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Designing from place: A regenerative framework and methodology

  • Regenesis Institute for Regenerative Practice

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The radical changes required for Earth to 'remain fit for human habitation' require a change in worldviews from 'mechanistic' to 'ecological'. A key question is: how can those working on the built environment - a field with major impact on global resources and systems - best support a smooth and timely transition? It is proposed that design practitioners can facilitate that response in the built environment through the development, application and evolution of comprehensive new methodologies, explicitly shaped by a regenerative sustainability paradigm. It is further proposed that successfully evolving a regenerative practice requires going beyond just adopting new techniques to taking on a new role for humans and designers, and a 'new mind', and learning how to work 'developmentally'. As an example of how a consciously held worldview shapes a practice, an actual regenerative methodology, developed and evolved over 16 years of practice, is explored in detail. A framework, adapted from accepted scientific methodology protocols, is used to structure this exploration, differentiating the different elements and levels, showing how they work as an integrated system and revealing the underlying premises and assumptions behind the choice of aims, strategies, methods and progress indicators.
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Designing from Place:
A Regenerative Framework and Methodology
Pamela Mang and Bill Reed
Regenesis Group, 1219 Luisa Street, Suite 5, Santa Fe, NM 87505, USA
Email: and
The radical changes required for Earth to “remain fit for human habitation” require a change in
worldviews from 'mechanistic' to 'ecological'. A key question is: how can those working on the
built environment—a field with major impact on global resources and systems - best support a
smooth and timely transition? It is proposed that design practitioners can facilitate that response
in the built environment through the development, application and evolution of comprehensive
new methodologies, explicitly shaped by a regenerative sustainability paradigm. It is further
proposed that successfully evolving a regenerative practice requires going beyond just adopting
new techniques to taking on a new role for humans and designers, and a “new mind,” and
learning how to work “developmentally.” As an example of how a consciously held worldview
shapes a practice, an actual regenerative methodology, developed and evolved over 16 years of
practice, is explored in detail. A framework, adapted from accepted scientific methodology
protocols, is used to structure this exploration, differentiating the different elements and levels,
showing how they work as an integrated system and revealing the underlying premises and
assumptions behind the choice of aims, strategies, methods, and progress indicators.
Key words: regenerative development and design, living systems, place, story, permaculture
Article accepted for publication in the Journal: Building Research & Information
Publisher: Routledge
Informa Ltd. Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954
Registered office: Mortimer House,
37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK
Please ask for permission before circulating further.
Contact: Pamela Mang at
or Bill Reed at
The regenerative sustainability paradigm, as described in du Plessis (2012), is emerging out of
the transition from a 'mechanistic' to an 'ecological' or living systems worldview. The premise
held by du Plessis and others that the radical changes required for Earth to “remain fit for human
habitation” cannot happen without this transition in worldview complexi and practices makes the
stakes in this particular transition very high indeed. (ibid, Metzner, 1999; Elgin & LeDrew,
1997). ii Though often marked by phenomenal creativity, these transitions are also prone to
struggle, confusion and even stagnation. How then can those who work on the built
environment—a field that has a disproportionate affect on global resources and systems - best
support a smooth and timely transition?
Transitions to new worldviews “take hold” as the new paradigms they give rise to become
embedded across disciplines and fields of endeavor, increasingly being manifested as accepted
standards, protocols and processes. This embedding process is enabled at the practice level by
the development and application of comprehensive methodologies that are consciously rooted in
the new worldview complex. (Kuhn, 1962, Sanford & Mang, 1992) The first step toward
development and application of such methodologies is awareness of how one’s worldview,
(which “acts as a ‘filter’ through which phenomena are perceived and comprehended”)
influences which methods are chosen and how they are applied. (Miller & West, 1993, p. 3)
Discussions of regenerative approaches that start with descriptions, examples and assessments of
specific methods or techniques miss this step and the deeper understanding and judgment that
could otherwise be achieved. This paper explores an actual regenerative methodology as an
example of how a consciously held worldview shapes new practices that can support a smooth
and timely transition within the built environment.
The early regenerative practitioners who developed this methodology drew explicitly on an
ecological worldview, and over the past 16 years further evolved their understanding of that
worldview complex and the methodology through their practice. The framework depicted in
Figure 1 provides the structure for this exploration. It is used as a lens for differentiating the key
elements and levels of this methodology, and seeing how they work together in a practice as an
integrated system.
The framework in Figure 1 is adapted from protocols developed for scientific/academic research
in order to reveal the thinking behind the choice and application of particular methods, tools and
strategies (i.e. resources), and relate their use to specified aims. (Mang, 2009; Kothari, 1990). It
has three levels or tiers:
1. the philosophical assumptions and principles that provide both the “lens” and the
underlying rationale for organizing, choosing, applying and interpreting particular
2. the overall system of methods or processes that guides and structures work in a
systematic and disciplined way
3. specific methods, techniques and tools utilized in the work.
The first tier assumptions, which reflect the system of beliefs or worldview complex held by the
researcher or practitioner, shape the thinking behind tier two (development of the overall
framework/strategy for the work) and tier three (the menu of specific technologies/methods seen
as appropriate to the methodology). The overall strategy in tier two in turn shapes the specific
methods selected and how they are adapted for use in a specific project.
The framework is useful for understanding, assessing and evolving the thinking that can create
and evolve a regenerative methodology. By tracing the thinking further “upstream”, i.e., from
source (worldview/paradigm) to application, it also can enrich the dialogue taking place among
advocates for a sustainable built environment.
The example of a regenerative methodology presented here is drawn from an actual practice.iii
Using the methodology framework as a lens, some of the key underlying premises and concepts
are explored further.
Regenerative Methodology Tier
I: Underlying Premises and
The four underlying premises, and the
interpretation of six core organizing concepts
are explored. These are considered by the
authors to be particularly significant in
differentiating the regenerative development
and design methodology described here.
Worldviews are coherent systems of beliefs
that shape how individuals interpret and
interact with the world by shaping how they
think and, consequently, what they think about.
They define what can be known or done and
how, and what goals should or even can be
pursued. (Koltko-Rivera, 2004) The beliefs
and assumptions they include are
“superordinate in that they provide the
epistemic and ontological foundations for other
beliefs within a belief system” (Koltko-Rivera,
2006, pp. 11).
Importance of Tier One
Each time design practitioners select a particular set of methods and techniques to address a
design problem or to measure and evaluate the solution, they express, implicitly or explicitly,
what they believe is the ethically appropriate way to work based on their worldview complex.
Though the rationale for decisions is usually explicit (e.g., why this amount of floor space or this
HVAC system; etc.) the rationale for choosing the methods by which the decisions are made is
usually implicit to the point of invisibility. While accepted research protocol requires articulation
of the premises that provide the rationale for how work is conducted and interpreted, such rigor
is generally not necessary in the day-to-day work of a design practice. This becomes a significant
barrier when seeking to integrate, or move between different sustainability approaches that are
products of very different worldview complexes.
When a worldview complex becomes invisible, it circumscribes the capacity to evolve one’s
work. On the other hand, when conscious, it can “provide us a pattern for the ongoing evolution
of ourselves and our organizations (helping) us improve our way of working… (and providing)
guidance in regard to evolving the self engaged in the doing as well as the doing itself.” (Krone,
1992, pp. 3-4)
Figure 2: Maps the relationship of the key
elements of the Regenerative Development
and Design Methodology against the
methodology framework shown in Fig.1.
Premises of regenerative methodology
1. Role of Humans. Green or eco-efficient design is insufficient because it misses the real
potential that arises out of the human presence on this planet: the possibility of organizing
human activities so that they continuously feed and are fed by the living systems within
which they occur. It is not enough to aspire to mitigate the effects of human activity—
people need to take their place again as a part of nature.
From this perspective, regenerative development and design means the reconnection of
human aspirations and activities with the evolution of natural systems—essentially co-
evolution. It means shifting human communities and economic activities back into
alignment with life processes. It implies every human settlement organizing itself around
evolving its watershed's capacity to support life. The creative and economic activities of
human communities can be directed toward the development of human potential through
harmonization of and with the dynamic energies of nature.
This is not preservation of an ecosystem, nor is it restoration. Instead, it is the continual
evolution of culture in relationship to the evolution of life. This defines the work of
2. A New Mind. The first step on the path to regenerative work is not a change of
techniques but a change of mind. This entails bringing a new way of thinking about how
buildings are planned, designed, constructed and operated, as well as about the roles of
designers and inhabitants. Change of mind is not just adopting a few new “mental
models.” It means bringing an entirely new mind, one that holds a very different
worldview and approaches the world from a very different paradigm than what has
shaped buildings for centuries. (Haggard et al, 2006; Lyle, 1984, 1994) As Ben Haggard
describes it, “Regenerative development derives much of its creative power from a
fundamental shift of focus, a flipping of paradigms. Rather than seeing a site, or a
development project, as a collection of things (slopes, drainages, roads, buildings, etc.), a
regenerative designer cultivates the ability to see them as energy systems —webs of
interconnected dynamic processes that are continually structuring and restructuring a
site.” (Haggard, 2002)
3. A New Role. The ecological worldview and the regenerative paradigm have significant
implications for the role of the designer as well as the process and definition of design.
The role of a gardener, particularly if seen as a gardener in and of place, is a useful
metaphor for exploring the role of design and designers in a regenerative practice.
(Ramo, 2010) A gardener is consciously designing an ecosystem, nested within other
ecosystems, in order to create and maintain the conditions for healthy growth through
seasonal cycles and environmental perturbations. Success clearly requires an
understanding of how living systems work, or 'ecoliteracy' (Orr, 1992). A regenerative
practitioner designs an ecosystem that integrates natural and human living systems to
create and sustain greater health for both. In addition to ecoliteracy, the participatory and
co-creative nature of a regenerative process also requires psychological and cultural
literacy, and the ability to tap the latent creativity of a community by weaving broader
sets of expertise and insight into the design process (Landry, 2006; Mang, 2009).
4. Working Developmentally. Regeneration depends on a developmental process that improves the
value of the whole, works to take systems to the next level, and evokes a set of higher order aims.
Organizing and Ordering Concepts
Within the larger influence of the ecological worldview, six specific concepts shaped the
regenerative sustainability paradigm and how Regenesis developed its practice: regeneration,
development + design, place, pattern literacy, story, and potential.
Differing worldviews contribute to the ambiguity with regard to the meaning of 'regeneration'.
From a mechanistic worldview, it makes sense to argue, as some engineering firms have done,
that closed loop systems are both regenerative and universally applicable, needing only to be
scaled up or down to fit a particular project. From an ecological worldview, such a use of the
term would be nonsensical since regeneration is an inherent capacity within a living and open
system. The authors' definition of regeneration reflects the ecological perspective and is perhaps
best understood in the context of a systemic framework known as the Levels of Work.
Developed by organizational architect and systems thinker Charles Krone in the 1970s (Krone,
1992), the framework draws from living systems theory and the work of David Bohm. It depicts
four levels of work that every living system or entity must continually engage in if it is to be
sustainable in a world that is nested, dynamic, complex, interdependent and evolving. The levels
form a hierarchy, with the bottom two focused on working on existence (what is already
manifested) or “below the line work,” and the top two involving work on potential (what exists
but is not yet manifested), “above the line work.” The framework indicates how to continually
evolve the value-generating capacity of a system as a whole by revealing its potential in
relationship to larger systems. Krone’s original terms for each level are depicted in Figure 3.
Figure 3: Levels of Work Framework
Existence Potential
(Explicate Order) (Implicate Order)
One of the challenges in expanding the use of regenerative approaches is that they are often seen
as alternatives to or in competition with other sustainability practices, inviting an either/or
choice. Understanding regeneration as a series of differentiated levels of work offers an
ecosystem perspective which can reveal both the interrelatedness and necessary
interdependence of the different sustainability approaches, as well as the distinctive niche
each occupies. For example, the green building movement focuses on increasing efficiency of
energy and material use, removing variances such as toxicity, and achieving standards through
capable and disciplined practice. Thus, it is at the 'operate' level of work. At the 'maintain' level
of work are efforts focused on resilience (e.g., the Transition Towns movement). They endeavor
to maintain the desired effect and effectiveness of operations in the face of perturbations and
environmental uncertainty.
Failure to skillfully manage these two lower levels of work can easily threaten the entity’s very
existence, usually depleting the larger systems in which it resides. Indeed, it was the recognition
of this failure in the building and development industry that gave rise to green building to begin
with. Inability to manage these two levels also undermines any efforts at regeneration or
systemic improvement—many a project designed to stimulate neighborhood or community
regeneration has crashed due to basic organizational incompetence, or failure to anticipate and
prepare for outside challenges.
At the same time, engaging in only 'operate' and 'maintain' work in an ecological world is equally
hazardous from a sustainability standpoint. Work below the line deals only with what is already
in existence and therefore ruled by entropy. If engagement is limited to those realms, then it is
impossible to move beyond slowing the rate of depletion and degradation—materially,
psychically and spiritually. In a continually evolving world, evolution is, in Kauffman’s (1995)
terms, the primary concern, and sustainability is a process for meeting this concern. This requires
all four levels working in consonance. Regeneration or regenerate level work produces “the field
within which the improvement of living systems can take place,” and provides a coalescing
direction wherein “all levels of work become an integrated whole, and distinctively higher levels
of ideal, practice, and actual performance and value generation are attainable” (Krone, 1988-95).
The influence of the levels of work framework can be seen in a number of aspects of the
regenerative technologies and methods described below, including the emphasis on starting with
revealing the essence/potential of place, then the role of the project within that, as the coalescing
and direction setting context for aligned engagement at the other levels of work.
This concept is a necessary corollary to regeneration. In large part, regenerative design
continues to be seen as a vehicle for reversing the damage caused by source-to-sink one-way
flows, and creating self-renewing resource systems, as articulated in John Tillman Lyle’s (1994)
pioneering work. Narrowing the purpose of regenerative design to this, the first order or
threshold work of sustainability, largely ignores wider applications (economic, agricultural,
education, cultural, etc.) (Lyle, 1993, 1994). Additionally, this narrow scope is often defined
within the boundaries of different professional disciplines rather than seeing these disciplines as
parts of an integrated system that includes community engagement and stewardship.iv
This narrowing diminishes the concept of regenerative design. Proponents of regenerative
development argue that, in light of this, it is even more important to see regenerative design and
regenerative development as necessary corollaries, i.e. distinct yet synergistic aspects of a
regenerative methodology essential to ensuring the broader and deeper scope of engagement
required. v
It is possible to characterize the work of regenerative development as having two interdependent
aspects: 1) It determines the right phenomena to work on, or to give form to, in order to inform
and provide direction for design solutions that can realize the greatest potential for evolving a
system, and 2) It builds the capability and the field of commitment and caring in which
stakeholders step forward as co-designers and ongoing stewards of those solutions.
Regenerative design works within this direction and field, applying a system of technologies and
strategies based on an understanding of the inner working of ecosystems (living systems) to give
“form” to processes that can generate new and healthier patterns in a place. (Lyle, 1984)
Place. Place is defined here as the unique, multi-layered network of living systems within a
geographic region that results from the complex interactions, through time, of the natural
ecology (climate, mineral and other deposits, soil, vegetation, water and wildlife, etc.) and
culture (distinctive customs, expressions of values, economic activities, forms of association,
ideas for education, traditions, etc.).
The regenerative paradigm asserts that development can and should contribute to the capacity of
all of the natural, cultural, and economic systems that it affects in a place (to grow and evolve
their health and ongoing viability). This is what Sanford calls the “quintessential top line” versus
the triple bottom line. (Sanford, 2011) The basis for this assertion lies in the power of the vital,
co-creative relationship between humans and the places they inhabit. Many scholars of place
argue that it is only in relationship to place that humans experience the intimacy and
responsibility to the living world and find a meaningful identity and role for themselves (Relph,
1976; Sack, 1977; Casey, 1996; Malpas, 1999, Berry, 1981; Cameron, 2002; Cresswell, 2004).vi
The regenerative paradigm returns place to its core position in human life, making it an integral
part of the development and design process. As a coalescing context, it serves as the basis for
illuminating what has shared meaning for all human and natural stakeholders, bigger than any
one issue or cause, and thereby for discovering how a project can become truly meaningful. It is
an organizing core in that understanding how a living place works becomes the touchstone for
organizing how the project needs to work as a living system nested in its place to achieve the
connectedness required for increasing mutuality of relationship.
Pattern literacy—understanding and generating patterns
Complexity science, which emerged toward the end of the last century, is the study of the
systems that populate the ecological world—variously called complex, complex adaptive and
living systems. In a complex or living system the "whole is much more than the sum of its
parts… No amount of information at the level of the individual component can reveal the
organizational pattern of the system.” (Amarala, 2004, p. 148) The core focus of complexity
science thus is not on parts, but rather on understanding patterns of relationships between parts
as clues to understanding how these systems are sustained, how they self-organize and how
emergent outcomes are produced. And, living systems theory would add, as clues to their
evolutionary potential (Von Bertalanffy, 1968, Capra, 1996.
The problem arises when a complex system is treated as a complicated system, which has been
the case with both conventional and green building site assessments and designs. When seeing
sites and their surrounding area as complicated systems, the tendency to rely on quantitative
measurements of the component parts (soil, water, etc.) simply expands what’s being measured
to meet new sustainability standards. The resultant proliferation of data is not only
unmanageable, it fails to provide understanding of the living qualities of a site and its place.
Ironically, this can result in a failure to protect what was initially intended.vii
The caring about a mutuality of relationship that comes from deepening connection with a living
place is essential to launching and sustaining a regenerative process. But caring about any living
entity without understanding how it works can lead (and has led) to well intentioned but
ultimately damaging interventions. What then is the role of data and metrics in this fluid,
dynamic, relationship-dominated world? How does one develop (and sustain) sufficient
understanding of one’s living place—an equally fluid, dynamic and multi-leveled entity, to
create an intimacy of relationship between that place and a project? The concept of pattern
literacy offers a solution.
As the language of relationship, pattern has been utilized from the earliest history of humans
seeking to engage intelligently with their world. As complex, dynamic relationships, patterns and
the organizing core of a place cannot be measured, weighed and quantified in the way structures
or isolated flows can. They cannot be discerned with a snapshot in time, or even a series of
snapshots through time. Marvick and Murphy (1998) describe the mental process required as
continual iterations of “scanning and honing” in which objects or data become background
unless they emerge as pattern clues in the form of nodes, anomalies, paradoxes and attractors.
They provide a sophisticated and detailed description of how reading or understanding patterns
reveals the underlying energy flows, both actual and potential, shaping a system. A pattern can
reveal the directionality and strength of flows (wind, water, foot traffic, etc.), the nature of the
medium the flows pass through and around, as well as how form emerges. (ibid, Michael &
Meacham, 1998). Using pattern literacy to “read” the landscape thus provides the relational
understanding required to design a built environment that harmonizes with and contributes to
these flows.
It is not surprising that permaculture, an ecological design system, was ahead of its time in
recognizing the need to bring a pattern-based approach not only to understanding the metabolism
of a place, but also to creating human systems whose metabolic patterns resonate with and
amplify the metabolic patterns of their place:
“The core insight of permaculture is the idea that we can shift from dominance to intimacy
with nature through mutually beneficial interaction with the entity of place. This depends
on knowing ‘place’ on the level of relationship. Patterns are significant because they reveal
relationship dynamics and what is at the core of how a place organizes and orders itself.”
(Marvick & Murphy, 1998, p. 24)
Story of Place
Stories enable individuals and groups to grasp and share complex wholes and collectively
imagine the future differently. They have been used throughout human history to maintain a
culture’s integrity and connection to place over millennia (song lines, epic poems, myths, etc.).
Research shows that the human memory is story based, not data based, and that stories are
fundamental to how people learn and organize what they know. (Schank, 1995). More recently,
Berry, Korten and Denning among others have explored the role of stories as powerful agents of
change. (Berry, 1981; Korten, 2006; Denning, 2000 & 2004) Through creating “story fields,”
they “permeate psycho-social space and influence the lives of those connected to them.” (Atlee,
2003, para. 9). Both aspects were developed and are employed in Regenesis’ development and
use of Story of Place as a method for deepening connection to and growing harmony with place.
A story is a coherent organization of information, and of the relationships and connections
between discrete pieces of information and different types of information. An underlying
narrative structure enables relating this information and these relationships and connections in a
way that reveals a holistic, understandable picture.
The Story of Place as a context serves multiple purposes. First, history has shown that a society
will not sustain the will needed to make and maintain the needed changes, day after day, without
evoking the spirit of caring that comes from a deep connection to place. Second, discovering the
story of a place enables us to understand how living systems work in that place, and provides
greater intelligence about how humans can then align themselves with that way of working to the
benefit of all. Finally, the Story of Place provides a framework for an ongoing learning process
that enables humans to co-evolve with their environment.
Stories have the power to deepen connection to the underlying intrinsic beauty and value that a
place has to offer. In addition, stories can create collective identity, meaning and purpose to
bridge divides and foster collaboration (Relph, 1976; Prechtel, 2004; Cameron, 2002; Forbes,
2006; Mang 2009). viii
One of the challenges for regenerative development is how to extend a regenerative process
beyond the design or even construction phase of a project. The exploration of story as a change
agent, and the concept of “story fields” offers some promising insights into how this can work. If
the dialogue initiated around the project produces a “storying” process that people experience as
authentic in action as well as word, it can move out from the project into and across the
community, sourcing what Atlee (2009) calls a new “story field.” In this sense, a project has an
acupuncture effect that ripples out far beyond its direct impact.
Potential is defined in dictionaries as “the inherent capacity for coming into being, for growth
and development.” From living systems theory, all living systems are distinguished by a unique
essence, and all have, based on that uniqueness, an inherent potential which they are moving
toward or away from, depending on their state of integrity and vitality or health.
Living systems are both comprised of smaller systems nested within them and are also nested
within larger systems, and there is a mutuality of interest between and among the different levels
based on the energies that are exchanged up and down the different scales. (Capra, 1996 Sanford,
2011) For example, a home is nested within a neighborhood, which is nested within a
community, which in turn is nested within a watershed. Recognizing all of these levels as living
systems enables seeing their mutuality of interest, something that is less evident when they are
segregated into categories of the natural and built environments.
From a regenerative sustainability paradigm perspective, development always looks for potential
in relation to the larger systems in which an entity is nested, i.e. what an entity has the potential
to be or become that will contribute to their vitality and viability.ix A regenerative design works
to develop patterns of relationship between the entity and the larger system that generate a
cascade of capacity development up and down system scales.
Regenerative Methodology Tiers 2 & 3: Technologies, System of
Methods and Tools
The Regenesis Group posited that a regenerative approach was possible only if it included
technologies (i.e. methodologies with a scientific basis) for the following three dimensions:
Theoretical systemic frameworks that enable comprehending and envisioning complex living
systems, and the ecosystem of place in particular, as dynamic wholes evolving and changing
through time
An ecologically based design system for practical and innovative place-specific insights and
on-the-ground solutions;
A systemic process for engaging the people who will need to sustain and develop the process
over time
Regenesis fused three distinct though complementary approaches—living systems thinking,
permaculture, and developmental change processes—as their basis for developing and evolving a
regenerative methodology.
Living Systems Thinking
The shift to an ecological worldview demands a new way of thinking that can comprehend a
world comprised of systems versus building blocks. Living Systems Thinking was originally
developed by Charles Krone to enable thinking about organizations as living systems—what
organizes and orders them, how they are structured, how they evolve, etc. It uses systemic
frameworks and developmental processes to consciously improve the capacity to apply systems
thinking to the evolution of human or social and natural living systems. This approach requires
that the person applying this way of thinking see what they are working on as a system of
energies or life processes, rather than as things (or even as a system of things). It begins by trying
to see what is at the core of a system, around which the system organizes and orders itself. It
looks at the web or larger context of reciprocal relationships within which it is embedded, since
all systems are comprised of smaller systems and are part of larger systems. Together these
aspects provide the basis for illuminating the potential inherent in a living system that it is
attempting to manifest. This constant reaching toward being more whole, being more “alive,” is
seen as the fuel for regeneration.
Permaculture is a design system that develops and applies the ability to discern the patterns that
are structuring both natural and human systems, and to generate new patterns that weave the
human and natural together into a dynamic whole. This patterning skill enables the assessment
and articulation of the distinctive character or essence of a place, which is then reflected in a
wide array of optimizing design solutions and management techniques that have the effect of
beneficially linking elements that are often treated as discrete (e.g. road systems that serve as
water harvesting structures and erosion control features while supporting windbreak, wildlife
habitat, and firebreak functions).
Developmental Change Processes
Finally, drawing on their members’ background as educators and change agents, Regenesis
evolved an approach to place assessment and project design that engages communities and
design teams in a dialogue to evolve higher and higher orders of aspiration and understanding.
This approach uses the power of storytelling, and the creation of a “story field” that shifts the
focus to seeing the whole system and what it is attempting to become instead of focusing on
problem solving and conflict resolution. In other words, stakeholders see themselves as having a
stake in the potential that needs to be evolved, rather than in a struggle over what exists.
The approach utilizes developmental processes that always integrate two types of work: (i)
actualizing work that is creating or making something actual, and (ii) potentializing work that is
building capacity. In other terms, even as the process works to actualize a new system, everyone
engaged is also working on self-actualization. This nature of process opens the door to creative
collaboration and mutual respect across disciplines, between laypersons and professionals, and
even among historically antagonistic constituencies. In the case of development and design, this
approach requires a truly open process on the part of the development team, one in which the
vision and planning for a development is emergent—growing out of the emerging understanding
of a place that comes from this ongoing community dialogue.
System of Processes: A Framework
Figure 4 depicts the three phases: Understanding/Conceptualizing Right Relationship to Place,
Designing for Harmony, and Co-Evolution, that emerged as essential to this methodology, and
the three developmental processes: Growing Stakeholder Partnerships, Living Systems
Thinking, and Integrative Developmental Processes, that are key to creating and sustaining the
holism required to make this an evolutionary spiral, growing systemic capacity as it actualizes a
project. The following sections give an overview of how each phase unfolds, and how the three
process drivers play out, including some examples of activities, the theoretical bases they draw
from, and the mentation involved. Each phase of the process is designed to develop and extend
appreciation of and caring about all of the enfolded, interdependent dimensions that create a
place and the meaning it holds for its inhabitants. This deepening of connection to place is seen
as a vital source for the continuity of caring essential to extending the regenerative process
beyond the initial project. Note: the phases overlap and are cyclical. Examples of some of the
methods and techniques developed as a part of this methodology (Tier 3) are included in the
phases rather than listed separately.
Figure 4
Phase 1: Understanding and Conceptualizing Right Relationship to
Regenerative development begins with the recognition that each place is a dynamic entity with
its own unique history and future—growing and evolving, forming and decomposing,
continuously influenced by the larger system in which it is embedded.
The purpose of this phase is to understand the unique dynamics and potential of a site, project
and community in relationship to their living place, and to conceptualize how, through right
relationshipx, the project can be a regenerative force. The usual flow of the process is depicted in
Figure 5.
Defining Place
The context chosen for conducting research and assessments shapes what is seen as meaningful,
how meaning is shared and through that, how phenomena are understood. Thus the first task of
the assessment is to determine the reach of a place as the context for the work to follow. In
simple terms, this task starts by asking the question, “How big is here?” It is not always
immediately apparent, for as Kelly notes: “Wherever you live, your tiny spot is deeply
intertwined within a larger place, embedded fractal-like into a whole system called a watershed,
which is itself integrated with other watersheds into a tightly interdependent biome. At the
ultimate level, your home is a cell in an organism called a planet. All these levels interconnect.”
(Kelly, 2005, para. 1)
Integral Assessment: Emerging Core Patterns and Story of Place
Seeing the complexity that surrounds a site can be overwhelming if there is not a way to
understand it in relationship to individual and collective efforts. Another essential step in
regenerative development is thus being able to discern the core of a given place. The core is what
organizes all of the dynamics that comprise a place, giving it a recognizable character and nature.
Key to comprehending place as a living system or whole is understanding the ongoing and
distinctive core patterns from which it organizes the complex arrays of relationships that produce
its activities, its growth, and its evolution. These core patterns form the framework for the Story
of Place.
The emergence of a story begins with an Integral Assessment— a whole systems (cultural,
economic, geographic, climatic, and ecological) assessment of site and place as living systems,
to help project and community stakeholders understand the whole of their place as a means of
making sense of the overwhelming diversity of its parts. It lays the foundational understanding
and thinking required to see how humans can enable the health and continuing evolution of the
place and themselves as a part of it.
The assessment integrates information from a wide range of sources and disciplines, including
site visits, existing data, reports and maps, and interviews. It seeks patterns that are present both
historically and currently across natural, social and economic sectors.
Dialogue to
Concept for
Phase 1: Understanding and Conceptualizing Right Relationship to Place
Figure 5:
Story of
Process FlowPhase 1
The narrative structure or framework for Story of Place emerges through developing a pattern
understanding of how the geological, natural, and human history and culture have interwoven
through time to create the unique nature of a place. Out of that understanding a set of core
organizing patterns emerges that provides a science-based narrative framework.
Pattern understanding is key to this process. As mentioned above, this allows for understanding
the complex, dynamic relationships that constitute a place. The resulting story framework has
two dimensions: (i) the core organizing patterns depicting the working of a place which reflect
its unique character or essence, and (ii) the “vocation” of the place—what it uniquely has the
potential to contribute to the larger system in which it forms a part.
Stakeholder Dialogue/Guideline Development
At the end of the first phase of the assessment process, the assessment team relates the stories
they saw and heard that illustrate the emerging story framework, and invite local participants to
test the initial candidate against their own experience of place, sharing stories that resonate with
and/or refine the story framework. Out of the reflective dialogue with the design team and
community stakeholders shared meaning emerges around “who” that place is as a living whole—
its unique essence and potential, how it fits in the world, and what the role of those who inhabit it
can be as collaborators in its evolution. A first set of place-sourced guidelines, principles and
concepts for the design and the design and construction process are developed while the story
field is still alive in the group. The dialogue continues to unfold through and beyond the design
process by a sharing of stories that reflect both local experiences and the perspectives of different
specialists. These stories are transparently rooted in a shared understanding of place. As a
consequence, they can serve to increase confidence in the integrity of the project and its
aspirations, and provide a basis for reconciling differences.
One of the things that emerges from the assessment and the engagement around Story of Place is
an appreciation both of nature’s role and of the co-creative interplay between nature and culture.
Stepping back from the individual parts opens up a new level of appreciation, learning and
potential from seeing nature as master developer, continuously developing a site in harmony with
its unique character to create optimum conditions for generating and sustaining life.
From Understanding to Concept: Seeing Systemic Regenerative Roles
Every project begins with some activating idea of what it seeks to create and why. Revisiting that
idea within the systemic context of a living place almost always reveals much greater potential
than had been initially seen, evolving the aspirations for the project and providing the basis for
conceiving the regenerative role it could play.
When a project is grounded in a rich patterned understanding of its place, and its design and
construction is guided by a concept that envisions its role and potential within that place, it
enables formerly fragmented problems to be addressed as part of a whole system in the
overarching context of that potential. One result: even small interventions can ripple out into
large systemic benefits.xi
The mental process used for evolving a regenerative concept has three steps. In addition to
conventional methods of evaluation, these steps require the subjective engagement in questions
of meaning and purpose by all those who will be involved in a project — designers, developers,
builders, community stakeholders, and end users:
1. Envisioning higher order potential. This is based on understanding the place in terms of its
core nature and ask: “What could this place really be like if it lived up to its full potential and
vocation—what are its “aspirations and what is it called to contribute?”
2. Appreciating project aims and aspirations. Understanding the site’s potential becomes a
foundation for fresh thinking about the project itself: "What is the purpose of this project as
now defined—i.e., who and what is it serving and how? What is the meaning of
accomplishing that? Why is that significant in this place?”
3. Translating project aspirations and site understanding into a project concept. Key questions
are: “What does this place require of us? How could this project help it get there? How can
we redefine our purpose for this project in a way that clearly shows the connection between
doing good and doing well? Can we imagine the project in such a way that its success is tied
directly to the success of our efforts to regenerate the surrounding natural systems and
communities—i.e., the better those systems do, the more economically successful we are?”
The process starts by creating and maintaining a state of cognitive dissonance or dynamic tension
by holding in the collective “mind” of the team the two forces that need to be harmonized—the
larger potential of the place and the purpose of the project - while continuing to deepen
understanding and appreciation of both as separate entities until a reconciling concept emerges
that can serve and elevate both. Failure to discipline the mind to hold and appreciate the value
and meaning of both place and project long enough usually results in a compromise that serves
both partially, but fails to advance the whole.
Phase 2: Designing for Harmony with Place
Where the preceding phase illuminates the larger patterning that enables a place’s fullest
realization, and a project’s potential role within it, this phase defines the distinctive patterns that
need to be generated in and by a project in order to harmonize with that larger pattern.
Designing for pattern harmony optimizes the presence of people in a landscape, weaving what is
built into the living fabric of the land and local community. Pattern harmony means buildings
and infrastructure improve land and ecosystems, and the unique attributes of the land improve
the built environment and those who inhabit it. Synergy with the land and ecosystems leverages
the effectiveness of green design features and technologies, and lowers costs while improving
ecosystem health and productivity.
The three elements in Figure 6 depicting the dynamics involved in developing a project concept,
together with the design guidelines generated in the previous phase, serve as the touchstone for
this phase. By maintaining cognizance of them through increasingly detailed iterations of the
design and construction processes, they provide a source of creativity and alignment. This
presents a significant challenge given the complexity of development and the requirement for
broad stakeholder engagement in regenerative processes. One means for managing it is the use
of a core team. A core team’s “responsibility is not in day-to-day activities but to remember,
hold, and promote the core aim and higher aspirations of the project – to hold the core which
energizes the design process and on-going resiliency of the Place.” (Reed, 2009, p. 679). Its
membership reflects all the core constituencies whose involvement is required to successfully
complete the project.
A second requirement is the attention to site as a living system in order to “build to place, not
formula.” Infrastructure, whether conventional or green, is still usually a product of engineering
formulas that are adapted to specific site conditions. However, in starting with formulas, creative
opportunities can be missed, particularly the use of natural infrastructure. Harmonizing with
nature requires “close attention to the uniqueness of a site, using the particularities of a given
place as parameters for determining the kind of engineering and design solutions that are
appropriate and possible in that place.” (Haggard, 2003, p. 26) Permaculture design principles
offer an alternative to formulas in this methodology, in that they provide a lens for seeing the
systemic relationships of the unique dynamics of a site, and interpreting their implications for
specific aspects of the project.
Phase 3: Co-evolution
Regenerative development and design does not end with the delivery of the final drawings and
approvals, or even with construction of a project. The responsibility of a regenerative designer
includes putting in place, during the design and development process, what is required to ensure
that the ongoing regenerative capacity of the project, and the people who inhabit and manage it,
is sustained through time.
Ultimately, every regenerative project seeks to catalyze a process of “co-evolving mutualism”—
the increasing and mutually beneficial integration of human and natural systems that supports
their co-evolution. The implication is that harmony is not some steady state, but rather a process
of progressive harmonization of dynamic systems, one that cannot be predicted but can be
continually planned and managed toward. “What is sustainable today may not be so ten years
from now. To stay “alive” a system needs to maintain its adaptive capacity, and its capacity to
create new and unpredictable things.” (Parzen et al, 1996, p. 27).
It is in Phase 3 that the real potential of a project’s systemic relationship to its place can be
realized. This phase unfolds from the work of the previous two phases. If they have succeeded in
creating a culture of co-evolution in and around the project, and not just a physical product, its
effect can be seen even before final construction.
Developmental Process Drivers
In nature regeneration is cyclical and ongoing, though not continuous, and it ends only when a
living system ceases to evolve and eventually disappears. The same applies to human living
systems. When taken together, the three phases outlined above can create an iterative cycle
opening up potentially endless opportunities. Like the definition of the word development,
regenerative development is a process, not an event; an unfolding, revealing latent possibilities,
progressing from the simpler to more advanced, mature, or complex. “Success” in regenerative
development is iterative and progressive, with each cycle moving upward. It follows a pattern
that is inherent in life, but far from inevitable at the individual project level. The revelation of
“latent possibilities” can be both exhilarating and enormously intimidating. The experience of
destabilization that comes from seeing a new level of potential and what will be required to
realize it is inherent to any human developmental process. Making progress will require new
knowledge and skills certainly but, much more importantly, it will require a new mind and a new
way of being, and that in turn will require integrating inner developmental processes with the
outer development work. The three process drivers are: growing stakeholders, whole and living
systems thinking, and integrative developmental managing processes. These three drivers work
together to create and sustain the consciousness and commitment required to realize the potential
of the three phases.
Growing Stakeholders
“To sustain the ongoing enrichment of potential that is the hallmark of regenerative
development, projects must act as a continually unfolding source of inspiration and spirit
for all of the stakeholder constituencies that are affected by them. They must enable all of
us to perceive and pursue new orders of potential—in ourselves, our families and
communities, and in our work.”
(Haggard, 2002, p. 31)
Three factors differentiating this regenerative methodology’s approach to stakeholder
engagement include the definition of identity, role and what’s at stake.
Discovering shared identity: One of the most powerful effects of the regenerative development
process is that, in “rediscovering” their place through the Story of Place process, people
rediscover what they care about and share in common. The resultant sense of shared identity
transcends artificial boundaries and is an important force in creating the caring and connection
necessary to make the changes required for a sustainable future for both project and place. “By
starting a development with a learning process about how one’s land works as a living system,
we lay the basis for reawakening the connection people experience between themselves and the
place they inhabit.” (Haggard, 2002, p. 29)
Redefining what’s at stake: Ordinarily, stakeholders are defined as those who will be affected
(positively or negatively) by a project. In this methodology, stakeholders are defined as those
who would have a stake in what could be—the enlarged potential that a regenerative project
brings to a community and its biosphere. This shift in emphasis allows a dialogue with key
groups that are focused on shared vision and shared opportunity, rather than on the turf battles
and defensiveness that so often characterize current debates over development. It builds long-
term support for the larger aspirations of a project, and regenerates the spirit of stakeholders as a
result of seeing the meaning and significance of what they uniquely bring or can bring to
growing the health of their place.
Successful regenerative development ultimately requires all the stakeholders in a place, not just
the development/design team to move from the role of “builder” to “partner-gardener.” Engaging
stakeholders in the work of Phase 1 enables them to see the places they inhabit as alive, and to
see the role they can play in creating the conditions for its health and generativity, the first step
toward the role of partner-gardener.
Whole and Living Systems Thinking
Both ecoliteracy and pattern literacy, key components of whole systems thinking, are critical to
growing stakeholders and designing and constructing projects that can work as “place
In addition to being place-specific, regenerative processes are evolutionary, going beyond
improving current systemic performance (what is often called restorative) to embedding into the
system the capacity to continue to improve its own performance through time and through
varying environmental conditions. Implementing these processes therefore involves a much
greater degree of systemic complexity and dynamism, one that encompasses multiple scales or
levels of nested systems, and requires an ecosystem and place-based perspective,
multidisciplinary teams and extensive local stakeholder participation (Marcotullio and Boyle,
2003; Pickett and Cadenasso, 2002; Pickett and Grove, 2009). As a consequence, regenerative
work requires a level of systems thinking capable of comprehending as well as ordering and
organizing this complexity. Additionally, it requires methodologies for developing systems
thinking that enable a diversity of participants to grow their own systems thinking capacity to
enable taking on more challenging, value-adding roles.
There are several methodologies that assist with developing systemic thinking, but few are
designed to be implemented as an integral part of work, which, given the exigencies of a
development project, is an essential criteria. Living Systems Thinkingxii is a means for
consciously improving the capacity to apply systems thinking in a way that responds to the
uniqueness of a given place—enabling design teams and local stakeholders to come to each
project with a fresh mind, and to avoid the automatic, conventional or 'template' approaches that
are antithetical to regeneration. This technology uses systemic frameworks to shift the focus of
attention from simply solving current problems to working to realize the upper limits of creative
potential a healthy system is capable of manifesting. Systemic frameworks provide, so to speak,
a common language that enables design teams and lay people to think creatively together.
Integrative and Developmental Managing Processes
The process of regenerative development both generates and demands creativity and deep
engagement by all involved. One implication is that a successful regenerative process requires
managing for integration and harmonization across disciplines and phases and between and
among team members and local stakeholders from a wide range of disciplines and
constituencies. Another implication is that managing processes, in addition to integrating and
harmonizing activities, also need to be designed to embed developmental processes into the “day
to day” work of the project in order to support the transformation of thinking necessary for
communities to make any real and lasting changes to the way they relate to their living
environment. Inviting and assisting people to think outside of the paradigms they are accustomed
to can be challenging, but without it old habits and patterns will inevitably reassert themselves.
Capabilities that such developmental processes and systems work on developing include:
Ability to develop and utilize systemic frameworks that enable the mind to see and
understand what lies behind and is sourcing the visible phenomena picked up by the senses.
Ability to see, and understand the implications of the patterns and dynamic flows of
resources and energies that have shaped and are shaping a living system—whether a natural
or a social system, without being overwhelmed by details and data.
Ability to manage one’s own state in order to maintain the clarity and breadth of mind and
mental discipline required to think systemically all the way through a process.
The ecological worldview roots of regenerative development and design are evident in very
different ways of thinking, seeing and engaging with the world than those that have dominated
green building and eco-efficiency approaches to sustainability. Regenerative thinking redefines
the built environment—from the old, building-centric definition to one that includes the
relationships between and among buildings, infrastructure, and natural systems, as well as the
culture, economy and politics of communities. It redefines what sustainability means and
requires within the context of a dynamic, interdependent, evolving world. It sets goals
accordingly based on the perceived need to re-weave human and natural communities into a co-
evolutionary whole, where humans exist in symbiotic relationship with the living lands they
inhabit. To that end, it envisions development and design as the means for forming sophisticated,
mutually beneficial partnerships between humans and their constructed environment, and the
natural systems of their place.
An actual regenerative methodology, based on experience from years of practice, was presented
as an example of how the ecological worldview and regenerative thinking are changing the
definition of design and the role of designer, expanding the list of essential design competencies
and design issues, and blurring formerly rigid divisions between and among disciplines. The
methodology brings together professionals and community members in a co-creative process in
which designs emerge from a deepening understanding of and connection to place. Recognizing
that regeneration is an unfolding process and what is sustainable changes through time, the
design process works to grow the ongoing regenerative capacity of the people who will inhabit
and manage a project. The process offers the potential for a new level of community
engagement in which citizens move from passive consumers of expert-designed sustainable
products to actively “owning” responsibility for their continuing sustainability as well as that of
their community and their place.
A number of challenges still face widespread adoption of regenerative development and design,
including fragmented institutional structures of governance and ownership; the challenge of
qualitative and long-term measurability; and economic pressures for scalability and replicability
of local solutions. The progress of green building has shown that such external restraints can be
addressed. The more daunting challenges are likely to come from internal restraints that emerge
from the need to integrate at the level of one’s practice the transition from green building’s
mechanistic worldview to the ecological worldview of regenerative development and design.
The transformative changes in the process and role of design required to work regeneratively
begin with a transformation in how one sees and interprets the world one is designing into and
for. The methodology framework used to structure the exploration of the regenerative
methodology in this paper makes explicit the underlying premises (based on the worldview
system of beliefs) that shape one’s choice of strategies and methods. It can be applied in diverse
situations and projects by designers seeking to develop a new pattern of thinking in order to
evolve toward a regenerative practice. Whether using this or other frameworks, a critical
capacity for practitioners seeking to work regeneratively will be consciousness of how they
think, not just what they think about and what they do.
We are grateful for the opportunity to work with the passionate, dedicated and continually
innovative pioneers of Regenesis, our fellow regenerates and co-creators: Joel Glanzberg, Ben
Haggard, Bob Mang, Nicholas Mang, Vicki Marvick, Shannon Murphy and Tim Murphy. And a
special thank you to Charlie Krone who started us on this path with his assertion in 1990 that the
work of the next century would be learning how to regenerate living systems.
Pattern of Place. As an example, in Mahogany Ridge, Idaho local environmental groups were
fighting to prevent development on 3500 acres of abandoned or failing farmland used by
migratory birds as a stopover. The site was located on an alluvial fan at the base of the
mountains. An Integral Assessment revealed that one of the core patterns of this alluvial fan that
was that of a “living bridge” supporting multiple nutrient and wildlife flows and exchanges
between the mountains to the west and the Teton River to the east. It further revealed that the
row-crop agriculture on the alluvial fan, by severely disrupting this core pattern, had nearly
destroyed the original ecological abundance of all three distinct ecological systems—the
mountain, alluvial fan, and river system. Preservation of the existing farmland would continue
the degenerative cycle, which opened up the question—what nature of development would serve
as a regenerative force.
For the Mahogany Ridge project, out of the understanding of the core place pattern emerged a
new project concept—to use the development of the land to rebuild the living bridge by
regenerating severely simplified and destabilized ecosystems. Principles, goals and opportunities
addressing community planning, material flows, energy, community, buildings, wildlife and a
place-sourced economy were developed from the Integral Assessment and Story of Place as
guides for the design, construction and ongoing engagement of homeowners and neighboring
community residents. These were key in shaping the revised masterplan which called for the
development of homes in tight clusters, producing additional revenue that would pay for the
restoration of the stream and habitat corridors that originally connected the Teton River and the
mountains while providing wildlife corridors as well as many ecosystem services for community
Even at a full build-out of 1,000 homes, a highly unlikely outcome, water use would be reduced
from 90% of the water coming off the mountain to 10%. Integration of the local community and
project residents into the development and management of these systems, would enable
production of food (through diversified agriculture and wild harvesting), timber, and other
products, as well as the development of a diversified economy while insuring the provision of
Looked at closely, the photo on the left
reveals that farming was superimposed on
top of this alluvial fan between the stream in
the mountain valley (top center of the
photograph) and the river. The soils mapping
indicated in the photo on the right reveals the
pattern more clearly.
ecosystem services for the community. A Community Stewardship Organization and active HOA
education and action programs would engage the homeowners in developing, managing and re-
designing the reconnection of these nutrient and wildlife flows through time, becoming sources
for the ongoing regeneration and development of potential of the site. (Biohabitats et al, 2008)
An Application of the Methodology. The assertion that the success of a regenerative project
requires creating a “culture of co-evolution” is probably one of the most challenging aspects of
this regenerative methodology. The experience of creating Playa Viva, an eco-resort on the
Pacific Coast of Mexico, provides an example of how the work in the first two phases can create
such a culture.
from the Playa Viva Website
While Playa Viva’s owners started with a commitment to sustainability, their definition of
sustainable development was confined within the worldview of new urbanism and green
building. Upon learning about the power of regenerative approaches, they decided to adopt
regenerative development as the overarching framework for the project. “This (regenerative
development) process,” they later noted, “made us consider and stay committed to the legacy of
our work.”
Site drawing by Ayrie Cunliffe
Recognizing that their “legacy” depended on growing the regenerative capacity of both the
natural and human communities of their place, they set a long-term goal to “revitalize and
nurture local natural resources and the community, so they thrive in harmony and continually
improve.” “Our goal,” their current website states, “is to be regenerative, not just to make less
damage (building green) or net neutral (sustainable) but to make a significant impact in creating
a better local economy, more resilient and thriving ecosystems and still have a profitable
business endeavor. We also feel that to be truly sustainable, these values need to be core to your
people and organization. Sustainability just can’t be a department you add because that is part of
your marketing message. Sustainability needs to be the way everyone involved in the project
thinks and acts; it needs to be core to our DNA! We start with these values, now the challenge is
to lead, to transfer and to inculcate these into the whole community that is Playa Viva (and
beyond).” (note: quotations, unless otherwise stated, are from the Playa Viva website,
Starting with the first steps of assessment and concept development, the Playa Viva team
explored how the living systems of the land and people had worked in harmony in the past,
looking for possible interventions that could restore that harmony and the place’s socio-
ecological capacity to sustain it. They engaged members of the local community to understand
their aspirations, challenges and what was meaningful about their place. Their findings, together
with the owners’ goals, created a whole-systems understanding that became the touchstone for
creating an integrated, holistic strategy that included every aspect of design, construction,
operations and marketing. Each decision was weighed against this systemic understanding for its
effect on growing the regenerative capacity of the built environment, project staff, the resort as a
business, the local community and the local ecosystems.
The team looked for potential-rich transformative nodes, points in the socio-ecological web of
the place where multiple ecological, social and economic flows intersected and where small
interventions could deliver maximum systemic benefit. They asked questions such as: How
could the resort construction and operations, while creating a showcase of world-class
sustainability and natural beauty, be instruments for building local skills in new sustainability
technologies and revitalize traditional wisdom and healthy land practices? How could resort
operations use the delivery of market-differentiating, distinctive-to-place amenities to stimulate
eco-friendly small businesses as part of growing a resilient local living economy? How could
marketing and public relations grow business for the resort while helping attract financial,
intellectual, market and social capital to support the local entrepreneurship and community
development? How could resort activities offer guests opportunities for transformative
experiences while leveraging the flow of resources from sustainable tourism to support
ecosystem and economic regeneration programs?
The Master Plan for Playa Viva calls for a phased build out of up to 35 Casitas, 23 lots for
homes, a town square and boutique hotel with up to 60 rooms plus additional infrastructure for
energy, water, activities and operations. After completing Phase One in late 2009, it was decided
to delay the rest of the build out to ensure that ongoing development of the local infrastructure,
ecosystem, economy and workforce capacity stayed in balance with the growing impact and
needs of the resort community. A range of community and ecological revitalization programs are
now underway, with others still unfolding, some as a result of guest input and sponsorship.
In terms of the built environment, Phase One was designed to move toward the commitment to
create more energy than used, cleaner water, healthier soils and increased biodiversity. Buildings are
constructed with the best available green technology, including 100% offgrid solar energy, and use
natural and local building materials throughout. Rooms are oriented for natural cooling, and
designed to feel like an extension of the natural surroundings, deepening the sense of connection to
the living place. The permaculture-designed landscaping balances native, drought-tolerant and
aesthetic/food-bearing species, attracting birds and beneficial insects. Water management is
robust, and includes biological treatment systems for both grey and blackwater, removal of
pollutants, water reuse for landscaping and extraction of nutrients to enrich the soils. Using the
design and educational materials to make explicit and transparent the connection between low
water use and lack of pollutants and healthy local wetlands, waterways and humans, guests as
well as local contractors and maintenance workers become committed to the use of
biodegradable cleaning and hygiene products as an opportunity to contribute to improving the
abundance and wellbeing of both the natural systems and community, rather than as an imposed
A number of ecological regeneration initiatives are underway, including the establishment of the
Playa Viva Reserve which is working to restore 80% the resort’s 200 acres to coastal forests and
wetlands, bringing back mangroves, beautiful hardwood trees and a variety of indigenous flora
and fauna. An onsite turtle sanctuary works to preserve Mexico’s endangered green sea turtle
population. Set up by fisherman and farmers who “recognized the damage being done to the local
turtle population and decided to make a difference,” it is run by an all-volunteer staff from the
local community.
Recognizing that gains made for biodiversity and ecosystem restoration can be quickly
undermined without the support of the community, Playa Viva has several active programs that
support community building and eco-friendly economic development. A minimum of fifty percent
of the construction crews were local, and were provided training in sustainable and permaculture
techniques, with workshops still being offered. Rooms feature furniture built by local artisans from
native and locally harvested woods. The head permaculturist noted that “After helping to build the
organic gardens, we noticed people ‘taking home’ the principles of poly-cultivation, soil
regeneration, organic pest control and use of plants for medicine. This is information that can
expand along the region and leave a social legacy.” (Beadle, 2010, para. 24)
To reinforce that legacy, the resort began offering local farmers organic agriculture courses, thus
helping clean up the watershed, improving human health, and expanding the supply of organic
food for the resort as it grows. The resort is also working to expand the organic food market,
helping the farmers set up Canasta Viva, a community supported agriculture cooperative that
delivers baskets of organic produce to local homes, B&B's and hotels in the region. A recycling
program raises money, keeps trash out of the river and reduces burning. Many townspeople have
already started small businesses in support of the development, including a nursery providing
plants and trees for the restoration and regeneration of the preserve, and are increasing their
profitability and business viability through economic assistance such as business training and
broader access to resources and markets. As a part of Playa Viva’s general public relations and
marketing strategy, they have developed a brand of organically produced artisanal salt, Sal Viva,
and are working with top chefs in the U.S. with the ultimate goal of increasing the price obtained
for the members of the salt coop who continue to use traditional means vs. plastic in harvesting
the salt.
The commitment to regeneration is also evidenced in guest experiences designed to create
“opportunities for transformative experiences” (Beadle, para. 26) such as helping palm-sized
baby turtles make it from nest to the ocean in the sea turtle sanctuary. Guests are invited to join
in the activities that engage and support the local community and ecosystem, or to identify new
activities and create their own programs. By visiting Playa Viva, guests are told “you are making
a conscious commitment to the regeneration of a happy and healthful eco-social, living system.”
The Playa Viva team are quick to say that they are still on a learning journey and mistakes have
been made but, most importantly, the learning harvested from them becomes another source of
creativity and renewed spirit.
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i For purposes of brevity, this article employs du Plessis’ (2009) term “worldview complex” to
denote the combined influence of a worldview and paradigm.
ii As Dumanoski (1999) notes, at this hinge point in history, “we will have to reinvent ourselves
and our global civilization”. The transition is already under way, influencing a wide range of
fields from international security (Ramo, 2009) to business (Sanford, 2011), to health (Forget &
Lebel, 2001). With regard to the built environment, terms like “living” (e.g. living building,
living machine), “ecological” and “regenerative” are being applied with increasing frequency if
not always consistency (Nugent et al, 2011, Edwards, 2010, Beatley & Manning, 1997, Newman
& Jennings, 2008).
iii The practice was developed by the Regenesis Group, which began articulating theoretical and
practical foundations for regenerative development in the mid 1990s. It provides a useful lens for
understanding how a practice can emerge from and be shaped by a worldview complex in that
their body of work includes both theory and praxis, and its continuing development has drawn
explicitly on the scientific and philosophical bases of the ecological worldview and regenerative
iv One result of this is that technologies like green roofs and living walls are labeled regenerative,
yet unless part of a larger ecosystem regeneration, these technologies fall short of creating
regenerative effect.
v The following dictionary definitions provide insight into the different roles of development and
Development: O.Fr. desveloper, “an unfolding, bringing out the latent possibilities,"
from des- "undo" + veloper "wrap up" a state in which things are improving; the act of
improving by expanding or enlarging or refining; progression from a simpler or lower to
a more advanced, mature, or complex form or stage; an unfolding; the discovering of
something secret or withheld from the knowledge of others; disclosure.
Design: L. designare "mark out, devise," from de- "out" + signare "to mark,"an act of
working out the form of something; to create or contrive for a particular purpose or
vi For an in-depth survey of the literature and articulation of attributes of place from a living
systems perspective, see Mang (2009).
vii In the mechanistic worldview, quantitative data is the key to knowing, and thereby being able
to master how things work. In the ecological worldview, the world is “a fundamentally
interconnected, complex, living and adaptive social-ecological system that is constantly in flux”
(du Plessis, 2012). Trying to understand this world using the heavily data-oriented tools and
metrics developed under the mechanistic worldview poses substantial challenges.
viii Cameron, who interviewed a number of place scholars and activists, reported that many
espoused the power of “storying” place to break through entrenched conflict. “Arguments over
the percentage of sawlogs in the South-East Forests were never resolved because they were code
for fundamental differences in view about the value and function of forests in society which were
never articulated… environmental debates over “things” fail to encompass the power of symbol
which is at the heart of deepening into place—dialogue and the story of a place make the
symbolic explicit instead of hidden shoals.” (Cameron, 2002, p. 3)
ix Regenesis applies the term “vocation” to this contribution, drawing from former Curitiba
mayor Jaime Lerner’s use of the term. From this standpoint, seeing and enabling the
manifestation of potential benefits the project in that it takes on new meaning and significance
within a larger context. And it benefits the larger community or watershed through increasing the
value of the contributions the project can make to its health—“giving life to others as it
transforms.” Revealing this potential thus requires understanding the relationship between two
dimensions of an entity: (1) its unique character or essence, and (2) its relationship to the larger
system(s) within which it is nested, and upon which it depends.
x To paraphrase Leopold, “right relationship” is used here in the sense of “A thing is right when
it tends to preserve (and evolve) the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic (i.e. all life)
community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” (Leopold, 1986, p. 262)
xi This is what Curitiba’s former mayor Jaime Lerner called “urban acupuncture,” with ecological
as well as social and economic ramifications.
xii As mentioned previously, Living Systems Thinking has been used as a system for designing
self-organizing developmental processes integrated into value adding work in corporations for
over 40 years, and offers the same potential for regenerative development. Creating
developmental processes and systems is based on the evolutionary potential of place and people
and requires understanding what that potential is.
... Freud believed that the unconscious mind played a significant role in shaping human behaviour and experiences and, using the iceberg analogy, Freud aimed to explain that conscious behaviours, emotions and thoughts are just the visible manifestations of a much larger and complex psychological structure. This iceberg analogy has also appeared in the Indigenous perspective concerning cultural aspects of the knowledge system (Mang & Reed, 2012;Pollock, 2012), which is much larger and more complex than the visible manifestations of culture. For example, this is illustrated in Māori values (see Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu, 2016) such as Manaakitanga (respecting and caring for others and ourselves), Tikanga (upholding our customs, cultural practices and doing what is right) or Kaitiakitanga (protecting and enhancing our natural world and our resources), which include both tangible and intangible aspects of culture. ...
... The first publications about regeneration in leisure and tourism were more related to hospitality facilities (see also Mang & Reed, 2012) and conscious travel (Pollock, 2012;Živoder et al., 2015), concerning the decision-making process and the aspects the visitors value more when they travel. These publications also advocated that regenerative practices should rely on alternate economic systems (see also Cave & Dredge, 2020), such as regenerative economy, which is for example manifested in the notion of furanchos, where regeneration does not solely rely on the economic well-being but also the environmental, cultural, and social well-being of local communities. ...
... While the challenges derived from building sustainable tourism systems (Higgins-Desbiolles, 2018), regenerative leisure and tourism are being recognized globally (Dwyer, 2018;Mang & Reed, 2012;Teruel, 2018) and more enterprises are seeking to put this concept into practice. In this sense, there are challenges in terms of the dominant traditional models (see Shaw et al., 2004), in particular, based on traditional economic practices. ...
... This reflection and a call to action have been propelling the intersection of new domains into the design field, such as the regenerative theories to encompass social and environmental changes (Mang & Reed, 2012a;Wahl, 2016a;Souza et al., 2019;Camrass, 2020). This intersection between social design, regenerative theories and system thinking, which is the basis of both approaches, becomes a relevant sphere of exploration in complex social issues, which we seek to speculate in the context of gender-based violence once the United Nations itself proposes a systemic approach to its seventeen Sustainable Development Goals and address policies (Ramos et al., 2019;Weitz et al., 2019). ...
... In this context, ecology, quantum science, systems theory, and ancestral wisdom is fuel to design new perspectives for human and non-human lives (Du Plessis, 2012). The integration of diverse areas of these domains enables regenerative development evolve its capabilities to answer social-ecological issues, allowing the world to thrive (Mang & Reed, 2012a). ...
... Hence, design has evolved inspired by nature, developing products and solutions in many areas, from bio and eco-design to system regenerative communities (Cole, 2012;Wahl, 2016b). However, to create what Reed (Mang & Reed, 2012a) calls 'Whole-system thinking and 'living-systems thinking', one needs as many people as can be included and connected as a web of interbeing. Thus, a regenerative culture proposes to generate transformative innovations in the individual and collective spheres (Gibbons, 2020a). ...
... In response to the fatigue towards corporate sustainability, a different systemic approach has been rising to prominence in recent years, which is the regenerative approach (Ateljevic, 2020;Dredge, 2022;Hahn and Tampe, 2021). This approach stems from an ecological and living systems worldview where the goal is to promote the conditions for all life to renew and restore (Hahn and Tampe, 2021;Mang and Reed, 2012;Reed, 2007). Moreover, it aims at moving from the traditional "doing less bad" sustainable approach to a "doing more good" regenerative approach (Hahn and Tampe, 2021). ...
... Regenerative practices in this field focus on restoring the productivity and function of the ecosystem in contrast with conventional agriculture, which exploits soils, depletes nutrients and reduces soil quality (Du Plessis and Cole, 2011). Coleman et al. (2018) and Mang and Reed (2012) discussed the regenerative approach in the context of the built environment and underlined the interplay between the human and environmental systems, which can result in positive outcomes for both those systems. ...
... Thus, this could help them to deal more effectively with such thorny issues as social justice, global climate change, alternative energy and economic inequality (Guthey et al., 2014). In other words, it develops a system approach in which human beings should replace themselves as being part of nature and aim at continuously feeding and being fed by the living systems within which they take place (Mang and Reed, 2012). Thus, it takes into consideration the interplay between human and environment systems to have positive outcomes on those systems (Coleman et al., 2018). ...
Purpose The concept of “regenerative business” is thriving in current business literature. The present study seeks to contribute to the current academic debate by investigating the nature and scope of regenerative hospitality, here seen as a steppingstone of regenerative tourism. Design/methodology/approach Exploratory in nature and with the goal of understating the nature and scope of regenerative hospitality, nineteen semi-structured interviews with academics, consultants and self-proclaimed regenerative hoteliers were conducted. Findings Results provide a regenerative hospitality framework to move from the current sustainability paradigm towards local and systemic regenerative approaches in hospitality by applying place and people intelligence. Originality/value This research contributes to the current academic debate about the future of travel, particularly focussing on the future of hospitality in relation to the multidisciplinary field of regenerative economy. Particularly, the paper has been designed to contribute to the current discussion in the Journal of Tourism Futures about the transformation and regenerative future of tourism.
... Il Regenerative -o Net-positive -design rappresenta lo step successivo al paradigma Net Zero: una evoluzione del concetto di sostenibilità che non mira alla sola riduzione degli impatti ambientali, ma a produrre benefici per i sistemi sociali, tecnici ed ecologici (Mang and Reed, 2012). La definizione di Positive design estende, quindi, l'analisi del bilancio degli impatti all'intero ciclo di vita del prodotto e, potenzialmente, agli eventuali impatti pre-sviluppo (Cole and Fedoruk, 2014). ...
... The environmental context and the regenerative paradigm Regenerative -or Net-positive -design is the next step to the Net Zero paradigm, an evolution of the concept of sustainability that, instead of aiming at reducing environmental impacts, seeks to produce benefits for social, technical and ecological systems (Mang and Reed, 2012). The definition of Positive design, therefore, extends the analysis of the balance of impact to the entire product lifecycle and, potentially, to any pre-development impacts (Cole and Fedoruk, 2014). ...
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This paper focuses on the research topic and application of Positive Energy Buildings (PEBs) and Districts (PEDs), and explores the state-of-the-art in the use of LCA analyses on energy impact and CO2eq emissions. An analysis of the scientific literature and existing programmes, standards and regulations is carried out to understand the evolution of the debate on PEBs and PEDs and their implementation. This analysis allows to better define the scope of applicability and assessment of PEBs/PEDs through the lens of the Life Cycle Assessment to extend its definition beyond the sole usage phase. The study also highlights the main gaps and the aspects to be encouraged to promote their diffusion.
... In the article "Elimination by Design," Tony Fry argues for a radical reduction of the unsustainable rather than the creation and consumption of more "green" things. Mang and Reed (2012) posit that what is sustainable changes over time (p. 36). ...
... 36). As suggested by the authors, we want to explore how citizens can "move from passive consumers of expert-designed sustainable products to actively 'owning' responsibility for their continuing sustainability" (Mang & Reed, 2012). ...
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This paper contributes to the understanding of how critical reflection can be applied to sustainability. This was accomplished by tracing the progression of a tiny-house project over time and the associated activities, which involved sourcing secondhand and discarded materials. We are a group of researchers and practitioners who worked together to explore and challenge the established norms of sustainability in housing practices: who is building, what is being built, with what materials, and through which processes. The use of discarded materials as resources for building a tiny house came to be decisive in shaping a platform for inclusion and sustainable practices. While the most common practice of building involves buying the materials needed at a lumber yard, working with discarded and secondhand materials requires time and flexibility. Tools play a central role in adapting random waste to specific purposes, a process that also demands skills in handling tools creatively. Additionally, gathering, organizing, and cleaning are activities that should be given special attention when working with these types of materials. In this paper, we explain how we reinjected waste materials into the production chain and how our work contributes to sustainable development from environmental and social perspectives. The argument for sustainability in our research revolves around exploring processes that include more groups in society and alternative ways of organizing the resources available.
... La CR se définit ainsi comme un ensemble de technologies, de pratiques et de stratégies, basées sur une compréhension du fonctionnement des systèmes naturels. Cette compréhension génère de nouveaux types de conceptions permettant la régénération des systèmes socio-écologiques (c.-à-d., favorisant une capacité inhérente de vitalité, de viabilité et d'évolution) plutôt qu'un épuisement des ressources et des systèmes qui les soutiennent (Mang et Reed, 2012). La vision régénérative s'inscrit ainsi dans une perspective plus large que le DD, dans laquelle l'objectif final de la trajectoire menant à la « durabilité » des sociétés humaines est la « régénération », passant progressivement par divers modes de fonctionnement : de « conventionnel », à « vert », puis « soutenable », « restauratif » et enfin « régénératif » (Figure 3) (Reed, 2007). ...
... On traduit ensuite cette connaissance en lignes directrices avec des objectifs à long terme, pour ensuite mettre en oeuvre le projet. La troisième composante est transversale, car il s'agit de mettre en place un processus de conception et d'apprentissage participatif qui engendre une rétroaction en continu; le dialogue; ainsi que le développement de compétences par l'action (Mang et Reed, 2012;Reed, 2007). ...
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Regenerative approaches have gained attention in the built environment, but remain highly conceptual. This position paper argues for new regenerative governance structures that consider data governance, reassess complex stakeholder interactions, and ensure the inclusivity of diverse values and ownership. It then presents early ideas on how blockchain technology could facilitate scalable socio-economic-ecologic interactions along three inquiries, giving practical examples. Overall, the paper aims to inspire and guide further research into the development of modern digital governance tools fostering a regenerative built environment.
Regenerative development is a paradigm shift in the worldview from conventional sustainability toward rethinking the relationship between the built environment, people, and nature to cope with the consequences of climate change. This article’s goal is to provide an assessment tool that will serve as a guide for applying regenerative development in the built environment. The study adopted mixed methods by combining qualitative and quantitative methodologies. It began with a systematic literature review, followed by a questionnaire and a comparative analysis to create the primary assessment tool. The study then localized the tool by using the analytical hierarchy process (AHP) to fit the Egyptian context. Finally, the American University Campus in Egypt was selected as a case study to evaluate the tool’s validity. The results revealed that the developed tool is applicable and valid to the built environment. The paper covers the knowledge gap by translating the theoretical basis into a practical tool for creating a national rating system for regenerative development. The paper suggests further research to create quantitative indicators for achieving higher reliability.
In the global run towards a more sustainable built environment, industrial areas and buildings represent an undeniable challenge but also an opportunity to advance more radical projects. The article focuses on the first phases of the design process behind the winning project of an Italian architectural competition for a new Green Building in an industrial area. Based on cultural and ecological premises, the project integrates nature (sun, wind, water and vegetation) as a means to achieve an ambitious and sustainable regeneration, meeting Nzeb targets, thanks to an interdisciplinary urban, architectural and landscape design process supported by the adoption of digital technologies (BIM). The technological mix of traditional but innovative nature-based solutions has been inteded to reduce energy demand and carbon footprint, but also to re-create positive and reciprocal relationships between nature and humans.KeywordsBIMEnvironmental qualityIndustrial areasNature-based solutionsNzeb
While the 'sense of place' is a familiar theme in poetry and art, philosophers have generally given little or no attention to place and the human relation to place. In Place and Experience, Jeff Malpas seeks to remedy this by advancing an account of the nature and significance of place as a complex but unitary structure that encompasses self and other, space and time, subjectivity and objectivity. Drawing on a range of sources from Proust and Wordsworth to Davidson, Strawson and Heidegger, he argues that the significance of place is not to be found in our experience of place so much as in the grounding of experience in place, and that this binding to place is not a contingent feature of human existence, but derives from the very nature of human thought, experience and identity as established in and through place.
We briefly describe the toolkit used for studying complex systems: nonlinear dynamics, statistical physics, and network theory. We place particular emphasis on network theory--the topic of this special issue--and its importance in augmenting the framework for the quantitative study of complex systems. In order to illustrate the main issues, we briefly review several areas where network theory has led to significant developments in our understanding of complex systems. Specifically, we discuss changes, arising from network theory, in our understanding of (i) the Internet and other communication networks, (ii) the structure of natural ecosystems, (iii) the spread of diseases and information, (iv) the structure of cellular signalling networks, and (v) infrastructure robustness. Finally, we discuss how complexity requires both new tools and an augmentation of the conceptual framework--including an expanded definition of what is meant by a “quantitative prediction.”
A useful linkage can be made between recent literature on the philosophy and ethics of place and Australian work on education for place responsiveness. Place education, which holds a creative tension between deep experience and critical awareness, has a central role to play in any practical expression of an ethic of place. The way forward is suggested by Stefanovic's mediated iterative process for group work and the suspension of outcome orientation and judgement to allow the experience to speak for itself prior to critical reflection for individual work. Malpas's philosophy of place and experience provides a framework for understanding the importance of narrative in structuring and being structured by place, and the significance of childhood place memories. Narrative emerges as a ‘central organising principle’ of place and identity, and can be viewed as both stories that connect us and stories that make us different. Place responsiveness work in Australia presents the opportunity for constructive intercultural dialogue and embedding new narratives of sustainability in place.