Why Regenerative Lifestyles?
Regenerative lifestyles are the best way to have positive impacts on our own lives and the issues we care about.
It often seems that no matter what efforts we put into making changes in ourselves or the world, no matter how hard we try, we can’t move the needle on the issues most important to us:
- personal wellness and healthcare
- environmental degradation
- housing affordability
- food quality
- climate change
- proximity to nature
- and more.
Something needs to change, yet there are few choices available to the individual that will create meaningful change to match the scale of the problems.
Regenerative Lifestyles are about having a meaningful impact. Regenerative lifestyles regenerate your health, your community, your pocketbook and the planet (air, water, land) – without extra effort on your part. It’s about convenience and a high quality of life.
In today’s world, we are all cogs in the industrial machine. It is impossible to live in a modern, industrialized country without having a large carbon footprint: even if we exclusively use public transportation to get around, our food and material consumer goods all have their own large carbon footprints. We can spend a lot of extra time and money trying to shop “consciously” to support fair trade, organic, and whatever other values we believe in – but it’s still a big effort.
How did it become incumbent upon the individual to solve these impossible problems like ocean plastics, the Gulf dead zone, the cruelty and pollution of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), excess antibiotics in our food supply, and climate change? It’s exhausting and disheartening to care about such issues and know that all our individual efforts and conscious choosing (like paying more for organic vegetables) are not likely to move the needle. These problems cannot be solved at the scale of the individual — but we can start solving many of them at the scale of the community.
Regenerative lifestyles give us the opportunity to make a difference to the problems “out there” while enjoying life more, and gaining more free time and discretionary income, independence for kids and elderly, and a higher quality of life overall.
At Nature Towns, we believe that regenerative lifestyles require regenerative places to support them. The only way to escape the industrial machine is to move out of it. Nature Towns are regenerative places to enable regenerative lifestyles.
It is no surprise that a regenerative way of life resembles a traditional one to some extent, the way people lived for millennia before the modern age. In particular, the automobile has warped our society and our built environment in ways we sometimes don’t even recognize, as we have become so dependent on it. Regenerative lifestyles are based on human beings, not automobiles or other devices or gadgets that are more accessible to people of privilege than to others. Such lifestyles are by definition walkable, so that people of all ages, races and abilities can experience them.
Indeed, walkable communities represent the way that humans lived for our entire existence until the past 100 years or so. This style of urban design has significant overlap with Smart Growth and Traditional Neighborhood Development, as promoted by the Congress for the New Urbanism.
Table of contents
- Why Regenerative Lifestyles?
- Who lives Regenerative Lifestyles?
- Components of Regenerative Lifestyles
- Food and Drink
- Health and Wellness
- Nature and Environment
- Regenerative Agriculture, Homesteading and Alternative Education
- Community Resilience
- Local Business and Circular Economy
- Public Policy & Politics
Who lives Regenerative Lifestyles?
Regenerative lifestyles appeal to people who seek to offer something positive to the world, especially creative people who value quality over quantity, and those who are ready to make a change in their lives now, in order to protect themselves and their loved ones in the future.
Industrialization might have seemed like a good idea when it started out, but today it might be argued that the problems outweigh the benefits. Today we are all part of the industrial machine: In many cities, we are forced to drive a car to get around efficiently, but we often have insufficient time left for exercise or family. We buy food that was produced with significant agricultural inputs and has traveled thousands of miles, resulting in an energy ratio of 10 calories input for every 1 calorie output. It’s hard, if not impossible, to take individual action that can actually shift the needle on the big-picture issues. That’s the problem with Industrial Lifestyles.
At Nature Towns, we meet people who are asking some very hard questions:
- Should I bring children into the world, or is a livable and happy future for them just too uncertain?
- How can I stop raising my kids in the backseat of the car, or with so much screen time? How can I give them more time in nature?
- I could sell my house for good money, but where would I go? How do I find a place that is worth the disruption or that can give me a better quality of life?
These questions come up because we are all living in places designed for industrial lifestyles. The results include wicked problems such as climate change, traffic congestion, decreasing health and longevity, etc. Our places are not designed to support our goals. They have been designed to support highway systems, sprawl land development, chemical agriculture, and other things that don’t directly improve people’s quality of life.
This article comprises half of our overall message. It is about Regenerative Lifestyles, which require Regenerative Places (the subject of our second article) in order to truly succeed.
Click on the link above to download the full e-book / pdf to your computer for the best viewing.
Components of Regenerative Lifestyles
Regenerative Lifestyles have multiple components that work together. A change in one aspect can shift all the others. The sections below describe many of the aspects we consider essential to regenerative lifestyles. Living this way is holistic, so there is a lot of overlap among topic areas. For example, good food obviously falls into the category of Food and Drink; but it is also essential to Health and Wellness.
- Food and Drink: Your food should taste good and keep you healthy; and the way we produce our food and drink has enormous implications for the health of our planet.
- Health and Wellness: Good health contributes greatly to enjoyment of life and reduces healthcare costs, which are becoming increasingly burdensome. Wellness refers to living a healthy lifestyle; and a regenerative one certainly is that.
- Nature and the Environment: We ultimately rely on natural systems for everything we need: food, fiber, feed and fuel, as well as recreational opportunities and more. Regenerative places seek to optimize the local environment, biodiversity, and the production of ecosystem services, for the sake of nature and of the people living there.
- Homesteading and Alternative Education: Many people wish to experience homesteading, a lifestyle of self-sufficiency and potentially greater affordability; but it can be quite challenging. It can be expensive to purchase land and the necessary equipment and supplies to live self-sufficiently; and it can be lonely, as the large parcels of land needed are not found in the city center. The independent mindset that craves homesteading might also prefer homeschooling as part of the circular economy and regenerative lifestyle.
- Community Resilience: Regenerative living both demands and leads to greater resilience on the community level. Having a strong social network, diversity, skills, affordability and green careers within the community means that residents have a high level of self-sufficiency together, which means less vulnerability to outside influences and quicker recovery from problems.
- Local Business and Circular Economy: By necessity, having impact on issues like those listed above means having more localized economies that increase convenience, reduce costs of living, and decrease pollution of water, soil and air.
- Public Policy and Politics: Local action is needed on the big issues, and policy frameworks should support regenerative lifestyles. Policy and politics affect all of the metrics by which we evaluate our goal of building a livable future
Regeneratives are foodies. You enjoy great flavors and nourishing food. But the nutrient density of our food has been steadily declining over the past 70 years due to soil degradation caused by industrial agriculture methods. If we want food that nourishes and heals us, then we have to invest in healthy soils and clean water.
At the same time, locally produced food is in short supply in most communities. Only about 1% of the food consumed in the City of Austin, for example, is actually produced “locally” (and that term can have great variability, including farms that are more than an hour’s drive away). At the same time, the local population has been doubling about every 20 years. Nobody talks about doubling farm outputs or the number of local farmers every 20 years.
Food is also energy-intensive, and thus carbon-intensive: Michael Pollan has stated that it takes 10 calories of energy to produce 1 calorie of food on average. It is important to note that nutrient-dense foods generally have denser calories: they give you more bang for the buck, the way that good hardwood burns longer than the same quantity of softwood. If we produce and consume more nutrient-dense foods, we are not only healthier, but we reduce the carbon emissions needed to supply the food.
Thus a key output needed to support regenerative lifestyles is the production of local-nutrient dense foods.
Keto, Paleo, Vegan, and everything in between
For those wishing to live a regenerative lifestyle, the quality of food and drink is paramount. Your food should truly nourish your body, not just fill your belly. Really good food can only come from a farm that is managed holistically to achieve multiple goals: production of tasty, nutritious food, along with multiple ecosystem services.
A regenerative lifestyle needs a regenerative agriculture farm that is designed from the ground up.
The first step consists of earthworks to create swales, dams and ponds to capture and control rainwater. This ensures a water supply for the farm and community, while also preventing erosion due to water runoff.
Then the soil is tested according to the Albrecht test and other methods and remineralized appropriately. The mineral balancing and addition of organic matter (compost) enable a rich web of microbial life to thrive in the soil, the basis of all terrestrial life.
Plants flourish in this enriched medium, exhibiting increased resilience to disease and pests. By the same token, everything that eats these plants also becomes stronger.
So whether you are eating the plants grown on a regenerative farm, or the animals that eat the plants grown there, you will be enjoying the most nutrient-dense and flavorful foods available anywhere. Whichever diet you follow, your food will nourish and delight you.
Nutrient Density and Flavor
Regenerative lifestyles require nutritious food to keep people healthy. Studies have well documented that the nutritional value of most food grown in this country has drastically declined in the past decades due to soil depletion since industrial agriculture has come to dominate the American food production system. Declining nutrition has contributed to the public health crisis we witness today. A regenerative system puts the compost and minerals into the soil so the plants can access them and you get food that contains the vitamins and minerals that food should have.
So many breeds of fruits and vegetables have been lost to the average person. The prevailing industrial agriculture system has chosen varieties best suited for packaging and travelling: consistent shapes and sizes, and long-lived specimens. These are not always the ones that taste best or contain the most nutrients. On the other hand, regenerative farms produce varieties suited to their region, with its unique soils and local climate. Living a regenerative lifestyle means you get tasty food that is more nutritious and isn’t found everywhere else in the country.
Lost Traditional Recipes
One of the great opportunities of our lifetimes is to rediscover the old foodways of previous generations. The classic old cookbooks from the 1800s are being revived by groups such as the Southern Foodways Alliance. While they give us some insights into what we have lost, they also provide us with opportunities to recover old family recipes. Videos on Netflix celebrate the chefs who are sustaining the classical ways for producing vinegars and fermented products. Regenerative Places enable the people in communities to collaborate more easily and just maybe, eventually improve on those recipes.
Nutritious food is an essential component of living a regenerative lifestyle. Our food should be providing almost everything we need, from a nutritional perspective, yet it is clear from the levels of chronic disease, obesity and general poor health in the population that this is not the case. Soil depletion has a lot to do with this problem. Regenerative lifestyles need places that produce nutrient-dense, toxin-free foods.
A high quality of life is greatly enhanced by good health, which enables us to be energetic and contribute to the causes we care about.
Too many of us are at risk of medical bankruptcy. Our national health care system is one of the most expensive in the world and has our national leaders demanding change. Health care is approaching 20% of the GDP, and half of that is for degenerative diseases, many of which are helped by good nutrition.
Shifting the needle on these medical conditions and their costs requires healthier lifestyles. Regenerative lifestyles build in the facilities to support the outcomes we seek. With the advent of fitness apps, it becomes easier to recognize the number of minutes walked or biked each day, the number of hours spent in the green infrastructure or swimming, etc.
Healthy bodies should be a natural result of active lives and nourishing food. But most of us do not have the opportunity to exercise quite enough during a typical workday. Regenerative places could include destinations such as a fitness park where one can work out muscle groups that don’t get used as much just from walking. A community fitness park could have a variety of simple weight machines and other equipment options for people of varying ages and abilities.
How can we live regeneratively when surrounded by toxic substances? How can our bodies thrive when under constant assault by poisons? Here in the United States, we are so accustomed to having toxic chemicals everywhere around us that we hardly question them: flame retardants in pajamas and furniture; pesticides and herbicides on our neighbors’ properties or in our own garages; cleaning chemicals that kill aquatic life when they hit the next local water body; endocrine disruptors like BPA in food packaging; and the list goes on.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that every one of us has family members and friends who have suffered from cancer. It’s unlikely that a truly toxin-free community can be created any time soon, given how easy it is to for an individual to purchase poisons in so many forms at the closest grocery or home improvement store; but regenerative places can be safe spaces where no herbicides or pesticides are applied outdoors, and the food produced there is toxin-free.
If we are to create a livable future, we need ecosystems performing at their biological optimum. In a climate-changed future, we will need every bit of biological advantage that we can get. Toxins reduce the performance of an ecosystem. Regenerative places should reduce or even eliminate the use of toxic household cleaners that go down the drain or into the compost system. There are numerous non-toxic products like vinegar and hydrogen peroxide that can be used for multiple cleaning and disinfecting purposes.
The challenges of the future are hard to imagine, but the next generation will need to be at their absolute best in order to withstand the problems of climate change. That means they will need healthy bodies and to be quick thinking, independent thinkers.
Children used to grow up with more independence, running around outdoors for hours after school. Today many children live in places that are unsafe for them to roam alone, often because of dangerous automobile traffic. Regenerative places enable walkable lifestyles where kids can run free at a young age without fear of cars traveling at unsafe speeds in their neighborhoods. This lifestyle allows both parents and kids to have more free time and for children to learn independence more naturally, spending time with other kids and adults known to them, in places where they can make mistakes without devastating consequences.
All regenerative places need to be walkable – car dependency is not a sustainable transportation option.
We are all witnesses to the decline of the oceans (from overfishing, plastic pollution and acidification), the contamination of soil (with toxic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers), resulting in a loss of microbes to feed insects that feed birds (biodiversity), the massive loss of soil (minerals and organic matter through soil erosion), and the saturation of the air with carbon. We need to regenerate these vital planetary resources for a better environment and the survival of humanity.
While it is impossible for an individual or small group to have a global impact, it is possible to have a significant impact at the local level. Regenerative places work to build soil quality, reduce plastics, toxic runoff, and carbon emissions, and increase carbon sequestration. Regenerative places support regenerative lifestyles by focusing on biodiversity: by investing in and producing high quality compost and reducing the toxins circulating in nature and the food system, in order to approach optimal biological performance. That helps to repair the planet faster.
Global loss of biodiversity is another cascading crisis the planet faces. There is a great need to start investing species diversity to improve resilience against climate variation: for example, some fruit trees require a minimum number of chilling hours, whereas others won’t bear fruit after a late freeze. Each variety is susceptible to different factors. The impact is that a community is likely to have a more secure food supply if the regenerative farm maximizes its biodiversity in terms of plants, animals, insects and soil microorganisms.
A regenerative place will design for a number of core species but also set aside a percentage of the land for less common varieties that hold potential for that region. In addition, a good steward won’t ever put all her eggs in one basket, so will produce duck eggs in addition to chicken eggs, for example. Or he might focus on animal breeds he is familiar with and confident of, in terms of production, but also have a few animals of other breeds to test.
This is another area where global impact must start at the local level. Global biodiversity is not “out there,” but right in our own backyards. Every time we spray insecticides or pesticides outdoors, we harm local biodiversity, an essential part of the whole. And each time we plant a native flower we help improve it.
It’s been said that compost will save the world. Compost provides critical organic matter to the soil. Tests of agricultural soils in the U.S. regularly show soil organic matter levels at less than 0.5% of the soil volume, while sustainable soils need around 4%. Truly productive soils that resist drought and soil erosion are often in the 14% range.
At the same time, it is critical that we stop losing surplus nutrients to landfills (food waste going into the trash) or out to the ocean. We have to find a way to economically return organic matter from food waste, including the invaluable minerals that it contains, back to the soil. And it needs to be done with the lowest cost in energy/carbon emissions.
Regenerative communities work with on-site compost yards. When nutrient-dense foods are produced and their surpluses leave the community for treatment elsewhere, it becomes impossible to expect the return of the same nutrients. That is termed leakage.
There are tens of thousands of synthetic chemicals in production today, and traces of these surround us, in the air, water, and soil. Many of them are highly toxic to humans and other life forms. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to avoid these, living in the industrialized world, where the fruits and vegetables you buy at the grocery store might have residues of over a dozen pesticides, or a neighbor can spray poisons that drift or run off into your yard.
A person living regeneratively avoids exposure to toxic substances. The best way to do so is to live in a place where a clean environment is valued. The steward of a regenerative farm works with nature to optimize the health of the plants and animals on the farm, thus obviating the need for dangerous herbicides and pesticides. In a regenerative community, the steward can also care for the landscaping in the parks and other public spaces in the same way. Some people might find it hard to imagine never using toxic chemicals to deal with problems in house or yard; but it’s worth recalling that humanity survived for thousands of years without such substances, and the planet was healthier for it.
The secret to Pollution
The book Fateful Harvest: The True Story of a Small Town, a Global Industry, and a Toxic Secret, by Duff Wilson, documents how polluting industries can get rid of hazardous waste by having it made into fertilizer and applied to farm fields. So toxic chemicals that by law could not simply be dumped outside a factory end up being applied directly to food crops. Any one of us could be consuming those toxins when we purchase food grown on those farms. We need places where we can be safe from toxins, on our food, and in the environment around us.
Nature Towns support regenerative living through the use of materials such as biochar which is proven to absorb toxins from the soil. The Nature Towns soil strategy uses advanced microbes to produce humified compost and then extracts those microbes to make compost tea. The compost tea is then inoculated into the soil to grow the population of microbes that produce “glues” in the soil. Those glues can bind toxins and prevent their leaching into the water table and their uptake by the plants. This produces healthier plants for both animals & humans.
The activities of farming, gardening and homesteading are critical to the restoration of healthy food, wellness and ecosystems. No other job or economic sector has more interaction with the soil than farming, which is why regenerative agriculture holds so much promise. Many people wish to homestead or go “back to the land” in order to contribute to healing the earth and to experience the joys of hands-on farming.
But doing so can also be very challenging. It generally means years of very hard work and often great expense, to purchase the land, the minerals and compost needed to enrich the soil, a tractor, solar panels, or other supplies and equipment that can make the place self-sufficient or just sustainable. And it can be socially isolating, depending on the distance the homestead lies from one’s previous community or the nearest town. Living far from family, friends and a social network can be one of the greatest challenges for beginning farmers and ranchers.
Regenerative lifestyles make it easy to enjoy the benefits of farming while making it possible to be part of a larger community. Similar to the concept of the commons, a village with higher population density surrounded by nature allows residents to enjoy the social benefits of community along with access to the nearby green infrastructure, which is owned by all.
The key outputs are ecosystem services, of which there are 21. They can be measured in approximately 70 different activities or categories. It is the job of the Master Steward to ensure that the large green infrastructure investment and resources are directed towards balancing the outputs to the benefit of the community members as well as the employment of the staff that make it all happen.
Regenerative places like Nature Towns can provide residents with allotment gardens of 250 square feet each. Allotment gardens are large pieces of land divided into smaller parcels for individuals. Community gardens, by contrast, are often larger gardens that are maintained by a group of people working together. Allotment gardens tend to have more features, such as a permanent shed in each one.
Cities in countries like Holland and Germany often feature large allotment gardens. They are popular with retirees, who might spend several hours each day at their allotments. Allotments are a good way to get out of the house for fresh air and exercise. They might take a thermos of hot tea or coffee with them to enjoy with one of their neighbors. They dig up some onions, harvest a few tomatoes, feed their chickens and collect the eggs. Afterwards they make their way back home for a fresh lunch. They might even have an electric kettle at the shed for making tea, or keep a heat lamp on for the chickens through the cold nights.
Allotment gardens are also a crucial economic resiliency tool. When an economy goes into decline and cash gets tight, an allotment garden can help reduce costs by allowing the owner to produce their own nutrient-dense foods. A person could use their own cut flowers or fresh food as gifts when attending a party. Some residents may choose to lease additional allotments from other residents and produce a surplus of produce to sell at the community farmer’s market. Other residents might learn and demonstrate skills so successfully in their allotment that these skills can lead to a job working in the green infrastructure.
The farming operations occur in the green infrastructure, where regenerative agriculture practices are the norm. In our vision of Regenerative Lifestyles, however, the farm is governed by a single Master Steward, who does not own the land. The Master Steward’s job is to ensure the balance between producing ecosystem services for the residents while optimizing revenue income from the harvesting of surplus biomass, whether it be feed, food, fiber, or fuel.
Given the size of the green infrastructure (240+ acres), the Master Steward will not perform all the daily operations of each enterprise directly, but will operate joint ventures with apprentices, in which the Steward provides the livestock and/or equipment, and the apprentice provides the labor for a predetermined share of the gross revenue. This provides numerous on-site jobs that can be filled by residents, and is also an excellent pathway for the development of farm interns. Because of the barriers to entry, some of which are mentioned above (cost, social isolation, etc.), it can be very difficult to get started in farming, especially for those who do not inherit land or have substantial savings to get started. This pathway may allow some to go on to become new or beginning independent farmers themselves.
Regenerative Agriculture Operations
The term “regenerative agriculture” has exploded in recent years to represent the great hope for restoring the planet’s air, water and soils – while producing food. It is an extension of permaculture, particularly broadacre permaculture. Regenerative ag practices “carbon farming,” improving the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and converted into plant material and/or soil organic matter. Intensive Silvopasture Sequestration is one technique of carbon farming.
Broadacre permaculture uses a comprehensive/holistic strategy to maintain the long-term stability of operations, taking into account the following elements: Climate, Geography, Water, Access, Forestry, Buildings, Fencing, Soils, Economy, and Energy.
There are many areas of operations on the 240-880 acre farms. Livestock operations include: cows, sheep, pigs, goats and chickens, as well as potentially ducks and geese, bees, etc.
The animals graze in pastures shaded by trees placed at regular intervals. Trees include fruit and nut species, as well as browse; pigs will eat fallen fruits and nuts, and chickens eat the insect larvae that hatch in rotting fruit or other animals’ manure.
The regenerative agriculture design focuses strongly on reducing evaporation rates and increasing carbon sequestration, both of which are accomplished to a great extent by trees. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if many of those were trees that produced food in the form of fruits and nuts? Food forests provide access to fruit trees to people who have with small private lots and no place to plant their own.
Food forests in public areas are also a great way to test alternative varietals. For example, trees could be tested for cold hardiness and heat or drought tolerance, along with varieties that simply need more time to develop. Having these trees away from the main regenerative farm means that the steward can reserve his income-generating acreage for the more certain varieties while still experimenting with new ones and increasing the local biodiversity at the same time.
These food forests can be placed in pocket parks and along the berms and borders of the community or residential areas.
What do we mean by resilience? This term refers to necessities for actual survival, such as availability of food, water and energy, and the ability to recover after a disaster such as a flood or wildfire. It also refers to social resilience, the ability of residents to find supportive relationships and friendships within their community, and neighbors who can help out in times of need.
Sprawling suburbs are characterized by the distance between neighbors, and that distance is often social as well as physical. Many residents know only the four or five others who live closest to them, and never meet those who live on the streets they drive down every day. Older neighborhoods or lower income ones that were not built as master planned communities rarely have a community center where people gather and get to know one another, and they may not even have a local park as a gathering place. Allan Graham, the developer of the Community First Village in Austin states that the majority of homeless people have suffered a profound, catastrophic loss within their lives, often the loss of their last loved one.
The country is full of suburbs where residents are rarely seen outside their homes, as they go straight from house to garage to the isolating bubble of their cars.
By contrast, in a walkable neighborhood, people encounter one another frequently, because almost everyone walks someplace almost every day, and some people may spend hours outdoors, walking to and from shops and services, enjoying the pocket parks, playgrounds, fitness parks or nature trails. In these places, residents become familiar with one another just from seeing each so often. You are likely to start smiling at your neighbor once you’ve seen her every day for a week as you both follow your daily routines, and after another few days you might start chatting when you meet. In a car-dominated world, we’ve lost a lot of the pleasant spontaneous interactions among strangers that add small but important moments of joy to one’s life.
This is not to claim that moving into a regenerative place will guarantee that you gain new friends for life. But it drastically increases the likelihood that you will make many new acquaintances and even real friends. And it makes it much easier for neighbors to come together in times of need, when there is already community awareness of, for example, the single mother or the elderly man who might be especially vulnerable.
Loneliness is an increasing problem in the modern world, with more than half of Americans experiencing the feeling; Britain even appointed a Minister of Loneliness recently. It is hardly surprising, given how isolated we have become in our living arrangements. If you do not have close friends from work, and you aren’t in school, and you have no access to a place where people naturally gather for social time, how can you make new friends?
The vicious cycle is that for people feeling sad and lonely, going out to a new place for the purpose of meeting new people and doing new things can feel overwhelmingly difficult, and the more they avoid doing it, the more lonely and isolated they feel. Many homeless people have become unhoused due to a catastrophic loss in their lives, the death of a spouse, child, or caregiver that leaves them not just financially, but also emotionally, adrift. If they lived in places where simply conducting the business of daily life – shopping, taking a walk, etc. – brought them into contact with numerous other people, this cycle could be broken.
Recent research has shown that the blue zones, where residents live longer than average, generally also display a higher level of social cohesion that is related to physical proximity, i.e., population density. In these places, people know their neighbors and enjoy a strong social network, which leads to longer lifespans.
Regenerative living is affordable. It means being in a place where most needs can be met by walking, rather than being dependent on an expensive and polluting vehicle. Car ownership is a burden amounting to $6000-10,000 per year. Walkable places support community resilience simply because they are less expensive, as well as much more convenient. Overly large homes can be a burden as well, to maintain and pay for. But as American places have neglected the public realm, private houses have ballooned, in part to make up for all that is lacking outside the home. A walkable place can reverse this trend, providing a rich array of amenities outside the home within a short distance.
A Nature Town also enables a much healthier lifestyle. In addition to the opportunity to integrate exercise throughout one’s day, residents benefit from cleaner air and abundant, nutrient-dense food grown on site. A better state of wellness translates to spending less on healthcare and thus more money in the pocket.
The affordable housing crisis is reaching epidemic proportions in this country, yet leaders still tend to focus mainly on the cost of housing itself. There is an urgent need for lifestyles that are more affordable in every aspect, and housing that supports those lifestyles.
Intentional communities and co-housing represent a way of life that appeals to many people who seek more social interaction with others that goes deeper than just pleasant neighborly relationships. While such groups can be based on religion, they can also be entirely non-denominational, based only on the guiding philosophy of people helping one another. People in intentional communities might live in micro-apartments with a large shared kitchen, thus dramatically cutting costs for all; or they might live in a cluster of small single-family homes with a large shared community space. The physical aspect can take many forms, as can the social side. People living in co-housing might develop a cooperative routine that arranges shared dinners, with everyone taking turns cooking, or shared childcare, or shared vehicles, for example.
A walkable community connected via good public transit to the nearest city means that residents might be able to live without a car except for occasional longer outings, in which case there is little need to own one full time. Then a vehicle sharing arrangement with close neighbors can be an ideal solution to transportation needs. Families with children benefit enormously from having other adults nearby who can take turns with the kids, so that parents don’t suffer the stress of being “on” for 24 hours at a time, and other adults can enjoy relationships with younger people, watching them grow through the years, and helping to guide their development into adulthood, like a group of unofficial godparents.
Diversity, equity and inclusion of all kinds of people are necessary for forming strong communities: old, young, all ages in between, different ethnicities, experiences, and income levels.
Suburban sprawl is the new segregation: it separates people thoroughly by income levels, which in many instances, is also by race. People without a car are badly handicapped, whether they are not driving due to lack of funds, age, or physical handicaps that prevent them. The domination of our streets by the car represents a terribly unjust system. A walkable place significantly counteracts this, as “walkable” implies also that wheelchairs, bicycles, and slow-moving pedestrians are far safer than on car-dominated streets.
Crafts and Skills / Stewardship
Our reliance on the global supply chain for goods and services means that fewer people have the skills to make things locally. This reduces local community resilience. However, there is a resurgence in interest in locally produced unique crafts and skills such as wood and leather working, ceramics, textiles, herbalism, etc. All of these and more can be supported in a regenerative place with extensive green infrastructure.
These activities can make excellent contributions to the local community when fragile global supply chains are disrupted, such as during the shutdown of US automotive plants when the tsunami hit Fukushima in Japan a few years ago. It takes years to learn some crafts, and for some youth, that can mean skills they can begin learning from an early age, and well-paying jobs in the future.
Resilient communities include local businesses and their owners as an acknowledged best practice. The opposite is a bedroom or commuter community.
Desirable outcomes for a regenerative place and resilient community include having a thriving local (circular) economy, with greater production of goods and services within the place, employment opportunities that don’t require cars to reach them, reduced landfill volumes, reduced use of packaging and single-use materials, increased repairs of existing items, etc. Those things lead to lower costs for waste disposal, more retained earnings within the community, and a lower cost of living. More convenient sharing also increases the free time that people have to invest in relationships, within the household or the community.
It has been well documented that buying from local businesses increases the amount of money that stays within the community, contributing also to sustainable local jobs. Big box stores and the global economy represent the fast economy where money seems to accumulate in the bank accounts of those who need it least.
The Slow Money concept gained traction for awhile and was a companion to slow food, slow church and slow government.
Regenerative agriculture is a great way to support the local economy. A local farm with an on-site farmer’s market gets a higher share of the final food price, and that is more money to create local jobs and hire residents, both part-time and full-time.
The sharing economy can be part of the strategy to reduce waste. The amount of energy that goes into the manufacturing of some products as compared to their actual useful life can be astonishing. For example, one study suggested that the average battery-operated drill is used on average for just 15 minutes.
Ideally, people requiring a drill for a small job or just once in a while, could borrow one for that brief period. But the fact is that unless that drill can be rented in an easy and convenient way, the sharing economy won’t work. In fact, these ‘peer to peer’ networks are really struggling to get something to work. One main reason is that the transportation distances make sharing or rental of small items inconvenient.
That’s where walkable community design comes in. It gets the need for transportation of the drill or other device out of the way. In a community of 3,000 people or 1,300 homes that anyone can walk to within 15 minutes, that becomes easier, especially when you consider that cycling can bring that time down to 5 minutes. Even better would be if there were a tool locker for every 250 homes, so that anyone could walk to the sharing hub in just 5 minutes.
Repair Cafes and Extended Product Life
Repair Cafes are popping up all around the world under various names. The main idea is that if you have a clock that stops working, someone in the community might have a known and possibly simple solution for its repair. They might have spare parts from the same model owned and discarded by someone else. And there could be tools on hand in the repair cafe to help you fix your clock. This could help extend the life of many products and thus reduce the costs of living. Extending product life is an affordability issue as well as the responsible way to live on a finite planet.
Repair cafes can extend to a wide variety of things. Beyond the obvious electronics, it can extend to parts or hacks for IKEA furniture to repurpose things no longer needed by someone else. They can function as consignment stores. This aspect could be especially useful for someone downsizing and moving into a regenerative community.
Public Policy & Politics
Climate Change, Biodiversity, Soil Contamination, and Soil Loss
The compounding and cascading problems in our air, water and soil are unprecedented. Our ability to adapt to the challenges under our current system is a proven failure (i.e. we are not moving the needle). We need solutions at the local level, and that is Regenerative Lifestyles offer.
Green New Deal
The Green New Deal (GND) represents the hopes of many people to fix the issues that are most important to them. A key question for investing funds from the GND will be the effectiveness of the investment. It is widely known that retrofitting a bad design can be far more expensive than a new design suited to the task. How much of our industrial society can successfully be retrofitted? In many cases it might be better to start anew.
If the task is creating a livable future, then walkable communities inside regenerative agriculture farms will offer an excellent investment opportunity for a variety of reasons.
The task of transitioning our society from a high carbon emissions design to a low carbon emissions design is essential to reducing the long-term effects of climate change on the coming generations. Transition engineers such as Susan Krumdieck of New Zealand show the logical math of that path, and how we have to reduce our emissions by 90% in order to be successful. For the average American household, that means going from 50 tons per year of carbon dioxide and its equivalents, to just 5.
Fortunately, regenerative lifestyles can drastically lower carbon footprints just through design combined with lifestyle choices many of us are happy to make today. We project that Regenerative Places can go from 50 tons of emissions (read as minus 50) to 5 tons of sequestration due to the activities of the regenerative farm (read as +5, or a sequestering lifestyle rather than an emitting one).
Conservation Development Ordinance – Travis County
Not all counties in the USA are ideally set up to support the construction of Regenerative Places. Travis County, Texas — where Austin is located — passed a unique ordinance back in 2008 to support and reward developments that design for more than 50% of the site to be put into conservation. Projects complying with the Conservation Development Ordinance are rewarded with faster processing of applications through quicker feedback from senior staff, as well as 100% rebates of application fees.
As you have read elsewhere in this document, Regenerative Places are usually designed with 75% conservation. It thus follows that the US county with the greatest likelihood of supporting Regenerative Places is Travis County. When you combine this with the fact that the Austin metropolitan area permitted over 30,000 new units in 2018 and was named the #1 real estate market by the Urban Land Institute, it becomes a quite promising location.