In Dialogue with Bill Houghton on where Making Permaculture Stronger is going

In this episode I share a lovely dialogue with Bill Houghton, a long-term follower and supporter of Making Permaculture Stronger who recently reached out to connect. I love his opener: “I’m just intrigued as hell to know where you’re going man!” Enjoy, and know I am so appreciating the richness of your comments and messages as we navigate this journey together.

Bill Houghton


  1. Nothing useful to contribute, Dan. I just wonder if other people who are a bit/lot invested in permaculture are having weird dreams? My own dreams are troubled, don’t think I’m alone.

    Little about permaculture feels good right now. How can we tell young people that permaculture is a smart way forward? David H is anti-vax and he defends his Pc-bannered marches in Melbourne, even after being informed that he appears to be embracing people of the far right
    Don’t want to detonate a bomb here, but would very much like to hear a commentary away from fb.

    1. Thanks Angela. For me the controversy around David Holmgren attending that march is a symptom of deeper patterns I’ll be looking into in an upcoming post.

  2. Curious why you associate step wise processes with the machine paradigm? Alexander quite frequently talks about the necessity of building in steps rather than master planning. Is it more that you have a tension with the idea of a linear step by step process? I feel like, while it’s true that it’s never a clean step wise progression there definitely things that need to be done in a certain order (build the garden before the house for example). With Alexander there’s more of a nonlinear stepwise process but there’s also a lot of importance in getting the right sequence and making sure that what is dependent for the next step is in place.

    Perhaps part of the rigour that we need to bring into teaching is making the distinction between parts of design that are foundational and irreversible (water, earth works, house siting etc) and reversible decisions which can be more playful and experimental? It’s important not to confuse the two or to use the long careful decision making process for irreversible decisions for easily reversible ones (where to plant annual crops for example is easy to change later).

    One of the genius ideas in Alexander’s process is using step wise progressions to turn irreversible decisions into moments where they can be more playful and experimental. I’m thinking about how he places windows by building the walls first and then deciding where the windows go or designing sites and structures with flags. Rather than turning the process of placing windows into the massive irreversible decision of a plan that gets handed off to a contractor the process of placing windows is turned into a discrete step where the building is paused and there is time to make reversible decisions with cardboard and tape. By breaking down the design process into moments where there is time to interact and experiment we get to create better fitted forms. We also get to make constrained choices which have more focused and relevant information.

    Anyway it’s just something that’s come up a few times in your podcast and I was curious about it.


    1. I’m so happy you picked up on and are asking about this Aaron. I am writing an in depth exploration into the step metaphor in relation to design and creation processes I will share as a blog post and episode within the next month or so. Very much look forward to what you make of those explorations then! My interest is in clarifying how the mechanical worldview hijacks the beauty and power of the step metaphor so we can rescue and redirect that beauty and power toward the more living sense of a stepwise process that Alexander is all about, that I am all about, and that you are talking about here (which for me is related to but distinct from the important conversation about step reversibility). In the meantime I’d invite anyone interested to reflect on the essential criteria that make a step a step (feel very free to share them here!).

      It all comes from an epiphany I had when engaging with the Building Your Permaculture Property book – I’m excited to have had it and to be soon sharing it where I’ll invite one and all to help me beat it with a stick :-). It regularly amazes me how fuzzy our use of basic concepts is and how much is to be gained by the occasional clean up!

  3. I’ve only listened to the first half of this episode but had to pause it (as others who came in the room were not interested and so it would be disruptive).. however the topics of discussion on this episode (so far) had me wanting to read more about what qualifies as Alive (eg: if processes are to be considered alive)..

    I then felt that reading about that old chestnut about whether or not viruses are alive would be a good analog to follow..

    That then led me to reading this article (they had me in the title! I love a good play on a classic quantum physics thought experiment anyday!)

    This then prompted me to post this comment there –and I am sharing it back over here because of its overlap of relevance:

    “I really enjoyed to read this in the context of my (hobby) research about whether or not a ‘process’ can be alive (why should qualifying aliveness be constrained to the physical-biological world?). This interest of mine (and others who are exploring it like Dan Palmer at is in regard to explorations of what a design process (a creation process) might mean to be a conscious expression of/as living processes.. as compared to the conventional go-to of procedures and mechanistic assembly (informed by the prevailing mechanistic worldview).

    (And of course there are other epistemologies and ways of knowing that do not need science to tell them that a rock or clouds or the wind are not alive).

    Ecological designer Ian McHarg had wondered in his book “Design with Nature” (1969) about the precedence of living processes that beget biological life. He quotes Lawrence Henderson from his book “The fitness of the environment”:

    “.. it is at least worthy of mention that the regulation of the ocean in general bears a striking resemblance to a physiological regulatory process, although such physiological processes are supposed to be the result of organic evolution alone.”

    I feel that we need to expand our understanding of what is alive and let the biological sciences have their best current definition and criteria to nest within.

    1. Thanks for this Adrian. Short of writing an enthusiastic and very long comment for now I’ll share I’m so looking forward to co-creating shared clarity about this as my focus moves more and more toward the dynamics of more alive processes. Bring it on!

  4. Listening to Bill’s analogy of a a blind and deaf child listening to a symphony made me think of the joys that child could experience with a strength based approach. They have a taste, smell and touch. Imagine them in a garden or kitchen. They could thrive:)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *