During the past two years, a field of energy has grown exponentially as many of us realised from our pandemic experience that another way of life might just be possible. It is the regenerative field; also embraced by the RSA itself through the Regenerative Futures programme.
At the heart of regeneration in all fields is the potential for us to heal the ongoing story of separation – between humans and nature, and humans and humans – which both pervades our world and manifests through our ongoing ecological, social and economic crisis. It offers a pathway for the human system, and all the other living systems on which human systems depend, to come together in mutually supportive co-existence in pursuit of creating more life.
We believe humans have a truly important role to play; it’s just one that we’ve forgotten in our pursuit of constant economic growth. We can be both good stewards of life and catalysts for systemic evolution – helping life and ourselves, as part of life’s rich tapestry, to step into the next iteration of eco-socio-economic development.
In regenerative work, we incorporate the key principles that have guaranteed the ongoing existence of life on our beautiful planet for 3.8 billion years. One of these is that life works at a regional, rather than a global, scale. When combined with the realisation that living systems also create thriving networks and interconnected relationships, it makes it almost impossible to ignore the fact that a lot of regenerative work might best be done from a place-based approach.
If we can design healthy places all over the world where humans and other life thrives in harmony, we can have a sum total of interconnected thriving ecosystems that deliver total planetary health. Place by place by place.
‘Regenerative Place-making’ brings together the key approaches of both regenerative development and successful place-making practices to help deliver places designed for both humans and non-humans, shifting design of places, organisations, buildings and regions from an anthropocentric-based practice to one that is aligned with living systems.
With an aim of creating Places For Life and Economies For Life, regenerative place-making brings together a number of different disciplines:
- regenerative development - the intentional leadership practice of evolving our thinking, being, sensing and doing to a living systems level which includes a commitment to developmental education and capacity building. You could say 'back to' a living systems level since indigenous peoples have understood this way of being since forever!
- radically inclusive stakeholder engagement - including all stakeholders and community in democratic project development - which includes a seat at the table for nature/non-human life, looking at new models of ownership and distributed decentralised influence-sharing.
- experiential and ecological design, incorporating biophilic and biomimic principles.
- an iterative and experimental design process which includes regenerative placemaking experiments and experiences to create a field of energy and understanding of the process of change.
My experienced colleague, Dr Dominique Hes, who is currently head of net zero at the City of Melbourne, also includes 'transdisciplinary research and education, acting as a vehicle for knowledge exchange to increase everyone’s capacity to take care of their environments'.
When we approach place from a living systems mindset, we are always looking for unexpected but systemically mutual relationships where there is new possibility for life to grow.
- How might the tourism industry, which is still in recovery, partner with local food systems to create an experiential and learning environment in each county or region?
- How might we bring councils and businesses together with civil society and NGOs in a given place to explore how they might collaborate in bringing vibrancy back to communities without extraction and with an increased capacity to create sustainable change?
- How might land and estate owners work together with arts & culture professionals to exchange knowledge and create vibrant diversity across both communities?
- How might we create a generation of teachers who are equipped to infuse the whole curriculum with living systems in each educational place?
- How can we give young people a living experience of regenerating soil, land and waterways, as well as the ability to participate fully in the civic decision-making process?
One of the ways in which we explore regenerative place-making in our learning journey Power of Place is to look at how we create ‘whole’ places where all life can thrive, and where all people have the possibility to achieve their true potential.
Wholeness can be a slippery idea to get your head around but as the 2021 RSA Bicentennial Medal awardee, Dr Daniel Christian Wahl, expresses it, “Once we understand nested wholeness and aim for appropriate participation in wholeness we understand that place-making and place-being are always one ... we can be conceptually separated from place and believe we can 'make' or 'design' 'it' and yet at a participatory reality level all our thoughts, words and actions are interventions and change the place and ourselves as expressions of place..”
In many ways, regenerative place-making is about coming home to place. Not to design in parochialism and narrowed thinking, but to embrace what is bio-culturally unique about each and every place in the world. To tap into the unique rhythms and beats that emerge as core processes and values that have existed over time, and to reimagine what their next iteration might be – to create the future our hearts deeply desire but our minds struggle to imagine.
If we can re-inhabit place with a new relationship; if we can redesign regional economies within a globalised world, taking with us all the technology that we need but weeding out extraction; if we can make each and every place – from our parks to our cities, our schools to estates, our housing to our coasts, our tourist experiences to our leisure haunts – I truly believe we can create a world in which the sum total of all these places is health and the ongoing differentiation of culture.
NOTE: The Power of Place learning journey is for people who want to create systemic change through their projects and work – in Place. It's for people who want to shape resilient communities by re-localising food systems. It's for people who want to regenerate local landscapes and at the same time regenerate the human spirit. It's for people who are healing the story of separation between humans and nature, and humans and other humans. Those whose work is to regenerate our ecosystems at the same time as healing the true potential of the human spirit.
It's for economists (yes it really is!), urban planners and designers, city officials, educators, architects and housebuilders, social and environmental enterprises working with communities on restoration of land and water, food producers re-localising food systems, and landowners helping. The next Power of Place learning journey is open for registration and starts on 21st April 2022.