Looking into the urban future?

While I was visiting Melbourne, I also paid a quick visit to Centre for Ecological Research and Studies (CERES). The visual fabric of this small area reminded me of Christiania in Copenhagen, which is in many ways a suburb out of some hippies’ dream (of course there are difficult issues there as well). CERES was not as anarchist and not as controversial – it had some shacks designed out of thrash and bike shed for DIY fixing, but also rather conventional urban market and facilities to run student workshops for primary school student groups. But they shared a sort of visual language and the mode for collaboration that seems to be missing from the polished eco cities in China.

In such examples one can perhaps see parts of our urban future, as resources will inevitably diminish if we are to tackle both global inequality and ecological crisis. These areas were designed out of existing and recycled materials, and were mostly done with collaborative efforts. At the same time they obviously govern knowledge on more sustainable urban lifestyles.

My host in Melbourne had an ordinary house in an ordinary suburb, with not-so-ordinary three chickens in the back yard. When having self-produced eggs with free-range bacon for breakfast, one is thinking that indeed, becoming self-sufficient within a city might not only be an urban dream. This perfect host Damien Melotte, whose hospitality I was glad enough to enjoy, is working in a small consultancy called Tomorrow[at]Work, which is focused to help business become more resilient and adaptive in regard to their future challenges. In his personal life he has coined up a nice term, “growsumer”, and he is obviously living out that word.

While it remains a fact that we have to consider our dietary habits for more sustainable future (for this topic check out this great Master thesis by Seungho Lee), there is also a possibility to look the issue from another angle than from the one of a consumer. This term linked to consumption society has already evolved into “prosumer”, which is meaning that a consumer is becoming also a producer. This might lead into more sustainable peer-to-peer production and consumption. But I must say I prefer Damien’s term more in many ways, as it suggests that instead of production and consumption we could reach towards growing something more resilient and sustainable. This includes the idea of being sort of a shepherd for our environment, as growing something requires that the soil (and the air) is sustained.

It reminds me of this rather overly used phrase from native American Indians, which is now more relevant than ever before:

“When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money” (Cree Prophecy).

Designers could embrace and reflect on this perspective more often, and instead of creating an increasing amount of stuff for just consumption and production, they could aim to empower people to transform themselves into growsumers, to live out the sustainable future also in an urban and modern setting.