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.


  • mark dworkin Posted May 27, 2014 9:39 am

    development in Clinton is held up NOT by the stubborn recalcitrance of the owner of that mini strip mall by the Clinton Food Mart but by the reality that there needs to be a major upgrade of the septic system and that is very expensive. this is an argument for municipal sewer systems so each property owner does not have to address it by themselves.

  • Barry ‘CB’ Martin Posted May 27, 2014 9:51 am

    What is the real value of land, the role of citizens in defining a vision for a community and the role/responsibility of business to be integrated into the vision? Good questions to openly (and civilly) discuss to find resolution.

    Q: does land have more value paved and used for a business park or as a productive farm?
    A: depends upon your answers to those questions…

  • Meg Tierney Posted May 27, 2014 1:20 pm

    In Luxembourg a company an American beer company bought an old button factory with the intention of turning it into a brewery. To compete with the micro brew market. They changed their mind and was going to let the building sit empty. Luxembourg laws prevented that from happening by setting fines in place of tax advantages for leaving a perfectly useful building empty instead of letting the community benefit from the jobs it cam create.

  • Pushkara Sally Ashford Posted May 27, 2014 2:04 pm

    Gratitude for the thoughtfulness that goes into your always timely and relevant writing, in this case, about permaculture of community, Vicki. Living on our island in this smallish rurban community affords each of us the opportunity for a potentially greater impact than we might have experienced or even attempted in a populated urban environment. Moreover, we’re likely to feel the benefits directly from our efforts to grow and evolve in both conscience and consciousness as we open up, enter in, and participate in decision-making processes that affect all of us in the short and long term.

    I have a couple of thoughts in response: 1) Perma-community cries for structure, and 2) We have models to observe and learn from going forward. Clearly, the group you are currently meeting with is exploring both. I’d like to add the following references to your list:

    Nodo Espiral or Integral Permaculture http://www.integralpermaculture.org/ (Also on FB)
    This is a permaculture community established onsite in the Canary Islands and online as a service and teaching venue for communities around the world. I met one of its founders, Stella Strega, via Barbara Marx Hubbard’s course, Evolutionary Metamorphosis. We have corresponded quite a lot since then. Videos forthcoming from Nodo Espiral’s on-the-ground community experience have been educational to say the least. Their courses are well-designed and very thorough.

    Community Participation:
    I’m excited by the processes described on the Liberating Structures website. They give a lot of info away, free of charge: http://www.liberatingstructures.com/

    There are others that engage the entire community: I love the work of designer, Milenco Matanovic, founder of the Pomegranate Center – http://pomegranatecenter.org/milenko-matanovic-speak-tedx-tacoma/
    They’ve streamlined a community process that really works. While they address public spaces, the process can be adapted to “mixed use,” that gets input from private property owners but empowers everyone to have a say. On their website: 12 Courageous Things You Can Do to Build Community.

    I’m impressed, as well, that the National Parks Service outlines Preservation Planning procedures in great detail. Here’s a link to their Public Participation guidelines: http://www.cr.nps.gov/hps/pad/plancompan/PublicPartic/index.html

    Emphasis in all cases is upon early involvement in the community decision-making process.

    Thanks so much,

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