This month as we near the end of our yearlong exploration into what Permaculture can offer to our conversation around ‘Cool Clon’ and the future of our communities in West Cork, we are looking at the two principals, which go hand-in-hand. ‘Use and Value Diversity’ and ‘Use Edges and Value the Marginal’ are two principals that ask us to design in order to create more opportunity for inclusivity to the benefit of all.
During the past ten months of delving into these principals one theme that has run throughout is the need for proper high-level planning that includes observation of how our shared spaces are currently used. We are communities rich with a wide range of residents, from those with restricted mobility, to cyclists, to kids running amok, we all pass through the same spaces. “Just as ecosystems work best when filled with a greater variety of different plants and animals, so human society functions best when a variety of different people are represented.”(ethical.net) This is crucial when it comes to planning for the future of a town. At the design stage, and during the consultation process it is imperative that local authorities and project leaders engage with all stakeholders, from pedestrians to bus drivers to schoolteachers to local business owners. To design with thoughts only to the fittest (young and able-bodied) or the fastest (motor vehicles) would be akin to discrimination.
By encouraging diversity on our streets we will achieve more ‘livable’ towns, where all feel welcome, small businesses thrive and motor traffic is calmed, creating quieter shared spaces that are safer and more attractive. In Ireland, the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County council is leading the way by embracing this international vision of the ‘livable city’; they are reinventing mobility plans, access to amenities and shared spaces, more trees, public seating and an invitation to slow down and enjoy their communities.
This brings us to the eleventh Permaculture principal – ‘use edges and value the marginal – which tells us that sustainability is about making use of all the resources that we have at our disposal. We must again look at what we have and see how we can make use of it. In Skibbereen the river was made into a ‘Blue Way’, an attraction and resource for the town to celebrate. In Bandon, quieter roads are being used for family cycles every weekend, and in Clonakilty we have recently seen the main street transformed through widening the footpaths. These principals ask us to look again, to seek out what is there already, waiting in the margins and on the edges. In West Cork, we have so many empty properties, it would be great to have these spaces – be it land, retail space or empty garages – used to allow for more diversity in what our town has to offer. If, say, community groups and business start-ups had opportunity to access empty spaces at affordable rents we would see a wide diversity of new amenities for the town, from pop-up shops to restaurants, to creative spaces and community gathering spaces. All new life that is brought to the town centre will benefit all existing shops. Take the Bike Circus (community bike workshop) in Clonakilty for example; through the generosity of a local landlord, a previously unoccupied yard has been brought life, a community group has found a home, the community bike fleet can be repaired at no cost to the town, and new opportunities are being offered to residents to learn new skills and make new friends. Any new life in our town centres, new amenities that can draw diverse groups of people, are ‘a rising tide lifts that will lift all boats’ – this is not an old adage for no reason!
If there was ever a year to get creative it’s this one, and going forward we know that we will need to be able to do more in our communities with less, budgets will be tight for years to come as a result of the pandemic but permaculture reminds us that so much of what we want and need can be found in our midst already. We are blessed to live in a part of the world alive with community spirit, volunteerism and passion so, as we plan for the future of our communities, let’s embrace diversity, use the edges, and be open to new opportunities that might be waiting in the margins.