“Realists” and “optimists” in the permaculture world

In this somewhat pessimistic (or as he would say “realistic”) article, Wayne Davis of The Daily Loaf does some comparing and contrating between New Urbanism and Permaculture.  Both promote a transition to what some would call a utopian ideal, but that transition is in many ways divergent.  Each divides the world into zones, but Permaculture only has one zone including built structures, the “house,” whereas the Transect of the New Urbanism has only one uninhabited level, the others increasing in the intensity of the built environment.  In his words:

Here’s the rub: The Permies think they can transition a city like St. Petersburg or Los Angeles. I have spent a good deal of my life in both cities and I think they are totally delusional. My reasoning involves: human nature, existing population densities, the existing built environment and simple logistics. It is important to remember that the post-carbon world envisioned by the Permies has no electrical power, no fuel, everything is made by hand from naturally available materials and that technology will not save us.

He goes on to demean the concept of hope and the Obama administration and remind us that a diverse society includes crazies like Hitler and Charles Manson.

I agree that some of the tenents of Permaculture are somewhat farfetched.  I don’t see us giving up technology for the good life, and after reading Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough I believe that we don’t need to give up technology, we just have to find ways to maintain a cycle of technical and organic nutrients.  As a New Urbanist I beleive that in order to save pristine natural land, we have to have a place to put all the people and buildings, and therefore dense urban patterns will do more ecological good than giving up on the city.

However, I do contest Wayne on some of his other points.  I think it is good, regardless of how we want to accomplish it, to hope for a better future, and as we discuss what exactly we hope for we can come to a better consensus and a better future, whether you want pristine nature or a vibrant city.  As far as the Obama administration, I agree, they can’t save the world, but I think that creating an Office of Urban Policy was something that was way overdue and that can help us well into the future.  And although our diverse society does create some wackos, I don’t see it as any reason to throw the baby out with the bath water.


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