how communities learn

Communities learn over time.  To the degree that people learn about themselves, the other creatures in their ecosystem, and the deep connections that link them with the places they inhabit, they build both the cognitive capacity to notice when their actions are having a negative outcome on their community, and the emotional capacity to admit when they need to change.  It is at this point that adaptive responses become possible...if community members can adopt an ecological approach to their issues, one that incorporates deep listening, dialogue, and design skills into their civic life. 

As people practice listening to themselves, each other, and to what David Abram calls the "more than human world",and as they learn to think and act collaboratively to design unique, place-sensitive responses to pressing ecological, social and environmental issues, their communities will reflect this ability.  The new community center may be designed to capture free energy from the sun and to recycle wastewater.  The houses people inhabit will likely be smaller, better built, and more diverse, with the single-family detached home sharing space with a variety of other options:  multi-family, mixed use, cohousing, townhomes, assisted living. The landscape will reflect consideration for the needs of wildlife, through habitat protection and restoration, as well as visible acknowledgement that recreational activities like hunting and sport-fishing, properly managed, are a legitimate expression of human culture.  People in one community might organize to change the zoning laws in order to facilitate locating jobs and services in the neighborhoods where they live; in another, an emphasis on kitchen gardens and regional, organic agriculture might become a central emphasis.  In response to civic pressure, workplaces will begin incorporating natural daylight, good air quality, and flextime into their policies, and the streetscape will honor pedestrian and cyclist needs as well as those of motorists. 

These types of changes represent a significant departure from 20th century development models, and to be truly sustainable, they must come from an informed citizenry working in collaboration with policymakers.  By defining what they value and wish to keep, what they aspire to and wish to see created, and by committing to learning the skills of ecological design, communities can practice positive future-making.