[permaculture] Re: zonation

Michael Kramer MKramer at hawaii.rr.com
Tue Apr 20 00:16:56 EDT 2004

"What I feel we can never define is substance (except as process; this is
all it may be). We can only know a few local patterns, and thus have some
weak predictive capacity. It is the pattern that our local patterns cannot
know that will surprise us, the strike of cosmic lightning from an unguessed
source or stress." - Bill Mollison, page 95, Permaculture: A Designer's

"These strategies (for change in the social and economic areas of society)
may, in fact, be of more assistance to real change than the skills of land
management..." - Bill Mollison, page 506, Permaculture: A Designer's Manual

"The place of habitation is secondary to a shared belief in the
establishment of a harmonious world community. "- Bill Mollison, page 507,
Permaculture: A Designer's Manual

"We must always study and learn as part of a total integrated system
framework, conscious of how our knowledge and actions permeate all systems.
It is in the fragmenting of knowledge into unrelated disciplines that we can
plead ignorance of effects."  -Bill Mollison, page 507, Permaculture: A
Designer's Manual

I interpret these statements to mean that the tools of design are applicable
to all aspects of human systems.  The natural process of life, of which we
are an integral component, is evolutionary because there are always
adaptions, not merely physical but conceptual.  This discussion moves
permaculture along, as it reveals the natural diversity of views and
vitality of this discipline. Discipline is not rigidity, however.  The
permaculture techniques were always intended to be broadly, rather than
narrowly, applied.  I suppose I'm acting polyculturally in the way I'm
offering another use of zonation.

Zonation as applied to a piece of land is the easiest example for people to
understand and the primary focus of Bill's texts and teachings.  But
permaculture is bigger than Bill, his texts, his teachings, and the
teachings of all of us who have followed his pioneering efforts. All our
efforts are intended to increase fertility.  That being said, I think even
Bill's intentions lay the framework for my assertions. His definition is,
"Permaculture design is a system of assembling conceptual, material, and
strategic components in a pattern which functions to benefit life in all its
forms."  I've interpreted all its forms to mean all aspects of being human,
including one's inner life, interpersonal dynamics, and all aspects of
community, economic, and political activities locally to globally.  These
sectors impact us all, so it makes sense to use design to assemble
regenerative systems on all scales. Basic survival needs do come first -
they are the nucleus of our lives - but, "Starting with a nucleus and
expanding outwards is the most successful, morale-building, and
easily-achieved way to proceed. Precisely the same sort of planning applies
to any system of erosion control, rehabilitation of wildlife or plants,
writing books, and creating nations... Our smaller nucleus plans are always
in relation to a larger plan..." -Bill Mollison, page 65, Permaculture: A
Designer's Manual

I think there is enough evidence to conclude that the intention of these
design concepts was always to look at the large-scale issues of our
existence, not merely the site-specific ones. On page 49, Bill writes that
Zone 0 is the house or the village. Since there is no further illustration
of what the remaining zones look like if Zone 0 is the village, we are all
indeed left to design it ourselves.  It is therefore logical (though I can
see not too popular) to not only look at the village's physical surroundings
to see how often you'd visit the reservoir but also the other flows of
nutrients through the village such as money, governance processes, and
values (including culture and spirituality), since we "visit" these realms
with differing levels of frequency and intensity. I would suggest, actually,
that a site design that did not consider these issues would be incomplete.
Even in a land-based site assessment and zonation plan we consider zoning
ordinances, building codes, local planning processes, and right livelihood,
all issues that impact but are not necessarily located on the site. But they
are part of what impacts how each and every one of us spends our time and
energy each day. Considering the self as a site is evolutionary, yes, but
perhaps what's even more intriguiging about it is that the zones themselves
are subjective, and might be based on frequency, intensity, place,
familiarity, and/or desirability. The following are Zone 1-5 examples in
various aspects of our lives:

Financial: (local buying/trade, coop buying, Internet purchases,
stocks/bonds, taxes;  job income, interest income, investment income, gifts,

Personal: (eating/sleeping, exercise/relaxing, hobbies/reading, social life,

Interpersonal: (partner/children, extended family, friends, acquaintances,

Spiritual: (prayer, weekly rituals, holiday rituals, fasts/retreats, vision

Emotional: (values/feelings, expressions, goals, contemplations, denial;
love, friendship, tolerance, judgment, hatred)

Political : (local involvement, letter-writing, activism, organizing,

This was a brief brainstorm and certainly these can be refined. I fully
admit that the edge of the concept of zonation is pushed as applied to one's
inner realm, but this "enormous stretch", as has been suggested, is exactly
the type of small-scale trial permaculture encourages. In the sector and
zonation exercises in my classes, students look at the flow of resources
(time, money, habits, ideas, feelings, interpersonal relationships) in and
out of their lives, and it is very enlightening in revealing the
regenerative and degenerative resources patterns and the design of life
changes based on this pattern understanding.  This is personal planning
through which a life road map can be drawn and monitored.  It is, in
practical application, permaculture design.

Michael Kramer
Natural Investment Services
P.O. Box 390595
Keauhou, HI 96739


"Be the change you wish to see in the world."

> Regarding Toby's comment on the zones getting blurred: I agree.
> I think this becomes an instance of confusing an organizational idea
> with the examples which illustrate that idea. "Zones 1 to 5" in my
> system are a name for how frequently the inhabitants visit and manage
> an area. Linking frequency of use and proximity.
> The discussion of connection to society is separate for me. To build
> on Toby's example of blurring: I've seen projects with zones 1-5 which
> do not

> talk to society, and I've seen a person run a full-time business in
> his kitchen.
> As a person working on a non-commercial Permaculture project, I see
> the question of relationships to society as much larger than "where to
> zone my for-sale crops?" -- so I take that as *an* example but not
> *the* organizational idea.
> Kramer's comment about inspiring people to *want* Permaculture is the
> direction I'd go in a discussion about zoning Permaculture into
> society.
> Rob Scott
> ------------------------------
> Message: 2
> Date: Mon, 19 Apr 2004 09:29:10 -0600
> From: Scott Pittman <pci at permaculture-inst.org>
> Subject: [permaculture] Re: permaculture Digest, Vol 15, Issue 19
> To: permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org
> Message-ID: < at pop.mindspring.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"; format=flowed
> Michael Kramer wrote:
> >-snip - Consider the permaculture movement itself. We have people
> >working full-time (gee, how many?), part-time, and volunteering out
> >of personal interest. We have farmers, independent consultants,
> >authors, teachers and some businesses and local guilds. We have
> >people living permaculture at their home level to varying degrees of
> >intensity. Some are active
> >regionally, nationally, and internationally. We have people who live
> >it, others who teach, some who write, others who network, etc. If we
> >applied permaculture to our own movement, we'd use zonation to create
> >a design that will build a strong system; we haven't done it yet, but
> >we could.
> I find this use of zonation a very contrived use of the methodology.
> I think perhaps there is a much better way to articulate movement
> through social systems.  I can't see how the information derived from
> zonation of intensity of activities in various pursuits leads us to a
> design conclusion, perhaps I am missing something in your explanation.
> Since
> use of zonation for invisible structures in our culture has absolutely
> nothing to do with land use, then one must have a totally new
> description for the activities included in each zone;  what would
> those descriptions
> and how would the use of zonation increase our understanding of them?
> I think that the same problem would happen when applying sector
> planning
> invisible structures, while this system is quite appropriate for
> gaining a visual understanding of how various natural flows impact the
> design site,
> think it would be an enormous stretch to apply this to finance, legal,
> and social systems.
> What I'm saying is that rather than trying to make a model fit all
> situations we might be better off developing new ways to model the
> flows
> various components of invisible structures.
> >-snip-  and it appeals to students because it helps them see the
> >importance of everything from inner spiritual growth to political
> >on a global scale.  If people examine the frequency and intensity of
> >use of their time, money, self-reflection, personal well-being, and
> >public participation - if we look at everything we do within the
> >continuum of degenerative to regenerative activities and resources -
> >then we can truly design their lives and our society to reflect the
> >ethics and principles
> >permaculture.
> I guess the above comments apply here, with the additional question of
> how does one quantify  frequency of spiritual growth, or political
> activism in order to determine whether they are placed in zone 3 or
> zone 5; does zone
> mean that we have reached samadhi or have become animists.
> >-snip-  the United States doesn't seem to really "want" permaculture
> >yet, even though this society desperately needs it. So we need to go
> >where we're needed, articulate the permacultural Magna Carta for the
> >21st century, and create social change at all zones of human
> >activity.
> I disagree with this statement.  I am amazed at the growth of
> Permaculture in the United States, a slow growth, perhaps, but
> inexorable and steady.
> am happy to see it taught, in part, in universities, used in city
> planning departments, and so commonly used that the name cannot be
> copyrighted.
> Scott Pittman

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