(From a presentation by Robert Leaver for Metro-Pool on 05/29/2013)
Sustainability is no longer enough to get us where we need to go to heal the planet and take a better shot to help the species survive. We need resiliency and resilient practices, which, as you will see later in this post, can be in conflict with sustainable practices.
The Drivers of Resiliency
The pressure of three drivers are increasing...
- Frequency of extreme weather conditions with storms involving water and wind
- Population: by 2050 the world will exceed 10 billion people
- Need for more psychological security in the post 9-11 and the rash of killings of young kids
The presence of two drivers is decreasing...
- Natural resource limitations...check out the “Crash Course,” by Chris Martenson to see where every natural resource the economy has historically depended on is becoming less and less available
- There are fewer cars on the streets in some places. London has band cars in the core of the city and in America young people are opting out of owning cars preferring car sharing and public transit
A Shift is Occurring in the Builders of the Economy
In building the economy there is a shift from the use of land, labor, capital, which were the three resources in the industrial economy. Replacing land, labor and capital, in supremacy as economic builders are digital technology, know-how – especially local know-how that is geographically specific – and a sense of place where people and culture thrive.
There are four building blocks of our economy and nothing more:
- Growing food
- Making stuff
- Serving people
- Creating experience
These four building blocks are now converging with no one element in charge or supreme. It is becoming an integrated economy that mixes and matches the four elements in compelling combinations. Further, there is no such thing as a sustainable economy, creative economy or knowledge economy. Yes, the practices of ecological sustainability, creativity and knowledge will be used and blended to produce the four basic elements. One term like the creative economy no longer does the job because in Providence designers are counted as workers in both the creative and knowledge economies. This is double dipping.
Interestingly, today there is a renaissance in both growing food and making stuff.
Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institute observed that the recent economic downturn occurred because we over-relied on housing construction, retail and finance to carry the weight of creating economic growth. Katz sees that actual economic growth and wealth creation comes from manufacturing, innovation and exporting – the three areas the US failed to attend to enough in the last 15 years.
Here Forward, We Need More Resiliency and not Just Sustainability
Our zeitgeist is being shaped by two forces: sustainability and resiliency. They are not easy partners.
On one hand sustainability is about holding the planet together to support future generations. We become sustainable by reducing the use of natural resources and using resources more efficiently.
On the other hand resilience is what happens in the face of a shock to the system like a super storm Sandy. Resiliency means basic systems keep functioning and bounce back from the shock. Further the system learns from the shock and gets better.
Sustainability and resiliency is a creative tension to handle. For example, implicit in resilience is redundancy such as using generators to keep business technology functions going at places like Google, which is not the resource reduction or efficiency required in a sustainable approach.
In the aftermath of super storm Sandy, NYC defined a resilience framework and is implementing practices within it:
“The report's recommendations were based on five characteristics of resiliency: spare capacity (e.g. establishing backup systems, such as alternative transportation routes), flexibility (favoring "soft" solutions that can be modified over time, like improved hazard maps and evacuation plans), limited failure (designing infrastructure networks, especially power grids, to shutdown in pieces instead of wholes), rapid rebounds (initiating preemptive response strategies, like creating fleets of portable generators), and constantly learning.”
What does it mean to Think and Work Resiliently?
Remember John Naisbitt’s Megatrend of:”high tech, high touch”, where the more technology there is in place, the more we need the touch of others. The touch of others it what most makes communities resilient.
In the aftermath of extreme weather and too many young people getting innocently killed – as a species we are beginning to think differently.
Being Resilient requires a whole system in action using three kinds of resilience at the same time:
- Resilient structures like buildings; take a look at Alex Wilson’s passive survivability, where in the face of no energy available for heat, cooling or water, a building can support life inside it based on its design
- Resilient systems of energy, waste and information; check out urban metabolism where the waste of one system becomes the food for another
- Resilient communities of people and culture. In the Chicago heat wave several decades ago, and in super-storm Sandy, the people that survived had tight communal ties with each other. And the tight ties had nothing to do with class or income or race.
The Next Economy is Local and Global at the Same Time
The economy has evolved into a more complex array of production levels. Until the rise of the global economy the US the economy was mostly local and national. The global economy will still be viable, but regions and mega-regions and more local economies are on the rise. The once mighty national US economy is a pale comparison of its former self.
Today, we have an economy that operates on six levels of economic activity and production:
- What is made or sold at the micro level? Think of your home garden and your neighbor’s where you barter across the backyard fence as to who does the tomatoes and who does the lettuce and then you supply each other with what you need. Or the tool shed on the island on Martha’s Vineyard that provides residents access to community tools to borrow.
- What is made or sold locally?
- What is made or sold regionally?
- What is made or sold at the mega-region?
- What is made or sold nationally?
- What is made or sold globally?
Using a variety of factors like raw materials, labor costs unique local knowledge or shipping costs, it can be determined what products and services can efficiently be sold at which of the six levels.
Historically, producing economic activity was mostly place-based. Products were made locally and often exported. The increase use of digital technology has changed the game. Here are five examples where place and the sole use of local resources are not required in the production:
- Additive manufacturing with 3-D printing where one person in one place designs it, one person somewhere else “prints it as a made-thing and the third person buys it
- The physical college campus and the model of continuous tuition increases are unsustainable. Many colleges such as MIT, Harvard, Stanford and Brown are offering their courses online for free. This movement is called MOCC’s or massive open online courses.
- Over a decade ago, P&G abolished its in-house R&D and instead sources innovative product ideas online globally \
- The presence of big data, and global pipes to move the data, now allow university researchers to work collaboratively anywhere in the world
- Kick-Starter is an online source of capital funding for artisan projects. Un the US in 2012 the amount of capital raised exceed the entire budget of the National Endowment of the Arts
The Presence of Regionalism
Regionalism is not new. Historically there have been governments like the Martha’ Vineyard Planning Commission that governed certain planning functions among the six towns on the island. Or with public transit like the MBTA trains that bring passengers back and forth across state borders into RI or the Connecticut trains that go into NYC.
Regional collaboration is on the rise
- HUD’s Sustainable Communities program crosses state borders by working from the Pioneer Valley to Springfield MA and then down to Hartford CT
- Tourists visiting southern NE are more often traveling across state lines to experience the coast and the tourism organizations are working together so the tourist has a great regional experience
- Thirty plus regional technology networks exist in the US. These networks provide access to the Internet for colleges, hospitals, public schools, libraries and community anchor institutions. These networks often cross state lines and sell services to each other.
- Pawtucket and Central Falls RI are working together across municipal boundaries to become “Digitally Connected Cities”
To have more regional resiliency two things have to emerge on a regional basis: food production and distribution and, renewable energy production and distribution.