Air pollution can be greatly reduced by integrating an ecosystem of urban forests into the city’s fabric, which can purify the air, sink carbon, restore soil health, create corridors for biodiversity, produce food for the community, and give citizens beautiful green spaces to enjoy.
There's a new way of thinking about urban green spaces: as self-sufficient and productive ecosystems that benefit people, city, and environment, rather than as ornamental manicured lawns. Densely planted, quick-growing forest works as a nature-based solution to purify the air, while also cooling down the area and producing fruit. Permaculture-inspired forests can also combat one of root causes of air pollution in the Global South: the widespread burning of agricultural waste after harvest, which causes disastrous levels of air pollution. That’s because organic waste can be bought from farmers and turned into mulch, which is essential for permaculture, thus giving farmers a monetary incentive not to burn it. This shows how any kind of unused land in any city can be turned into productive assets to the public and the environment, with minimal input or maintenance.
Permaculture is a broad, holistic design culture based on whole-systems thinking. The concept was developed in the 1970s by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, with the aim to foster self-sufficient, resilient and sustainable human systems that draw inspiration from natural ecosystems. Permaculture shares a lot of practices with agroforestry and regenerative agriculture, but goes beyond the agricultural field by encompassing social, cultural and economic aspects. Permaculture tackles how to grow food, get energy, design houses, create communities and build resilience, while working with nature, rather than against it. Key permacultural practices include producing no waste, creating closed loop systems, capturing and storing energy, integrating rather than segregating, and valuing diversity. Permaculture is very space-efficient and can empower anyone to grow food pretty much anywhere, including in spaces as small as a balcony! As the urban and suburban permaculture movement grows, we can all take part in even in a small way.
It’s very important to understand that “green” doesn’t always equal “sustainable.” For example, green lawns are highly damaging to the natural environment as they lack diversity, consume huge amounts of water, and need inputs such as fertilisers. Enter rewilding: a forward-looking approach to ecosystem restoration that reinstates natural processes (and sometimes missing animal species) allowing nature to take care of itself. Rewilding can be done at very large scales, for example by reintroducing wolves to the UK or reconnecting patches of ancient woodland, but it can work brilliantly on a small scale too. With roughly 30% of England being owned by only 25,000 landowners – typically members of the aristocracy and corporations – huge leaps forward can be made when landowners decide to rewild their land. You can do your part by turning your front lawn into a meadow of wildflowers — a fun and easy weekend activity that can do wonders for your local ecosystem!
Getting involved in urban gardening and permaculture couldn’t be more accessible and low-cost. Anyone, anywhere in the world can join the movement for greener neighbourhoods!
Cities4Forests' website is the bible for all things urban forestry! They have a handy introductory mini-course meant for any city dweller, community leader, civil servant, or NGO worker that wants to understand the fundamental concepts of urban forestry.
Following a few inspiring accounts on social media is a tiny step that can lead to huge results! Being exposed to climate-positive content on the day-to-day with no effort can allow us to absorb knowledge, ideas and excitement about making an impact!
• Regenerative Films
• Rob Greenfield
• Discover Permaculture with Geoff Lawton
Listen to the Making Good Podcast with Cecil Konijnendijk, a professor of urban forestry, unpacking the benefits and methods of urban forestry around the world.
Check out this list of the best books about permaculture, from the basics all the way to getting your hands dirty by starting your own garden.
Watch this video to learn more about permaculture and how its approach is so beneficial for building climate resilience and stronger communities.
Encourage your company to submit a pledge for the 1 Trillion Trees Programme, a cross-industry coalition committed to forest conservation and restoration.
Encourage your city’s government to join a global campaign of mayors who are implementing pledges to make their cities greener, more sustainable and resilient.
Support the Permaculture Association’s work in educating and setting up community gardens.
Many people get into permaculture by watching a webinar or mini course, and getting inspired by how easy to keep, impactful and beautiful permaculture gardens can be! Ideally, search for one local to you so you can attend in person but, for global digital options, here are a few picks:
• Permaculture Global
• Permaculture Association
• Milkwood Courses
There are community gardens in most cities, and they are always looking for volunteers to lend a hand. If you don’t know where to start, check out these maps and resources to find your nearest community planting effort!
• Permaculture Global
• Urban Farming UK
• Permaculture Association
• Good to Grow
• American Community Gardening Association
• Zappata Romana
• Community Garden
It’s easier than you think! Get started by reading the free e-book RetroSuburbia: The Downshifter’s Guide to a Resilient Future, or buy the book The Permaculture City online.
The Vibrant Cities Lab has an Urban Forestry Toolkit. Many of the resources are US-specific, but the steps really apply anywhere someone wants to increase urban forestry and start something in their own community!
Get guerrilla gardening! Watch these video about how inspiring community leaders, Ron Finley and Hattie Carthan, changed their community through gardening.
Through his two companies, Restore and Agrihood, Bilal A. Chaudri designs and builds climate resilient food forests, to green Pakistan’s cities and combat food insecurity.