The University of Arizona

From vacant land to urban fallows: a permacultural approach to wasted land in cities and suburbs

Alex Korsunsky


While vacant land in cities has long been considered a sign of decline, a growing literature now suggests that such land can serve valuable social and ecological functions. In this article, I argue that such approaches advocated to date, while beneficial, operate within a New Urbanist framework that is essentially concerned with filling in vacant land with new 'green' projects. Unfortunately, such approaches are limited by a conceptualization of the city that treats inner city vacant lots as paradigmatic and makes invisible the systematic creation of functionally vacant land through zoning and building practices in low-density residential areas. Inspired by degrowth scholarship, I suggest that permaculture may provide the basis for an alternative approach based in the concept of fallowing more suited to the full range of vacant land present in American cities and suburbs. I explore the implications of such an approach through the practice of two permaculture-inspired intentional communities in the Pacific Northwest.

Key words: vacant land, permaculture, New Urbanism, intentional communities, commons, degrowth

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