2 April 2020 | 11 minutes.

Urban permaculture in Barcelona: The Nest City Lab

Michael Karner
Research Analyst, REVOLVE
Permaculture has become global but what is urban permaculture, and why does it matter? REVOLVE’s regional office in Barcelona’s Nest City Lab provides insights on what urban permaculture encompasses, and why this holistic phenomenon is important for a sustainable future.

Permaculture is a systems-thinking design methodology for sustainability. While most commonly associated with perennial or “permanent” agriculture, the concept’s scope has steadily expanded since its appearance in the 1970s. According to its initiators Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, permaculture focuses on creating “Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature while yielding an abundance of food, fiber and energy for the provision of local needs. People, their buildings and the ways in which they organize themselves are central to permaculture. Thus, the permaculture vision of permanent or sustainable agriculture has evolved to one of permanent or sustainable culture” (Holmgren, 2002). At present, permaculture can simultaneously be viewed as a sustainable design methodology, a worldview informed by ethical principles, and a global movement present in remote areas as well as the world’s largest cities. The knowledge and techniques used in this approach are drawn from both modern technology and indigenous knowledge from around the world. In this sense, permaculture’s value lies in the fact that it ties together these practices into a holistic system for environmental, social and economic sustainability.

A more subtle service of The Nest is the sense of wellbeing that one can feel when working surrounded by vegetation. Photos: Alicia Bastos

By 2050, 68% of the world’s projected 9.8 billion people will live in cities (United Nations, 2018). Understanding the many ways in which cities can become catalysts of sustainability and landscape regeneration in urban and peri-urban areas is crucial in the context of the upcoming United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030). Somewhat counter-intuitively, cities are ideal locations for permaculture design, experimentation and innovation precisely because they are some of the most complex systems that humanity has ever developed. On the one hand, they concentrate most of the world’s inhabitants and resource consumption and can be seen as the main culprits of environmental degradation, resource over-abstraction and climate change. But according to permaculture’s design principles, the problem is also the solution. So what better place is there to begin saving ourselves (rather than the planet) than in our sprawling urban spaces? Cities also concentrate resources, creativity, power and community. They are therefore crucial platforms for sustainability and drivers of change. Their density and complexity are also their strength, since these qualities allow for the creation of new connections between different elements in the urban fabric to increase sustainability, community-building, resilience and resource efficiency.

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