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Design for Future Abundance
Talking about sustainability as 'doing without' is counterproductive
Posted on August 1, 2023 @ 5:42PM

The classical English pattern of using the village commons (that communally owned and used land which was available for pasturing private livestock) did not involve a conflict between public and private welfare as long as there was enough land. However, as herds increased, the over-grazed land became less productive so that the herdsmen had to increase their stocks in order to stay even, and thus the commons were destroyed. The tragedy was that profits accrued to the opportunistic herdsmen who exploited the commons the most, while losses were shared by all the users. Those who exercised restraint were doubly penalized. Today, the sea, the air, the waterways, the earth, the land and what it produces have all become our commons, and all are being overused. It is clear that appeals to altruism are futile and in a sense foolhardy. ~ Edward T. Hall [1]

As we accelerate toward increasing demands on diminishing resources, we cannot afford to waste time on idealistic notions that significant numbers of people will suddenly be moved to reduce consumption independently exercising self-denial. As a society, we are faced with the challenge - and the opportunity - to lead beyond deeply entrenched habits that are squandering resources, blighting our landscape, and creating unhealthy spaces to live and work in.

We need to approach these problems proactively, from many directions, by developing desirable alternatives. Talking about sustainability as 'doing without' is counterproductive; we need to refine and promote economically and environmentally healthy new patterns that will be broadly embraced as progressive, practical, and desirable. A vital first step toward future abundance - and away from future scarcity - is to creatively and critically rethink what we accept as conventional standards. The phrase 'built to code' may be read as a euphemism for 'built as poorly as legally permissible'. Building codes define minimum standards for public safety, primarily focusing on fire and seismic risk management. From the perspective of design for health or environmental appropriateness, many legal mainstream construction practices are broadly irresponsible and unethical. I would argue that not only do we need to transition toward healthy and sustainable practices, we should not stop there. Why not think beyond mere sustainability? It is within our means to reach for restorative architecture - by which I mean architecture that represents a net positive intervention in the quality of the environment over time.

[1] Edward T. Hall, Beyond Culture Anchor Books, 1977

Author: Sam Rodell

Sam has practiced as an award winning architect for forty years, and has also built many of his clients' projects.  He is licensed throughout most of the western USA and Canada, and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) which expedites registration in other states and provinces. He was the first Certified Passive House Consultant architect in eastern Washington and northern Idaho.