Innovation lies at the core of humanity’s growth. It brings reason and purpose to our race. Its landmarks, from automobiles, to computers, to spacecraft, lie just about everywhere you look. They are the proof of our capability. But as our devices become quicker and more compact, inevitable questions arise—how much further? and, what else is there to innovate?
Amidst the present day paradigm of ‘innovate or die’, we are entering the age of a new human challenge ‘renovate or die.’ The last two hundred years of industrial development, put us face to face with humanity’s harsh treatment of planet Earth. Global climate change is at the center stage of attention; the loss of biodiversity is at such a great rate that scientists are calling this the Sixth Great Extinction the world has ever known, the last being the extinction of the dinosaurs; hundreds of ‘dead zones’ rim the continents because of agriculture runoff; genetic engineering devastates the natural course of evolution.
For pessimists, this is an age of unsolvable crises. For optimists, and maybe even opportunists, this is a moment for the most sweeping innovation.
For pessimists, this is an age of unsolvable crises. For optimists, and maybe even opportunists, this is a moment for the most sweeping innovation. Solutions are already surfacing. The most successful models are using an entirely new template of innovation. In other words, the thinking and intentions behind the design are innovative.
The greatest innovation is the human renovation. It involves a complete redesign of design itself. Rather than making our music players smaller, and endowing our phones with further Internet access, we need to design and build social structures and economic systems that replicate nature’s model.
What does such a drastic change look like?
When the term ‘ecological community’ is used, most likely one imagines a richly diverse eco-system of plants and animals coexisting. For human living, ecological communities are no different. But more is necessary than installing solar panels and driving a ‘green’ car. Nature cycles and recycles all of its waste back into productive use. What if tomorrow we were forced to do the same? Nature grows not so much because of competition, but because of cooperation. What if we could think further than the next shareholder’s meeting? What if our living systems could self-propagate and grow each season?
The correlation between the people’s disconnection from one another, and our perceived disconnection from the natural environment, is no coincidence.
These are the types of questions that designers of ecological communities, or ‘ecovillages,’ wrestle with. In place of purchasing heavily packaged and processed foods from grocery stores, varieties are grown within the property bounds of the community or village. Since nature’s ‘agriculture’ is always growing in wide variety, designers of these villages often model a similar approach—permanent agriculture, or permaculture. Permaculture is a cooperative system of growing and raising one’s food source, in which the system begins to operate itself without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Further than providing for one’s food source, ecovillages must establish systems for modern transportation, building structure and expansion, consumer necessities and conveniences, education, and sometimes even monetary exchange. A successful ecovillage is truly the prize of innovation.
The design of a fully operational ecovillage begins from a different foundation than that of conventional towns and cities. And more than the concrete foundation is different. The designer’s paradigm must be a radical shift from the old to the new. Truly what it comes down to is perception—how humanity perceives itself amongst its natural environment. For example, it is not the climate crisis that needs protocols and policies in place, so much as it is the crisis of perception that needs aligning. Aligning our perception means to see the products of nature not with the lens of economic potential, but with their intrinsic value.
On nature’s stage, community is the main player. Competition is seen on the surface, say, when two dominant male buffalos challenge each other for a mate. But in truth, cooperation within nature’s community is essential for growth. For example, the decay and decomposition of organic matter, what we see on the surface as mushrooms and fungi, cycles back nourishment into the soils for new growth.
Within most ecovillages that have already sprung up around the world, cooperation is understood as the operation of the community. Everyone contributes for the benefit of the whole.
In a metropolitan center of five million people, where everybody owns and uses the most ‘innovative’ music players and cell phones, where white earplugs are always hooked in, and cell phones are always attached to the ear, the sense of community is lost. The correlation between the people’s disconnection from one another, and our perceived disconnection from the natural environment, is no coincidence.
If we can use our innovative capabilities to promote collective and sustained growth, we will be able to design self-operative communities that resemble nature’s model. With this new paradigm of innovation, we can return to the sense of community, and restore the last two hundred years of human imprint.
Global Whisperer Guy Walker is currently living and working in the Culdees Eco-Village in Scotland.