Urban Design  (7m 20s)

This is the urban design video. The principle is… pretty much we’re going for high-density living. How can we cram as many people as possible into the smallest amount of space to live comfortably.

A few generations ago, we all lived on farms. We learned how to meet our demands of basic food and security. So then we moved closer to each other so we could more easily trade with one another. We formed cities. Today, half of the world’s population lives in cities.

Cities are good because they are efficient, fun, convenient and luxurious. Citis can be bad in that too many people causes too much pollution, too much waste, too much consumption. And while cities are efficient, they’re not as efficient as they could be.

So we went from rural areas, to a village community, to an urban area and recently we’ve created the suburb, a semi-urban area. Now, we’re teetering on the periphery of the city. We kind of want out of the situation we created in the city, but there are just enough conveniences to keep us there. Now we need to shift a little so our cities can be beacon of abundance that originally drew us there.

Urban permaculture strategies are the same as rural areas. Just tinier. More condensed. I’ll just offer a few things I have seen in cities that were particularly interesting to me. But I think a lot of this section is about how to take small scale things and make them larger.

When I was in Cambodia a few years ago, I was visiting a non-profit doing development work around there. They had rented an entire 4-story building. The ground floor had a café, the second story had a classroom where they were teaching english, the third floor was a loft, where the people who ran the café lived and the fourth floor was a bakery. And I think if they were to put a garden, you can really have a complete package. Between the bakery, the loft and the café, this is really a full business. A full operation in this one building. This is how buildings or skyscrapers could be. Ground floor is the market and all the floors above you can do or grow all these other things.

I met a guy in Atlanta one time, his name was Paul. He found some really cheap retail racks they used in supermarkets, he converted those retail racks to be aquaponic systems. So he had a ponds and a whole shelf with lights and all these things and I think it’s that kind of creativity that kind of thinking that can produce a lot in a small space. So it’s easier said than done. But this can make our buildings more productive.

Another time, I was in Sri Lanka just a couple weeks ago and there’s a small city called Kandy. In the middle of this small city, in the middle of Kandy, there was about a 7 or 8 story building, a mall. A shopping mall.

And the ground floor of this shopping mall, they had about 7 banks. Ready to walk in, and open an account. And the second, third, fourth, fifth, and so on, they had jewelry stores, high end supermarkets, clothing shops, all these sort of high end shops where we can go spend our money. There are two ways you can look at this, one is that yes, this is promoting overconsumption and this kind of thing. But I think we’ve been able to assimilate the entire urban machine in one building. On one floor you go get the money and the other floors you can go spend it, or you can be more resourceful and this kind of thing. But I just think this is something that has enabled capitalism and this sort of thing to spread. It’s that we can totally plug in a whole group of people and get them on the economic thing for better or worse. But it’s certainly something that has lead to a lot of the success of cities.

Here are a few city-wide design strategies. Just a few examples of elements that we’re going to talk about later on in this course. Which could be scaled up and run as small businesses and serve various needs of our community. For example, we could have public waste-water treatment systems. Or gravity fed-sand charcoal water filter systems. We could have garbage balers or methane extracting-bio-remediation landfills, earth bricks construction companies, nurseries, charcoal, compost, wood vinegars processing plants, fertilizers from cooked and uncooked food. I met a guy in Thailand named Dr Tancho whom I’ll refer to a few times in this course, he collects urine from gas stations and turns it into fertilizer. Communities can also invest in processing machinery and rent it to each other. For instance you could have someone run the grain grinder or the distillery. There’s also a lot of opportunity for creating more environments, more public space, public parks, amphitheatre, benches, giant chess games, water fountains, community maps.

About a year ago, I was in Laos with some buddies, and we were doing this perma course. One of the projects on the site was a garbage incinerator. Sort of dirty and grungy. My buddy Ben he was like, let’s turn this into a nursery. So over the next few weeks once the group got there, we turned this sort of dirty space into a really beautiful looking nursery. So at first it was this dirty space, you didn’t really want to look at it, you just walked by it, so it went from this negative space, to a positive space. It’s almost like we gained two points by doing one thing. So we changed the area from a negative, to a positive. And I think when we look at things in a city, we may see things as a negative, just with a little bit of effort, it can go from something you avoid, to something that actually attracts you.

And the last thing I’ll share is, I was sitting in the park the other day, I got some street food with a friend and we sat under some trees in the city. There were maybe 15 trees around us. Despite the traffic and horns and other people walking around, it was quiet. The few trees drowned out the sounds of the city. Same thing in central park in NYC. There are places you can go there and not hear a thing. So greening the city is more about creating quiet pockets of calm space rather than revamping the whole thing all at once. I mean, let’s do both, let’s try to do a collectively effort. But you don’t need the consent of the mayor of some 5 million person city, let’s just communicate with local authorities and go and get it done. It’s more about labor, it’s more about showing and not telling.

So I think if we could produce something that people can see they will be more likely and be more interested in it than if we talk about it. And just by planting a few trees, we’re greening the city, we’re making our cities bigger and more efficient is not as far out of reach as we may think.

Of course this is my opinion and I’ve been living outside cities for most of the last 10 years, take this information in whatever capacity you choose.

Okay, that basically covers the urban design chapter. I look forward to learning more about high density living and really how to install these small scale elements on a larger scale.