Permaculture and Society – a Look at the Example of Detroit

Rhamis Kent, friend and regular contributor to the PRI, recently gave a talk to Schumacher College in the south west of England. He starts with a look at the meltdown of Detroit’s once thriving manufacturing base, its dramatic consequences for the city and residents, and shares that the current state of affairs for the beleaguered city is a direct result of the economic model that’s been in place in the U.S. over the last century. Rhamis goes further, to share that this is, to one degree or another, the present trajectory of most of the world’s cities.

But, not stopping on the negative, Rhamis goes on to show some of the exciting movements within Detroit that these circumstances are giving life to. Out of necessity, people are working to increase their resiliency and quality of life – turning the problem of Detroit into a solution. Rhamis joins the dots between our socio-economic problems and the environmental catastrophes taking place, and begins to look through the lens of permaculture to see how we can turn things around by imitating natural systems to create low- to no-impact societies that don’t operate on the boom-and-bust model that present day Detroit is arguably the most striking example of.



Duration: 82 minutes

Part way through the talk Rhamis presents the following Urban Roots film trailer. I’ll put it below for convenience. To jump back to where the trailer below (higher quality) ends in the video above, click on 31:40 on progress bar above.

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10 thoughts on “Permaculture and Society – a Look at the Example of Detroit

  1. “direct result of the economic model that’s been in place in the U.S.” Indeed, Detroit suffers under perhaps the most monumentally corrupt set of politicians of any US city. And that is some stiff competition.

  2. I have seen examples of the flaky permacultraulist too.These are the people that try to mesh their own political or religious/spiritual view onto a design science,they block the uptake of information from the learner because they have set up a barrier,and the barrier is their own set of beliefs which they wish to project onto the learner.
    There are also a couple other varieties,The Zealot,this is the one that wants to change the world in one day,they are usually very overbearing,the intensity of the approach and the manner in which they attempt to deliver the message pushes people away usually instantly.The Zealot is usually big on ideas and small on action,when the Zealot does take action it is usually frantic and short lived.So rather than creating something sustainable through design,the Zealot creates something that malfunctions through chaos,the end result being a lasting memorial to “permaculutre” that serves to further disenchant people.
    The “woo woo” and the perma-vulture come next,these are the die hard sub culturalists.They like to sit around city farms,eco villages, drinking latte and living off the grant money for no real result.It’s a life of talk fests,group hugs,and meditation circles.The public perception is thus focused on these elements not on the design science.It’s commonly agreed now that we are in critical times,at war Bill Mollison says.I think to myself if these are the soldiers then we are in trouble.It is these elements in the permaculture community that push it into the fringe.Seeing guys like Rhamis spreading the word in a factual,concrete way and attempting to right some of these wrongs is heartening.It’s good to see some one with a hearts and minds approach rather than a missionary or seek and destroy approach.Good luck with that school board Rhamis and thanks for the great story.
    Best Wishes Fernando

  3. “I have seen examples of the flaky permacultraulist too.These are the people that try to mesh their own political or religious/spiritual view onto a design science,they block the uptake of information from the learner because they have set up a barrier,and the barrier is their own set of beliefs which they wish to project onto the learner.” [end quote]

    I’m one of the guilty. Although only an “armchair permaculturist” at the moment (thus making me unqualified to give any detailed advice on permaculture practices), I’ve come to realize that convincing difficult audiences of takes a great deal of knowledge and subtlety. This I know by experience, as most of the people I talk to on a daily basis tend to be rather “catty”. They will not respond to every question I ask, nor accept every recommendation I offer. Thus, I must continually refine my skills of persuasion.

    Those who resist often either feel threatened by the ideas of permaculture (mainly because the only way of life they’ve ever known will be in danger) or feel contempt (mainly because the speaker presents some very unconventional ideas and so is making himself sound like an arrogant fool deserving of scorn). In both cases, an attempt must be made to convince the audience that their feelings and ideas are being taken into consideration.

    To avoid coming off as a fire & brimstone preacher, one recommendation is for the teacher to ask some carefully worded questions, as if to engage in a kind of Socratic dialogue. This kills two birds with 1 stone; the student is encouraged to do most of the talking, which helps the teacher to know which approach best helps the student to absorb the knowledge being imparted. As well, permaculture is a new concept to many, especially those in developed countries who live rather isolated from nature. Going straight to biological processes may backfire, since most people do not always have time nor inclination to think about such things and thus such a topic may be perceived as insupportably impractical. Extrapolating the same to something more familiar, such as public transportation or the flow of money within an economic system, for example, will more likely yield favorable results.

    I could be more elaborate, but God likes to keep things simple. (Man thinks God is dumb and so he sets out to “improve” His creation ^^)

  4. Does that catagorize you as a ‘Self-righteous/Holier-than-thou’ Permaculturalist Fernando?
    We are all doing our best.

    Leo.

  5. No,I am just an observer.Permaculture is a tool for me,Leo.I am dispassionate about it.This means that when I need to employ it,I don’t swing it around wildly.This means I can lend my tools to others,because I like to share.That’s the funny thing about permaculture,it’s one tool we all share,yet some don’t think of others.
    Best Wishes
    Fernando.

  6. For myself, I tend to try not to put people into little ‘boxes’ at all. You can’t broadly categorise people, as to do so limits their potential and ignores the reality that everyone is on some kind of growth curve – some to the positive, some to the negative, and many of these doing u-turns from one to the other. Labelling people doesn’t nurture people.

  7. “I have seen examples of the flaky permacultraulist too.These are the people that try to mesh their own political or religious/spiritual view onto a design science,they block the uptake of information from the learner because they have set up a barrier,and the barrier is their own set of beliefs which they wish to project onto the learner.” [end quote]

    Here is a really good site about why the flaky permaculturist is a threat to permaculture: http://gadfly.igc.org/pomo/po-mo.htm

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