chickens in the back yard.
[42:39] And so I went to the city to facilitate this discussion of “You’re going to start getting these projects landing on your desk, what are you going to do? Say no?” You’re cutting staff and budgets right and left for management of the commons, you can’t keep up, and now you have citizens coming and saying “We want them to do our own things with,” how are you going to do that? In this peak moment. What’s your job here?
[44:30] So what Brad did, was he illegally cut curbs and built basis in that dry-landscape sidewalk, so every time it rained, the rain would be diverted off the curb, and into these little tree wells [so he recaptured storm runoff for his garden]. … Here’s one man’s vision of how to re-incorporate water into a landscape that some ridiculous urban planner decided that in the dry desert we’re going to design our city so that our water goes away absolutely as fast as it can and doesn’t stay here. … In Brad’s city, any new construction must have a grey water stub-out, it is required by law. It’s a forty-dollar permit to cut your curb. So they encourage people now to do it. So one person’s little civil disobedience act turned into legislation.
[50:00] What do we want the city to do, to support us in these efforts? We want them to support food production on different types of properties. We want more urban farming and small business classes. How does the city participate in that? We want to map and publicize all the potential garden sites. Portland did that. Portland did a study of all the available land, and there was acres of it in the city. And it was not allowed to have farming done on it. So the group that mapped it followed throgh and then removed that law. We want a separate meter for agricultural water. When you pay for water, you’re also paying for sewage. This is not going to the water treatment plant! This is going in the ground, where we’re recharging the water table in our cities, so how do we get them to have a separate meter for ag water in the city?
[53:25] Hire a good Czar to put it all together. Of the twelve action items we recommended to city council, they invited us back to council chambers to go into more detail, and in the last two years they’ve already enacted seven of them.
Most of the talk isn’t focused on the role of the State at all. Nevertheless, the interaction between State and permaculturalist was continuous. So it’s interesting that Pell, despite her strong beliefs in a confluence of peaks, and hyperlocalization, has nothing to say on how the State will change when, say, gas peaks at $10.00 a gallon. Does the state whither away? If not, what? Do states and nations go away, leaving only the cities?