Is the growth of cities over? In November 2019, the Zhangyan Harvests Festival, near Shanghai, explored diverse aspects of China’s emerging rural economy. As a festival centre piece, I curated an exhibition called “Urban-Rural”. It brought together projects to do with Soils, Making, Feeding, Clothing, Dwelling, and Learning. Just before the opening, I made this short – and 100% unofficial – film in which I show you around the exhibition.
Many city people yearn to reconnect with nature and the land – but city and rural are dis-connected. What are we to do about it? In southern Italy, we are working with @CasaNetural to develop a new kind of learning destination – a base from which to connect with farms, watersheds, bioregions, ecomuseums, food routes, industrial heritage, and agro-ecology.
Our approach at Wonder Grottole is to combine the “What Is?” with the “What If?” For example: shown is Giuseppe’s Ape (with a curious cargo). We ask:”What other services could the Apes of Grottole support?” In exploring that question, we look far and wide for inspiration – for example, Go-Jek in Indonesia.
If the health of people, and the places where we live, are connected, what kinds of business can help them thrive together? In September 2018, we’re helping launch a new Relational Design Masters with Pontio; students explore live approaches to innovation that are centered on people and place, tech enabled, and design-led. They will learn how, for example, to connect adventure sport with the $3 trillion wellness industry.
A ‘leave things better’ economy is emerging in civic ecology and green infrastructure, wetlands restoration, fibersheds, and Ecological Restoration Camps. At Sweden’s premier architecture school KTH (below) we explored the ways in which ecological restoration is not only multi-disciplinary; it also works at multiple scales of geography and time.
On this short course at Schumacher College in 2017 (below), which we led with Lisa Maria Enzenhofer, we explored ecological restoration at multiple scales of geography and time. We went on a Deep Time Walk (below); looked at micro-environments in former factories; and met people working on regenerative agriculture; civic ecology, green infrastructure.
Our annual summer school with Konstfack, in Sweden (where the sun always shines) combines online work with a week on site in at Hjulsjö. In 2017 (below) we crafted and tested small actions to do with soil fertility, ecological and economic value, biodiversity, food webs. We asked: how best might we support ongoing actions in rural situations like this one? konstfack.se/Design-for-Sustainable-Co-Creation
Our short course on City-Rural Connections @Abadiracademy in Sicily was part of its Relational Design masters. We visited local projects, such as a permaculture orange farm (below) and discussed ways for city people to reconnect with rural projects.
If the ‘souvenir’ of tomorrow were to be a reciprocal relationship between city people and a rural place, what would it be about?
Together with @CasaNetural, a hub in southern Italy, we looked for alternatives to the ‘visit-spend-leave’ model of mass tourism – for example, the opportunity to learn a skill from artisans, or farmers, as part-time ‘remote apprentices’. CasaNetural, Matera, Italy
In Bridport, England, we explored new ways for city people to re-connect with the land—and how to make them happen: Ways that are part-time, but long-term; ways that involve an exchange of value, not just paying money; ways to share knowledge, land, and equipment in new ways; ways based on historical links between town and country—but reinvented in an age of networks and social innovation. Afterwards, the Agroecology Land Trust made a to-do list of practical issues that need to be addressed.
This Chora Connection workshop in 2016 brought together 12 pioneering project leaders who are developing real-world examples (see map) of how local living economies work. We discussed the fact that city and rural are dis-connected – and what to do about it. Chora connects new partners: regions, municipalities, associations, guilds. choraconnection.dk/back-to-the-land-2-0
A bioregion re-connects us with living systems, and each other, through the unique places where we live. It acknowledges that we live among watersheds, foodsheds, fibersheds, and food systems – not just in cities, towns, or ‘the countryside’. Together with Isabel Carlisle and Regenesis we helped to run a two week course at Schumacher College.
We explored new ways to connect with the ecological and cultural assets of ‘Big Tree Country.’ Our group included a blacksmith, a digital arts producer, a land owner, a raspberry farmer, a soldier turned master mead maker, an expert on the ecosystems to be found in dry stone walls, a service designer, an artist who makes outfits that disguise you as a rock, the tutor at a forest school, and a designer of water cleaning systems. Our host was with Clare Cooper from Cateran’s Common Wealth
It was a thrill to follow in the steps of Tomorrow’s Meatball. We were invited by the Danish Design Centre to run an “Ask Me Anything” lunch at Copenhagen’s latest creative innovation lab, Space 10. Our free-ranging discussion revolved around design thinking, business models, emergent technologies, complex challenges and sustainability.
Together with StadtFabrik (City Factory) – MAK Vienna’s real-time research lab – we helped a multi-disciplinary group develop a new story about mobility and infrastructure in Vienna. Our guest projects were Biotope City;Komobile,who design decision-support software for cargo bike systems; and Cargo Bike Collective.
A week of workshops at California College of the Arts, San Francisco (John is shown with our host Leslie Carol Roberts). An explosion of new economy models is surfacing all around the world: Sharing. Peer-to-Peer. Commons’ ownership. Mobility as a service. Bioregions. Local money. Transition Towns. Something is happening – but is there a pattern?
What is an economy actually for? Together with de Waag, we invited social change makers, inventive life hackers and enthusiastic self-organized communities to explore the power of small actions to transform the bigger picture.
Together with our friends at the Unbox Festival in Delhi, and designer Mansi Gupta, we went the heart of India’s largest leather-producing region. We discussed ways to develop products and services that combine clean forms of leather making with direct connections between between producers and customers. (Leathershed Lab, India)