Geography

 

Geography is the first component we need to consider as the base for our design. Geography is used here as concern with physical, cultural and economic conditions of our surroundings. A permaculture designer needs to have a sense of the overall structure of his/her region. Design on the land implies an empathetic connection with the land as a starting point.


Physical Geography

The geological origins of our region, its formation and evolution, will tell us much that we need to know to fit our design to place. The landscape forms we see around us are classified into physiographic regions or provinces, a first clue to our bioregional setting. The landforms we see are the result of an interaction between materials and processes. Understanding landforms, we can go backwards to better understand regional processes and materials we will be using in our design work. Other "big picture" subjects we would investigate are wild energy sources, climate and weather patterns, soils, water availability and vegetation distribution. Placed together, these basic physical geography patterns will give us a good understanding of the area's ecology and habitat into which we are fitting our design.


Cultural Geography

An investigation of patterns of settlement that have taken place historically will give us a better understanding of our area. We would like to know about the prehistoric people who settled the land and how they used it. Artifacts and sites of early settlement are apparent to those who are looking for them in most areas. Preindustrial era patterns of settlement, use of land, and adaptions to climate may give us clues to sustainable practices and life styles. Looking to the places of origin of settlers will provide a picture of traditions that may have been transplanted from one area of the world to another. Recent immigration is rapidly influencing culture and landscape form in many areas of the world. Cultural practices go hand-in-hand with natural processes in shaping the landscape and

frequently appear to be dominant.


Economic Geography

Economy is embedded in the larger framework of ecology; as Wackernagel and Rees put it in Our Ecological Footprint, pg. 8, the 'humansphere' is embedded in the 'ecosphere.' Economic geography looks at how people "make their living" in the regions in which they live and what they need from other regions to survive. It attempts to understand the economic base of areas in relationship to their environmental settings. In regions of agriculture, intensive forestry and mining the connection is very easy to visualize. In urban areas the connections are less apparent. But, from subsistence farming to global trade, the connections between economy and ecology can be established.

 

The illustration from Our Ecological Footprint shows very clearly that the "humansphere" of our existence is clearly embedded in the context of the "ecosphere" and that we do not escape the issues of use of natural resources from, and discard of our wastes into, our basic support system.


Know Your Place
The admonition behind the geographical component is "know your place." Have a good general understanding of all of the pieces of your environment beyond the site being designed. Specific sites are, in reality, very small pieces of the earth's surface. We can only appreciate them and use them wisely within the bigger context of their "place" on earth.

 
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