So what are Productive Urban Landscapes (PUL)? That's a great question, but it might be easier to define what is not a Productive Urban Landscape first since we walk by these landscapes every day: front yards, school landscapes, church landscapes, etc with lots of grass and little creativity, biodiversity, or life. These places are often designed with a lackluster approach and are high input, meaning they require a ton of fossil fuels and elbow grease for weekly “mow and blow” maintenance or else they run wild with weeds and other unsightly riot. In other words, these landscapes put nature in a box and run counter to natural ecological processes, so they require constant maintenance to keep nature from doing what she does.
Productive Urban Landscapes, at their core, are places with soul, places that use natural processes to minimize work and inputs and maximize everything that makes nature great. You see, nature has no hard lines and plants, animals, and fungi often work together to create thriving ecosystems. People, on the other hand, like to put things in boxes, long rows, and use hard lines to define our landscapes and our lives. Productive Urban Landscapes use the natural desires of plants and animals in order to create lively, joyful, gorgeous, and useful places that can be enjoyed year round.
Integrated spaces blending agriculture, horticulture, and traditional landscaping
PULs are simply landscapes that promote 3 simple elements: Food, Ecology, and Community. They are dynamic landscapes that integrate some elements of traditional landscaping (like organized planting patterns and areas to sit, eat, and play) but bring in elements of the natural world (like biodiversity, pollinator habitats, etc.) and plants that provide us with food (like veggies, berries, and fruit trees). PULs can help heal our lands and feed both our bodies and our souls.
The key is biodiversity (a fancy term that basically means, lots of living things), and blurring the lines of traditional landscaping. PULs should include micro-biomes with a range of varied plants that enable as much diversity as possible. Just like in a mature forest, trees, shrubs, undergowth, fungi, and animals work together to create diverse vignettes every few feet, PULs create space for as many living things as possible to thrive.
Where did we find the term Productive Urban Landscapes?
There are a lot of terms used in the permaculture world, from natural urbanism and regenerative agriculture to sustainable agriculture and eco-urbanism. Since we're largely focused on the ways permaculture principles can be applied in urban areas, we wanted a term that summed up our mission nicely. We found it in the amazing paper "Continuous Productive Urban Landscape (CPUL): Essential infrastructure and Edible Ornament" by the prolific architects and natural urbanism advocates, Andre Viljoen and Katrin Bohn. In the paper, Viljoen and Bohn define continuous productive urban landscape as: an urban design concept integrating food growing into the design of cities by connecting existing open space and disused sites into a linear landscape that connects to the countryside.
We figured we'd just drop the "continuous" and voila! we have an awesome description for what we want to see in communities all over America. We want to keep it simple and inclusive, so Productive Urban Landscape fits just right!