“The future of sustainability is in our cities and towns. Urban neighborhoods are ideal for the promise and potentials of permaculture design. Our cities embody the greatest concentration of the social, intellectual and physical resources needed to create a sustainable system.” – Larry Santoyo. EarthFlow Design Works. Vice President of the Permaculture Institute.

Permaculture (named for “permanent” and “agriculture”) is a worldwide movement founded by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. This methodology of working with the earth in garden, home, landscape and all aspects of the environment is a process of design protocols and methodologies; it is a design science of “connecting.” The basis of permaculture design is to model the concept of functional connections.

Imagine a culture that produces more than it consumes. Permaculture is a design system that goes beyond creating a sustainable (social, economic, environmental) world; its emphasis is to support a whole culture that is regenerative in nature. Through permaculture, we as humans can reduce the impact our settlements have on non-renewable and renewable resources and instead create an abundant living environment, for the needs of all living creatures.

We can see the problem of living in an urban settlement (as many of us do) as also being the solution. It is possible to utilize the comprehensive expansive design to become sustainable in the city. As Larry Santoyo states during the first weekend of his Permaculture Design Courses: “One doesn’t do permaculture, one uses permaculture.”

The following are five ways to consider using Permaculture in the city:

1. Grow your own healthy food and medicine: Even in backyards, sunny windows and balconies, we can grow herbs, fruits, berries, and perennial herbs and greens that can be harvested throughout the year and enjoyed in salads, soups and stews. By growing even one edible plant of our own, we participate in the complex connection with all other living things.

2. Create community gardens or an ecovillage with your neighbors and friends: Build greenhouses and plant gardens in empty lots. Participate in community garden initiatives or join a transition movement in your community. Turn grass lawns into beautiful gardens that also produce food. As city neighbors we are discovering that our own yards provide us with enough space to incorporate many diverse plant species. In the permaculture design approach, all of these plants are part of an interconnected system in relationship with other plants.

A condominium association can be a model of an ecovillage, where individuals own their buildings while the land is owned and managed collectively. If you live in a condominium, talk to your neighbors about creating an ecovillage.

3. Use of Microclimates: Use the presence of buildings, porches or balconies to cultivate plants that need partial shade or vertical climbing space. City dwellers are blessed with numerous microclimates within their own yards. South facing walls, for example, can provide an excellent location for heat loving plants like grapes, tomatoes, or peppers and can also be good locations for extending the growing season.

4. Incorporate a water catchment system: Water Harvesting is the process collecting run-off water from the roofs of our houses; it can provide all the water needs for the garden by redirecting water to trees, shrubs and beds, or by storing it in rain barrels for later use.

5. Composting and Mulching: There is no substitute for homegrown compost! Intensive composting allows for the recycling of resources within one’s permaculture system and contributes greatly to soil fertility, structure and long-term sustainability. If you live in an apartment, complex or area without a yard, explore the use of composting in community gardens, or vermicomposting (keeping a “farm” of worms in a box in a contained area).


Going green or being sustainable in a city is possible. It involves activating our values of Social Awareness and Ethical Ecologically to provide honest community services and responsible commerce. With the right intention and commitment we can all create beautiful, healthy, living environments, and rebuild our cities (or our home in a city) and making sustainable areas creating opportunities. Once we look at the city’s elements as opportunities to create beauty through design, we begin to find solutions. This is Urban Permaculture.

Recommended Reading:

Permaculture: a Designers Manual By Bill Mollison

Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home Scale Permaculture By Toby Hemenway

Recommended Classes:

Simple Strategies for a Sustainable Society/LA Permcualture Design Courses with Larry Santoyo earthflow.comsudhaprem.com

Recommended Media: covolv.org