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Urban Permaculture in LA


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Sure, with miles upon miles of sprawling single family homes, congested freeways, paved rivers and architecture meant to be viewed from the seat of a moving vehicle, I can attest that Los Angeles does a good job of living up to its reputation of a city filled with un-inspired design. However, if you take a deeper look into this complex urban fabric, you will discover some green gems that are making big impacts here and opening the eyes of city dwellers around the globe.

Pasadena-based Path to Freedom (PTF) was featured in the LA times twice this week (here and here) for what founder Jules Dervaes calls his "homegrown revolution," created by using "hands as weapons of mass creation."

PTF is an example of urban permaculture, a design philosophy rooted in careful observations of natural patterns and a harmonious integration of ourselves and our communities into the landscape. Using the principles of permaculture, Dervaes and his family have transformed their 1/5 acre city lot into an urban homestead to decrease their energy dependency and to exemplify self-reliant urban living.

Home to over 350 different edible and useful plants and a variety of insects and animals, PTF produces an impressive 3 tons of organic fruits and vegetables annually on their small lot. This produce is supplied to local restaurants and caterers through PTF's home business Dervaes Gardens.

In a permaculture model, all waste, if left an unused resource, becomes pollution. So all food waste at PTF is recycled to its next highest use, through composting to build healthy soil. The use of energy-efficient and human-powered appliances, solar and cob ovens, and solar panels has reduced their electricity dependence by two-thirds. The Dervaes also home-brew their own biodiesel, and are working on water harvesting and re-use projects. They do all of this while maintaining their highly informational website and blog, in which the Dervaes note the positive responses that are rolling in from their recent press, such as the following message sent to the Dervaes from one of the readers:

A few City staff members have commented to me about the L.A. Times article on PTF and have mentioned how great it was. In addition, as we have discussed before, they note how much of an impact you have had on others and their life styles. One staffer said that after reading the article he and his son went out to their garden and spent the next four hours working in it and preparing it for spring planting.

Sometimes we never know what the impact of our actions will be but just be secure in the knowledge that you have improved others lives by your unique and inspiring example." - BB

Another urban permaculture group making LA news is LA Eco-Village, an intentional community covering a two-block area in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles. Lois Arkin, executive director of the Eco-Village, was recently noted in City Beat Magazine's recent article about the future vision for LA, titled "Redesigning Los Angeles."

The Eco-Village's goal is to "demonstrate processes for lower impact higher quality living patterns" in a very dense urban neighborhood. Besides its on-site experimentation with edible landscapes, community living, and educational offerings, the Eco-Village offers other forms of outreach to the city. For example, Eco-Village has secured $250,000 in city funding for a progressive street-scape redesign in its neighborhood, to bring the urban experience back to human scale.

Permaculture designer Larry Santoyo has voiced in his urban permaculture class that we can't expect to make the city of Los Angeles sustainable in one big sweep. However, we can focus on making smaller groups of 50-100 people more sustainable, and then replicate that throughout the city. Just as the city of Curitiba has become a world-model for cities striving towards sustainable practices, Path to Freedom, LA Eco-Village, and others such as the Fallen Fruit project and Edible Estates (who we previously covered here) are showing us what is possible here in LA. As Arkin expresses, one of the major goals of the Eco-village "is to empower people with the vision that we can do this sort of thing again and again, in our city, and in cities everywhere."

With half of the world's population to be living in urban areas within the next few years, models such as these are essential to our urban futures. And what is more worldchanging than proving that healthy, friendly, sustainable living can be achieved in Los Angeles?

[Photo by Al Seib for the Los Angeles Times]

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