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What is Regenerative Development and Design?

‘Tis the season of giving; the time of year in which we are grateful for the bounty we receive and when we tend to consider those less fortunate. We begin to think of our community around us and common ground that we share as people. Maybe we donate items to food banks or participate in a childrens’ holiday gift charity. But what if this awareness happened year-round? What if we considered all our connections, both social and ecological, beyond the holiday season? Regenerative thinking is where awareness of interconnection begins.

At its core, regenerative thinking is about the relationships between the environment, economy, and society, whether it’s in business, architecture, or urban planning. You may think regenerative development is another term for sustainability or eco-friendly urban planning. While these are aspects of regenerative thinking, they are in truth a small part of a larger ecosystem of potential. An ecosystem of ideas and community involvement where we recognize that, though separate, each affects the other.

For example, a housing developer may build a green, solar-powered apartment complex or a residential neighborhood may plan a sustainable community garden. These things benefit the surrounding areas, but ultimately serve the goals of the apartment complex. Regenerative thinking takes it further and considers how other concepts factor. How is it built with the land, rather than against it? Can we create learning opportunities along with the project development? How can we involve community members to participate in expanding the project? What will the neighborhood look like when there are platforms of community involvement? What does it mean long-term for the area, and how can these platforms shift us from product consumers to producers of long-term wellbeing? How can the funding of the solar apartment complex generate multiple returns at once? These questions are part of a larger solution requiring not only thinking about, but designing, the entire ecosystem of relationships interacting with projects. This is ideally done before any blueprints or building plans are created. By engaging in conversations with all stakeholders early in the process - housing developers, land managers, sustainability leaders, community members, and more - a regenerative approach to development and design creates a harmonious and equitable environment that continues to give to our region over time.

There are five parts involved in a regenerative project: personal, social, natural, financial, and produced. While these parts already exist separate from each other, regenerative thinking focuses on developing the relationships between them. When this ecosystem of relationships is designed to work together, projects have a more powerful and lasting impact. The first part is easy; personal capital refers to supporters, education, and experience. Social capital is how a community works together to achieve common goals. Natural capital represents our land: rivers, lakes, forests, and other natural gifts. Financial investment, either through strategic partnerships or other sources, helps reach goals. Produced capital becomes the assets, goods, and services created when other capitals are used successfully.

There are many examples of regenerative design completed by Regenesis Group. One of their seven principals, Ray Lucchesi, is a company advisor to Regenesis Reno. In Mexico, 200 acres near the village of Juluchuca, Playa Viva is a sustainable resort and residential community home to beaches, private nature reserves, and more. While many ecotourism sites are criticized for harming local economies and natural ecosystems, the Playa Viva investment succeeds in Juluchuca village as a highly valuable benefit, not a hindrance. Rather than bypass the village, Playa Viva’s entrance originally took visitors straight through the village, allowing them to engage with residents person-to-person. Even today, the hotel still works frequently with the village in partnership, ensuring local salt farmers get a fair price for their work and hiring former poachers to work in the turtle sanctuary. Creative relationships between the resort and the people of the village make Playa Viva a success.

So how can projects across Western Nevada begin to instill a regenerative ecosystem?

Another way to understand the relationships in a regenerative ecosystem is to imagine the root structure of a tree. In a functioning ecosystem, nutrients are provided to the tree by the rain or materials in the soil. Yet if it can’t get enough water or nutrients, symbiotic connections with other species can bring water to the tree while the tree provides food in exchange. People may also put protective measures in place ensuring the tree’s survival. Parents can ensure the tree lives on for their children to enjoy, and activists can ensure more trees grow nearby.

Regenerative development goes one step further than just protecting the tree - it starts a conversation about what the tree means to the community. It cultivates design of symbiotic relationships between a project, people, and nature creating a win-win for all involved. By fostering conversation among all capitals, the regenerative approach creates space for the community to work together. Community involvement isn’t just a side effect of regeneration; it’s the defining condition.

Daniel Christian Wahl, the author of Designing Regenerative Cultures, wrote that “becoming conscious of our interbeing with the world reminds us of our communion with all life as a reflection of our larger being. As conscious relational beings, love for life is our natural state.”

Regenerative development and design essentially reverse-engineers the standard design process while focusing on the interpersonal relationships of all involved; the collection of nature, society, and economy. You can find more examples of regenerative thinking on our resource page, as well as more information about Regenesis Reno.

Now we have a chance to ask: How can regional development create regenerative relationships in Western Nevada, regardless of season? If you have ideas about what this could look like for our area, let us know today.

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