Author Archives: Mariel

Urban Permaculture

With Sepp Holzer visiting Southeast Michigan this week, I thought it an appropriate time to reflect on the applications of permaculture principles to urban areas.

The word “permaculture” is the invention of Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Originally it was intended to be a derivative of “permanent agriculture,” (1978) but it has since come to embody the notion of “permanent culture” (Gundersen and O’Day, 2009). Permaculture is an approach to design and engineering of systems that aims to emulate nature’s processes. The focus is on creating closed loop, zero waste systems. More often permaculture is thought of in landscape applications, but its doctrines are relevant to virtually any system. In the center of the diagram below are the three ethical principles of permaculture surrounded by the twelve design principles as described by Holmgren (2002).

Permaculture Principles

Source: Tumblr

Potential urban applications include city planning, organizational structuring, and energy and mobility systems. In fact, Holmgren identified the built environment as a “key domain” for permaculture, in addition to finance, economics, education, culture, well-being, land tenure and community governance (2002). Permaculture systems design embraces adaptability and small experiments that utilize local knowledge, two important considerations for cities grappling with climate change adaptation strategies.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst serves as a living laboratory that demonstrates how permaculture gardening techniques can be integrated into a city’s infrastructure. Otherwise underutilized space, namely lawns, on campus have been converted to edible landscapes that provide fresh produce to the University’s dining halls. Pictured below is one of these spaces, the Franklin Permaculture Garden.


Source: UMass Amherst

Hungry for more? offers an urban permaculture reading list.


Holmgren, D. 2002. Ethical principles of permaculture. In Permaculture: principles and pathways beyond sustainability, 1–12. Hepburn, Australia: Holmgren Design Services.

Gundersen, D. and T. O’Day. 2009. Permaculture, a natural systems design approach for teaching sustainability in higher education: Pacific University’s B-Street permaculture project. In Addressing Global Environmental Security Through Innovative Educational Curricula. ed. S. Allen Gil et al. Springer Science + Business Media BV.

Mollison, B., and D. Holmgren. 1978. Permaculture one: A perennial agriculture for human settlements. Melbourne, Australia: Transworld Publishers.


Unseasonable temperatures? Why your city may be the culprit

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) recently featured an article about a new study in Nature Climate Change that is making us sweat (in February).

The findings suggest that waste heat, produced in urban areas of the Northern developed world as a result of heating, cooling and transportation systems, is impacting our regional weather patterns by changing the nature of our atmospheric systems.

Some Northern Hemisphere regions have had more warming during the winter months than climate models had predicted. Waste heat may be at least part of the explanation for this phenomenon. However, the temperature effects vary depending on the place, ranging between +/- 1°C, and the effects radiate geographically from the urban centers for thousands of miles.

“The burning of fossil fuel not only emits greenhouse gases but also directly affects temperatures because of heat that escapes from sources like buildings and cars,” NCAR researcher and co-author Aixue Hu explains. “Although much of this waste heat is concentrated in large cities, it can change atmospheric patterns in a way that raises or lowers temperatures across considerable distances” (NCAR).

It is important to distinguish these findings from the urban heat island effect. The urban heat island effect is a result of the sun’s heat interacting with urban structures on the Earth’s surface, warming the city but not the surrounding areas. The waste heat effect is a result of fossil fuel combustion and impacts temperatures of places far away from the city.

The study, “Energy consumption and the unexplained winter warming over northern Asia and North America,”was done by Guang J. Zhang (University of California San Diego), Ming Cai (Florida State University) and Aixue Hu (NCAR) and was funded by National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Read the full article here

Welcome to metabo.locity!

metabo.locity is an interactive forum that takes you up close and behind the scenes of the Urban Sustainability Research Group.  We are a group of diverse backgrounds and interests, yet we share a unifying thread: a focus on urban settings as fabulously complex nodes of nature-society interactions and as critical leverage points for sustainability transitions.

Cities house, employ, and supply material goods to over half of the world’s population! (United Nations) What is your favorite city and why?

Meet the bloggers:

Josh C. is a PhD student with research interests in sustainable urban redevelopment projects and the dynamics that shape urban environments over time. Josh is enjoys spending time in the great outdoors, running, basketball, and eating good food.

Josh N. is an assistant professor at SNRE. Trained as a geographer, his research grapples with how to define, measure, model, and assess urban sustainability, particularly from intertwined perspectives of consumption, material use, and equity. A fun fact about Josh is that he did not live in the same house or apartment for more than one year until he was 26 years old.

Mariel is the official metabolocity blog master. She is an M.S. student interested in human-environment interactions, particularly around food. She is also interested in behavior change toward self-sufficient and resilient communities. Mariel is currently dabbling in veganism, modern dance, hooping, and stand-up paddleboarding, in addition to honing her urban gardening skills.

Paul is a M.S. student interested in how metropolitan communities coordinate site-level environmental projects to meet regional sustainability targets. In his spare time, Paul is a committed DIYer, photographer, and beginning woodworker.

Sara is a Ph.D. student with research interests including modes of governance and policies to improve urban energy systems and resilience to climate change, particularly in cities in emerging economies. Over the last five years Sara has lived in seven different cities on three continents.

Thanks for visiting! Now that you know what we are all about, we hope you’ll check back often.