[permaculture] Re: zonation

Toby Hemenway hemenway at jeffnet.org
Wed Apr 21 19:03:54 EDT 2004

On 4/20/04 "Robyn Francis" <erda at nor.com.au> wrote:

> Zonation in design is about physical placement

This gets to the heart of our discussion. What basis is there for asserting
that zone-and-sector is limited to physical placement of material elements?
I think we can agree that because Bill only wrote of it that way is not
enough reason. 

To answer that question, we need to analyze the requirements and uses of the
zone system, to see if there are needs that can only be satisfied by
physical objects. Let's do an assessment, as if we were Pc designers.

Here's a "needs and yields" analysis. (Hey, look--I'm applying a Pc tool to
a non-land-use function! And fruitfully, too.)  For the zone-and-sector
method to be useful, a design problem requires:

-A center or zone 0 such as a house, village, or other focal point.
-A user such as a person, family, or community;
-Elements that can be placed in relation to the user and to each other, and
that have frequencies of use by the user;
-A "design space" within which the elements can be located, in which some
regions require more energy or time than others to be reached.
-Sector energies or "other factors" (Design Manual p54) originating outside
the design space and moving through it that affect the user and the location
of elements.

(if there other requirements I'm omitting, please add them)

So let's put this together. There are several questions that we must answer
to determine what design problems meet the above requirements.

First, do the elements and sectors have to be physical? Certainly many of
the sectors are not material or physical--they are energies such as
sunlight, or totally non-physical concepts such as a good or bad view, or a
behavior such as crime. The requirements are merely that sector energies
originate outside the system and that elements that have some rate of use or
priority can be located for optimum benefit, not that any of them be made of
matter, even in a land-use design.  So there is no "a priori" requirement
that elements and sectors be physical.

Must zone 0 be a structure or other inanimate physical object? No, because
it's not the house or structure that defines the center of use; it's the
location of the user. If I'm camping in a tent or sleeping on the ground,
the point I occupy is the center of my design space no matter where any
building is located. Thus the critical criterion for Zone 0 is not that it
is a building, but that it be where the user is centered.

Is a design only concerned with the physical body or location of the user?
No; the user's preferences, habits, ideas, etc, have an immense influence on
the elements chosen; for a vegan, you'd better not include chickens. So the
psychological, emotional, political, financial, and other non-physical
states of the user are important design criteria. "Where the user is at" is
not just physical.

And last, does the design have to be on a physical site? 1) Regarding the
design space, Mollison uses the terms "site" and "system" interchangeably in
the relevant section of the DM. Sites are physical, but systems often are
not; and we're designing systems, not just places. 2) Physical distance is
not the principal factor in best placement. Some positions are closer than
others in space but are more difficult (require more energy) to get to, or
take more time, not space, to reach. So we're not talking about only
physical position; we take into account the energy needed, the time spent,
the difficulty of access--a number of non-material factors that are not

So: If the design must incorporate the user's non-physical states, involves
non-physical elements and sectors, and is shaped by non-space-dependent
locations, why would it have to be on a physical site? What prevents us from
using this system to design organizations, businesses, even a spiritual
life? They have all the requirements: a user; elements with frequencies of
use such as "going to church" or "quality time with my spouse;" outside
sectors such as "influence of corporations," "zoning laws," or "visits from
in-laws;" and a "mapping space" to locate the events within, such as a
business or a family dynamic.

We've looked at the "needs" or requirements of Z&S; we can also assess the
yields: does it create improved systems that one can recognize as
permaculture? I've used it to design courses and to structure various
aspects of my own life in more efficient and sustainable ways. My students
have done the same, and so has Michael. There are other examples, but this
post is verbose enough. So I have to disagree from both a logical and a
practical standpoint with those who say Z&S is not a good tool for design of
non-physical systems. The results can have all the attributes of a
permaculture design.

If I'm missing something important here, let me know, as I'm happy to
discard or modify my conclusion if it's based on error. But I have to
conclude that all signs point to the useful application of zone-and-sector
(and permacultuer design in general) to much more than land-use systems,
with no distortion or blunting of the requirements for its use. As Scott
points out, other tools for design of social systems, etc, may exist, but
just as Pc brought better tools to land-use planning than had existed
before, it can bring better tools to invisible structures as well, and this
looks like one of those better tools.


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