The reinvention of cities is not a project we can postpone. We are forced by the triple crisis we are dealing with (health, climate and economic one) and although we should have got down to work long ago, we still have the chance to make a different city possible. Together with the reinvention of the city we must reinvent the imaginaries that govern us, otherwise no transformation will be possible. Let’s start with the latter.
The imaginaries that govern our society are rooted in our bodies, since we are incarnate beings. It is our own body image that will change associated with the image of the city… and this will allow us to reinvent both the city and the multiple bodies of the organisms that we want to inhabit it. What do we mean? In the title of the project itself is the answer: INTERSPECIES. We consider our specie to be the only one with control over our environment; the mistake that this implies has been made clear in the recent crisis of the COVID-19.
We humans feel capable of building almost anything with our knowledge opposing our culture to the natural. We see our bodies as separated from the rest of the evolution flow; we have almost forgotten where we came from. It is time to change these imaginaries.
Our body is associated in a chain with many other beings and the matter that composes us is the same as that of the stars and the rest of the organisms that inhabit the planet. We could say that if we look closely, our body is not distinguished from other organisms but rather is a kind of “multi-species Frankenstein”. We are on the verge of annihilation, but if we were to revive someone today, it would not be the Frankenstein made up of dead human parts that we already know- this one tries to make the human immortal- but rather we would like to revive an interspecific subject: an organism that is aware of its position on the planet – surely female or genderless – someone who is aware of the vital pulse and the interrelationships that run through it. A new beautiful and wise monstrosity crossed by life. Made up of multiple organisms- or at least their consciousness and memory- at the same time.
Similarly, the continued opposition of cities to biodiverse ecosystems, their homogenisation and our city practices must give way to a mix of ecosystems that will make the urban possible. These ecosystems are the ones that will sustain us. We are part of them and they are part of us, as well as many other beings, humans and non-humans. They can all be consolidated in unison.
In this order of things, urban landscapes should be more biodiverse and productive with multiple associations between species and between environments. In this way food, prosperity, ecology, health, urban and multiple bodies will be synonymous with the city.
In three lines, the proposal is to reorganise the urban environment by adding the network of open spaces, the metropolitan forest project, the urbanised industrial estates that have not been occupied for more than ten years, the roofs of the buildings, the terraces and the patios… this entire territorial collection can add innovation around a network of productive green infrastructures. Its main morphology would be that of an edible forest based on permaculture, but necessarily this collection of productive landscapes will have to be multifunctional. Permaculture -especially designed for urban environments and transitions to the rural environment- would allow food production in proximity and citizen involvement through direct participation. Thus, the new networks of public spaces in the city, in the form of an edible forest, will produce ecosystem services- food among others- reduce displacement, generate greater ecosystem awareness and transform the urban-forest into a continuity inhabited by interspecific subjects, where multiple associations between organisms make social capital.
Can the city be a productive place and at the same time a generator of biodiversity, health, social equity and a wealth of political relations? Can we all redesign together our way of living and how the environment builds/destroys us and vice versa? Can we have in the city broad ecosystem resources that make us more self-sufficient, happier and wiser? Can the city be edible and feed us?
But what is permaculture and why can it have the potential to revolutionise what our city can be?
Permaculture is a system that through synergy and collaborative relationships between different species of plants and animals- and their associated ecosystems- provides a form of food production that promotes biodiversity, improves the soil- it can be started in very poor soils- and is capable of adapting to small urban environments or combining in larger territories. It is shaped like an edible forest. It generates food landscapes.
In general terms, the tendency to make cities more and more hybrid with what we consider “the countryside” is clearly on the rise. It has mainly emerged in communities facing a major local crisis as well as a global one; this is the case of Detroit for example, which already had 1.600 urban farms in 2015, with the aim of being able to feed at least half of its total population (a not insignificant paradigm in the face of the current crisis regarding COVID-19 and the effects it is having on the most vulnerable population). But it is also emerging with the aim of improving people’s lives, as is the case in many regions of the United Kingdom such as Calderdale where, since 2013, the city council has made its unoccupied land available to its inhabitants for cultivation. The Agricultural Parks of cities such as Milan are a closer example. In fact, as stated in studies such as the one published by COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology www.cost.eu) “Urban Agriculture in Europe” (2012-2016) is a growing practice in the reinvention of cities across Europe.
Most of the producers of the food we consume are small-scale producers (between 70 and 75%). Large companies mainly feed livestock or create bio fuels. Currently, conventional farming, which is dependent on fossil fuels and soil-exhausting practices, needs large areas to be profitable. With one tenth of the land, permaculture production would already be worthwhile economically, and unlike conventional agriculture, permaculture does not deplete the soil but enriches it. Moreover, in the long term when these permaculture ecosystems reach their climax, the maintenance is also much lower, some organisms and others collaborate and “look after” each other and can produce 100 euros of vegetables or more per square meter.
If all small farmers used agro-ecological techniques they would double their production. If they used permaculture techniques, experience confirms that the increase in production would be 3 or 4 times more. These data come from the study in around 68 countries that Oliver De Schütters (economist and expert in social rights) has created for the United Nations. After some basic actions that can take some years, a permaculture plot of about 1,000 m2 is capable of producing in its first year (these numbers are stated in 2015 and filmed in the documentary film “Tomorrow”) about 32,000 euros of vegetables, 39,000 euros in the second year, and in the third year the production already amounted to 57,000.
There are various permaculture associations in the city- also of national scope- that can be allies in this transformation. Some of them are: “Permacultura Madrid”, “Permacultura Íbera”, “Cambium. Permacultura en formación”, “Madrid Agroecológico” or “Ecoherencia”. Also other entities such as “Campo Adentro (Inland)” work in the field of reducing the distance between the countryside and the city by including animals and manual means of production in solvent networks capable of making important changes in our habits towards the environment.
There are also institutions that could be part of a certain committee of experts. The Botanical Garden, for example, held an exhibition in 2012 entitled “Descampados” (Waste Grounds), curated by Javier Grijalbo, which highlighted the importance and value of some of these landscapes that we consider to be linked to the revolution of the edible forest as a silent base that is already present in our reality.
The best way to carry out this transformation of the urban environment and of us as inhabitants is through maximum collaboration between entities and organisations. It includes planning, but also citizen involvement.
Could we start tomorrow? Yes, the proposal is economically self-sustaining in its pilot states. We propose to start these pilot states on urbanised but abandoned or not yet started plots of land. This is the case of the example considered in “La Atayuela” near Vallecas.
– The first action would therefore be for the Town Hall to cede some available land (this could also be done by private initiative, although we believe it is more feasible to start with disused municipal plots).
– Secondly, and to start working the land, the citizens and SMEs would be offered to take part in the project. Any citizen or small business could take a portion of the production in exchange for a small economic contribution – we are talking about a really symbolic “sponsorship” for the first 3-4 years until the system is set up in its bases. In exchange for this economic collaboration, the participants (“godmothers” and “godfathers”) will be able to take part in the formative and constructive workshops in permaculture, and it will be through these workshops that the system will be implemented.
– In a third stage- at the latest from the 5th year onwards- the participants will be able to continue, in an autonomous but coordinated way, their care in the edible forest in exchange for a rent which will be fixed according to the production.
The transformation of these plots into an edible forest is therefore not a structure of the productive space similar to that of urban gardens. It cannot be divided into independent fragments that function in isolation. This system forms an ecosystem, and if we really want to make it work, we have to have minimal permaculture units that are “godfathered”, but which are generated in synergy according to a single coordinated general system that must be designed.
What is proposed is to have minimum units of permaculture, which together add up to the system. The minimum unit considered here is 20 m2 which would give access to a maximum of 1500 families and SMEs to form part of the project (these numbers are referred to a pilot plot in “La Atayuela”, Vallecas). We say maximum because some SME or family could decide to sponsor and later take care of more than one unit. If several plots were set up at the same time, the impact on citizens would be exponential.
The annual cost of the sponsorship during the first years of establishment and previous works of the system, always referred to a minimum productive unit of 20m2 of permaculture, would be 100 euros (a little more than 8 euros per month).
Although a permaculture system takes a little longer in its initial stages, once installed it is really resilient and increasingly self-sufficient. In the long term it is the interspecies association that does most of the work.
1- Cession of the land.
2- Basic design and sponsorship.
3- Detailed design and development of the workshops/ participatory and coordinated construction
4- Once the system has been established through sponsorship and workshops, the autonomous but coordinated care phase begins within the generated ecosystem.
5- From the 5th year onwards the system begins to produce more consistently. The network at other points also begins to be set up. The city is changing its possibilities of accessing ecosystem services and self-sufficiency. The collection of productive urban landscapes begins to transform the city.
6- In 10 years the system begins to be more and more visible.
7- From the age of 50 onwards it evolves into a totally different city, fuller in resources and ecosystem services, healthier, with fewer emissions and more surface area of carbon sinks. In this way a better-regulated ecosystem appear and the inhabitants and the city are more in control of its own destiny.
We believe that the city must and can generate health and food. That citizens increasingly demand the need for nature and the re-invention of a city where quality of life is fundamental… we demand actions that avoid pandemics and food crises and we want production systems that allow us to sustain ourselves. We demand a biodiverse city. But we must also change to make this possible. And we must understand ourselves differently and understand ecosystems in complex ways. This project takes care of organisms and means to make them evolve in synergy INTERESPECIES.
Challenges to be developed:
Energy efficiency and clean energy:
– Manual processes
– No fossil fuels
– Thanks to the production in proximity, costs in transport, packaging, processing, storage and marketing are eliminated.
Life cycle and sustainable building materials
– Ecological succession
– Different materials are obtained in each phase. In the more advanced ones with very little active work
– We obtain wood, dyes, waxes, oils…
– Proximity reduces the necessity to travel
– Productive landscapes encourage pedestrian and bicycle mobility
Resilience and adaptation to climate change:
– Soil improvement, CO2 sinks
– Each organism has more than one function, creating a very stable system
– Citizen and community resilience
– Social capital
Ecological services for neighbourhoods and sustainable jobs:
– Citizen participation
– Ecological services (food, medicinal plants, less pollution, more pollination, prevention of erosion, water cycle, living soil, therapeutic experiences, improvement of quality of life…)
Sustainable waste management:
– Composting of organic waste
– “cradle to cradle”
Sustainable water management:
– Towards the maturity of the system, techniques such as “mulching” reduce the need for irrigation
– Soil improvement = Better water cycle
– Water collection design
– Native species
– Natural purification and drainage
Biodiversity, urban re-vegetation and agriculture:
– Multi-functionality of landscapes
– Terraces, roofs, streets…
– Non-Humans as Citizens
Actions of inclusiveness, social benefits and community participation:
– Experiences of collective production
– Civic Ecology
– Common learning
– Care policy
Design of public space, architectural innovation:
– Plant and animal strata
– Home recycling prosthesis
– Instruction manual for diversity and public space
– Infrastructure design
– Ecosystem design
City-forest-country… medium… interspecies:
– The social does not only involve humans
– Interspecies cooperation, design and learning
The network of open spaces, specific reforestations, metropolitan forests, European green pact, “from the farm to the table”, urban permaculture, agro-ecology, sustainable production, ecosystem services, biodiversity, health, agro-silvo-pastoral systems, re-inventing cities programme: they are all part of the same project… the one that reinvents public space and makes it healthy and edible in an unprecedented inter-species dialogue… let’s start!
Author: Mª Auxiliadora Gálvez Pérez
Advisors: Inland (Campo Adentro), David Prieto Serrano, Oscar Miravalles, Emilio Luque and Mauro Gil Fournier.
Location: Madrid, Spain