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Urban Regeneration

February 25, 2012

Before I took my class, entitled ‘Urban Regeneration,’ I naively thought of only superficial ‘going-green’ type solutions (i.e. sexy green-roofs and solar panels slapped onto a poorly designed and constructed building.) But I’m happy to report, I was wrong.

Starting from my early childhood education, and through to the completion of my Environmental GeoChemistry degree, I had always been taught that nature is sacred, and humans impose a threat to that sanctity. But permaculture designers will challenge that belief.  Humans are very much a part of all of the ecologies that we have either created or impacted. Nature is of course sacred, but humans are a still a part of nature.  So, why do we separate humans and ecology?

Humans are capable of incredible things. Whenever I’m in a city, I still waddle around like a toddler, my mouth opened, I stare straight up at the buildings. If we can create enormous metal boxes that have huge engines on them that combust hydrocarbons that were extracted from thousands of feet in the earth, which can send humans into the atmosphere, and plop them down on the other side of the planet, in another big city, we can certainly learn to productively interact with the ecology around us.  And so, I’m hopeful! Humans are amazing, a wonderful untapped resource.

Enter urban regeneration: where designers begin to develop solutions that utilize human resources.

Urban centers have what so many communities lack: a seemingly endless supply of people. Where rural, and even suburban homesteaders may lack the man-power to complete projects, urban communities can join their efforts into a collective site, and share the profit.

In Holyoke, MA, an organization called Nuestra Raices began by starting a community garden in an abandoned lot in 1992. With time and the collaboration of the large immigrant population in the neighborhood, it grew to be a large urban agricultural center, that now promotes environmental justice and community development. The New Urban Farmers out in Rhode Island are doing similar things, with wonderful community gardens, urban aquaponics systems, and neighborhood greenhouses. And did I mention Seattle’s new food forest?

People, inherently, are not the problem. The problem seems to be that we’ve created unintentional ecologies around us, or broken and unhealthy environments.  But recently, we see that people are contributing to intentional ecologies, or intelligent designs that generate biologically productive systems. Systems that yield food, habitat, materials, beauty, oxygen, soil, and inspiration.

Cities don’t have to be the grey, infertile landscapes that we so often associate with them.  Many designers and activist groups are developing inspiring means to regenerate the ecology around them, and create spaces of natural beauty, with a little creativity and the help from many, many neighbors.

Want to know more? There’s some wonderful material out there, one being the blog Permaculture for Renters: “Regenerative design for the landless many.” Easy and fun permaculture buffoonery for all!

There’s also a great book out by Scott Kellogg, Toolbox For Sustainable City Living, which I’d recommend to those DIY-ers looking for real how-to’s.

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