Permaculture Ethic 2: Care For People

What is Permaculture? An Apprentice’s View

The first time I heard the word ‘Permaculture’ was in 2018 working on ‘The Wheel’ a 4 Person Eco Home project in Taiwan. The project itself seemed to be full of people who talked about Permaculture…a lot. But perhaps I didn’t come across the Ethics, Principles, Domains until I’d read a few books. Most of the people working on the 4 Person Eco Home spoke Chinese Mandarin, which I have a basic grasp of. I got the gist of things enough to pique my curiosity.

Permaculture Ethics

So, Permaculture Ethic 2 ‘Care For People’, is for one thing, putting humans smack bang in the middle of the design process.

So many towns & cities are designed for vehicles: how to get as many vehicles to their destination as quickly as possible, seems to be the main criteria for so much of what we have planned & implemented at a civic level over the last half a century or more.

Put another way that is easier to remember – “Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share”, the ‘people care’ ethic makes the consideration of humans, and things of human scale, fundamental to any solutions that might be developed.

Not only ‘scale’ in the sense of size though.  Implicit in this ethic when I ponder on it, are other things.  Human power – how much energy can be output by people? Human lifetimes, or timeframes, not just of an individual, but of families, generations.  The young, the old. There are other dimensions that could be considered such as ‘social scale’ – how many people form into our common groups of family, friends, colleagues….or ‘tribal scales’ of different sorts?

Designing for people whilst taking all the above into consideration is arguably much more complicated than designing to maximize something such as traffic flow.  Designing to maximize traffic flow inherently cares for cars & trucks more than people. Pavements (sidewalks in the US), village greens, parks and spaces that would naturally emerge over decades and centuries as part of a people-centric scaled design process, which evolves over a people-centric timeframe, do not then get the attention necessary to make nice places for people.  (See Hassan Fathy, Architecture For The Poor, for some excellent insights into the level of care and thought applied to ‘human scale’ things such as local & cultural traditions when planning a town from scratch).

When it comes to the internet, and websites, ‘UX’, or User Experience, is something into which larger companies at least, can afford to invest considerable time & sums of money, to refine and tweak the design, in an ongoing process.  There are big returns to be made in improvements of fractions of a percentage when it comes to retaining website visitors and converting them to customers.

Applying the analogue of website user experience to towns and cities in particular, is more problematic due to the amount of work involved in retrofitting (see David Holmgren’s RetroSuburbia for deeply thought out solutions to retro-fitting the suburbs), and the cost of infrastructure and construction of buildings.  Some of the Permaculture Principles bring focus to the fact that it just takes us, as humans, more than five minutes to develop a good plan or design, and encourage small & slow solutions, lots of observation, accepting feedback. Just these three things in themselves, if applied, can & do create a much more suitable environment for people.  I’m thinking of Hassan Fathy again, and New Gourna. Certainly he sought feedback & interaction with the people he was designing for, and certainly he made extensive observation of the people of Gourna, their families, customs, social structure. Even if ‘planning a whole town’ might not fit in the ‘small & slow’ category, actually he planned to make each home individual, for each individual family, according to the size of the family, their means, their social status & which of the 4 main tribal groups within the town they belonged to.  I could argue that even though he was planning a whole town, he was planning it ‘small & slow’, definitely so compared to many government projects around the world.

One of the things I like about the 3 Permaculture Ethics, is that they all interconnect, or overlap.   It is hard to think about ‘Earth Care’ without humans in the picture, or ‘People Care’ without an Earth in the picture.  One of the things I like most about Permaculture – it’s all interconnected ;-).

Next in line is Permaculture Ethic 3: Fair Share.

Previous: Permaculture Ethic 1: Earth Care

See this link for Permaculture Courses