THIS WEEK I attended the Think.Eat.Save event on World Environment Day at UNSW and learned that having someone else do your communications is a useful thing.
It was communications about permaculture and it came from the mouth of a Greens councillor at Randwick when she mentioned to the audience in her welcoming speech the Permaculture Interpretive Garden, community gardens, workshops in chookery and other topics as well as other contexts mentioning permaculture, using the word in association with examples a number of times. Even though the words came from the mouth of a politician I don’t think there would have been any adverse perceptions drawn from that.
So this was not a permaculture person highlighting permaculture and it was not an audience of permaculture practitioners, rather a socially and economically mainstream audience including other politicians speaking (an elected Green, a neoliberal conservative [an economic fundamentalist from the NSW government] and a apparchnik from the ALP).

Remarks part of dragonfly approach

When others not associated with your school of thought get up and say positive things about it, I think that’s good. It’s about influence. It’s the sort of thing that you would anticipate when using the four-phase dragonfly (because it has four wings and can manoeuvre easily) approach to building a social movement:

  1. Focus
  2. Grab attention
  3. Engage
  4. Take action.
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In this approach, the councillor’s allusions to permaculture would fit within the second step of the process: grab attention.
But there is no intentional, cohesive permaculture move to create a social movement, which suggests that the councillor’s remarks reflect something else going on. This, I believe, is the growing acceptance of permaculture as a type of social education.
I believe we can explain it through this simple calculation: 2013 -1977 = 36. That is, if we take the date of permaculture’s first articulation in Bill Mollison and David Holmgren’s book, Permaculture One, as the start date of the design system — and that’s 1977 — then the 36 years from that date until this year gives us the time period over which permaculture has gone through two iterations during which it has come to influence an increasing number of people.
The first iteration I count as the launch of the design system in that book and its companion volume — Permaculture Two — around a year later, and over the initial years during which the first set of permacultre design courses were held. The second iteration I count starting in the late 1980s and leading to the present time, a period that brought a popularisation of permaculture facilitated by two main things: coverage of permaculture in the mainstream media and in its own media, Permaculture International Journal (publication ceased in June 2000) and the adoption of the Permaculture Design Course as the prime, formal method of propagating the design system.

Becoming acceptable

It was during the latter period, post-2000, that permaculture became acceptable enough for local government to start using the term. This has been due to the work of professionally-trained designers such as planner, Peter Cummin; landscape architect, Steve Batley; educators, Robyn Francis and others; architect, Terry Bail, a number of people working in international development organisations and others working in agriculture.
The Randwick councillor, in her use of the term, was referring to the infrastructure retrofit of the Randwick Community Centre as the Randwick Sustainability Hub (a term used to refer to the schools, community development and sustainability education program wrapped around it) and the associated Permaculture Interpretive Garden, a multiple-use facility at the same time a public park with edible landscape and an educational facility. She also referred to the smaller Barrett House centre used for workshops, as meeting place for sustainability-oriented community groups and as demonstration centre for energy, water, food production and building materials education.
These centres are a scaling-up of permaculture ideas and, being adopted by a local government, are what permaculture practitioners have said over the years that they want to see happen. They are items two, three and four of the above-mentioned dragonfly approach — attract attention, engage with people and institutions, take action through the various education and social programs.
A single recitation of projects at a forum won’t boost permaculture design’s standing alone. But with examples — and there are others — on the ground, politicians, local government staff and permaculture practitioners can do what the councillor did and use them as examples to grab attention for the design system and to engage with people around them.
Story and photo by RUSS GRAYSON
PacificEdge – tactical urbanism

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