top of page

Two Essential Guidelines for Urban Permaculture

Permaculture, a term derived from "permanent agriculture," refers to the design and maintenance of productive ecosystems that support sustainability and resilience. Permaculture is all about meeting our daily human needs while being thoughtful about our impact. The practice invites creativity in using what we already have to fulfill more holistic functions. While agriculture may be difficult to visualize in an urban environment, sustainable living in cities is more urgent than ever. Here are two permaculture guidelines that can be adapted for any urban space:

1. Let Nature do the work

In the taxing urban environment, grow your own food and resources the natural way. Traditional agriculture requires copious amounts of fertilizer and pesticides to meet demands because it works against nature. Crops are traditionally grown in monocultures, meaning that only one crop is grown in an area for a period of time. Monocultures eliminate the natural checks and balances that support growth in an ecosystem. Eliminating variation in plant and wildlife species makes room for more pests and weeds, while reusing soil without rotation supports harmful pathogens. In addition, monocultures destroy crucial habitats and harm wildlife.

Instead of growing plants using unnatural practices and poisonous chemicals, let nature take care of your urban garden. You can accomplish this by planting a variety of plant species together, including native plants that attract beneficial wildlife and outcompete pests. Some native plants are both great for the ecosystem and great to eat! Grouping different species together is an aesthetic and efficient way to use small urban spaces. Remember not to use heavy equipment or strong chemicals that will disrupt the beneficial soil microbes. You might even want to invite some natural helpers into your garden. For example, chickens can churn and fertilize soil, a pond can store and filter water, compost can improve soil and reduce food waste, and some plants (such as Black Locust) can self-fertilize the soil.

Grow a variety of crops and native plants together

2. Maximize Existing Space and Resources

Many people can grow their own food in their backyard - but what if you don't have a yard? There are options for even the smallest urban spaces. You can grow an edible balcony, a roof garden, or even a simple window box. Think vertically. Building a planting box out of wood is easy and affordable. You can also grow plants in pots, or you can make your own containers out of recyclables such as a canvas bag or an old tire.

Vertical planters maximize small spaces

Build your own planters, or re-use items you already have

Keep in mind that you don't need very much space to keep a composting system, a rain barrel, or even a beehive... rooftop beekeeping is a growing trend! Philadelphians also have unique access to some simple, impactful resources such as free rain barrels and free trees.

Permaculture emphasizes sustainable natural systems that are intelligently designed. The concept is well-established and widely successful, but many permaculture methods are out of reach for urban residents. While expensive and invasive projects might be unattainable for many, urban residents can follow these two essential guidelines to create a sustainable system for any space and budget.

bottom of page