Bill Reed on “The Practice of Living System Design”

Architect Bill Reed recently spoke at the Living Future 10 conference in Seattle. Reed, a principal at the Integrative Design Collaborative, was a founding board member of the US Green Building Council. Julia Levitt from Worldchanging wrote a nice piece about Reed’s talk, which was part of a panel entitled, “Integrating the Whole System — The Practice of Living Systems or Regenerative Design.” (A video and transcript will be forthcoming on the Living Futures website.)

Reed was just one of many fascinating speakers at what must have been a marvelous event. Check out this item from Worldchanging for more coverage.

Some excerpts of Levitt’s piece:

[Reed] opened by offering two big questions to the audience: if sustainability is about sustaining life, then what is life about? What will our design practices and organizations look like if we are intentional about sustainability?

“Sustainable” and “regenerative” are words which, when spoken conscientiously, evoke a much more comprehensive and long-term vision than “green,” “recycled,” or even “energy efficient.” Even “carbon neutral,” he argued, isn’t really his idea of sustainability. If the ultimate goal is to replicate nature and to create systems for sheltering and feeding ourselves that are truly regenerative, it’s important to recognize that sustainability is not the same as zero.

“‘[D]o you want to do LEED, or do you want sustainability?’

It seemed that in his experience, many have simply become so used to thinking at the level of individual, segregated components that they’re unable to easily see the system or their place within it. In order to think systemically, one needs to reestablish relationships; to feel connected and to care; to be personal and up-close rather than academic and arm’s-length. To underline this point, Reed quoted Wendell Berry: “no one ever called his home an ‘environment.’”

As he put it, it’s important to remember that “living systems aren’t just about buildings and things. The people who work on them are regenerated, also.”

Earlier this year, Reed spoke on “The Practice of Living System Design” as part of a lecture series sponsored by the Boston Society of Architects. His talk addressed “the need to redevelop a conscious understanding of the whole system of life-giving processes that shape the places we live in order to reintegrate our building—and our communities—with life on Earth.”

William Reed: The Practice of Living System Design from BSA on Vimeo.

A couple of tidbits from the talk:

Sustainable design “is not just carbon neutral…it’s fundamentally about our relationship with place.”

Restoration…doesn’t mean restoring something to its original condition…It actually means restoring an ecological subsystem to the condition where it has the ability to self-organize and evolve.

The talk is well worth watching. Reed imparts his wealth of knowledge and experience about integrative ecological design.

Nature in the City: promoting community-based ecological stewardship

With its focus on regional stewardship and “re-inhabiting the land,” the following item from Peter Brastow resonated with me.

Brastow directs Nature in the City, a project of the Earth Island Institute that focuses on local ecology and stewardship in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nature in the City recently celebrated its fifth anniversary.

Last week I experienced an acute episode of realizing that our message of community-based ecological stewardship is missing still, not only in the public-at-large, but also even within the environmental activist community. This realization repeats itself over and over again and in fact, was largely the justification for the Nature in the City Symposium at World Environment Day 2005.

Peter Berg of Planet Drum expresses eloquently that real sustainability must be grounded in a bioregionalist perspective whereby people are aware of and living in harmony with the natural systems of which we are all a part. But the broader environmental community seems to continue to limit the definition of sustainability to green buildings & technologies, recycling and clean energy.

The lack of attention to protecting and connecting with our city’s ecology is a function of our larger society’s fundamental and wholesale disconnection from nature. We have culturally evolved as a species to become totally separate, physically and psychologically, from the rest of nature. Most humans nowadays pretty much operate in the modern human realm as sort of a layer on top of the rest of nature, uncaringly and/or unknowingly exploiting the rest of the biosphere. We go about our daily lives without the slightest understanding of the nature and biodiversity all around us; including while performing all of the critical “green” tasks of installing solar panels, achieving zero waste, and closing the “ecological” loop, as it were.

“Green” and “ecological” are in quotes because well-meaning folks use the terms without any understanding of our local ecology, of the native plants, animals, and habitats that characterize San Francisco’s natural heritage. Inspired by the philosophy of bioregionalism, we at Nature in the City aim to demonstrate the way to break down the nature-culture dichotomy by physically, materially connecting people and nature where we live, everywhere.

When we physically re-inhabit the land, we derive mental, physical and spiritual health and well-being and a deepened sense of place and meaning in our lives, learning more intimately how we are interconnected with all other living things; we restore a more positive relationship of mutuality whereby local nature also benefits from our careful stewardship by becoming healthier and more abundant. Two weeks ago, we learned that the Green Hairstreak butterfly found its way to one of our brand new stewardship sites at 14th and Pacheco along the corridor between its two remaining populations in the Hawk Hill and Rocky Outcrop natural areas. We photographed an individual on a coast buckwheat – one of the two host plant species for the butterfly – that we planted between the streets!!

Re-creating healthy, positive relationships with nature is revolutionary, because it means rethinking how we live on the planet, globally, and in our own communities, neighborhoods and backyards. Evolving a new culture of community ecological stewardship is ecological sustainability. If we are to survive on this planet amidst natural beauty and abundance, we must learn how to recreate an actual physical, sustainable relationship with the rest of nature by taking care of the land and healing our ancient human-nature relationship, becoming, literally, part of the natural history of San Francisco.

[links and highlights are from the original note]

Next, I’ll post some thoughts inspired by this letter.