Revolutionary Practice

Neighborhoods for Sustainability

An Ecocreative Future

Ecocreativity can be defined as creativity guided by ecological principles and aiming at planetary health. It rests on the assumption that freely and openly communicating, conscious human beings can solve the social and ecological problems of our time, that is, have the collective power to create a sustainable society. Alternatively, we can think of it as an awakener intended to restore our sense of urgency and remove our fear of using whatever means possible to put an end to the socially and ecologically destructive. As such, it is emancipating, but only as long as it provokes our thinking, encourages us to act as if we were free to rebuild society from below. Thus, it not only invites us to build new frameworks for interaction: it challenges us to make these systems free from oppressive relations and structural inequality, free from “invisible hands” that work behind the backs of people.

Ecocreativity, at the core of sustainable human development, acknowledges the transformative power of technology, but not as an unambiguous, autonomous force, disregarding its structural embeddedness and historical development. On the contrary: it urges us to take control of technology, bring it closer to our shared realities in such a way that it helps us to build social systems centered around human needs. Rather than providing us with a toolbox of quick fixes – underestimating the need for precaution – ecocreativity envisages a society where we are free to use appropriate technology and collaborative tools in a responsible manner, free to use knowledge for the common good, in other words, a society where technology is easy to use, easy to modify, and easy to control. What is to be done must therefore remain an open-ended question, ideally giving rise to a multitude of answers and not to insurmountable technological complexity.

A revolutionary practice and an antidote to unsustainable development, constantly in search of new ways to meet our needs and new ways to express solidarity, ecocreativity distinguishes between real and fictional dependencies – we cannot breathe, drink, or eat money, nor do weapons of mass destruction keep us alive. The ever more destructive reality of the vast majority of humanity makes self-determined activities and mutually beneficial interactions between individuals all the more important, challenging us to create sustainable practices in all domains of human activity.

Neighborhoods for Sustainability

Interpreted as a human-centered practice that contributes to a sustainable society, ecocreativity is an imperative to create new spaces of interconnectivity, new bridges between social commons and natural ecosystems. In so doing, it suggests that ecocreative neighborhoods are a proper geographical starting point for sustainable human development, indeed, a possible birthplace of non-antagonistic, self-mediated relations. Decommodified neighborhood-integrated commons – in particular, energy, water, food, material, shelter, learning, communication, and health commons – would then frame our lives. Democratically controlled and collectively built and sustained from below, self-governing and self-regulating commons would then allow us to realize our potential, however, without destroying the biological foundation of all human development.

From single molecules, genes, and epigenetic processes to whole ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles: the complexity of nature is an unrivaled source of inspiration if we are to change our neighborhoods. The patterns and processes of relatively simple ecosystems can easily be introduced into monocultural environments, breaking up the impervious surfaces and changing the material flows of segregated, car-dependent cities. The biological diversity of forest ecosystems, the water holding capacity of pond ecosystems, and the collective creativity of people would then replace the deadening monotony of parking lots and asphalt schoolyards, minimizing the use of energy and the production of waste. The complex interactions of natural ecosystems are a good starting point for collaborative learning, but a radically changed perception of our common habitat also defines the necessary revolution. The ongoing species extinction – be it through deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practices, water pollution, urban sprawl, or warfare – prompts us to act. It is high time that human habitats become places where healthy ecosystems are created and, of equal importance, places where all people can thrive. In an ecocreative neighborhood, no one is reduced to a living fragment of what we can become, denied a lifelong exploration of our human potential, our capacity to live in harmony with the rest of nature.

Our creative potential is limited, however, not by the chains of wage labor or any other social restriction imposed on us from above. Our capacity to imagine is one of the things that make us human, but evolutionarily and ecologically we still belong to nature. Whatever our conditions on this planet: how we perceive and socially determine this continually evolving relation to nature have immediate and delayed, real-world consequences; it is our future in the making. As individual and collective, spontaneous and continuous, lifelong ecological creators of self-organized communities, we must strive for neighborhoods and a society, not structured around artificial scarcity and monopoly markets, but explicitly defined by human needs and a variety of collaborative practices that respect the roots and limits of human creativity – that give hope to humanity through nature.

Healing the Biosphere

Ecocreative transformation is a revolutionary turn, not only replacing destructive production with creative reconstruction. It turns our attention away from the production and consumption of goods and services towards the reproduction and well-being of all species – the long-term healing of the biosphere. This shift of perspective does not deny human well-being, but frames it in such a way that we can gain control of our social metabolism with the rest of nature, allowing us to socially determine how to interact with each other and our environment on a long-term basis. Consequently, ecocreative transformation fosters sustainability in a dual sense: on the one hand, it respects the integrity of ecosystems and the boundaries of the Earth system, on the other, it guides the geographically complex interaction of social commons. However, for this transformation to be ecocreative, it does not suffice to negate or minimize the unsustainable and irrational: we must start anew, radically redefine the rules of human interaction, begin to act as conscious, self-mediating human transformers of social and ecological relations. Deeply involved in the replacement of a rapidly changing mode of destruction with a sustainable mode of reproduction, we would then make room for ecocreative practices of all kinds, that is, change – in the most encompassing sense – what it means to be interdependent beings on this planet. As bearers of hope and restorers of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, we would then live the revolution.

Here we must recognize the need for self-sufficiency, but do not confuse this with self-imposed isolation, falling into the trap of parochialism. More precisely, in a non-growing, materially closed system like the Earth, self-sufficiency presupposes fully shared resources, fully shared experiences, and fully shared knowledge, which, in turn, presupposes openness of a kind that fosters curiosity and solidarity. In a similar way, ecocreative neighborhoods must necessarily be extended neighborhoods, in that they ultimately depend on the functioning of the Earth system as a whole, that is, the complex interactions of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, litosphere, pedosphere, and biosphere. To put it in other terms, sustainable human development is scale-dependent and intricately linked to all levels of ecological organization; the continual reproduction of any human society is simply impossible without the continual reproduction of nature in its entirety. The simple but powerful truth is that we cannot do it alone.

The immediate past is not the best guidebook to the future. Why learn from wasteful, profit-driven practices, when we can learn from water, trees, and honey bees? Why give disruptive food companies access to our cities, when we are in great demand of diverse, neighborhood-integrated food systems? Why contribute to the pollution of lakes and rivers, when we can recycle soil nutrients locally? By rethinking and reconstructing our neighborhoods, we can all contribute to a sustainable society. Briefly sketched, this is a society with radical democracy; substantive equality; neighborhood-integrated commons; global adoption of ecocreative practices; universal access to information and appropriate technology; participatory education and research; and local, regional, and global networks of self-governing neighborhood communities.