Regenerative Communities: How big should they be?

Bill Mollison's Permaculture Design Manual I was reading some more of Chapter 14 in the Permaculture Design Manual and found some useful insight on village size. I’ve been asked many times and have thought about ideal sizes for intentional communities for some time. Some prefer small and others’, myself included think a larger group is more compelling. The Dunbar Number is often pulled into this conversation as Robin Dunbar theorized that there is an upper limit to the number of people we can maintain stable social relationships with. It is not an exact number but an approximate one – roughly 150.

Bill Mollison reasons it this way:

  • At about 100 income-producing people, a significant financial institution can be village-based
  • At about 500 all people can know each other if social affairs are organized from time to time
  • At 2000 people theft and competitiveness is more common and sects are set up in opposition

He goes on to add:

Perhaps we should start small at about 30 or so adults, build to 200-300 people, and proceed slowly and by choice to 500, then “calve” into new neighbourhoods or new villages

He supports this reasoning with the Mondragon Cooperative example from Spain which:

at first grew large (3,000 – 5,000), but later reduced to 300-500 to preserve the identity of every individual

This reasoning seems sound to me. Obviously, village-scale needs to be matched to the local environment’s ability to supply food, energy, water and other resources as well work for the citizens of the community.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you know of any communities that have followed this development path?

Ethical Basis of an Alternative Nation

Bill Mollison's Permaculture Design Manual
I started reading the final chapter of Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual with the hope of gleaning insight into how to create resilient and regenerative communities. The title of the chapter is: Strategies for an Alternative Nation.

It is basically about how we must develop an ethic and practice that places care for the earth at an equal footing to care for people. By doing so we can avoid the perpetual destruction of the global commons and bring about a sustainable society.

Here are some of the highlights from my reading so far:

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What is Community Resilience?

How will our communities adapt to global warming, peak oil and the confounding influence of global-scale resource depletion, pollution and continued economic upheavals? It will be different everywhere but the successful communities will share one thing in common: they will be resilient. What exactly is community resilience? Glad you asked. The Oxford Concise English Dictionary defines resilience as:

readily recovering from shock, depression, etc

When considered in the context of community, the definition becomes more specific. The Canadian Centre for Community Renewal (CCCR) defines community resilience as: [an] intentional action to enhance the personal and collective capacity of its citizens and institutions to respond to and influence the course of social and economic change. I would also add environmental change to the mix as well.

According to CCCR, resilience can be understood through four dimensions, each with their own unique characteristics:

  1. People
  2. Organizations
  3. Resources
  4. Community Process

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Canadians: Let’s Adopt a 100 Litre Challenge

I awoke this morning with the idea of a 100 Litre Challenge. It looks like the memes driving me successfully mutated :) (see my last post). James and Alisa added to the popularization of local food with their 100 Mile Diet a couple years ago. They spent a full year eating only food that was sourced within 100 miles of their home in Vancouver. Their committed actions had a significant influence on the many benefits of local eating.

I think its time for Canadians to step up to a similar challenge with fossil-fuel usage. Our politicians have proven they are simply puppets for industry and can not be trusted to enact the visionary policies required to bring Canada’s anthropogenic global warming emissions down. This is not a surprise.

So I think it is time to commit to the 100 Litre challenge. It could work like this:

  • 100 litres max for the 1st month
  • 100 litres max for the next 2 months
  • 100 litres max for the next 3 months
  • 100 litres max for the next 6 months

The transition gives people time to ease in before making the big commitment at month 6. This may not be an entirely feasible for rural dwellers but for the majority of urban dwellers it is not an unreasonable consideration. Thoughts?

Regenerative Community Development

My terminology on the subject of community development has evolved a little since my first post on the topic. Since beginning at BGI and increasingly so, I’ve had the sense that “sustainable” is not a high enough ambition for our individual and collective pursuits. For example, in the relationship or marital realm, do you feel inspired to aim for “sustainable”. I don’t.

So what lies beyond sustainable? If sustainable is doing things in a way that will allow you to carry on doing what you are doing into the indefinite future; then what lies beyond that is the ability to experience and create more than you currently do. Considering the enormous environmental and social deficit human civilization has dug itself into, we better start designing systems that do just that, improve our collective social and natural capital, while producing whatever goods or services humanity needs.

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Community Resilience

As part of my social web for social change class at BGI I get to choose a topic and research it during the semester using the tools we are learning about in class. Since my team marketing plan this term is looking at becoming a developer of resilient, sustainable, living communities I want to use this opportunity to “feed two birds with one seed” thereby enriching the plan and meeting the requirements for this course. I’m going to start down the path of defining resilience in the context of community development as well as look for strategies to increase community resilience.

I’m particularly interested in how changing patterns of community and evolving our construction techniques can create true resilience through:

  • increasing community-scale self-reliance for food and energy
  • uncoupling from the fossil-fuel economy
  • downplaying the importance of money in peoples’ lives

My hunch is that such an arrangement will also provide regular opportunities for growth, self-actualization and connectedness with others and nature.

It’s going to be a rich semester!