The Rise of Regenerative Cities
Our Earth Household
Our world needs regenerative cities as an antidote to the conventional industrial approach to urban living. Today it is estimated that 54.4 percent of the human population lives in cities. Approximately, 60 percent will live in cities by the year 2030. (1) This increasing shift represents a major migration of humans from rural living toward urban living. Our conventional approaches to urbanization are impacting the very nature of the ecosystems we live in and of our biosphere. Our lifestyles, our homes, our cities all contribute to the health of our communities, and of Earth. Our human impacts now play a key role in the evolution of the biological life of the planet.
Traditionally, cities have offered people the promise of increased opportunities for learning, work, and community. Ironically, while cities have indeed provided more opportunities to more people, they can also create challenging barriers to many. Increasing environmental racism, poverty, food security issues, systemic oppression, ecological challenges, and epidemics of loneliness all suggest that the true promise of cities has yet to be realized.
Human communities create both ecological and cultural pressure that has great effect on the people and the biotic life with which we share our homes. Cities represent a unique socio-ecological opportunity. At the city scale, we can intentionally design and weave together the best of human endeavor – our creativity, collaborative capacities, and foresight – with the ecological intelligence of our biosphere. As biocultural conservationist Gary Nabhan suggests:
“…Time spent restoring nature also helps restore us and our bonds with others… at this moment in time, divisiveness has become the norm that is not only undermining the robustness of our communities; it is also undermining the health of our landscapes and the economic vitality of our communities as well. We can no longer stand to deal with the devastating consequences of living in an Earth Household Divided…” (2)
Regenerative cities that focus on the wellbeing of our communities, our ecologies, and our shared future can be healers of our “Earth Household.”
Cities have evolved over time largely in response to increasing population in a given area and increased opportunity for economic growth. This approach has lead to the piece-meal spread and sprawl of urban life to the detriment of biological life and our communities. The physical, social, economic, and cultural awareness with which a city is designed all play a role in the character and quality of life in the places we call home.
Will we design our cities to stay on the conventional trajectory of industrial growth to feed the cult of consumerism? Or, shall we design regenerative cities to celebrate life, living, creativity, and connection?
Around the world there is a global movement rising of people exploring the intentional design of healthy human systems and habitats that are positive contributors to the biological community. Within this larger movement, people are exploring ways of creating Regenerative Cities that unite art, design, and science dedicated to creating thriving cultural and ecological communities. In the words of Daniel C. Wahl, Author of the book Regenerative Cultures:
“A new generation of designers are applying ecologically inspired design to agriculture, architecture, community planning, cities, enterprises, economics and ecosystem regeneration. Join them to co-create diverse regenerative cultures in the transition towards a regenerative society. Humanity’s impact needs to shift from degeneration to regeneration before the middle of this century. We will all have to collaborate to achieve this transformative response to the converging crises we are facing.”(3)
To aid us in the pursuit of healing our lands and creating thriving communities we now have a plethora of approaches available to us as we intentionally designing our cities and homes. These include:
A) Biomimicry, the modeling of natures intelligence in the design of products, services, and polices. (4)
B) Biophilic design, the designing of symbiotic relationships between nature, humans, and the built environment. (5)
C) Permaculture, a design science dedicated to fostering permanent culture and sustainable systems through care for people, the Earth, and equitable economies. (6)
More than ever before, humanity has the power and knowledge to be a force for good on the planet. We have the skills, tools, and methods to design life-affirming communities, buildings, and our systems at large. We are now tasked with creating human habitats to meet the socio-ecological opportunities and complexities of 21st century living. The question is: will we have the wisdom to do so?
Examples of Regenerative City Initiatives
Urban Ecology: A Natural Way to Transform Kids, Parks, Cities, and the World by Urban Ecology Center:
Living Cities Russia:
“The mission that lies at the core of everything we do is 1000 Living cities by 2035”
“An Urban Laboratory Seeking The Radical Reorganization of The Build Environment”
“advance the theory and practice of planning for biophilic cities, through a combination of collaborative research, dialogue and exchange, and teaching.”
Global Ecovillage network:
“Catalyzing Communities for a Regenerative World”
The Living Community Challenge:
“A framework for master planning, design, and construction. It is a tool to create a symbiotic relationship between people and all aspects of the built environment.”
“A movement of communities coming together to reimagine and rebuild our world”
A 21st Century Design Challenge
From families to government, artists and urban planners, we all face a design challenge to re-imagining and re-inventing urban life. 21st century living will be increasingly complex with increasing population, food security issues, strife over public commons, and impacts on the health of our ecosystems. We also face the need to shift attitudinal/behavioral dynamics such as “NIMBY” or Not In My Backyard approaches to community planning, environmentally racist city design, and to prioritize civic health in general over industry.
More broadly, we face increasing global issues such as sea-level rise, extreme temperature fluctuation, or water shortages leading towards climate change refugee migration. Additionally, rapid technological advancement has the potential to displace large numbers of the workforce. All of these variables, and many more, must be taken into account when designing our communities. The only way we can address these challenges is collectively and collaboratively, through the ways we live, learn, and create together.
Regenerative cities offer an alternative pathway forward beyond the trajectory we are currently on. Our communities can be spaces for creative expression, learning, right livelihood, and the stewardship of the cultural and ecological heritage of the planet. It may be that the challenges we face today will be the impetus for the next step in the evolution of our cities and how we make ourselves at home on Earth.
Joshua Cubista is an international experiential designer, facilitator and strategist working with communities, organizations and multi-stakeholder groups to advance the field of personal, social, and systemic leadership and collaboratively address the complex challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. Joshua is the first Biophilia Foundation Fellow.