Neighborhoods for Sustainability

Bridging Social and Ecological Commons

Ecocreative Transformation

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 socioecological 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 build another society. Thus, it not only invites us to build new frameworks for social actions – it challenges us to make these systems free from 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 material and spiritual 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 humankind makes self-determined activities and mutually beneficial interactions between individuals all the more important, challenging us to define alternatives to unsustainable practices in all domains of human life. Thus, interpreted as a human-centered practice that contributes to a sustainable society, ecocreativity is an imperative to create new bridges between social and ecological commons, new spaces of interconnectivity. In so doing, it suggests that the neighborhood can become the geographical starting point for sustainable human development, indeed, the birthplace of non-antagonistic, self-mediated relations. Neighborhood-integrated commons – in particular, energy, water, food, material, shelter, learning, communication, and health systems – would then frame our lives. Democratically controlled and collectively built and sustained from below, self-governing and self-regulating neighborhood communities would then allow us to realize our potential, however, without destroying the biological foundation of all human development.

Healing the Rifts

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 toward the reproduction and well-being of all species – the long-term healing of the ecological rifts between humanity and nature. This new perspective does not deny human well-being, but frames it in such a way that we can gain control of our social metabolism with 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: it respects the integrity of ecosystems and the boundaries of the Earth system, and it guides the integration of necessary social systems with nature. However, for this de-alienating and de-commodifying transformation to occur, it does not suffice to negate the unsustainable and irrational: we must start anew, redefine the rules of human interaction, begin to act as conscious human transformers of social and ecological relations. As globally united, actively contributing ecological creators deeply involved in the replacement of a rapidly changing mode of destruction with a sustainable mode of reproduction, we would then make room for alternative practices, that is, radically change – in the most encompassing sense – what it means to be interdependent beings on this planet. As bearers of hope and bridges to a sustainable future, united restorers of degraded, damaged, and destroyed 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 fashion, 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.

Now and Everywhere

Another social order is not only possible, it is within reach. 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 federations of self-governing neighborhood communities. Today, it is obvious that long-term sustainability is only possible in an egalitarian society powered by the sun.