I posted the Permaculture of Community essay on Facebook and drew some interesting comments. I’d like to explore – not contradict – them here.
First: Isn’t it all social permaculture? Isn’t this Transition Towns emerging with a new name tag?
Well, of course. That’s why I took to the Transition Towns model like a duck to slugs… no water. I think there’s more to this idea of a permaculture-of-community, though it’s certainly implied in the brilliant work of this global movement to reclaim our local self-provisioning from the grass and grassroots up.
There is a je-ne-sais-quoi to the word community that isn’t in the word social. Community includes the social relationships and how people, economy and landscape interact. A permaculture-of-community implies this and the dynamism of the relationships among us (the landscape of feelings) and the dawning awareness spreading throughout the community that we are all in this together, that our place has unique assets and requirements and that even though our current economic paradigm rests on a foundation of private property, we actually share one landscape and thinking this way can create unimaginable benefits. Once we stop freaking out.
Land use planning, zoning, regulations, restrictions, conservation and utility easements all express the leverage community has even over private property. However annoying or threatening or insulting it may be that the community can scuttle or alter your plans for land you own, none of us likes what we get when there’s a development free-for-all.
Case in point: turns out a crucial chunk of our waterfront street (and tideland) belongs to … a guy who lives near Vegas. Love him or hate him, he owns the properties and the town is now roiling with conversation about his plan to build condos and shops that would rise up 3 stories, block views, cut off a grassy strip about the seawall and alter the feel of the place. Likewise, a group is trying to make Clinton, the town where the ferry docks, into something more than run down mini-mall type shops – many empty – flanking the highway. Turns out that the owners of the main commercial plaza live elsewhere and it seems (note; no fact checking) her tax advantages make it not worth it to re-develop it. Private Property one. Community zip.
What if we here – owners and tenants and renters and government alike – had this permaculture sense. This sense that how energy flows through our collective landscape can be shaped to the advantage of everyone. Beyond the mechanics of zoning, etc., which often pits rights against rights, there would be this feeling.
One hunch. Do you have to live – and die – in a place to feel it? Does the fact that some prime cultural and commercial spaces are absentee owned inhibit that building of a shared culture? If it’s just your tax write off or vacation condo, do you have a loyalty to the community? How can absentee owners be folded into this permaculture of community? In permaculture we say “the problem is the solution”. We say that any part of a landscape can be a contribution, can be incorporated in the energy flow. Not impossible that weekenders can feel this belonging. Can not just benefit from the views and the trails but can want to contribute to the vitality of the place.
A permaculture of community I think implies that the people and the landscape have become part of our identity, not just our real estate or financial planning. And it implies, I think, that even if you participate in one corner of the community – a fishing club, an arts board, a favorite retreat center – you feel the wholeness of the place, how what you love is part of the big quilt.
Second comment: South Whidbey is RUBAN…an urban community in outlook and rural in setting….not a city, not a suburb and not the country.
This comes from a developer who has settled here and has indeed made himself part of this place and taken measures to make what he builds fit into the landscape (okay, so some people disagree…).
Many people, myself included, make our money from elsewhere and spend it here. Good balance of trade. I do think, though, that makes us a little less woven into the economic and social survival of the place. I don’t feel the fragility of our prosperity in my bones. I have to cultivate it in my heart and mind. That’s the urban part, the aspect of our economic/political system that says wealth (and the people who own it) can flow in and out of settlements – for better or worse – without much allegiance. Perhaps the RUBAN idea says that even if we aren’t anchored here economically, we live our daily lives in a small place where the weave of community – from mutual aid to the dozens of service groups to our festivals – is as important to us as our personal properties.
From me to we. That’s our necessary journey on this earth. The fact that your “away” is in someone else’s face is ever more clear. Perhaps the idea of a permaculture-of-community can help us think about this shift in a concrete way, and grapple with the challenge of how are we going to share and shape this home… and retain all the precious gifts of the last half millenium, from art to technology to spirituality.
Next post: my new experiments in community food labs. I’m very excited about this form of collaborative economic development.