A System's Approach to Sustainable Development

Check out "Practice of Sustainable Community Development" a new book published by R. Warren Flint of Five E's Unlimited




e-mail this site to a friend


Why a Bioregional Approach?

What is a Bioregion? A geographical area described in terms of its unique combination of plants, animals, geology, climate and water features – an area defined by natural boundaries and distinct living communities – the whole of which distinguishes it from other bioregions. A bioregion refers both to geographical terrain and a terrain of consciousness – to a place and the ideas that have developed about how too live in that place. Thus, natural forms and living communities, including human, become the descriptive features of each bioregion – instead of the politically drawn lines used to define county, state and nation. Watersheds, being an important physical feature of bioregions, are often used to define their boundaries, as has happened in New Zealand.

Bioregional planning as yet has few established paradigms or methods, but the theory and practice are beginning to coalesce around observed regional patterns. A bioregional scale is emerging as a meaningful geographic framework for understanding place and designing long-term sustainable communities. For every bioregion it is becoming apparent there is a unique set of practices of scientific investigation that leads to planning, design, and management that will result in a bioregionally unique set of landscape-human patterns.

Awareness and care for one’s bioregional home and its patterns is fundamental to a place-based understanding and community stewardship of sustainability – to cultural and ecological well-being – living in a place sustainable and respectfully. What bioregionalism represents, identification with place and its history and culture, and living within the laws of nature, is new only for people who come out of an industrial-technological heritage. The essence of bioregionalism has been reality and common sense for native people living close to the land for thousands of years. Bioregionalism acknowledges that we not only live in cities, towns, villages and country-sides; we also live in watersheds, ecosystems, and eco-regions. This context allows us to find ways to live sustainably in our settlements while at the same time provides us ways to nurture and restore the more-than-human community that surrounds us and which we are dependent on in so many ways.

Bioregionalism is taking the time to learn the possibilities of place. It is a mindfulness of local environment, history, and community aspirations that leads to a sustainable future. It relies on safe and renewable sources of food and energy. It ensures employment by supplying a rich diversity of services within the community, by recycling our resources, and by exchanging prudent surpluses with other regions. Bioregionalism is working to satisfy basic needs locally, such as education, health care and self-governance. The bioregional perspective recreates a widely-shared sense of regional identity founded upon a renewed critical awareness of and respect for the integrity of our ecological communities.

Lewis (1996) described how understanding the patterns, colors, and textures of the landscape gives a logical order to a system, where bioregional patterns suggest limitations and unique solutions. Once identified, the scientific understanding gained from these ecological patterns and spatial resources are logical form determinants – they suggest the spatial form to guide policies toward sustainability. For example, Lewis discovered patterns by curiously studying composite night images of the U.S. and imagining the concentration of lights around cities to be regional constellations. Lewis tells us that identifying bio-cultural regional patterns provides solutions for where to build and where not to build. He suggests that one can discern patterns that diminish the quality of life, sense of place, and sustainability, as well as patterns that enhance these features by adopting this constellation or bioregional view.

Thus the act of "constellating" can direct attention to the ever-shifting collection of biophysical and human systems that interact to configure the bioregional experience. Constellating is intentionally open-ended, and requires thoughtful interpretation. As a design activity, constellating focuses on assembling the array of physical forms, infrastructural interconnections, development models, and social agents needed to create new forms of public engagement and interaction. This perspective can help decision-makers set goals that are within the capacities of the natural systems, and at the same time, more likely to meet social values for an area.

The bioregional framework supports the goal of accelerating change toward improved well-being for nature and society for a number of reasons:

  1. Bioregionalism identifies areas similar in transport-trade, communication networks, natural resource reliance, cultures, recreational desires, natural ecosystems, governance, and societal issues of concern.
  2. It makes little sense to discuss the topic of sustainability at the global scale if insufficient thought is given to the local places and scales where human life actually occurs. Societal actions that are sustainable for humans, other life-forms, and earthly systems can best be achieved by means of a spatial framework in which people live as rooted, active, participating members of a reasonably scaled, naturally bounded, ecologically defined “place.”
  3. Considering problems and solutions from a bioregional perspective offers an opportunity to engage in comprehensive, adaptively managed change improving society’s overall opportunity to achieve sustainability at a scale not possible within a single community effort. One can discern patterns that diminish the quality of life, sense of place, and sustainability, as well as patterns that enhance these features, by adopting community convergence activities or a bioregional view.
  4. National and international communities of people will have to undergo significant adaptive change to deal with a transition from global warming. But large-scale social change will only happen where people share common concerns, goals, and core values. Acknowledging that community-by-community change is too slow, the bioregion offers an example of where communities with common ecology, culture, and economy can converge for a greater good. Likewise, challenges to social change are certainly more easily overcome in a converging of local communities at the bioregion than by trying to encourage action at the national level.
  5. Bioregions are governed by nature not politics. So once we understand the inherent physical, biological, and ecologic relationships of a bioregion, we can count on actions judged to be sound according to the theory of the three-legged stool or three-overlapping circles to be much more predictable, enduring, and supportive, as well as less costly, to society than the unending quest to find technological fixes for all our problems that governing bodies can promote their next election on.
  6. Because of the many common threads that weave through the landscape tapestry of a bioregion scale, which we can personalize by calling home, the concentric circles of environment, society, and economy relationships become much easier to traverse, affording us the opportunity to leave home a little better off than we might have found it.
  7. Bioregional-based planning and action can help society narrow problems and solutions, and help participants to acknowledge the limitations of a place and its resources so that they will not continue to overestimate the carrying capacity of the regions they inhabit, and live more sustainably.
  8. This convergent, bioregional approach can influence the larger world mainstream by its regeneration of local cultures, ecosystems, and resources into the indefinite future, contributing to the more global needs of life on Earth, more effectively than a national or global scale initiative ever could.
  9. For every bioregion, there may be a unique set of practices, tools, models, and successes within individual organizations that supports planning, design, and management. Instead of “reinventing the wheel” with each new initiative, project, or campaign the bioregional scale of sustainability work can enhance a transfer of knowledge and technology for the betterment of the entire region.

The bioregional framework represents a whole scale nature-human linked system as a place-based approach to promote scientific understanding, planning, and action to regenerate our communities and other living systems.

General Delivery, Placencia Village, Stann Creek District, Belize C.A. ---- Phone: (512) 256-7633 ---- e-mail: rwflint@eeeee.net

Copyright © 2005 - 2015 Five E's Unlimited - All Rights Reserved
Riversdale, Belize, Central America
Terms of Use & Privacy Statement

Last Update: 1/1/15
Web Author: Dr. R. Warren Flint