Tuesday, May 15, 2012


The idea that human habitation can be used as a tool to regenerate ecology is finally coming into its own after experimentation with projects all over the world. It's not a zero-sum game, it's a way of bringing together all the environmental and engineering factors together in a place such that it renews natural processes instead of destroying them. It takes a great deal of skill, knowledge and experience to work out the systems that result in the creation of place that interconnects all these factors. Many major corporate engineering, design and development firms are investing in think tanks to take this to the next level, such as Arup, a global design, planning and engineering firm.

Jerry Yudelson's moderation of a panel at Greenbuild 2011, hosted by the Green Building Council in Toronto, centered on a discussion of Ecodistricts. An ‘ecodistrict’ is an urban planning term for a specific section of an urban area, whether a neighborhood, school campus, industrial park, etc. that can operate as a self-contained and self-sufficient entity, while remaining connected to other adjacent ecodistricts. This concept is widely used throughout Europe and parts of Asia, but is still relatively unknown here in North America. The ecodistrict concept brings technologies such as district heating, decentralized wastewater treatment, and local food production down to a manageable scale, both for construction and financing.

Howver, many of our college, university and school campuses in the USA are designed with this fundamental concept as a basis for infrastructure design because of the efficiencies involved. The use of ecology as part of its inherent function is the more advanced and recent application of the "green" ethos. Shared resources and local sourcing go beyond just the idea of energy conservation or LEED buildings, since systems and supply chains are integrated with biological systems to regenerate the local ecology. Major firms have developed this expertise, for example the Bioengineering Group, which is entirely about solving these kinds of challenges.

Urban areas are capable of tremendous regeneration, as well as becoming a node for this kind of intelligence in managing ecologies for the better. These nodes of density can also be nodes of regeneration given that the systems are synergistic and balance off of each other. The World Futures Council has developed an outline policy that can be used as a template for this kind of organic, metabolic pattern of habitation.

Thus regeneration is necessarily the paradigm of the future, and it doesn't need to be a bleak vision of dense boxes and rigid limits. Life is abundant if it is handled intelligently and reverently, something our mechanistic societies have taken thousands of years to figure out. Limits are the fount of creative thinking and living, and decisions made by a society for its best integration with natural systems and bounds will provide the needed resources and balance with natural environments. Our best engineers and designers are entirely capable of creating these systems if the will to make regeneration a priority exists in our societies.