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Positive Development

Over the past few decades, with the growing concern about sustainability, ecologically sustainable designs have been intensively focused on efficiency - low energy technologies, passive systems, rainwater harves ng and treatment, efficient designs. This highly technocra c approach does have many downsides - the integra on of many other aspects such as equity or social and ecological responsibility, are o en overlooked by these strategies. There have been, however, other strategies that have tried to integrate, in some way, unquan fiables - in the previous weeks, we have come across the Living Building Challenge and Biophilic Design, which unlike standard environmental strategies, have approached ESD from a wider perspec ve and included elements which are not usually (or rather readily) associated with environmental sustainability. Posi ve Development tries to specifically address this issue. It is not a tool, it is not a technology, but it is rather a intellectual and ins tu onal framework inside which to work. The Venny is a good example of where this framework was been used - the image shows the artwork that somehow represents the history of the place by displaying the works that genera ons of children have produced. How is this related to posi ve development? The Venny is inarguably a good example of ecological design, performance-wise. However, it does a lot more than that - its loca on on the site adds to the sense of community, the wide spectrum of backgrounds from which the children of The Venny come from enhances this idea of equity, and the fact that children there can learn from animals, urban gardens and the building itself helps teach to the younger genera ons about social and ecological responsibility. I believe that this floor artwork is a very strong analogy that represents how all these aboveman oned ideas are brought together . Where do these socio-centric interac ons fit with ecologically sustainable design? For that we must first understand why current ra ng tools are not necessarily accurate in assessing ‘sustainability’.

The problem with current ra ng tools is that too much emphasis is placed on the quan fiable aspects of sustainability; they treat building projects as an economic system with costs and benefits, where points can be traded one for another. Now as much as they have been an extremely laudable a empt at minimising the impact of building on the natural ecosystem, the reality is quite different: • our current society has already exceeded 3 mes the earth’s capacity to sustain us. • popula on is con nually increasing, and so are our needs This is usually how we are trained to look at ecology. If we want for materials and energy. to change this, we first need to understand that society and the • ecological losses cannot be offset by social or economic needs and interac ons of those belonging to this society are gains. inherently dicta ng how the economy is affec ng the ecology. • However much efficient current environmental strategies Posi ve Development can help us increase the life-support become, they will s ll have a nega ve impact on the system of our ecology beyond pre-industrial condi ons so we can have both posi ve social and ecological impacts. environment. This means that we are currently experiencing a paradign shi : we need a change in our mindset, not in our technologies. This is where posi ve development comes into play: we must first accept that what we’ve been doing so far is not working and, like Birkeland rightly men ons in her paper, ‘con nuous improvement on a failed paradigm is not genuine progress’. All we are doing is ‘less bad’; we should strive at doing ‘more good’. Posi ve development? Well, according to this new paradigm, a loss in an area CANNOT be compensated by a gain somewhere else. Only by understanding that all interconnected systems are equally important that we shall be able to make real progress. Technologically, we have made tremendous progress with regards to energy efficiency, passive designs and regenera ve technologies. Posi ve development will allow us now to integrate these technologies into the broader picture so that every aspect of sustainability has the same importance so that none can be traded off for the other.

It might s ll be a li le confusing? Let’s go back to The Venny to try to illustrate this be er: it is communal backyard for children from the Kensington public housing estate. Besides being an ecologically sustainable retrofit to the area, it adds to the spirit of the place, brings together the memory of community. Socially it is a successful place, and this is of crucial importance. Before being sustainable (in the grand manner), a place needs to be both environmentally sustainable (easily achieved nowadays with the latest technologies) but also socially sustainable. Posi ve development sets a framework that can help us achieve this level of thinking so we can implement this new paradigm more efficiently. The spiraling artwork symbolises very well how everything needs to come together to create a whole.

If things had to be done again with posi ve development in mind I’d: •

• • •

All this theory is beau ful, but how can we prac cally implement this? For starters, I shall refer to my good old friend: educa on. Instruct people that while technological advancement in the field of ESD have become amazingly advanced • and efficacious, they are only part of the answer. They are u erly useless if they are not properly integrated inside the bigger picture. Like I said in a previous reflec on, we should not strive minimum nega ve or zero. We should aim at posi ve impact and stop doing things that are not working! 1. 2.


Birkeland, J. 2012. ‘Design Blindness in Sustainable Development: From Closed to Open System Design Thinking’, Journal of Urban Design, Vol. 17. No. 2, pp. 163-187. City of Melbourne, The Venny. [Online] Available: h p:// a ves/MajorProjects/Pages/ TheVenny.aspx Accessed: 14th April 2012. Rees, W. E. 2001. Economic and Sustainability: Conflict or Convergence? [Online] Available: h p:// Accessed: 15th April 2012.

Involve more the community because in the end they are the ones to use the spaces. Approach the issue in a more holis c way. Give disciplines other than the ‘hard sciences’ equal priority. Stop giving everything under study a numerical value, and stop trea ng systems like economic models solely focused on costs and benefits. Use technological solu ons as part of an en re framework, and not only as a ‘patch-up’ solu on to locally resolve a certain problem.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expec ng different results.” Albert Einstein

Regenerating Sustainability Week 6  

Positive development

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