Urban Permaculture Model
My wife and I bought our home, 610 Kirby Street, in 1994, the same year that I received my permaculture certification, and that my wife finished her Phd and took her first management job in agriculture. We had been looking for a place that had four criteria: First, it had to be within walking distance of my work, which was on the NC State University campus. Our house is 1 ¼ miles from my office, a walk through Pullen Park and then across the Central and North Campuses. We were hoping to reduce our needs for a second car, and for me to use this distance to help me keep physically fit.
Second, the house and property had to cost less than $100,000, with this amount being a figure where we felt we could manage the mortgage payment and other living expenses with only one paycheck. We did not want to stress our lives or our budgets by purchasing way beyond our means. The second criteria made the first one difficult to achieve, as houses surrounding NC State University are in high demand and therefore typically very expensive. We got lucky when my wife found our little 1050 sq. ft. home in the Kirby-Bilyeu Neighborhood (now named the Pullen Park Terraces after its original designation). The neighborhood is surrounded by institutional land, and with most of the houses being small like ours, the neighborhood was in low demand, there were many rentals in decrepit conditions, with several of the places commonly referred to as 'crack houses.' Hence, we were able to purchase the house and 1/5 of an acre for $72,000.
The third criteria was one from the Chinese system of site planning called Feng Shui; I wanted a house that faced south, as this is the direction that allows the most positive energy to enter the home. As it turns out, this is also the direction that is the best for accommodating solar thermal and photovoltaic systems.
The fourth criterion was that the house had to be in a 'neighborhood', one where the people in the neighborhood actually knew one another. In other words, we weren't just buying a house, but were buying into a way of life. At the time, I knew of only two 'neighborhoods' in Raleigh, with our neighborhood being one of those. By the end the first week in our new house, all of the neighbors had dropped by to say hello, introducing themselves, and with several bringing food. For us, this meant that we were 'home.'
We spent the first five plus years just getting our veggie garden plot in, putting in a few plants and trees, and getting to know the neighborhood. I had started to teach a permaculture course in 1997, and wanting to learn more, in 1999, with my wife and then 19-month old son, Eli, I took a sabbatical study leave and circumnavigated the globe visiting people, residences, towns, and institutions involved in permaculture in 11 different nations. For us, the experience convinced us that we had to put our time and resources into developing our home into a model permaculture setting, one that would provide for many of our needs, food, water, shelter, energy, entertainment, comfort, etc., but also one that would serve as a model for others to visit and be inspired, as teaching is my calling.
Our land expanded to 1/3 or an acre in 2009 when our elderly neighbor had to move into an assisted living home as a ward of the State, selling her home to do this. We purchased the .13 acre site, and after being told by several building contractors that the house was in such bad condition that it was not worth salvaging, we contracted with Habitat for Humanity to have it torn down. This not only gave us a much sunnier garden site, but also a mature pecan tree, and, best of all, a large two-car garage that we've cleaned up, fixed up, and are making into a community building for our neighborhood. We hold our neighborhood meetings there and are beginning to hold monthly potlucks there as well.