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Zone Analysis: Part 2 [Permaculture
Posted on January 17, 2020 @ 11:48:00 AM by Paul Meagher

In my last blog on Zone Analysis, I discussed what Zone analysis is and some reasons why we might use it. One short coming of my last blog is that I didn't show an example of Zone Analysis applied to a real property. Instead, I only portrayed zone maps as a set of idealized concentric circles radiating from a central point - an annular zoning pattern which is generally considered unrealistic.

As a point of theory, the main reason why a set of widening circles in not considered a realistic way to zone parts of your property is because we don't generally survey properties using circular edges around the property. Instead we prefer grid lines that tightly pack one property next to another property. If we were to zone properties using a central point with a common distance around that central point, then an annular zone map could be a realistic way to map the different zones on a property. What would we do about all those areas that don't fall within each person's property circle? Perhaps we might consider these areas the commons or public areas owned by no one and managed and enjoyed by all? How we survey the landscape has a hidden but profound effect how people care for the landscape.

Permaculture zone maps were originally proposed as a layout planning tool for farms, however, it has been extended as a layout planning tool for suburban and urban landscapes as well. Whether it applies in the same way to sub/urban settings is another issue I want to examine in this blog.

Recently, Happen Films posted a new video on David Holmgren's 2.25 acre suburban property in Hepburn Springs, Australia that included a mapping of the different zones on his property. This zone map is for a property owned by one of the co-founders of Permaculture so it is an instructive example to study. Here are the zones that were mapped for his property. Each zone is simply a set of connected lines overlaying an aerial photo that contains the relevant zone.

So we see that zone 1 elements that are visited daily are placed close to the house (aka zone 0), zone 2 elements visited less frequently are located a bit farther away, and so on. Zone 4 actually doesn't belong to David or Sue, and may be a sort of commons, that they have taken it upon themselves to manage the vegetation on. This example shows how zone analysis can be realistically applied to a fairly large suburban property (2.25 acres). David and Sue's plan to eventually build a second house on the property, and to give that property its own small zone, were probably a major influence on where gardens and orchards were placed. Many factors go into deciding how to layout any given property including what was there before. The 5 zones that we might use in our mapping of a farm property are not all used for the smaller acreages alotted to suburban properties. There might only be zone 1 on a smaller lot if you are avidly maintaining the small yard area that you have. Even within zone 1 some areas may be more visited than others and Toby Hemmenway has suggested that you might have zone 1a, zone 1b, etc.. to map subzones within zone 1. The utility of using zone mapping is arguably less when applied to layout planning for smaller properties but this might be because we have no real good examples of how it might be applied at this scale (although see Toby Hemenway on this - pages. 51 to 59).

Zone 4 in the photo above is where Sue takes her goats to deal with vegetation in a ravine next to their property. As fire is a huge issue in Australia, removing fuel that might help fire spread is an important aspect of managing the landscape for everyone. In the process, Sue and David have been able to make the ravine more park-like for everyone to enjoy (rather than filled with impenetrable blackberry bushes).

In a sub/urban environment zoning might extend beyond the boundaries of the property we own and might be one way to care about what goes on beyond the boundaries of our own properties. Sue admits that she doesn't much care about who owns the property next to her, she feels the need to care for it by reducing the fire hazard and making access easier and more pleasant. One could argue that zone 5 for any sub/urban dweller could encompass the bioregion you occupy which is often synonymous with the whole watershed that influences the water you drink.

While zone mapping might have less utility as a planning tool on smaller sub/urban properties, it might nevertheless be used to plan other aspects of sub/urban living. In my last blog, I showed how it has been used to decide where to live and how to manage your transport needs (to minimize the use of fossil fuels and mazimize active transport options). I'll cite one more good example of how it might be used to manage you or your family's foodshed.

In his book, Permaculture City, Toby Hemenway proposed the following circular zone map for deciding where to source food so that you minimize the use of fossil fuels to transport it and support local food producers as much as possible.

The zones in this foodshed map are defined in terms of "frequency of use" just like they are for zone maps used for laying out physical properties so there is justification in calling this a zone map. Toby goes into alot of details about how to interpret this zone map and strategies for achieving it.

The last item of business I should mention before I leave the topic of zone analysis is that it is often combined with the techique of sector analysis which is a directional mapping of all the energies coming into landscape such as wind, sun, water, fire to name the most basic energies. These are aspects of the environment that we have very little control over. We have to design in a way that takes them into account by either accentuating them, blocking them or ignoring them. In an urban/suburban environment the list of sector forces can be expanded to include noise, pollution, smells, views, traffic, municipal zoning, neighbors, easements and utilities among others. The argument is that the design will be improved if we not only take into account the frequency of use/visits to different parts of our property, but also to the direction of the forces that impinge upon the property. In business, we might conceptualize our market as being influenced by named forces outside our control which we need to incorporate into our plans by either blocking them, accentuating them, or ignoring them.

So the purpose of this blog was to tie up some loose ends in my discussion of Zone Analysis by providing a realistic example of how it has been applied to a suburban property and how it might be used in sub/urban settings in general, not just farm scale properties. I also mentioned that it is typically paired with Sector Analysis to arrive at the best design of a particular landscape by taking into account how forces flow through the landscape. The fun comes in trying to apply these techniques to more abstract landscapes such as foodsheds, bioregions, transport, and markets.

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