Urban Areas and Permaculture

The answer to the drought, is to stop wasting this valuable resource. If we captured and used the water that already falls here, we could turn off the tap from the north and leave that water for farmers.

About a decade ago, the blue-collar community of Sun Valley in Los Angeles County was faced with flooding that impacted homes and businesses during winter rains. The county had planned a $47 million storm sewer system to drain the floodwaters from streets and dump it in the Pacific Ocean via the Los Angeles River (itself now a mostly concrete flood management canal). Instead, clever community planners decided to invest those funds in underground cisterns that would capture the water for later use.

A dilapidated city park was remodeled with cisterns below, as were medians along broad boulevards that were themselves underwater during heavy rains. The result was a system, using ancient Roman technology, that captures 8,000 acre feet of water each year. That’s about twice what the entire city consumes, solving the flooding problem and creating a source of fresh water for thousands of residents. By the way, the investment also gave the city a new park with ball fields and picnic grounds and higher adjacent property values.


Permaculture offers practical solutions to this problem such as by incorporating passive solar design, natural sewage treatment, implementing energy efficiency, supporting renewable energy resources like solar and wind, and the construction of buildings and homes that not only require no outside energy to heat and cool them, but also produce their own energy and feed the excess energy produced to the city’s energy grid.

By increasing the vegetation present in an urban area, solar energy is captured for use by plants instead of heating up concrete as well as the surrounding urban environment. Green roofs planted on top of city buildings can also be implemented to reduce both the energy use of buildings and homes and to reduce the urban heat island effect.

While recycling materials like bottles, cans, and paper is absolutely necessary, there are still many resources that are not recyclable and still end up in landfills. We must design and make things that will be used over and over again and do not pollute our land, water, air, and our own bodies. Our food scraps can be used again as compost to create healthy soil.

Permaculture excels at demonstrating how to efficiently grow food virtually anywhere, from community gardens, to hugelkultur beds and herb spiral gardens in back yards, to rooftop gardens, to sustainable urban farms, to growing a garden on windowsills and on apartment decks, producing both fish and edible plants through aquaponics, and even growing food indoors.

Flooding can be mitigated through the planting of perennial vegetation with deep roots and swales in landscapes, which will not only slow the flow of water down as it travels across the ground, but will also help to recharge aquifers that can provide water when other water resources are scarce.

We can also implement the capture and storage of rainwater in urban areas, eliminate the wasteful practice of watering grassy lawns by designing climate appropriate landscapes such as xeriscaping in drier regions, mulching our gardens and plants instead of watering unnecessarily, implementing natural and effective sewage treatment and sanitation, and eliminating the use of toxic chemicals on our lawns and gardens that pollute water resources.

The word “xeriscape” is derived from the Greek “xeros,” meaning dry, and “scape,” a kind of view or scene. Together, xeriscaping is landscaping with slow-growing, drought-tolerant plants to conserve water and establish a waste-efficient landscape.

xeric zone

Landscapes can be designed from the start to reduce the amount of resources needed to maintain them. By selecting the appropriate plants and efficient irrigation systems, a balance can be achieved to fit your aesthetic needs as well as reduce resource use. Benefits of xeriscaping include cost savings through lower water bills and a reduction in the labor needed to maintain your landscape.

Because permaculture encourages natural ecosystems and sustainable food production, natural pest control, encourages native plants that support pollinators, and does not use toxic chemicals that kill them, we have a very real opportunity in urban areas to support healthy pollinator populations.

In fact, with such widespread use of pollinator-killing agricultural chemicals in rural areas, the pollinators in our urban areas may actually help to save their own species. Every effort helps.

The ultimate goal of permaculture is to live in harmony with our natural environment. The cityscape is the perfect environment where humanity can learn how to turn that dream into a reality.