By Bob Randall
Toward a Regional Hub Design
We on the PINA Hub Committee have been mulling over how to accelerate the creation of regional permaculture service hubs across the continent. I thought I would ask for your suggestions and your help in building these hubs. Here are some of my thoughts on the effort.
When Jude Hobbs and several other permaculture teachers and designers came together in 2012 to start PINA, it was to rectify several weaknesses in our movement glaringly apparent to long term permaculturists. The big idea was to provide an organized institutional resource across the continent for PDC graduates and experienced permaculturists.
This, they thought could be done cooperatively by connecting the considerable skills and knowledge of trained PDC graduates and post-PDC trainees into a continentally designed network. This could improve our designs, outcomes, influence, and income everywhere; and do it better than any of us could do on our own. They thought that a loose but organized network of permaculturists could work together to help everyone improve their abilities, have better opportunities, and share their thinking, visions, successes, and failures.
This grand vision is obviously very hard to implement over such a vast area, but its potential is great. In the last six years, PINA has accomplished major steps in both implementing the vision and creating a design for the implementation. But there is much more to do.
One so-far barely begun part of the vision is the building of regional Hubs. These planned supra-local regional non-profit organizations will eventually provide a host of services for permaculturists. Early on, a first attempt at a Hub concept was sketched out on a continental map and the main organizational specs described https://pina.in/membership/regional-hubs/.
Today, Hubs across the continent are in different stages of development. There is one in existence and several more in preliminary to more advanced planning stages. There is a big gap in our implementation knowledge however. Mainly, what are the best practices for regional Hub design and implementation?
Houston and Hub Site Boundaries
In Houston, we have been examining Hub Building possibilities in our area. In PINA’s founding Hub documents, Houston, all of Texas, and all of the south-central US as far north as Kansas are placed in one Hub. This made sense in terms of simplified administrative structure for a continental organization, but it is clearly too big a project for our group. More importantly, it has questionable rewards. What would the yields be and would they be worth the effort? From most angles, it is neither desirable nor feasible.
If Hubs are supposed to provide services and share knowledge, shouldn’t members be close enough together to visit within a 4-5 hour drive or by mass transit? Ideally at least, shouldn’t they have similar design problems so there is a good reason to visit and communicate?
Harris County where Houston is located is mostly urban and suburban, and has almost as many people as Colorado. Its metropolitan area has 2 million more people than Colorado. Most of our residents have little contact with permaculture. The 160 or so PDC graduates here could use many services themselves including much better networking. So when we talk Hub here, pc activists mainly think local.
If we suggest the South Central US concept originally envisioned by PINA, there is a collective shudder. Lawrence, KS and El Paso, TX are (without stops) both 11-hour drives. El Paso is west of Denver and nearly halfway to Los Angeles. Bio-regionally, Houston has much more in common with the 14-hour away Tampa than we do with the much closer Dallas, or the more distant Kansas.
So the question comes up: what common yields could we achieve by trying to unite an arid El Paso, a temperate Lawrence, and a humid subtropical Houston into one Hub?
There might be advantages—clearly many areas in those distances have relatively little pc activity. So centers where there is more might benefit a lot those where there is less. But attempting to organize and service vast areas that transcend biomes and multiple bioregions could probably be counter-productive unless the hub were much more powerful.
I raise these issues not as a criticism of the early Hub blueprint, but rather as an effort to get you as a PINA member to think about what regional Hub do you need? How could you get it? And what design specs and vision would make your regional hub more a useful reality?
At the moment, my thinking is to try to get our Hub running locally and then extend it outwards into relatively nearby areas. We could develop important services for area PDC graduates and then see what capabilities emerge to further expand.
We’ll get back to you with a progress report when we have some. In the meantime, if you have thoughts on this or want to work with the Hub Committee, send them to
Attn: PINA Hub Committee, at firstname.lastname@example.org