2011/03/14 13:00 Bill Reed on Sibbesborg Sustainability [web video + slides]

On a post at the Systems Community of Inquiry, Tiina Merikoski asked for comments on a blog post on Aalto Sustainable Communities, linking to Bill Reid’s presentation on the launch of the competition on the design of the Sibbesborg community.  While watching this, I took notes.

This digest was created in real-time watching the web video, based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the web video, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, by David Ing.


Brief:  the area of development must regarded as a whole

[around 20:00]

Slide: Framework for the Whole of Sustainability

Technical System Design (red area, more energy required) to Living System Design (green area, less energy required, a whole systems approach)

  • Conventional:  we build our buildings just one step better than breaking the law
  • Green:  less bad, energy savings, carbon neutrality
  • Sustainable: 100% energy savings, but this is impossible
    • People equate carbon neutrality with sustainability too often
    • A slower way to die
    • Straining the environment less is a slower way to die
    • Not much hope
  • Restorative
  • Regenerative


General brief:  Gluing indicators together creating a whole … impossible

  • Can’t glue pieces of life together


Alvar Aalto:  Nothing is as dangerous in architecture as dealing with separate problems


Pieces of Green do not equal sustainability


Masanobu Fukuoka, One Straw Revolution:  An object seen in isolation from the whole is not the real thing

Need to shift from looking at objects to looking at relationships


What is a whole, and how do we work with this concept?


What are we sustaining with sustainability?

Audience response:  life itself, and possibilities for the next generation

Question:  how do we go about doing that?

More efficient energy, clean water, is all important

(referring to first slide framework), Hunter Lovins:  all working on the red area does is give us time to work on the green area

Think about the concepts of life, not just efficient transportation, green roofs, energy production


Life equals evolution

Humberto Maturana, describes life is process of becoming

NASA, life in the Genesis project, is the process of imperfect replication

Look at what we’re designing, who we’re designing, and the process of what we are becoming


One way to look at life is to to work with something that is manageable

  • Communities

Can’t have a sustainable building, it’s not living

  • An object is not sustainable, because it’s not living

What life requires is working in place, e.g. a watershed, or a community in a watershed, is manageable

  • A community doesn’t have boundaries, but yet it does have boundaries
  • No line:  water, energies, sunlight, soil, animals, people move constantly around boundaries
  • Life isn’t an object, but it is an organism
  • When looking at organisms, look at relationships and processes

Life is nested

  • Even the client / team … in building/infrastructure system … in watershed/ecological system … in social/community ecological system
  • No economics:  not an end of themselves, just an indicator of healthy or unhealthy flow
  • Making economics a purpose is a mistake

Not what this place is, but who this place is

  • Describing a person’s physical characteristics doesn’t really describe the person
  • Yet that’s the way we describe land
  • A better description:  relationships, family, dog in the street — gives more data

Let’s start looking at places as who


Example:  Same process for cities and rural areas

To understand a place, understand its vocation

Jamie Lerner, architecture/mayor/governor Brasil:  every city needs a vocation

A place with a purpose?

Land as a living organism shifts worldview

Mountaints, Three Sisters, Teton Range, Idaho/Wyoming

  • Farmland by alluvial stream, Mahogany Creek
  • Cleft in middle of mountain:  watershed for Mahogany Creek

Developer wanted to put 1000 homes on this farmland

  • We believe that humans are part of nature
  • Aboriginal groups have word for one life, we divide them
  • Past, present and future

Alluvial fan

  • Teton River
  • Faint ghost lines of rivers:  remnant streams
  • Soils map
  • When farmers came 1000 years ago, they dammed the creek and took 100% of water to farm the fields

Most farming is bad:  agricultural and shelter is how we’re killing the planet:  agricultural systems and building systems

  • How do we heal the earth, through those two systems?
  • We need to change the nature of our farming, and our community building

Was looking for patterns of life

  • When farmers blocked the stream, they disconnected the Teton River from the big whole mountains, destroying 3 ecosystems
  • 1. Teton River:  salmon and trout couldn’t breed
  • 2. Farmed the prairie savannah, cut up into sections, preventing the water from flowing down, so beaver, otter, megafauna moose moved away
  • Just like hydrological cycle, there’s a nutrient cycle:  water takes things downhill, nutrients take things back  by fish, insects, birds, megafauna carrying back upstream
  • 3. Without fish and animals moving upstream, the Big Hole mountains are now dying
  • Even were going to avoid 1000 homes, we will have still destroyed 3 ecosystems
  • The nature of the place doesn’t say to maintain the place (it looks green, but it’s not)
  • Living bridge between the Teton River and the Big Hole Mountains

With developers, said that this is correct

  • Redesigned the homes into tight wedges
  • Won’t be home there, but they would have only used 10% of water in the area, enabling the habitat quarters to be restored


Humans have a role to play to heal the planet

Places are unique living organisms

  • Have purpose
  • Have vocation, calling
  • Whether plains, Paris, New York City
  • They’re all nested systems
  • How to work with them in an intelligent way:  patterns, not from data
  • Patterns tell us


Every place has a distinctiveness, an essence that identifies them

Working in Baja California, most people think it’s a desert, but 400 years ago it was a scrub oak forest, destroyed by European farming techniques, we could bring it back

Stories hold evolutionary potential

Iriquois seven generation thinking

  • Not seven generations in the future, it’s three generations in the past, the present, and three generations into the future
  • How we’ve evolved, how we’ve destroyed, and how we can recover


Evolutionary potential, Santa Fe New Mexico

In white human settlers memory, there has been no water on this site

  • Water as an activating source for life

Fellow who bought this ranch was going to restore it

  • Planted native species
  • Got rid of grazing animal
  • Planted arroyos to stop erosion
  • Called it a day, to let nature take its course

Then heard about permaculturalists (e.g. Bill Lawson), they took a systems approach, looking not only at its existence, but also its potential, in three areas:

  • 1. Meteorological conditions:  10 to 12 inches of rain per year, 100 inches of evaporation, means it’s a desert, no surprise, it’s been that way for 5000 years
  • 2. Geologic conditions: Soil samples from arroyos, under 4 to 5 centimeters, found rich humus, which could only have come from the bottom of ponds, a head-scratchers
  • 3. Cultural conditions:  Looking farther out, went 50 to 60 miles out to a town in Colorado, found some old diaries:  Wild Bill Williams had come down to trap beaver — beaver in the desert, a double head-scratcher
  • First inclination to bring back beaver, but beaver don’t feed on yucca and prickly pear
  • Best they could do, was to imitate the pattern of the beaver:  they build dams
  • They put up 12 1-metre earth dams, and with 18 months, there was a permanent running stream


How did the water come back?

  • Came back because it does snow and rain
  • Putting up the pattern of beaver knew
  • Instead of water shooting off evaporating, dams can recharge the water table
  • A stream is an elevated water table
  • A permanent running stream on site:  the beginning of regeneration, create anew, borne of new spirit
  • Every farmer in the valley has been inspired by this
  • Have the potential to heal the planet
  • If we have the will and understanding, can heal in 18 months if we participate with nature on its own terms


Farm fields slide

Story:  Brattleboro Food Coop, Vermont, wanted to be a green grocery store

Food is coming from far away:  New Zealand, California, Chile

  • If there’s a truckers’ strike, grocery store will not be sustainable

Farms in the area had been abandoned because of poor soil from overfarming, overgrazing, and lumber extraction

Grocery store became an agriculture and soil extension service, to teach people

  • How farm their land, restore forest, restore watershed, can their own food, hunters to dress their meat
  • Bank/credit union to helpo farmers restablish farm

All they wanted was a grocery store

  • But any activity, in a city or a grocery store, can be a catalyst for greater geographic health

But hadn’t worked with the community


Dimensions of the whole

1. Developing of the right mind:  to see how life is working

2. Systems of the place:  includes economics, in the social system

3.  Value added processes:  how does life add value, otherwise, aren’t participating in evolution


Can’t look at life as if it’s an organization chart

U.S. army chart of Afghan force

  • Stop thinking mechanically

Living systems are really complex, have to work from patterns


Life is dynamic and evolving, not mechanical

  • It’s not a what, it’s who
  • Requires an interative process, including all parties, issues and nature

Humans have a positive role to play

  • Better than feeling guilty
  • Humans aren’t bad
  • Time to reunderstand
  • Not living lightly with the land, but living fully with the land

Patterns are how to hold wholes

  • Building the capabilility to build it, love it, tend it

Need a storying process:  hold past, present future

  • Engage community
  • Parables make the complex comprehensible
  • Time for restorying

If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood, and don’t assign them tasks and work, but instead teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea



How to approach our task of Sipoo?  The who?  Participation workshops, wandering site, reading materials?

  • Fairly simple process
  • Don’t hold big meetings, get loudmouths
  • Have kitchen table conversations with small groups of people to learn the community
  • Gather data, although it’s not sufficient, could be a waste of time
  • Client had spent 10 years and $10M gathering a room of data, data isn’t understanding
  • Want tracking skills, animal tracking through woods, not just one piece of data, but two or three corroborrating views
  • Looking for 10,000 foot view, repeatable patterns of data
  • Can do this in 2 weeks, if have the skills sets
  • Systems ecologists and systems biologists, permaculturalists can get a handle, trackers are best
  • Tracking people, data, how life works, how life has worked in the past
  • e.g. looking as a child, a teenager, as a young adult

Comment: approach of 3 generations back and 3 generations forward.  Sibbesborg has a history and a future

  • Have to take in the good and the bad



David Ing blogs at http://coevolving.com , photoblogs at http://daviding.com , and microblogs at http://ingbrief.wordpress.com . See .

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