Symbiotic Transformations

How will we transform our cities to shift us from our current parasitically harmful relationship with our natural environment to a regenerative, symbiotic relationship?

This was one of the first questions that we asked after developing the definition of a Regenerative Symbiotic City. In answering this question, we agreed that such transformations would need to be ones that underpinned the basic needs of human habitation - shelter, food, energy, access to resources, mobility, and ecosystems services - while at the same time positively contributing to the health and regeneration of local and regional ecosystems. We also agreed that these transformations would need to be grounded in cold hard reality; can only be implemented if existing political and economic resources were effectively marshaled; and would need to be both "economically rational” and be implementable within a time frame that would allow them to begin to have real impact within the next few decades.

Most importantly, we think that these transformations must be rational and practical extensions of existing science and technologies, and not reliant on yet-to-be-invented solutions. For example, shifting from gasoline powered to electric powered cars would be entirely feasible within our current transportation systems; or shifting from fossil fuel energy to renewable energies and thorium nuclear energy is now technically and economically feasible, even though these technologies face huge implementation hurdles.

What are these transformations?

We have focused on what we think are 9 of the most important transformations required to facilitate the transformation of our cites from parasitic to regenerative symbiotic cities:

1.  Zero-Carbon Energy Economy: Transforming from a carbon intensive energy economy to a net-zero carbon energy economy;

2.  Ecosystem Services Infrastructure: Developing ecosystem services infrastructure to support the generation of ecosystem services;

3.  High-density Planning: Planning for high-density, complete communities to reduce our per capita ecological footprints;

4.  Regenerative Building Fabric: Transforming building fabric be regenerative and support and produce ecosystem services; 

5.  Urban Food Production: Transforming the food production to create a sustainable local urban food infrastructure;

6. Infinite Water Recycling: Infinite recycling of water to significantly reduced our water use burden on surrounding ecosystems;

7.  Infinite Material Recycling: Infinite material and resource recycling to significantly reduce our resource extraction burden on surrounding ecosystems;

8.  Zero-Carbon Mobility: Transforming from fossil fuel powered transportation to zero-carbon mobility

    ...and the key enabling transformation that is required to facilitate the above 8 transformations:

9.  Economic Transformation: Transforming from an economic system that "externalizes" natural capital and ecosystems services to a "whole system economy" that internalizes them



Key Assumptions:

We have made a number of key assumptions in putting forward the above transformations, including:

  1. History is not pre-determined:  Our civilization is not necessarily locked into doing things the way we are doing them now, nor into how we have done things in the past. If we were, then there would indeed be no hope and no viable future! We do not believe in a pre-determined, Hegelian path for history, and do not think that societies and civilizations move in pre-determined cycles, rising and then falling in some regular fashion. Instead, we think that, as Niall Ferguson notes in his book Civilization - The West and the Rest, civilizations "...operate somewhere between order and disorder - on the 'edge of chaos' in the phrase of computer scientist Christopher Langton. Such systems can appear to operate quite stably for some time, apparently in equilibrium, in reality constantly adapting. But there comes a moment when they 'go critical'. A slight perturbation can set off a 'phase transition' from a benign equilibrium to a crisis..."[page 299-230] It is therefore our job as a species to find a more successful course for our future, and the means of implementing it.
  2. Our problems are not caused by "others":  We do not believe that our problems are caused by "others" (other races, other cultures, other nations, other political parties). Although it is often easy to blame others for our problems, in reality, we think that the most difficult problems we face are the result of our deep-seated human nature that manifests itself in both positive and negative ways. Moreover, we think that the above described transformations can only be successful if we find ways to implement them that take into account the realities of our human nature. The implementation of these transformations, then, must appear "reasonable" from a great many perspectives - which will indeed be one of the great challenges facing us in implementing these transformations.
  3. The transformations must be rational and based on facts and sound science:  We think that, even though the transformations must be understood as relevant in many cultural contexts, they must nevertheless be entirely rational, logical and based on sound science. We are entering an era where our species' future success will very much depend on our ability to use our now vast understanding of the natural and physical world in creative and effective ways, but also an era that will, by the very nature of some of the future shocks and stresses we face, make it much more difficult to escape the counter-productive behaviours associated with the irrational side of human nature that is much amplified during times of stress. 
  4. The transformations must be individually effective AND mutually supportive and reinforcing:  We think that in order to be implemented, these transformations must be effective in and of themselves, and not require other transformations to be implemented as precursors. It should be noted here, however, the implementation of multiple transformations will have synergies and positive feedbacks that individual transformations may not have on their own. 
  5. Climate adaptation and resilience strategies will need to be designed to support and benefit from Symbiotic City transformations: In addition to developing symbiotic relationships with their surrounding ecosystems, cities will have to both adapt and become more resilient to the future impacts of climate change. The strategies for climate adaptation and increasing resilience should be supportive and consistent with the 10 Symbiotic City transformations.
  6. A City's population size and sustainable resource availability must be in balance: Planning a symbiotic city assumes that the population size of city is both stable, and that there are sustainably obtainable regional resources available sufficient to maintain the city's population.