Are positive stories enough?

“The world is in dire need of a narrative adjustment; that’s why we write” (Hamid Dabashi)

Since How To Thrive In the Next Economy was published in the autumn, my 29 conversations about the book have prompted all kinds of feedback. One question has cropped up repeatedly: In a world filled with melting ice caps, war, species extinctions, and economic peril, how can I possibly argue that the small-scale actions I write about can transform the bigger picture for the better?

My answer: It depends how you frame the picture. Read More »

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Bioregionalism By Design: Short Course at Schumacher College, England

Western Cornwall, Penwith Bioregion

Doors of Perception is helping to lead a  two week course at Schumacher College which runs from 25 April to 6 May.

In myriad projects around the world, a new economy is emerging whose core value is stewardship, not extraction. Growth, in this new story, means soils, biodiversity and watersheds getting healthier, and communities more resilient.

These seedlings are cheering – but something more is needed for the whole to be more than the sum of its parts. A compelling story, and a shared purpose, are needed that people can relate to, and support, whatever their other differences.

A strong candidate for that connective idea is the bioregion. A bioregion re-connects us with living systems, and each other, through the unique places where we live. It acknowledges that we live among watersheds, foodsheds, fibersheds, and food systems – not just  in cities, towns, or ‘the countryside’.

Growth, in a bioregion is redefined as improvements to the health and carrying capacity of the land, and the resilience of communities. Its core value is stewardship, not extraction.

By focusing our efforts on stewardship as a new concept of value, a bioregion therefore frames the next economy, not the dying one we have now. The idea is culturally dynamic, too. It is literally and etymologically a ‘life-place’, in Robert Thayer’s words, whose unique geographic, climatic, hydrological, and ecological qualities – its metabolism – can be the basis for meaning and identity.

Designers and artists can contribute to bioregional development in various ways:

Maps of the bioregion’s ecological assets are needed: its geology and topography; its soils and watersheds; its agriculture and biodiversity;

– The collaborative monitoring of living systems, the interactions among them, and the carrying capacity of the land, needs to be designed – together with feedback channels;

– A bioregion’s social  assets – such as waste, recycling  and maker networks – also need to be identified, and connected to each other;

Spaces and places that support collaboration – from maker spaces to churches, from town halls, to libraries – need to be identified and, where needed, adapted;

New collaboration and peer-to-peer platforms are needed to help people to share resources of all kinds – from land, to time and knowledge;

New economic and business models need to be adapted and deployed, such as peer production, commons economics, and open value accounting,

Novel forms of governance and discussion must also be designed that enable collaboration among diverse groups of people and enterprises;

– Every bioregion will need its own identity, too – what the bioregion looks like, and feels like, to its citizens and visitors.

None of these actions mean designers or artists acting alone. But in creating objects of shared value – such as an atlas, a website, a plan, a building, a landscape, or a meeting – the design process can be a powerful way to foster collaboration among diverse disciplines and constituencies.

Developing the agenda for a bioregion involves a wide range of skills and capabilities: The geographer’s knowledge of mapping; the conservation biologist’s expertise in biodiversity and habitats; the ecologist’s literacy in ecosystems; the economist’s ability to measure flows and leakage of money and resources; the service designer’s capacity to create platforms that enables regional actors to share and collaborate; the artist’s capacity to represent real-world phenomena in ways that change our perceptions.

A bioregion provides livelihoods, not just amenity. It builds on existing relocalisation and circular economy efforts that measure where resources come from; identify ‘leakages’ in the local economy; and explore how these leaks could be plugged by locally available resources.

One of real-world case study elements of our course at Schumacher will be food systems. We will explore new distribution models and – with ‘social farming’, WWOOFING 2.0‘ and ‘care farming’- the direct participation of citizens in farm-based activities.

 For more information about the course, and to enrol, go here. A limited number of bursaries for short courses is available – as explained here. 

If you or your organisation cannot come, please consider sponsoring a bursary for someone else who can. We promise to brief you afterwards on how the event goes, and will keep you in the loop for future projects. 


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From Bike Chain to Blockchain: Three Questions About Cooperation Platforms and Mobility

Should transport systems be designed to save time – or calories? Who should own mobility sharing platforms: private companies? cities? us? What kind of ecosystem is needed to support the sharing platforms we want? These three questions are the focus of a workshop in London  on 25 November. I’ve asked a three friends to join me on a panel: Tessy BrittonCo-founder of Civic Systems Lab and Participatory City; they just published their research report Designed to ScaleBlaine Cook,  formerly lead developer of Twitter, now a founder of collaborative text editing startup Poetica; and (by Skype) Trebor Sholz, co-curator of last week’s already-celebrated conference on platform cooperativismThis post frames three questions we will discuss – hopefully, with you, too. 

Thomas Lommée multivan-in-action

(Above: Multivan concept by Thomas Lommée)

Taxi. Pick-up. Delivery. Assistance. Vendor. Security. Rental.

Seven functions, one vehicle. The signs on that one small van describe a new way to think about mobility: the use of multiple mobility ‘assets’ to support a wide variety of services.

In the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) the van, when coupled with a pay-per-use leasing framework, and distributed computing, becomes one element within an asset-light mobility ecosystem.

The manufacturers of large heavy vehicles are hedging their bets in this space.  Moovel, a German start-up that “shows you available mobility options so you can reach your destination with ease”, is backed by Daimler,

Platforms like MaaS and Moovel do not dwell much on the design of vehicles. Their focus, instead, is on ‘cloud commuting’ – enabling access to  the means to move (such as the micro-van) as-and-when they are needed.

When every ride is an encounter, and every traveller an entrepreneur, these platform can enable new relationships between people, goods, energy, equipment, spaces, and value. A commuter can deliver a package on her way to work. The electric motor on a pedelec might be used to drive a balcony hoist.

This is in sharp contrast to ownership of a large heavy artefact, such as a Tesla, that requires enormous resources to produce – only to sit unused for 95 percent of the time.

Radically adaptive use can involve non-cash transactions, too. As with any other piece of equipment a borrowed vehicle, properly used and returned – or a service well-executed – can add to your reputation as a sharer. An enhanced reputation might give you access to use credits, discounts on services, or the use of other vehicles, equipment, and workplaces.

With Lazooz, for example, the community which owns and uses the platform collectively decides about the reward in zooz for each contribution via sophisticated protocols. The ‘weight’ of each member’s input is dynamically set by the community itself. A cryptocurrency technology supports a ‘Fair Share’ rewarding mechanism for developers, users and backers.

Here are three starter questions for our discussion on the 25th:

Q1. Time, or calories?
Until now, transportation has been planned to ‘save’ time. In this age of energy transition, would a better criterion not be, how to save calories? And if it looks as if ride-sharing services like Uber might actually put more cars on the road by competing with public transport, what then?

Q2. Bright light – or dark star?
For Neil Gorenflo, Uber’s rush to be a global monopoly makes it a dark star in the sharing economy. Are we clear about the difference between dark star platforms, and socially and environmentally progressive ones? And who should own them: private companies? cities? us?

Q3. What kind of ecosystem?
For cooperative platforms to work, they will need more than clever ideas for apps. Uber and Airbnb have grown “not just on their own merits, but thanks to an ecosystem of high-risk investors, incubators, coding schools, government incentives, and tech conferences”. How is an an ecosystem for platform cooperativism to be grown?

You need to book but all proceeds of the event will go to Sustrans, which is a charity. Copies of my new book will also be on sale at a special discount; 10% of the proceeds of those sales go to the author of this post.










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“It’s already happening”- a message to COP21



With fewer than three weeks to go until the start of COP21, the UN’s climate negotiations in Paris, a question arises: Will this gathering make the slightest difference?

For Rob Hopkins, editor of a new book from Transition Network, 21 Stories of Transitionanswer is yes – but a different kind of yes than the global leaders meeting in Paris probably have in mind. He wants decision makers to reimagine their role as being ‘community enablers’ whose task is to deepen, connect and extend initiatives that are already out there.

A huge upsurge in transformative local projects is evident around the world, argues Hopkins; the priority is not for global leaders to start things off from scratch – still less, to tell people what to do.

Although Hopkins says we should not expect a ‘Great Change Moment’ at COP21, he does compare our situation today to East Germany before the Berlin Wall came down. Right up until the last minute, Hopkins reminds us, that country appeared to be robust, powerful and permanent. In reality, as its sudden collapse testified,  it was ‘holed below the waterline – undermined by the number of young people defecting to the West, corruption, rigged elections, and much more’.

Today, too, says Hopkins, “Something brilliant and historic is already underway. Our message to the Obamas, Camerons and Merkels of this world is that it’s already happening”

Caring Town Totnes, in England, for example, although unique to its context – is relevant for thousands of other communities.

This collaboration of more than 70 local public, voluntary and private health and social care providers have a shared objective: to ensure that every resident of area, and especially the most vulnerable people, know where to access support and have a range of affordable options to meet their needs.

The thinking  is that health and he work well being are not best thought of as a something ‘delivered’, like a pizza, by a distant supplier. Community-based health and prevention emerge, instead, from a collaborative network of professional and voluntary groups and organisations. The social design task is to create the conditions in which such diverse actors camay collaborate.

This shift of emphasis away from biomedical ‘factories’  such a big hospitals is exemplified by Greenslate Community Farm.


This once derelict rural cluster is being transformed into a multi-acitivity community hub. Funded by Public Health England, it provides a meeting place for people recovering from drug and alcohol addictions and others special needs.

Therapeutic activities at the farm cross-subsidise growing activities. Eighteen acres of former barley field are now a regenerating woodland that is being coppiced and replanted. Old farm buildings have been repurposed as a schoolroom and shops. A community energy company, a vegan catering wagon and a charcoal maker use the farm as their base.  Future plans include a new straw bale building to house a professional kitchen, a community bakery, a cafe, a dairy and offices.

A pixellated geography of farming is also emerging alongside this diversification of farm activities. In Liege, in Belgium, an archepelago local food enterprises are being run, connectedly, as ‘learning network of microfarms’ in a joined-up ‘Food Belt’ around the city.


In a city with a long heritage of industry and steel production, much of the land within the city is too contaminated for growing food, so the idea is to reconnect the city with its peri-urban land, and to use the revitalisation of local food production to reimagine the local economy. The vision is for Liège to be surrounded by microfarms of 3-4 hectares (8-10 acres), creating  many jobs. In London, the Crystal Palace Patchwork Farm is based on similar principles.

Energy and Money

The two invisible but all-embracing backstories of these new times – energy, and debt – are also being tackled by small projects with the potential to make a huge difference as they connect, help each other, and multiply.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 10.47.40

Community energy projects, especially, enable communities can start to take back control of their economy, and their energy supply. In the UK alone, over 5,000 community groups have set up community energy schemes since 2008 – and the start-up rate is increasing. In Germany over 50 percent of new renewable energy installations are in community ownership. Community Energy England reckons the energy landscape could be transformed – “from the Big 6 to the Big 60,000‘ – if the regulatory system were to be opened up.

A simple business incentive explains the shift. The priority for a community energy focuses is to cover operating costs rather than maximise profits for distant shareholders. A community energy enterprise therefore ploughs far more income back into the local economy than large renewable energy developers.

This ‘multiplier effect’ also drives the spread of local money systems.


Money spent with local businesses circulates more times and leads to greater benefits for the local economy. The Brixton Pound, for example, calls itself “the money that sticks to Brixton”. The Bristol Pound, launched in 2012 represents a step up in scale for a local currency. Bristol’s Mayor takes his full salary in Bristol Pounds, and local people can pay their local taxes, pay their energy bills, and buy tickets on the buses and trains using the local notes.

Although most of the projects in 21 Stories are stand-alone initiatives, one town-wide programme stands out. Ungersheim, a village in the Alsace region of France, has become a Fair Trade town; launched a local currency, ‘Le Radis’ (the radish); mapped the biodiversity of the area in an ‘Atlas of Biodiversity’; returned a former waste heap, created by mining, to nature; installed a120m2 solar thermal installation at the swimming pool; changed all public lighting in the village to low energy bulbs, leading to a 40% reduction in energy use; and completely banned all pesticides and herbicides in public areas; the local primary school now serves 100% organic meals – much of them sourced locally;

Jean-Claude Mensch, Mayor of Ungersheim, recognised in the Transition approach “a different, inclusive and fraternal economic model”. @COP21

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Between a rock and a soft place

Today, Plymouth University very generously awarded me an honorary doctorate.  Here is my short statement to this year’s graduating class in Design, Architecture and Environment.

I nearly failed to get here yesterday, and I want to tell you why.

The road from my house to the city passes through a spectacular gorge. Several weeks ago, after some especially violent rainstorms, stones and debris started falling onto the road.

Soon, an impressive crew arrived to stabilise the rock face.

One team of engineers made holes in the rock face with a huge robotic drill. Four yards long, it was mounted on the arm of a digger. They put large pegs in the holes, and made them secure with exotic polymer composites.

Higher up the rock face was a team of climbing engineers. Clad in bright red rubber suits for protection, they draped Read More »

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#ThackaraThrive Speaking Dates

Saturday 3 October, Architecture Day, Antwerpen
Artesis Plantijn University (details to follow)

Thursay 8 October, Riga, RIXC Renewable Futures Congress
Keynote: Green Hacking

Saturday 10 October, Ilkley, UK Ilkley Literary Festival
Shaping The Future strand

Tuesday 13 October,Bristol Bristol, New Economy Summit

Tuesday 13 October, London London, Design Museum,
Conversation with Read More »

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My new book: How To Thrive In The Next Economy

Today I’m proud to announce that my new book, How To Thrive In The Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow’s World Today will be published by Thames & Hudson on 7 September; (the US edition comes out in December). Sample extracts from each of the ten chapters are here.

It would be terrific if you would help spread the word about the book using the hashtag #ThackaraThrive and this url: Read More »

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Food Systems, Bioregions, Design: Join Us In Sweden on 9 August

Five residency places are available for professionals or grad students to join our summer school in Sweden – as explained here. Here is my text Bioregions: Notes On A Design Agenda. See also the course page of our partner, Konstfack, here. The summer school FB page is here.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 18.49.36

(Above: our school house)

The one week event runs from next Sunday, 9 August, for seven days. As a Resident, you don’t get the 7.5 credits – but you do get to join an amazing group for Read More »

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Summer Reading: Handouts and Reading Lists

On Regarding The Pain Of The Planet – A Reader
Why is it that shocking stories and images fail to change things? Are there different ways of knowing the world, than merely looking?

The True And Hidden Costs Of Stuff
Do you simply love iPhones, wind turbines, cloud computing, the circular economy, and electric cars? Good, because the following may be of interest.

Design and Energy: Thirteen Great Writers
If you suspect, but cannot prove, that modern life simply does not add up, you’ll love these writers: They explain why you’re right. 

How To Make Our Own Money – A Reading List
Money, and the myth of a perpetual growth economy, lies behind many of the difficulties we face. The good news: Many smart people are busy designing replacements for the ecocidal money system we have now.

Food Systems and Design – A Reader
A reading list for designers, artists and architects. Its divided into four parts: Big Picture, Small Picture, Design Opportunities, and Knowledge Sharing. Read More »

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