One of my favourite Permaculture principles is that of multi-functionality. Basically, the idea is that every element designed into our Permie systems must fulfill multiple functions and interact and coexist with all other elements. The objective is harmony and cooperation throughout and also system resilience and increased efficiency. For example, a water collection system can do much more than collect and irrigage if it also provides shade for shade-loving plants and is painted and designed to provide artistic outlet and enjoyment for its owners.
Ultimately, multi-functionality is applicable to just about any aspect of our lives and to the world. I choose to commute by bicycle for multiple reasons – exercise, enjoyment, money saving and lowering emissions (to name a few) – and it’s because cycling responds to multiple needs that I continue to incorporate it into my life’s system!
I’ve found in my travels (which have been focused primarily in the Americas and Europe) that our communities, cities and societies are also designed and enjoyed in various degrees of multi-functionality.
Europe, for example, lends itself more to “getting many birds with one stone”. This is mostly due to layering and vertical and compact urban design – in a city like Barcelona you can walk to your baker, grocer and bank, meeting and chatting with neighbours, running errands and getting some exercises all in one go. Where car culture comes in, as is often the case in Canada and the U.S., the car virtually eliminates the possibility of exercise and large commercial centers make running errands less of a community experience. Notice, however, how the needs for exercise and human interaction are now met through new elements such as workout and gym facilities and online social networks like Facebook. But would these additions prove necessary or superfluous in a well designed, integrated and multi-functioning system?
generally speaking… Is it inherently impossible to simplify and minimise without ensuring the multi-functionality of existing elements?
The iPhone and smartphone revolution are a prime example of a public hungry for multi-functionality. We have no problem logically deducing that it’s better to have one device instead of carrying around, charging and looking after a phone, calculator, map, camera and a dozen other trinkets, books and CDs. It would seem strange to think otherwise.
Yet do we employ the same logic to our cities and to our lives? If a job is fulfilling only the need for financial sustenance and is leaving you deprived of creative outlet, personal growth and personal relationships – we should quickly realise that the job is a weak element in your life’s system.. and move to change it.
On a city scale I wonder why we continuously plant lawns where fruit trees could provide effortless snack and shade for the nearby bus stop users…
Multi-functionality : life is simpler when our needs are met through fewer and more multi-functional elements