What is a regenerative development—really?

Rock yinyang

Ahmad Nadalian

The idea of regeneration has clearly caught hold in the building and community development world. It’s starting to show up everywhere. But how can we tell whether a project is or will be regenerative? In embracing the term, are we in danger of demeaning its power if we don’t fully understand it?  Is it just green building at its best—carbon neutrality; 100% renewable energy, all recycled materials? Or is it more, and if so what?

At Regenesis, we see it as not just “more”, but actually a different order of working, one that strives for a different order of effect.  For example, a regenerative project, or community must, at minimum, manifest all four of these qualitative attributes.

  • Inspirational — Regenerative projects inspire because they play meaningful, contributing roles within the larger human and natural communities in which they’re embedded.  Equally important, they  provide meaningful roles, creating opportunities for all participants (designers, builders, buyers, occupants, neighbors, regulatory agencies and others) to make real contributions to a healthier place and planet. They inspire stakeholders to reach for higher aspirations, bridging divisions and polarities through a shared vision of a better future for all.
  • Authentic — Regenerative projects nourish and support what is authentic by growing out of the cultural and ecological uniqueness of place. They recognize that distinctive local culture and traditions grow out of humans’ response over many years to the natural communities and landscapes of their place. They are shaped by and contribute to this interweaving of local cultures and ecosystems. And they work to build understanding of and stewardship for the co-creative partnership between the natural and built communities that is ultimately the real source of enduring value and common-wealth. Perhaps the single most distinguishing characteristic of a regenerative development is that it arises from the essential qualities that make a Place what it is. Through partnering with place, it seeks to be an instrument for realizing and growing the potential that is inherent in these essence qualities. The complexity and dynamism of this partnership requires a very different set of capabilities than green or sustainable design.
  • “Naturally” IntelligentRegenerative projects use natural intelligence to achieve elegant and economical results. Natural systems replace services of engineered systems and engineered systems support healthy natural systems. Like natural systems, regenerative projects “stack functions”—achieving multiple purposes from each investment. Master Plans and designs are informed by the logic of natural systems, integrating developments with wild ecosystems to the benefit of both.  These regenerative designs both optimize the presence of people in a landscape and use the unique attributes of the land to more fully realize the potential of the built environment
  • Paradigm ChangingRegenerative projects are paradigm changing. In contrast to many other green development efforts, they are proactive agents in healing the places they inhabit. By including the regeneration of living systems (cultural, economic, natural) as a necessary target, regenerative projects are raising the bar and helping to shift an entire industry in a positive direction. They are proving that financially successful real estate development can also be sources of co-evolution for the natural and human communities.

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