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Today’s episode is a permabyte review of the forthcoming book by Toby Hemenway, The Permaculture City.
Exciting, isn’t it? Toby Hemenway has a new book coming out and I’ll just go ahead and say it: it is incredible. I received an advance copy, clocking in at 288 pages, from the publisher Chelsea Green and, even though I’m a slow reader, sat down and read the whole thing, cover to cover, in a day.
What I like about this book is that the way it is written and organized reminds me of my own permaculture path. In the beginning there is an examination of the ethics and principles and why they matter. Then there is an look at design and considering techniques, but then stepping back and to organize our thoughts with the tools provided by the permaculture design process. To re-examine the elements and how they relate to systems. As that understanding grows to take another step and use small examples, such as water systems, to expand our thoughts further and realize there is more to this work than just the land and includes the people involved with caring for it, for maintaining it, and that those living communities matter. They embody why we care for Earth, care for people, and share the surplus.
As importantly Toby also addresses the real fact that we can’t expect everyone to become hunter-gatherers again or subsistence farmers. Even if we could that idea isn’t reflective of the resiliency that permaculture design engenders. Using resiliency as a basis he uses several examples, including home and community gardening, water, and energy use, as informal case studies to explore how to apply the principles to step back and ask bigger questions so we can create useful strategies.
This last point is important because, to me, The Permaculture City is a book about better understanding our design strategies, those often nebulous ideas that separate the philosophical underpinnings of permaculture, the ethics and principles, from the techniques that represent the physical practice that all of our on-paper design results in. There is time for techniques when we implement, but that can only come after consideration and design.
For those of you familiar with the Zone and Sector design models in permaculture, they are both upon throughout the provided examples. I was left with a new understanding of how to apply these, especially to social systems. Chapter Nine in particular, on Placemaking and The Empowered Community, took me in a whole new direction. Though I’ve used these methods repeatedly in the past after seeing them applied in the context of the various examples I come to agree with what Larry Santoyo says, which is quoted in this book, “Sectors trump everything.” I’m now going back and examining some of my designs, including landscape, social, and economic, to see where my sector analysis may be weak.
My thoughts on permaculture moving beyond the the landscape started several years ago when I interviewed Dave Jacke, Larry Santoyo, and Mark Lakeman in short succession. Reading this book has helped to continue my shift in thinking about permaculture, and in about the time it would take you to go back and listen to those interviews you can sit down and be well into this wonderful book and have an even greater understanding of how permaculture applies to so many human systems, but also how to start asking the questions that can take your understanding of design to the next level.
I’ve been in this field for half a decade now and this book is a welcome addition to my library. It came at the right time, but I can’t help but wish that I would have been ready for it and received it sooner.
Overall I like Toby’s latest book so much that I’m putting it on my recommended reading list, especially for someone new to permaculture. After you’ve read Masanobu Fukuoka’s The One-Straw Revolution, Donella Meadows’ Thinking in Systems, Rosemary Morrow’s Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture, and David Holmgren’s Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, read The Permaculture City and take your design well beyond the landscape.
The Permaculture City goes into publication on July 15, 2015 and you can pre-order a copy through the Chelsea Green website for $24.95.
I am expecting to receive a final print copy of the book when it goes to press and will include that in the Traveling Permaculture Library Project. If you’d like to be a part of that cycle of giving, and receive a random book related to the broad umbrella of permaculture, email your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org and Matt Winters will take care of you.
Until the next time, take care of Earth, your self, and each other.
Correction: When originally recorded and posted the publication date for this book was September 14, 2015. The release date has since been moved up to July 15, 2015.