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Let's Invest in Regenerating Cities

by Paul Quaiser

I toggle on the razor’s edge between despair and determination. Both environmental sciences and complex systems analysis agree we are within an event horizon between 2020 and 2050 when, as predicted years ago by MIT/The Club of Rome, a decline in economies will occur.

We have a window of opportunity, however, if we regenerate cities using an integrated systems design approach. Increased investments in public services could not just avoid the risk of collapse, but lead to a new stable and prosperous civilization operating safely within planetary boundaries. But we really have only the next decade to change course.

The UN’s Climate Champions have designated “cities, regions, and the built environment” as today’s theme at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland. My proposal: Let’s get together and launch a new operating system for civilization that helps us make cities more sustainable and resilient.

We must shift away from consumerism and more toward empathy for life systems. Many refer to the “Overview Effect” experienced by astronauts, and more recently from William Shatner, when they realize that our planet is a living thing and we are simply symbiotic within it. Interdependence and interoperability between life support systems is essential to harmonize humanity within the systems of the planet.

Our challenge is to analyze, design, fund, and implement a completely new operating system that functions dynamically based on environmental, bio-regional, and human factors. At the same time, we must seed regeneration in a as many communities as possible.

That is why I am in Sayulita, Mexico. It appears to be at the nexus of so many of our Sustainable Development issues. If we can pilot a comprehensive solution plan here, we might be able to replicate it broadly throughout the world’s coastal regions. This area draws International tourism, people relocating from urban centers, and digital nomads, in addition to a sizable indigenous population, it represents the cultural integration essential to a peaceful and vibrant future.

The Bahia de Banderas district of Sayulita is made up of tropical ocean front communities under the stresses of increased population, infrastructure deficiencies, pollution, and intense storms. The main fresh water river is now filled with everything from concrete, chemicals, tires, animal waste, sewage, and more. Brownouts of power and communications are frequent even when there are no storms. The power here in my temporary residence has cycled off probably as frequently as the main sewer plants. Most of the people here have lost hope.

I have started by identifying the impact ecosystem, which is made up of the people and organizations interested in progressing toward solutions. This radical collaborative involves businesses, NGOs, government, education, and community groups. The next step is to develop an interactive feedback mechanism to collect visions of the future from the full spectrum of participants spanning the Indigenous to the digital nomads. This is where we would utilize technologies like SparkBeyond's Research Studio, Sentient Hubs, and IDE4 to translate that input into a limits-of-growth planning process. From that data collection and analysis, we could begin to design the essential systems for energy and food production, building materials and methods, water and waste management, a communications system for development networking, governance, finance/value exchange, education & training, transport mediums and more. Ideally we would create a planning simulator based on the architecture of the Atlas Biospheric Design Center that uses the framework developed by the European Commission for demonstrating systemic urban development for circular and regenerative cities. That would enable us to build a resource library of solution sets and accelerate implementation in other areas globally. The Atlas Center would have the capability of integrating global climate data with local physical and cultural data and the ability to create real time communication links with the community for collaboration, planning, and implementation. The report also indicates a $10 million per year operating budget necessary to integrate and make interoperable the analysis and planning technologies. That’s a small amount of money relative to the effectiveness of enabling these changes.

But to move ahead with these possibilities, I need money—and there’s the problem. I have been chasing the money that economists refer to as development finance for years, drowning in greenwashing and false philanthropy. Yet here I am, hoping that this COP26 conference will spark a disruption to our obsolete operating system and inspire a new wave of funding so communities can begin to build out systems for resilience and regeneration. Perhaps the UN will fund a pilot program here that can catalyze more disruption globally.

There are people all over the planet poised to help launch this transformation, city by city. They are prepared to start locally to improve resilience and foster regeneration. We need to seed as many resilient and regenerative cities as possible—but we need money. With enough money, we can do this!

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