By 2050, the UN estimates that 70% of all people will live in cities — up from 55% today. Although the growth of cities was first seen in Europe and North America, more recently it is Asia and Africa that are growing. Asia has more than half of the world’s 40 megacities (those with more than 10 million inhabitants). Africa is beginning to urbanise fast, and already has three megacities in Cairo, Lagos and Kinshasa. Cities that were small towns only 20 years ago are now home to millions of people. It is estimated that 90% of future urban population growth will occur in the cities of Asia, Africa and to some extent, South America.

The way in which most large cities are designed is as innovation vehicles driven by consumption. Dr Joan Clos former director of UN Habitat says: “Cities are productive engines of growth. They bring economies of scale, develop markets, create jobs and encourage new economic activities to flourish. As economies move from primary activities such as farming, fishing and mining to industrial production and then on to services, the role of cities in the global economy increases with each transition. People move to the cities because they are places where they can see opportunities for a better and more prosperous life. Migrants tend to head for the biggest cities, which can become so large that the quality of life is constrained by their growth. Some countries have dealt with this with urban policies that spread migrants from the countryside between cities.”

As the urban populations grow, so poverty is also moving into the cities of the world, through the growth of slums attached to many of the world’s expanding cities — from Mumbai to Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town. They are better disguised in Europe, but this trend plays out through increasing pockets of urban poverty that contain groups of people with no hope, no chance, and no potential of participating in the wellness and wealth they should be able to attain.

If we want to create healthy economies that regenerate rather than degenerate local ecosystems, we need to find ways to include the social and ecological costs of production and consumption and trade in all city economies — both the old and the new — which are highly complex and intimately interwoven with the global economic model. We need to redesign our city economies to incorporate externalities that have hitherto been hidden in the corporate growth machine.

It’s not just about emissions.

After the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, in 2016 many of the world’s leading cities agreed to take action to respond to the climate crisis. To give us even a 50% chance of staying within climate safe limits, the global C40 initiative states that cities need to collectively peak emissions by 2020 and reduce emission by at least half by 2040. Whilst reducing emissions is critical to our future sustainability, is it enough?

There is growing recognition that a transition to a regenerative economy will include more than tackling emissions. It will include the critical need to improve citizens health, address urban liveability, reduce the source of emissions that comes from unsustainable urban consumption, and redesign the relationship between urban and rural neighbours. The creation of sustainable food systems, addressing catastrophic biodiversity loss, addressing waste and use through circular strategies, and tackling the separation between urban inhabitants and their rural counterparts, are also essential. Not least important is wholly new approaches to water conservation and use as weather patterns change around the world, and drought hits more large cities such as Cape Town or flooding begins to submerge them like Jakarta.

Jakarta 2020, image credit BNPB

More than anything, we also have to address the issue of a consumption economy and the mistaken idea that sustainable behaviour change by individuals will be enough to change patterns of consumption that thrive in human existence, from bad to better to best, without any active systemic intervention.

Cheap everything comes from somewhere; some place. Some place which has paid a price for our urban convenience and consumption. Our goods travel far around the world in a complex network of profit and impact that is no longer sustainable. We need to find ways to protect local economies from cheap imports made possible by hidden subsidies, externalising true costs, and outsourcing production and continuing to exploit international inequality.

Cheap bread or pasta, milk or meat is obtained through economies of scale that include degradation of vast landscapes through chemically induced productivity, soil degradation, and downstream pollution which has decimated biodiversity and life in waterways and created more than 140 marine dead-zones all over the world. We don’t see those externalities because they are far away from where we live or hidden behind the closed doors of factory farming. Cheap toys under the Christmas tree are achieved through low-paid labour in factory conditions we have long-since outlawed in the West and often include indiscriminate use of plastic. We no longer see the micro plastic that is almost more common than fish in the world’s oceans. The mine it, make it, dump it culture has created mountains of waste at both ends of the supply chain which concentrate in cities.

However difficult and however complex it may seem, now is the time to think about how we design new cities and how we re-design existing cities by re-designing the systems that underpin them. If we can do this now, the welfare of urban inhabitants — and the planet they live on — could be radically transformed for the better.

Some of the world’s cities are starting to grasp this painful stinging nettle. We have Smart Cities. Circular Cities. Sharing Cities. Lifecycle Cities. Doughnut Cities, 3D printed cities — well, at least in part. Singapore, a poor state only 70 years ago is now a beacon of good practice for urbanisation in a city-state, a reputation which has been achieved through leadership and vision. WinSun in China has been building houses by using 3D-printed building components, saving 60 percent of the construction material and reducing the construction time to 30 percent compared to traditional construction according to the city.

Unsplash: Adrian Olichon

Amsterdam is famously using Kate Raworth’s Doughnut to manage its ambition to be the first fully circular city. Mexico has achieved substantial savings in building social infrastructure projects using a lifecycle approach. Private-sector expertise was leveraged in designing, building and minimizing the total lifecycle costs during the development of two hospitals in Toluca and Tlalnepantla. And there are those with a citizen partnership approach, like Helsinki — perhaps the closest to a regenerative ideal.

There are many different approaches to regenerating existing cities, towns and villages — and building new ones.

All of these approaches have the potential to take a regenerative or living systems approach to creating thriving, regenerative societies and environments, but it is important to note that they can also simply be used to merely incrementally improve the urban experience, rather than be fully transformative to the future regenerative economy we desperately need if they are implented without the developmental approach that is core to regenerative vision. If they are implemented without the recognition that we need to move to a new paradigm of thought from which to design them, they can create change but it may not be the radically transformative change we need.

The challenge, then is to find models where cities can continue to hold the role of innovation vehicles of evolution and development but redesign their economies to minimise ecological impact and maximise the conditions conducive to life.

1. (Bio):regionalisation of economies

This is where starting to think in a bioregional context for cities may be vital. We began the discussion of bioregionalism in an earlier post in this series and we will frequently return to it. Here we are thinking about its relationship to cities. A bioregional economy is a self-provisioning economy. This idea sits at odds with the current market economy focused on efficiency, market exchange, factors of production, and consumer behaviour. It engenders resistance simply because we have lived so long in a global market economy it is hard to imagine anything else.

Often cities in transition often focus first on a ‘green economy’ looking at issues of net zero transport and energy through schemes like retro fitting heating systems and moving public transport to renewable sources, and the management of waste.

In the UK for example, they have been encouraged to do this in policies that have been developed over the last decade and a half. In 2008, in part as a response to the economic crisis, the UK Department for Business, Innovation & Skills carried out an exercise in future scenario planning based on the need to rapidly reduce energy consumption. The study resulted in four different scenarios: Green Growth, Carbon Creativity, Resourceful Regions and Sunshine State. Political choices focused mainly on Green Growth with for profit organisations driving technological innovation and to some extent Carbon Creativity which was a more co-operative approach to energy provision. Neither addressed the issue of sustainable consumption in the context of a city.

When we think about a self-provisioning economy, we are thinking about a system which provides the needs of a whole human community that is sufficient to meet its survival and quality of life requirements, whilst being ecologically sustainable. So we are addressing the use of water, the supply of food, the clothes we wear, the materials we use to construct everything from houses to furniture to industrial equipment, and above all, the kinds of livelihoods we want to create.

However important they are, when we focus on energy and transport alone — disconnected from the cultural experience of a city — we miss the opportunity of genuine resilience, sustainability and regeneration of an integrated culture and economy — the S and G in ESG — or social and governance. We also leave out the developmental and evolutionary role we humans have as part of a thriving living system.

Therefore at least some of the next steps we have to take include:-

  • a learning process that helps city & urban designers, economists and developers explore the whole potential of a living systems approach
  • gather stakeholders across natural, financial, social, human, business, properties capital to explore strategic regenerative narratives behind which a new economy can align as a co-creative enterprise, seeking out the evolutionary potential that wants to emerge through ecology and culture of place
  • develop finance streams which can fund patient innovation and change
  • regenerative learning centres where regenerative economics, regenerative placemaking and regenerative development can be learned and applied in an evolutionary entrepreneurial ecosystem
  • begin to re-regionalise a vibrant food economy that is bio-culturally indigenous where possible
  • address water sourcing and use more systemically
  • include resilient and regenerative agriculture and forestry as part of a local economy
  • develop a local craft, design, production and manufacturing economy that reflects the industrial potential of the geography and cultural narrative

When you mention the word craft, most current economists and urban economic planners wince because (in the UK) they imagine morris dancers, hand made pottery and raffia hats and cannot imagine such middle class indulgences can become a stable, thriving modern economy, and they see no growth or export potential in such fripperies! I feel sure that there is an equivalent cultural response in other geographies.

Utrecht’s focus on human health and its relationship to healthy urban living has been transformative for the city

That is to miss the very real resilient growth in industries like micro-brewing, viticulture, furniture design, the success of products like Cotswold Stone, but also to assume that bioregional craft cannot include important industries like marine tech and engineering (if you happen to have a city on the coast), or human health economies such as have been crafted around the Dutch city of Utrecht.

Also often missing from our local economic dialogue is narrative, vision and frequently, leadership that is oriented to the future potential rather than focused on solving the problems of the past — a trap which is almost inevitable to fall into since most global cities have accumulated rather a lot of problems from past design!

Cities need narratives every bit as much as regions and nations, but they also need to integrate into the narrative of their region to create a resilient economy — or at the very least be able to express the relationship between the city and the rurality that surrounds it. Some regions and nations have retained or are revisiting a strong local narrative to support economic development. Many others have lost sight of their local identities and the economies that went with them as we have become subsumed in the global economy.

In the UK, Scotland is a region that has worked hard to interweave narrative and economy to develop a successful export strategy as well as local economy. It’s now also turning the lamp back on itself and asking how those successful Scottish brands can create even stronger local industry and what self sufficiency might look like. Edinburgh is a brand with a recognisable culture on which to build. So are Shetland and The Orkneys.

On the other side of the world, the impact of covid19 is redesigning economies. The new travel corridor between Australia and New Zealand is opening up new inter-nation regional tourism opportunities whereas traditionally, antipodeans headed north away from their own lands. Stay-cautioning has re-invigorated interest in local experiences which can only be sustained by strong narratives about the difference of the experience in any locality. These demands economic and tourism boards work much more closely together to develop a relationship between the two.

Designing an experience and learning economy is a great place to start. By looking at the existing local industrial strengths, what is the opportunity for learning and development tourism for example? In my own home bioregion we have thriving viticulture, micro-brewing, micro food brands. If these thriving SMEs could be economically supported to develop learning facilities and programmes, their own business models could easily expand. We also have a national park where 30% of the land in it is owned by private estates who mainly derive additional income from sports experiences such as horse racing, car racing and polo. Whilst these are great contributors to the local economy and fun, they are not always entirely sustainable.

But what if they expanded into creating centres of bioregional learning where young people seeking to escape the city could come and learn about regenerative agriculture, and the economy found a way to provide investment to support the growth of regenerative agriculture by providing real business opportunities in agriculture to farm, own and live on land to collectives rather than just having to wait forever on a council allotment list — how would that transform the local food economy?

When we think about economic potential, we often forget manufacturing, having exported most of it to China/Asia far from our shores. We no longer have intimate relationships with manufacturers who were once local neighbours. When you ride your Trek bike across the Rockies you are buying into a little bit of US heritage through its brand. Trek bikes are made in Taiwan because both labour and components are cheaper. I recently looked into purchasing a new garden bench only to find that the very English-sounding company Alexander Rose is in fact Bolivian, and that the wood is sourced from Bolivian rainforest, manufactured there and shipped across the Atlantic in vast containers. I found a pre-loved one in my local thrift store instead.

If I buy a dress in the UK from Seasalt I am buying into a little bit of Cornish heritage, but how deeply is that brand enriching the Cornish economy beyond providing a number of jobs in Falmouth? Could it have a greater role in revitalising the fabric manufacturing economy in the region? What are the innovations to be made in the wool industry which has been on its back for decades if we use modern technology to look at wool in a new light?

Bio:regionalisation of economies should not be mistaken for protectionism, designed solely to ensure our own locality can weather the storms of the economic crisis and climate change ahead of us. I am happy to buy Bolivian garden furniture as long as I sense there is overall value being added to the ecology rather than extracted. I own a Trek mountain bike. As regenerative design consultant and author Daniel Christian Wahl describes it ‘it is about learning to inhabit our cities with the opportunities and challenges of the particular ecosystems we impact. As we disengage from a fossil fuel economy….there are huge opportunities for innovation that will help us to create place-specific bioregionally focused, circular bio-materials based economies.”

Asking radical questions about all our assumptions is another great place to begin. Some of the questions cities need to ask are how can we re-introduce appropriate manufacturing successfully into city economies? Would we rather be producing local goods than using available land space to house national supermarket chains and car parks? How can we upgrade farmers markets to a more integrated local economy without compromising the very spirit that brought them into being in the first place? How can we re-organise and re-design existing city economies so that we bring in more social and ecological justice, new ownership paradigms, patient capital, whilst still driving forwards our net zero aspirations?

2) Doughnut Economies

Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics model aims to help cities and towns re-imagine their strategies to create economies where people and planet can thrive in balance — in other words, it offers a compass for guiding 21st century prosperity.

The Doughnut’s social foundation, which is derived from the social priorities in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, sets out the minimum standard of living to which every human being has a claim. No one should be left in the hole in the middle of the Doughnut, falling short on the essentials of life, ranging from food and water to gender equality and having a political voice.

The Doughnut’s ecological ceiling comprises the Stockholm Resilience Centre’s nine planetary boundaries, drawn up by earth- system scientists in order to identify earth’s critical life-supporting systems and define the global limits of pressure that these systems can safely endure. Humanity must live within these ecological boundaries if we are to preserve a stable climate, fertile soils, healthy oceans, a protective ozone layer, ample freshwater, and abundant biodiversity on Earth.

Between the social foundation and the ecological ceiling lies a doughnut-shaped space in which it is possible to meet the needs of all people within the means of the living planet — an ecologically safe and socially just space in which humanity can thrive.

During 2018–19 Kate teamed up with Janine Benyus from The Biomimicry Institute to add a new layer to the application of the Doughnut to include the voice of nature in deliberations and strategy development. The result was the publication of the first approach to creating City Portraits in partnership with the city of Amsterdam, C40 Cities, Circle Economy and KR Foundation. The City Portrait methodology has also been carried out in Portland, Copenhagen; and has more recently been adopted by the Irish government. Many urban collectives are also using the Doughnut to build community and explore new narratives for their cities and towns all over the world, from bustling Berlin to Barcombe in Sussex.

In 2020 Kate launched Doughnut Economics Action Lab to bring together worldwide communities to work on change in place. DEAL, as it is affectionately known, comprises active teams working in place with the Doughnut, Doughnut Economics book clubs all around the world, practical tools that the team are development to help implement the work, and success stories from all four corners of spaceship Earth.

When applied to a city or town, The City Portrait method proposes 5 key questions:-

  • What would it mean for the people of this city to thrive?
  • What would it mean for this city to respect the wellbeing of people worldwide?
  • What would it mean for this city to thrive within its natural habitat?
  • What would it mean for this city to respect the health of the whole planet?
  • How would nature do this?

The fifth question applies the science of biomimicry to the challenges that arise from the process of the first four questions, to find and propose solutions that are inspired by nature’s processes. For example in Amsterdam looking at improving air quality through tree-planting and green walls to capture air-pollutant particles, and reduce the heat island effect through green infrastructure. Another project which arose from the Amsterdam City Portrait was to consider using oyster substrates — which slow down waves and reduce their power to erode — to support a reef barrier and slow down sand erosion which is a challenge for the city.

We can see that by working with questions, the Doughnut begins to shift the conversation away from mechanical numerics and towards wellbeing of people, place and planet. We can see how the process helps people to focus on both their local and global impact as a place — and find ways to reduce that impact. We can see that the application of the fifth question allows cities to source inspiration from nature to solve problems. It can provide a supporting narrative for a city to help explain to residents what the city is doing in its sustainability and future strategy.

In our work at Really Regenerative, we have found the Doughnut particularly helpful in three contexts:

  • as a framework to shape conversations in village communities about the road to net zero and to help them surface the projects they really want to work on in their place
  • as a process to help local authorities and communities consider how to take a different approach to shaping their economic strategy and holding stakeholder dialogues
  • as a tool to help home builders and developers consider the role each project might have socially and environmentally

When working with the Doughnut we add a number of lenses and practices that we feel help it to be more fully regenerative and developmental. We ask:-

  • How are we working to build capacity to think and act regeneratively (from a living systems perspective) as we work on this project?
  • What is the highest potential of this place — and of each project — to allow the people who live and work here, and this place to play a developmental role in the systems in which it sits?
  • What is the new narrative or story of this place that arises from its patterns of culture, biology, geography, that gives us the appropriate context on which to design our journey towards the end state, vision and role we will be working on?

3) Urban Acupuncture

Urban acupuncture is a phrase first coined by the former mayor of Curitiba in Brazil, Jaime Lerner. Lerner served three times as mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, and has twice served as governor of Parana State. He presided over a city with significant social, economic and pollution problems, and set an approach to the future which included both developing a collective vision of the future whilst steadily improving parts of the city, step-by-step in a process now referred to as urban acupuncture.

Curitiba, Brazil

One of the metaphors for designing a vital city I took away from Lerner’s work is that of the turtle. “These concepts come together in the metaphor of the Turtle embodying life, work and movement — if you break down the shell of the turtle, it will die. So, the “vital” city is one that, as the metaphor emphasizes, provides a protective shell for integrating compatible urban functions and effecting change without breaking down the life-sustaining shelter.”

For Lerner a city is an expression of the collective dream of its inhabitants. “To build this dream is vital. Without it, there will not be the essential involvement of its inhabitants. It is crucial to project successful scenarios that can be desired by the majority of the population, to the point that they commit to it. Building this vision of the future is a process that acknowledges, welcomes and embraces the multiple visions that managers and inhabitants, planners, politicians, businesses, and civil society have of their city and sets up co-responsibility equations to make it happen.”

The more generous this vision and the sounder the equations, the more good practices will multiply and, in a domino effect, the more rapidly they will constitute a gain in quality of life and solidarity.

Sociodiversity encompasses the need to embrace and celebrate the multiplicity of peoples with different income levels, ages, religions, races and so on within the city, while at the same time preserving the traits that define each one’s identity. This is what will ensure social cohesion, urban safety, and ultimately the possibility of encounters within the city and the willingness to congregate in its communal spaces.

At the heart of Lerner’s approach is creativity, activated and driven by cutting budgets, not increasing them and focusing on allowing the true identify of each part of the city and the city as a whole, to emerge through its diversity.

Barcelona is considered to be one of the most attractive city destinations in Europe. It has a visitor economy which welcomes 8.9 million tourists every year. Behind that influx of visitors lies a largely hidden support network of women; women as cleaners, women as health workers, women in hospitality because it allows more flexible working hours for childcare. Barcelona is also a city that is being re-designed by women as leaders. A city of historically brave, innovative design — frequently designed by men for the way in which men work — is being transformed by mayor Ada Colau and other bright women like Janet Sanz and Judit Vall Costello through a process which combines urban acupuncture and cultural identity redsign.

One of the studies Mayor Colau put in place was to understand how a city is used differently by women than by men, by listening to other voices that the dominant voices of executive, white males and subsequently finding acupuncture points for change. They found that the cities transport system largely favoured business executives who tended to drive to work, that signage and infrastructure did not support women cyclists moving children around for childcare, or the through-the-night cleaning workforce dominated by women and have begun to produce better signage for cyclists, and change the transport system to provide safe travel for night-workers.

The city is also implementing a 10 year plan to reclaim the city from cars through a block-by-block transformation of its grid system. The ‘superblock’ plan will transform the entire central grid of the city into a greener, pedestrian-friendly and almost car-free area. Experiments are being undertaken gradually in 9 block squares so that people and traffic have an opportunity to adjust. Those cars that need to park in each block will be the only cars allowed access and will all be parked underground. Instead of busy junctions, there are parks, picnic benches, and play areas.

The model will be extended to the whole of the Eixample district, first designed in the late 19th century by the urban planner Ildefons Cerdà, who envisioned an integrated, modernist extension to Barcelona based around a grid system, providing new public spaces for mobility and recreation. The experience of the pandemic has helped them deepen their knowledge of how women use the city and respond, accelerating plans to put health are the centre of re-design.

Alongside health Barcelona is also building on its innovative cultural heritage with a rapidly growing reputation as the scientific as well as cultural capital of the Mediterranean, driving Europe’s transition towards a green and circular economy. It is home to the MareNostrum 5 European supercomputer, being used in areas such as human genome research, the design of new drugs and weather forecasting and may also soon host the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.

The Greening of Paris Makes Its Mayor More Than a Few Enemies (Published 2019)

PARIS – All over Paris, streets have been dug up and cut in two, and old paving stones overturned to build dozens of…

In Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has spent the past 7 years addressing the climate emerging through a process of greening the city, trying to change the urban heating systems in large buildings, changing the electric grid to renewable energy, creating more pedestrianised zones, improve bike lanes to shift people towards environmentally-friendly transport and improving existing public transport systems. Her re-election during the pandemic, although without the previous clear majority, is now allowing her to pursue new policies such as removing 50% of car parking spaces across the city to push more people onto public transport, and greening the whole of the famous Champs d’Elysee — a project which has claimed global attention.

We know that cities have to address: renewable energy, heating systems, transport models and air quality. Almost all cities worldwide are focused on these critical areas to meet emissions targets. They also know they have to improve liveability to attract and retain creative talent, as well as economic and social equity and equality. In many of the oldest cities in the world, this is a deep challenge. If the urban acupuncture approach can be used from a perspective of looking at cities as an interconnected series of villages with their own thriving culture and ecology (many area continuous sprawl of villages amalgamated into a metropolis) which create a whole, living system — urban acupuncture can be very useful.

3) Urban/Rural Integration — the opportunity of regenerative villages

In Economy of Place 11, we talked about the opportunity of diversifying for estate and landowners (private estates and farmers) to build regenerative villages. I’ve experienced a number of different ‘alternative’ types of villages in my life; a kibbutz, an eco-village, a retreat community, a ‘preppers’ village in the USA — all are villages in their own ways. My key reflection about them is that they are often — though not always — ‘closed’ communities where people go to ‘escape’ to another way of life that is not the high-pressured urban lifestyle they have previously experienced. Two key principles of living systems are inter-connectedness and wholeness so I find myself curious to explore the idea of regenerative villages as part of the need to re-integrate rural and urban economies, to integrate the opportunity of technology without being driven by it, and to explore the role for developmental change and learning within them.

During the covid19 pandemic we have seen an exodus from cities. Those fortunate enough to have second homes have fled their main city base for the country to avoid being locked down in the city. It is estimated that as many as 1 million people have fled New York for example. Some to second homes, others to their place of birth, migrating homeward like birds. As work has transformed to a mainly digital experience, those second or birth homes have become more permanent. Escaping the city — which was for many a holiday or retreat experience — has become more of a lifestyle choice.

An online summit in 2021 organised by Global Ecovillage Network

There are hundreds of eco-villages all over the world. It is a movement that has grown out of a deep interest in Bill Mollison’s permaculture principles, founded by people with a desire to reconnect to nature during the 60s and 70s. Though many of them are independently owned and run, many have come toghether in the Global Ecovillage Network which has some 420 villages in its network. Until recently, the popular image of an eco-village is the home of urban escapees living on the edge of financial instability in raggedy houses and clothes, forever at the mercy of eviction from land they had been loaned to cultivate but did not own. This is changing. At the other end of the spectrum as urban property magnates like Soho House in the UK moved in on the retreat opportunity to create luxury havens like Soho Farmhouse and wealthy landowners and farmers began to diversify into glamping, festivals and organic cooking centres such as Hugh Fernley Whittiingstall’s River Cottage — a shift has been occurring.

At the same time in response to sustainability coming into view in the tourism industry, eco-villages as tourism destinations began to appear. In Costa Rica, on the Masaii Mara and Serengenti in Africa, in the Indonesian islands like Bali. A slow but sure growth in tourism-based business models where urban escapees could experience a deeper connection with the local population and wildlife than a luxury and organised first-class experience could offer. At first you might only discover them through the legendary blue books of Lonely Planet, but over the years they have become more established — until covid19 took away their visitor stream.

Today the newcomers to the eco-village world are large landowners with buildings to renovate, land to regenerate and a cash flow crisis on their hands. The Eco-village community has also matured, and now has many decades of experience in designing business models that work as well as communities that thrive.

What is the evolution of the eco-village fit for the 21st century?

Firstly, there’s a clear opportunity to merge the needs of urban life and regenerative villages in more rural surroundings as several different emergent trends intersect.

  • the inter-generational experience of a desire to re-connect to nature
  • the urban exodus prompted by covid19
  • the rise of digital nomads — a generation of people wanting to, and able to, work from anywhere in the world
  • the urban co-working environment (We Work etc)
  • the co-living and intentional community movement
  • the regenerative agriculture movement
  • the need of landowners — private estates, farmers, government, militiary — to repurpose, revitalise and earn more money from diversification to balance the books
  • the gradual realisation that the global food system is unsustainable
  • improving technology for architectural design of small, circular,
  • sustainably sourced housing designs which can offer a level of experience beyond dry toilets and cobbled together leftover materials that deter creatures of urban comfort
  • the rising desire in some western populations for something more meaningful than consumerism and materialism

A unique confluence may be about to happen. If it does, the village of the future is likely to include:

  • multi-generational community housing which offers long term co-living
    as well as impermanent housing — from shepherds huts to glamping for impermanent visitors
  • investor opportunities that are patient rather than extractive regenerative land management and agriculture
  • transformation of education at all levels; early years, youth and university and integration with research on all aspects of regeneration
  • impermanent experiences for visitors; educational in terms of community building, regen ag, experiential such as festivals, retreats for escapees
  • a connection to the rural surrounding villages and urban centres; from a knowledge transfer hub in cities to community co-investment in development, design and build
  • the thoughtful application of the best available technology — from solar and wind, to modular 3d printing
  • establishing stronger localised economies such as a local regenerative food system

The regenerative village from House of Transformation

At the recent Re:Build online conference looking at villages of the future, Joshua Munoz-Jimenez shared clear economic plans for successful regenerative farms of the future. House of Transformation’s Anton Chernikov revealed plans for a long-term strategy to develop Somerleyton Estate in Norfolk. Global Ecovillage Network shared well researched and documented community building practices that contribute to resilient, community environments that are humanly, economically and ecologically sustainable, and include innovative ownership and management approaches that overcome the traditional hierarchical owner/manager roles. Organisational models from Pro-Social, sociocracy, Deep Democracy, self-managed structures have come a long way in their application.

This transformation cannot happen without radically questioning and working on three key support pillars:-

  • ownership of land — whether that is through reconciling land grabs which have occurred over centuries in some cases, and making land ownership more accessible to communities all over the world — or at least permanent access
  • ownership models — a shift to distributed ownership models that reflect the commitment of all of the individuals who contribute to a regenerative village’s success — across all the stakeholder groups. Financial, social, human, nature, infrastructure.
  • human messiness — a clear structure to learn how to deal with human messiness — which I call a commitment to regenerative development. Working on overcoming ego, working on shadow issues, constant commitment to shifting worldview towards a regenerative one — even though we all fail from time to time. It’s a journey and a process.

There is a world of experience already out there to tap into in all these fields.

There are a lot of pioneer species out there that cities can learn from. The Transition Town movement has been experimenting on a smaller scale for a long time. The Global Ecovillage movement has codified a lot of cultural and human skills and development needed to adapt to change and overcome human messiness. Organisations like Regenesis have spent decades shaping frameworks that support this journey. None may have operated at the grand scale of a city, but perhaps there is much city leaders could learn from wisdom glean from the micro experiments that can be fused with modern technology and scale to shape a new way forward?