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    ‘Sustainability’​ is dead. Now it’s time for something completely different

    By James Southwood, on 21 March 2017

    ‘Sustainability’ is dead and much of its language should be buried and replaced.

    To just ‘sustain’, will always fail to capture the people’s imagination, just as ‘remain’. If I go out for drinks, I want to do more than ‘sustain’ and ‘survive’ the evening, I want to thrive and connect.

    ‘Environmental protection’ is no different. This mantra of sustainability doesn’t work because it is fundamentally restrictive, applying the brakes on ambition. And for the flag of ‘sustainability’, well, we have all seen how those 3 separate, yet interlocking circles have failed to capture people’s imagination.

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    Could it be that once we realize we are not separate from the planet, our problems will be solved? Let’s fundamentally alter the way we talk about ‘sustainability’ towards proper environmental endgame that is not premised on ‘loosing less’ but based on the principles of life itself.

    To move beyond the sluggish sustainability progress we have seen in the past, we are going to need:

    1) A long term outlook with the environment at the centre.

    2) A positive and inspiring vision of how to move forward

    3) To transcend the language of reduction with a new vocabulary of ambition

    Keeping these 3 pointers in mind, let’s go back to the drawing board and reconnect with how nature actually works in the first place.

    Well most importantly, ‘sustainability’ is in fact a reality of nature, rather than a conceptual meeting point between 3 interlocking circles. After all, there is no waste in nature, rather continuous re-use of elements and resources. All waste in nature becomes new growth. Take for example the carbon cycle where there is life in death and the waste of one is the food of another. This is simply fact of life.

    Perhaps we could do the same?

    In practical terms this means bringing to life that old saying that one man’s trash can be the treasure of another. This is more than just recycling as there is up-cycled added value in old waste being the input for something entirely different. We have to change the thinking along these lines.

    For sustainability to be more than an afterthought or at best, modest gains around efficiency, we need to re-connect with the natural circular approach. In doing so, we properly integrate ecology into the economy.

    After all, resource constraints are driving businesses to seek alternatives to traditional production and manufacturing processes. There is huge potential to create circular economies that generate wealth from waste. Just look at the EU’s circular economy strategy or any Ellen McArthur report.

    So what would happen if we aligned our infrastructure with the circular system we see in nature?

    In essence, we would have an uncompromising and clear headed view of ‘environmental protection’ because it would be built into the very DNA of the city.

    People are already thinking about how we can join the dots and apply circular thinking to old problems. Take the coal fired power plants in Australia where the CO2 waste is used as the food for Algae which produces energy through biogas. This is one of a raft of new innovative, interconnected approaches which promise to change the sustainability paradigm. (For more evidence of these new projects just watch any Youtube Video by Guter Pauli.)

    Rather than ‘sustain’, I suggest for the future of sustainability and indeed our planet, we duel ecological principles and innovation to ‘ecovate’. This means interdependent product design and interdependent action between communities, practitioners, regulators and academics.

    Ecovation promises to transform the sustainability paradigm' Credit to Charles Vincent charles@vincent-luxembourg.lu

    Ecovation promises to transform the sustainability paradigm’
    Credit to Charles Vincent charles@vincent-luxembourg.lu

    It means dumping the meaningless language of sustainability and instead taking advantage of life’s evolutionary learning curve and emulating it’s tried and tested circular strategies. The new language of ‘sustainability’, must be one of vast and thriving interconnections between and within both people and nature.

    By thinking in circles we can finally end the enduring era of the throwaway society. Turning old waste into new growth through new design + retrofit promises to transform our urban environments.

    In doing so, we can inspire towards a future where our society is premised nothing less than the ecological reality of the planet. I propose this should be the environmental endgame that sparks the public imagination, this is a place we all want to live.

    Out here in the Berlin green innovation scene, I have noticed that young entrepreneurs will settle for nothing less than 100% circularity because, in the long run they recognize it is not negotiable. The achievement of circularity is absolutely necessary; our only choices are in the route we follow to get there.


    James is an MSc Environment & Sustainable Development graduate (2015-2016), who has recently moved to Berlin to explore the green innovation industry.
    He is currently designing a new innovative platform which aims to use ecovatation to bring academics, communities and practitioners together.  If you are interested in collaborating, get in touch at james@dycle.org

     

    CAN Co-Creation: Reflection

    By Luisa Miranda Morel, on 5 September 2016

    In July 2016, the 4th Community Architects Network (CAN) Regional Workshop brought together community action practitioners from countries all over South East Asia. The first day was spent in Bangkok, Thailand, introducing the participants to the work done and challenges faced by CAN members in Thailand, China and India. The following five days were spent in groups – each focusing on a different sector of city development, for example the transport group, which I was part of – doing fieldwork alongside local communities in Chumsang City of Nakornsawan Province, Thailand.

     

    Today is just about listening

     

    “Today is just about listening,” we were told. That was how we started our fieldwork on the 16th of July. Focusing our attention on understanding the local communities of Chumsang, listening to their ideas, concerns and how they wished their city to be in the future. This was a challenge, particularly as most of us had spent the first two days of the workshop meeting and exchanging with many different people from Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia. So by the time we arrived in Chumsang, my mind was already full of questions and ideas. I was excited and a little rushed to quickly understand the context of Chumsang, considering we had very few days to do so and then to, somehow, ‘co-create’ something.

     

    Co-Creation was the theme of the workshop. It was described in the introductory programme as the “co-creation and design between man and nature through a process of understanding and respect”. Understood in this way, co-creation was very representative of the dynamics and needs of Chumsang. Like other similarly sized cities in Thailand, Chumsang faces many concerns related to its natural resources and landscapes, the loss of its cultural traditions, the changing dynamics of migration in its young and old populations and as a result the increasing day to day challenges in making the city livable, sustainable and lively.

    Mapping people’s routes to the community hall

    Mapping people’s routes to the community hall

    Following this theme, the workshop in general had a loose structure that allowed space for conversations to evolve, take different directions and reveal those elements that were not immediately obvious about the city and its people. At first this way of working felt uncertain, unfamiliar and risky but as we were immersed in to the fieldwork, the friendly people and the excitement of it all, it became easier to go with the flow and allow our ideas and projects to develop in a very organic way.

     

    Our behinds were burning but our faces were bright

     

    As the transport and cycling group, we happily spent a lot of time on our bicycles, visiting the city and using any excuse to get on the saddle. By the end of the first day, it was harder to walk straight and our faces were quite pink from the sun, but it was through these rides around the city that we found inspiration to work. We even wrote a song!

    One of the cycling groups meet at 6 a.m. every morning to ride around the city

    One of the cycling groups meet at 6 a.m. every morning to ride around the city

    Within the transport group, I felt very connected to my colleagues, not only by being part of CAN, which encouraged us to work together but also through our other interests, in my case cycling. In other cases, photography, culture, music, heritage and ecology brought people together to share ideas on making the city. These elements, represented through our different interests and hobbies, are also an important part of what makes cities vibrant and CAN Co-Create seemed to build on this synergy very well. It took a wholesome perspective toward community architecture and in this case, for the first time, at the scale of the city. I think this was one of its greatest strengths.

    Gathering the cycling groups at the community hall

    Gathering the cycling groups at the community hall

    In this way, the opportunity that CAN workshops bring about by generating attention, bringing in professionals and practitioners from many contexts to work with local communities and catalyze change not only focused on one arm of city development but many. We established groups that addressed housing, mobility, politics, environment, culture, health and one that emphasized the connectivity and cohesion between these different elements at the level of the city. The workshop also became an opportunity for the mayor to come face to face with the energy of the city’s people, their desires and motivations and to engage in direct conversation with them about their different ideas for the future of Chumsang.

     

    At the same time, this transversal approach also brought many communities to work together. We worked with two cycling groups, a group of elderly, the old market community, young school children, communities that were to be relocated and communities that had already been housed. Initially, it seemed that these different groups had their own motivations for participating in the workshop. However, at the end of each day, as we reviewed our progress and our findings, the work gradually demonstrated how intricately connected these different motivations and processes really were.

    Policies group presenting outcomes: Chumsang’s journey

    Policies group presenting outcomes: Chumsang’s journey

     

    Although some groups progressed quicker than others during the five days of fieldwork, reviewing, changing and even starting over a couple of times; the level of involvement from community groups in the presentation of the outcomes, on the last day, was moving. It showed that these processes of participation intrigued people and invited them to feel part of something greater.

     

    So although lengthy and sometimes frustrating, the time it took to build, validate and present ideas with communities, seemed to generate a collective sense of a ‘Community of Chumsang’. In a way, the notion of ‘co-creation’ really materialized through this challenging and timely process. Toward the end of the workshop, I increasingly noticed that people built on these connections and worked with them, moving around the room, between different groups, sharing information and presenting ideas in sync with each other.

    Combining activities, processes and project ideas on the same ‘master plan’ for Chumsang

    Combining activities, processes and project ideas on the same ‘master plan’ for Chumsang

    Sharing is where everything starts

     

    There were many things about the CAN workshop that motivated me but it is what happens after the workshops, which I find the most significant. How the transformative process that CAN workshops initiate, by bringing so many minds together in one place, can ripple out into a series of waves of transformation in other places; How those of us who attend the CAN workshop can carry our experiences and through them, diffuse the energy of CAN into existing and new networks. After the workshop I was left with this intrigue, excited to see what happens next.

     

    The workshop produced Facebook groups [CAN Co-Create Chumsaeng City & Unsung Stories of Chumsaeng); brought cycling movements together to carry out a collective ride throughout the city with the support of the police; created brochures to promote tourism, made a song and proposed many other small achievable projects that the local communities could carry on after the workshop. I see these outcomes as small actions and tools that are practical and achievable in the short term but which have the potential to keep co-creation running by “people’s process”, as we like to say, in the long-run. If people follow up and use them.

     

    Leader of ‘The Old Tigers’ cycles with other groups, as we invite people to join and advocate for cycle lane markings, cycle routes for tourists and greater safety for children and elderly who use bycicles

    Leader of ‘The Old Tigers’ cycles with other groups, as we invite people to join and advocate for cycle lane markings, cycle routes for tourists and greater safety for children and elderly who use bycicles

    A month later, I am visiting some of the CAN members in Vietnam. They have been great hosts, showing me around and teaching me about the beautiful city of Hanoi.

     

    “Sharing is where everything starts” says Houng, one of my hosts and also a CAN member. Being back in conversations about community practices reminds me of my intrigue, what happens after the workshop? How does the transformative process of CAN Co-Create continue?

     

    Still excited from the experience, I’ve noticed some signs that suggest the transformative process is still running. The actions that we took and the ‘web’ of tools that we began to create seem to have given the ‘network’ a potential to catalyze this process. Believing it all the more as I listen, discuss and exchange with people who, despite having returned to their busy lives, are still talking about visiting Chumsang again, strengthening the CAN network in Vietnam and even about extending the scope of the existing one.

     

     

    [Video]

    CAN Co-Create Workshop Teaser Video – Final Video will be published in October

     


    Luisa is an alumni of the MSc in Building and Urban Design in Development at the DPU. Currently she is working in Manila, Philippines as a beneficiary of the DPU/ACHR/CAN Young Professionals Programme.