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My new articles now posted on Medium

December 11, 2018

Please visit me on Medium at to check my latest posts related to Regenerative Development for Organizations and Place-Sourced Communities.

See you there!



What’s Your City’s or Neighborhood’s Vocation?

June 22, 2017

This blog post was published by USGBC Los Angeles Chapter. It can be found here:

Understanding and Developing Place as a Living Ecosystem (PART 2)

September 22, 2015
Baie de Quiberon

The Bay of Quiberon

Workshop in Brittany, France, August 2015

Notes from the Field (PART 2)

This is PART 2 of a two-part series about my unique experience facilitating a Regenerative Development workshop in Brittany, France, this past August. PART 1 describes my intentions for the workshop, the process we went through over the 2.5 days, and highlights the key elements that I believe made the workshop a success. PART 2 presents our case study of the village of Crucuno where an ecovillage project is being planned; and the regenerative potential we uncovered for the project and the village.

PART 2: A Unique Region; A Fascinating Village

Alignment CarnacThe Pays d’Auray on the Bay of Quiberon in the Morbihan, South Brittany, is undeniably one of the most beautiful regions in France. The fact that the whole area includes an exceptionally dense collection of megalithic sites (such as, for instance, the Carnac alignment shown on the picture on the right) makes it a unique and mysterious area. More than 3,000 prehistoric stone formations including alignments, tumuli, dolmen and menhirs have been erected there; many more are still hidden underground.

The workshop itself was held on the beautiful site of the DSC_0960‘Ecole Nationale de Voile’ (National Sailing School), right on the bay. Despite the frequent rain during the workshop, this site provided an immediate contact with the local natural environment. (We decided at the last minute to incorporate a brief solo nature walk during the workshop to break the rhythm and give people an opportunity to see the site and reflect.)

The village of Crucuno, which is strangely subdivided in two different municipalities: Erdeven and Plouharnel, is located on a little hill a few kilometers north of the Bay of Quiberon in the countryside. Bernard Menguy, a local architect who participated to the workshop, found out after the workshop that the name of the village in the Breton language is “Krugunou.” “Krug” means a “cairn” that is, a little artificial mount of stones specifically placed to specify a particular place. Menguy did not know the significance of “unou.”

DSC_0796 (2)A huge dolmen, built c. 4000 years BC and classed as a historical monument, is located at the center of the village on the main plaza, in the municipality of Plouharnel. It consists of 9 massive standing stones supporting a 7.6-meter horizontal slab weighting more than 40 tons. The existing megalith is only the remaining element of a bigger monument—a tumulus, which included a 24-meter tunnel, the whole structure being originally entirely covered with smaller stones and earth. Over the years, people removed the smaller stones to build houses in the village. A house was built just a couple of feet from it, which seemed a violent refusal to acknowledge the likely sacred origin of the dolmen. That house has not been inhabited for many years and there are stories of illness and dysfunctional behavior in the family that occupied it. According to two megalith experts, Howard Crowhurst and his son David Crowhurst (who gave us a tour of the village), the dolmen is geometrically related to other megaliths in the area, including the “Quadrilatere” (another large arrangement of large stone a 10 minute walk from the dolmen) as well as the alignments in Carnac (see above picture), a town about 10 kilometers south of the village. Crucuno is being considered for addition to the UNESCO World Heritage’s list.

Originally the village was mainly agricultural to support the local families. Today, farming has disappeared and many non-local people come here to retire. The village includes about 40 habitations, 4 or 5 of them being currently vacant. Crucuno seems lifeless but for the main road that cuts the village in two, which we were told, is mainly used as a shortcut to nearby towns by speeding cars. It is primarily a dormitory for families who work in the local towns of Auray or Vanne. The village has no school; no café; no grocery store; not even a church. An incinerator was built not far from the village, slowing down new developments and keeping property cost low. In 2014, a group organized against the incinerator hoping to have it closed while arguing for more ecological ways to manage waste in the area.

‘Crucun ‘O’ Asis’ – A project of Ecovillage in Crucuno

(Note: the name ‘Crucu ‘O’ Asis’ was dubbed by some participants with great humor during the workshop.)

DSC_1112 (3)Now a man in his early 40’s, Jérôme Collet remembers visiting his grandparents who lived in Crucuno when he was a child (his grandmother still lives in the village). He decided to settle in the village late 2012 with the idea of building an ecovillage based on co-living spaces on a property he owns. Jérôme has an immune system disease and coming back to the countryside was for him an attempt to return to a more healthy life after an early productive career working for an industrial firm. His goal is to create a more conscious ways of living including new approaches to habitat, growing food, healthcare, education, mobility, clothing, and so on.

Jérôme’s project is inspired by the Movement Colibris, an organization created by Pierre Rhabi who is one of the pioneers of ecological agriculture in France and internationally renown for his work against desertification. Project Oasis is the organization’s most recent project aimed at facilitating the creation of hundreds of inspirational ecological and co-living places in both urban and rural French areas in less than 5 years. This September Movement Colibris is launching a national campaign with a goal to engage 36,000 French mayors in the Oasis projects. A few of such projects have already been built in France.

DSC_1083During the workshop, we considered Jérôme’s project as part of a three-nested system framework (i.e., a holarchy) as shown on the picture. In a holarchy each system’s purpose is to support and generate value for the system within which it is nested. While the ecovillage project has a huge potential to play a regenerative role for Crucuno (the ‘proximate whole’), defining the ‘greater whole’ was less obvious for the group. We felt that the relationship was not geographical; instead, we believed that once it has retrieved its vibrancy and life, Crucuno could become a demonstration village with influence well beyond the local region. This impact could easily be amplified if the ecovillage became an official ‘Project Oasis’ within the network currently created by the Movement Colibris.

We found that the regenerative potential of Crucuno was extensive and, if realized, it could affect the ‘Five Capitals’ usually considered in a regenerative project: Human, Social, Ecological, Financial and Manufactured/Produced. Some ideas that we explicitly discussed during the workshop included, for instance, the need to rediscover local practices that were used in the “old days” to bring back local craftsmanship, thereby increasing human capitals.

The social capital could be enormous as long as the project and diverse interventions in the village enliven the interest, will and engagement of both local and new inhabitants to regenerate Crucuno, and help them rebuild relationships that have previously been broken. There is a need to reawaken peoples’ self-esteem in order to, for instance, overcome the pattern of alcoholism that has plagued the village. We suggested creating a new local school since there are quite a few children, including Jérôme’s children, in the village.

Jérôme is greatly interested in encouraging local farmers and perhaps young people to develop bio-agriculture and permaculture on unused agricultural land. A regional campaign to find new ways to manage waste could facilitate the closure of the incinerator, freeing new land for development and, thus, generating new ecological, financial and produced capitals.

Beyond the development of the ecovillage, many in the group mentioned the need to rehabilitate existing vacant buildings, increasing the built capital of the village. It will also be important to keep a close watch on the UNESCO World Heritage’s list as such a label comes with both positive outcomes (e.g., funding opportunities, revenues from tourism, etc.) as well as potentially negatives ones such as loss of tranquility, pollution, unwanted and undesirable development and so on.

Since the goal of the workshop was not to perform a ‘Story of Place’ analysis, I never presumed that the group would be able to uncover “who” Crucuno is, i.e., its identity and vocation, in the very short time we had to broadly explore these aspects. We nevertheless collectively had some deep insights, which went well beyond my own expectations. The group intuitively defined the core purpose of Crucuno as one of creating connections: connections between people; between people and place; between the local community and the extended community of individuals interested in creating solutions that facilitate the transition to a more conscious way of life. To achieve its purpose, we suggested that Crucuno was using a core process of transmutation to evolve from one state to another. The core value generated via this process was life giving, creating harmony and health. While we cannot determine what the Essence, Identity, and Vocation of Crucuno are until we have completed the Story of Place research—and I do not know whether our insights are going toward the right direction—the three-fold ideas of ‘creating connections,’ ‘transmutation,’ and ‘life giving, creating harmony and health’ all resonated deeply with the group. Interestingly, we came up with these ideas in the last half an hour of the workshop and the energy in the circle at that time was quite high. I believe we all felt we were getting to something very important. Unfortunately, due to time limitation, we had to adjourn quite abruptly and we did not have time to ponder the implications of these ideas for the ecovillage project. Nevertheless, it seemed to us that we had connected to something quite powerful, which is nicely captured in a note that Jérôme sent me after the workshop in which he wrote:

“Merci pour ces 3 jours, c’était magique, tu nous as connecté à plus grand encore qu’imaginé…”

“Thank you for these 3 days, it was magical, you connected us to much more than imagined…”

And he humbly added:

“Ce projet ne m’appartient pas, je suis juste un serviteur pour quelque chose qui me dépasse et qui me guide…”

“This project does not belong to me, I am just a servant of something that is beyond me and that guides me…”

To me, one of the most significant contributions of the workshop to Jérôme’s project—and one of the main contributions a regenerative process should make—is an increase in the level of energy and motivation of the local actors and stakeholders. Once again in the words of Jérôme:

“Nolwenn, Didier et Muriel sont super motivés. Nous allons avancer très vite, des réunions sont prévus dès cette semaine.”

“Nolwenn, Didier and Muriel are super motivated. We are going to move forward very fast, meetings are already scheduled as soon as next week.”

Feelings, which Nolwenn Bouillaud, who works with Jérôme on the project, confirmed by writing:

“Notre petit groupe de travail s’élargit comme la motivation…”

“Our little work group expands like the motivation…”

There is nothing more rewarding to me than the knowledge that a small group of well-intentioned individuals can over 3 days re-energize their levels of Being and Will to continue to passionately drive the planning, design and development of a project with the potential to regenerate a local community, if not a region. My humble contribution was to simply create a structure and facilitate a carefully designed process while providing some guidance. The village of Crucuno revealed its identity, vocation and desire for becoming to those who knew how to see and listen. The professionals involved observed the patterns and synthesized what they saw and heard while remaining connected to their hearts. Indeed, the whole workshop was impregnated with the participants’ love and care for the village as well as for Jérôme and his project.

Love, perhaps that’s the secret sauce! This is why I do this work!

Understanding and Developing Place as a Living Ecosystem (PART 1)

September 22, 2015
Anne Monmousseau, Exec. Dr. of the University Terre&Mer

Anne Monmousseau, Exec. Dr. of the University Terre&Mer

Workshop in Brittany, France, August 2015

Notes from the Field (PART 1)

These notes are PART 1 of a two-part series about my unique experience facilitating a Regenerative Development workshop in Brittany, France, this past August. PART 1 describes my intentions for the workshop, the process we went through over the 2.5 days, and highlights the key elements that I believe made the workshop a success. PART 2 presents our case study of the village of Crucuno where an ecovillage project is being planned; and the regenerative potential we uncovered for the project and the village.

PART 1: A Unique Workshop Experience

I was invited by my friend and colleague Anne Monmousseau, Executive Director of the University Terre&Mer (UTM), to facilitate a 2.5-day Regenerative Development learning experience for about 30 participants (architects; city planners; permaculture professionals; local change agents) on the beautiful peninsula of Saint-Pierre-Quiberon, in the Morbihan department, South Brittany, France. The theme of the event was: “Aménager le Territoire Comme un Ecosystème Vivant,” which roughly translates as: “Understanding and Developing Place as a Living Ecosystem.” The overall program included:

  • A 3-hour presentation of the Regenerative Development approach (an approach developed by the Regenesis Group, Santa Fe, NM); (note: the PPT presentation can be seen on Slideshare)
  • A visit to the village of Crucuno, about 10 km inland from the bay of Quiberon, where the future ecovillage will be located;
  • Brief presentations from a few participants on diverse eco-systemic approaches to design and place-making;
  • Multiple small and large groups’ reflections on the impact of the regenerative development approach on design-built professional practices;
  • Application of systemic frameworks on a variety of participants’ projects to give participants ‘a taste’ of the regenerative approach;
  • A preliminary exploration of the identity, vocation and regenerative potential of the village of Crucuno and of the ecovillage project. (Note: the goal of the workshop was not to perform a complete ‘Story of Place,’ a process that takes multiple weeks of work and research for a team of professionals.)

My Intent and Process for the Workshop

As I prepared for the workshop, I was reminded by my colleagues at the Regenesis Group that, beyond the development of my presentation and the design of the process itself, it was critical I prepare myself, i.e., be clear on my intent and purpose, my state of being and my will during the workshop. This was a great reminder of what Bill O’Brien, who served as CEO of Hanover Insurance, once said when asked to sum up his most important learning experience in leading profound change—he responded, “The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.” To that end, I asked my colleague Craig DeForest to coach me through that personal work.

Beatrice Benne

Since it was my first visit in Brittany, I engaged in the process with no preconceived idea about the place, its people, or their past and future needs. I purposely held the attitude and curiosity of an explorer, trusting that what we needed to learn would emerge out of the place itself and the collective intelligence of the group. I aimed at creating a collaborative and co-creative environment where everyone involved could feel s/he had a contribution to make. I saw my role as one of orchestrating the process and guiding the participants in shared reflections and inquiries to help them gain new insights about 1) their professional practices; and 2) the vocation of Crucuno and the role the ecovillage project could play in regenerating the village and the surrounding area.

My purpose for the workshop, which I shared with the group on the first day, was:

“To engage you in a co-exploration of the potential of the regenerative development method and of its benefits, in a way that helps you develop a new perspective on the role you can play in regenerating Place and local communities, so that you may evolve your practices in a way that increase the regenerative potential and impact of your projects.”

As I prepared for the workshop, I reflected on the type of experience I wanted to create for the participants in addition to the delivery of traditional learning objectives. I created a “system of products,” which included:

  1. Learning Objectives:
    • Awareness of the greater potential a project can realize when it is anchored in a deep understanding of the identity, vocation and potential of a Place and when it is understood as an instrument for regeneration (versus ‘an end in itself’).
    •  Understanding of the need for design-built professionals to shift from focusing on ‘things’ and problem solving to focusing on potential.
    • Appreciation of the need to let go of professional ‘ego’ and preconceived ideas and, instead, tune in to what a “Place” may reveal of itself.
    • Understanding of the benefits the use of systemic frameworks provide in guiding and expanding the inquiry and thinking process about a project.
    • Awareness of the importance of self-reflection in regenerative work.
  2. Energized Participants’ State of Being (during the workshop), allowing them to:
    • Engage in deeper reflections about Place and the regenerative potential of the project.
    • Increase the level of collaboration, cooperation, support and sharing.
    • Create mutually beneficial relationships.
  3. Increased Level of Participants’ Will (at the end and after the workshop) to:
    • Be in service of Places and Communities.
    • Continue to explore their regenerative role as professionals.
    • Evolve their design-built practices.

I am fortunate to have had for audience a very engaged group of caring individuals and professionals who share the same vision for, and actively work toward, the emergence of a more conscious, mindful, collaborative and creative society where humans and nature co-evolve and live in harmony with one another. I am deeply grateful for the spirit of collaboration and co-creation present throughout the workshop, the depth and quality of the reflections and the numerous insights that were shared. I am also impressed by the level of support, care and love that impregnated the workshop throughout. Over the 3 days, a palpable energy field emerged that carried us through our process, deepening our relationships and investigation, helping us going deeper and deeper into our inquiry. A few process elements, I believe, participated in the emergence of this field:

  1. DSC_0864Except during my presentation on the first morning and small-group project activity on day 2, we remained in a large circle thus creating a sense of unity and wholeness at the group level. This sense of wholeness was not broken by the departure or arrival of a few participants throughout the 3 days.
  2. Each day, we began with a centering/grounding visualization exercise facilitated by Anne Monmousseau to bring the participants “into the room.”
  3. At the beginning and end of each morning and afternoon session, we asked participants to check-in or out by sharing one single word that came to their minds.Grounding Exercise The approach was not only effective in getting the pulse of 30 people relatively quickly but, more importantly, it helped each person focus on the essence of what s/he was thinking/feeling/processing; this created a collective picture of where the whole group was at different stages of the process.
  4. Each session included small-group reflections on important questions. For instance, we began the first day with a reflection on:DSC_0710 (2)Why does the Planet need me to evolve my professional practices and in what way should my practices evolve?” On the second day, after a brief imaging exercise, we broke into 3 groups to perform a Bohmian dialogue around the questions: “What personal or professional transformation is required in order to create and sustain the vitality and viability of the regenerative environment that you have previously imaged? What’s your level of Will to realize that vision?” On the third morning, before engaging in the exploration of the identity and potential of Crucuno and the regenerative role of the Ecovillage project, I asked: “What should we remain aware of, and sensitive about, to ensure the quality of our reflection? DSC_0991 (2)What barriers or constraints are we imposing on ourselves that we need to transcend?”
  5. The debriefing of each group activities included “meta” level questions, which helped participants reflect on their learning and personal experience. For instance, after the Dialogue on Day 2, I asked: “In what way did this reflection/dialogue change your way of thinking?” and “What did you feel during this exercise? What was your level of energy?”

Such carefully designed processes, crafted questions and mindful intentions for the workshop are essential ingredients in creating a powerful container for co-creation and emergence (and are typical of the work of regenerative practitioners who have trained with the Regenesis Group).

Intertwined with all of these design elements was the palpable energy of the place itself. Crucuno and its megaliths are unique: the massive dolmen at the center of the village, the “Quadrilatere” not very far from it (another impressive megalith site) and the stories that a local shared all had a huge impact on the group experience. We all felt this unique energy and the sense of Place when visiting the village (you can read about Crucuno in PART 2). The theme of the megaliths remained ever present in our conversations to the extent that some people felt that an over emphasis on them was, somehow, taking us away from our main purpose—that was to uncover the distinctive characteristics of Crucuno and its vocation. Their mysterious aura is indeed impossible to ignore and is reinforced by the fact we know so little about them.

A Journey to Be Continued

During the afternoon of the last day, a few of us met to debrief our experience and discuss possible next steps. Many participants shared their “positive frustrations” about the fact they felt they had only skimmed the surface and that they were still hungry to learn more about the regenerative approach. A few had assumed the workshop would be a conventional training and had come with the intention to learn a methodology and specific set of tools they could apply afterward. This, however, had never been the intent and in the future, I need to be paying more attention to the way such a workshop is being advertised.

My objective wasn’t to deliver a training and I did not expect participants to fully grasp the regenerative frameworks that supported our inquiry. One of my goals was to give participants a sense of the potential of the approach. But more importantly, and as stated in my purpose statement and the “system of products,” my intention was to mainly engage them in a reflection of the greater potential a project can realize when it is anchored in a deep understanding of the identity, vocation and potential of a Place and when it is understood as an instrument for regeneration. I wanted them to appreciate how a shift from focusing on the functional aspects of a project to focusing on how Place and its vocation can unlock the energy around a project and uncover possibilities beyond what could have been assumed at the onset. Considering the desire from many in the room to continue the learning process, I believe we began to realize this objective.

Building on the momentum, I suggested the University Terre&Mer (UTM) to create a Regenerative Lab under their umbrella to continue to support the ecovillage project of Crucuno. I committed to work with members of the Regenesis Group to create a course in French that incorporates core elements of The Regenerative Practitioner Series in addition to a “Story of Place” applied training on the village of Crucuno—the whole thing delivered through the Lab. I also plan to work with UTM to define the organizational principles of the Lab, which of course needs to operate as a regenerative entity. UTM will search for funding to support the activities of the Lab and will organize a second workshop on Regenerative Development next year.

I want to end these notes with a quote from an email sent to me after the workshop by the architect Bernard Menguy:

“Merci à toi également pour le message « régénérant » que tu as fait passer, pour qu’il devienne régénératif, la mise en place de la formation que tu proposes d’étudier est essentielle. Je reste dans l’attente d’en savoir plus.”

“Thank you also for the ‘enlivening’ message you brought to us, for it to become regenerative, the course you proposed is essential. I look forward to learning more.”


I want to thank my colleagues Ben Haggard and Joel Glanzberg from the Regenesis Group and Craig DeForest, an independent consultant, for their input and support as I prepared for the workshop. Their suggestions on the process and their help in preparing me to facilitate it were tremendous.

I am deeply grateful to Anne Monmousseau who saw the potential in presenting the Regenerative Development Approach to a French audience and who fully trusted my ability to deliver a powerful learning experience. There is no magic in that, considering the quality of the events offered by UTM to support the transition to a more sustainable economy, the organization is able to attract people of integrity and high-level consciousness—a strong element that contributed to the positive outcomes of the workshop. Many thanks to the UTM staff and other helpers, who took care of all the logistics, captured pictures, and recorded the event, which allowed me to concentrate on my work.

Generative Strategies for Increased Value Creation

January 28, 2013

In my previous post, I suggested that the process of reframing is essential to opening the door to new possibilities for the future when addressing the root causes of complex problems.  The ability to reframe is key to creating disruptive innovations that have a lasting and positive impact on society.

Building up on this idea, this new post focuses on generative strategies and the unfolding of solutions for increased value creation.  The adjective ‘generative’ means ‘able to produce,’ as in, ‘the generative power of life force’.  Generative strategies are life giving because they unlock the potential existing in a system.  They emerge out of a learning and creative process in which an organization or group of stakeholders challenge business as usual, disrupt the status quo, and reframe their challenge or situation.  Generative strategies deliver outcomes at the whole system level and create value for all key stakeholders involved and beyond.

To illustrate the power of generative strategies, I present three stories:

1) A community-based stormwater management strategy in Portland, Oregon;

2) The creation of a new community ecosystem by the Brattleboro Coop in New England;

3) The ‘marriage’ of two different library organizations operating collaboratively under a same roof: the Martin Luther King Library in San José, California.


Community-Based Stormwater Management in Portland, Oregon

The City of Portland has gained an international reputation for being a leader in the deployment of creative approaches for sustainable stormwater management [1].  Traditional approaches to stormwater management consist of building sewer infrastructure systems to manage sewage and stormwater and prevent overflows into rivers and streams.  Prompted by an environmental lawsuit in 1991, the State of Oregon and the City of Portland agreed to build a new Combined Sewer Overflow tunnel on the East side of the Willamette River, for a total cost of $1.4 billion.  The new “big pipe” — a tunnel of 22 feet in diameter and six miles long, which was completed in 2011, currently manages more than 94% of the volume of combined sewage and stormwater that used to overflow into the Willamette river [2].  While such infrastructure projects provide an important service to urban communities, they are very costly and cause environmental problems when heavy rainfall exceeds the storage capacity of the pipes and untreated sewage, stormwater and other toxic wastes get discharged into waterways, creating risks for human health and the health of watersheds.  In Portland, I have heard that the new CSO would run at almost capacity while just completed.  Realizing that the on-going focus on building “big pipes” is a financially and ecologically unsustainable strategy in the long-term, the City of Portland actively sought a more creative and more sustainable approach to its stormwater management problem — one that does not consider stormwater as a waste but instead as a precious asset for the community.

In 2006, Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) launched the Clean River Rewards program — an initiative that engages the community in the management of stormwater at the source, on private properties [3].  BES grants stormwater utility discounts and provides financial incentives to property owners who invest in stormwater green infrastructure projects.  The management of stormwater requires property owners to disconnect their downspouts from the sewer system and manage stormwater with green solutions such as rain barrels, cisterns, rain garden, bio-swales, and green roofs.

The program generates a whole range of benefits and positive outcomes for the municipality and the whole community.  First, by leveraging private investments, the City is able to reallocate scarce resources to the projects that need them the most.  Second, onsite stormwater management techniques create many environmental benefits such as cleaner rivers and streams, healthy watersheds, and wildlife closer to the urban environment.  Third, green infrastructures are aesthetically appealing and increase the value of the private properties.  Finally, the program supports the development of a local green economy and, potentially, the creation of new jobs, as property owners seek the service of suppliers and contractors to implement the stormwater management projects.

The program was certainly not easy to implement and required a shift in the way diverse stakeholders saw their respective roles within the community.  For instance, some citizens believed it was not theirs but the responsibility of the City to manage stormwater infrastructure.  The community had to be educated on the needs to improve the quality of the watershed and on the benefits of green infrastructures.  In addition, not any green infrastructure can be implemented on a given property due to soil characteristics and other physical attributes; thus, the involvement of a technical expert is required to guarantee the correct project design.  Despite many apparent barriers, internally within BES and, externally, within the community, the program was nevertheless successfully launched; it included the city’s financial incentives and discounts as well as access to relevant resources and a new online registration process for property owners.


Brattleboro Coop: From Energy Efficiency to Creating a New Community Ecosystem

Bill Reed, Principal Consultant at Regenesis and Integrative Design Collaborative, presented the story of Bratteboro Coop in his Keynote Address for the AIA National Convention in May 2007 on the theme: A Living Systems Approach to Design’ [4]The Brattleboro Coop is a wonderful example of an organization that embarked on a journey of creative thinking to generate high value, not only for itself, but also for the community in which it is embedded.  In the words of Bill Reed:

“The Brattleboro Coop is a Grocery store that wanted to build a high performance LEED building. In particular, they wanted to generate innovative solutions to their energy use. It was observed that the energy expended in shipping food to the store was far higher than the energy used to operate the building (an average of 3,000 miles per bite of food in New England.) Moreover, their high dependence on shipped food made their business highly vulnerable to disruptions in the supply chain (e.g. a trucker’s strike, fuel costs). The project became one of engaging them in a process that looked at the energies involved in the system as a whole.

As a result, the coop envisioned an entirely new role for itself. Not only will it work to model low energy use in its building, it has become a sponsor for local agriculture and regenerating the soil that had been significantly compromised after 300 years of poor farming and wood extraction practices. They are discussing the reprogramming of this ‘grocery store’ to potentially grow into an agriculture and soil extension service, a cannery, a place for hunters to dress meat, a day-care center, and a credit union. The overall aim is to catalyze the evolution back to a regenerated system for local agriculture and community sustainability. The aspirations of the people and the patterns of place were aligned and new potential was created in an evolving program. The building process became a catalyst for a long-term and living system perspective. They are now using this work as the basis to develop a 100 year plan for the Coop and the region.”

What strikes me in this story is the particular way the challenge was reframed, beyond the short-term need to reduce energy used in the building, to encompass a broader long-term vision that considered the new role the Coop might play within its community.  By creating new relationships, the Coop was able generate multiple and diverse outcomes: the revival of a community through the creation of local jobs; the respect of the “place” and its ecology through local agriculture; new community services; and overall, a healthier and more resilient community.

I want to emphasize Bill’s last point that “the building process became a catalyst for a long-term and living system perspective.”  Any project, initiative or strategic planning process can become a catalyst for the development of generative strategies.  The process requires a shift in thinking from ‘fixing a problem’ to uncovering the potential already present in the system; a willingness to ask new questions grounded in a whole system perspective and a long-term view; that an on-going focus on delivering outcomes for the whole system as opposed to achieving isolated goals.


Martin Luther King Library: A Miracle on 4th Street, San José, California [5]

San José Martin Luther King Library (King Library) is one-of-a-kind in the United States: never before has the ‘mariage’ of two such different institutions as a university library and a city library been attempted.  Allowing a community of patrons as diverse as young children, teens, senior citizens, university students and faculty to meet under the same roof is a revolutionary experiment that redefines a library’s mission as one of supporting a whole community, with all its diversity.  The idea of a joint library was born in 1996 from the minds of two visionaries – former San José mayor Susan Hammer and former San José State University president Robert Caret – who successfully broke the pattern of indifference and disdain, which had been representative of the relationship between the two entities over decades.  Indeed, on the one hand, the city of San José had been struggling over the years with urban decay downtown; the university, on the other hand, faced internal cultural changes and had become very insular. Very little was shared between the two institutions. However, with Caret and Hammer, things began to change. On her side, Hammer viewed the urban university as a main “player” in restructuring downtown. On his side, Caret considered San José State to be a “metropolitan university” and started to develop partnerships that benefited both the university and the community. Both the city and the university had inadequate libraries and were in need of more space; neither of them, however, had a budget that permitted them to expand on their own. Both Hammer and Caret realized that by bringing their resources together, they could build a landmark building that neither could afford alone. The result was a $177.5 million library jointly funded by the university and the city.

The challenges faced by the King Library project team were daunting at many levels: contextual, operational, organizational, cultural, procedural, technical and architectural.  Because there was no precedent for a joint library, they had to innovate to combine their respective operational needs into a single set of requirements, while maintaining the integrity of two completely different cultures.  The library had to provide “seamless services” to its users.  But the novelty of the concept was such that many believed the experiment would fail.  Opposition to the project quickly developed on both sides: The difference of users’ needs – from a graduate student working on a thesis to a toddler playing near-by – was perceived as a gap that could not be filled.  Yet, despite the complexity of the project and the inherent uncertainties faced by the “two-headed” client and the project team, the King Library project was an overall success and the facility was delivered on time, below budget and without a single claim.

King Library is not the result of a miracle, as some people believed.  The project owes much of its success to an outstanding facilitation process by local architecture firm Anderson-Brulé Architects (ABA) that was hired to facilitate the feasibility study and the development of a joint operation plan and remained an active participant until the completion of the project.  When, at the earliest stages of the project, the question in everyone’s mind was “What if…,” ABA challenged the client team to answer questions such as: “How would you do this?” “What gets in your way?” “What would stop you?” “How could you move past that thing that stops you?”  The focus on “how” provided a structure to librarians’ discussions and ensured that the team members were maintaining their focus on important questions.  ABA encouraged the librarians to work in a creative way, while also providing a structure that allowed the librarians to slowly adapt to their challenge.  The more the librarians interacted with one another, the more positive feedback was created, which reinforced the meaning of their collaborative activities.  The earlier tensions within the project team slowly evolved into “creative battles” for solving problems in a way that benefitted both organizations.

Throughout the process, the client team developed a new “identity” that was formulated around a new operational, functional and cultural personality.  The team’s emerging identity and collaborative attitude became contagious and was re-emphasized at each main project phase, as new participants got involved.  The project collaborative philosophy helped overcome many obstacles and enabled the alignment of the goals of hundreds, if not thousands, of people involved in making King Library a reality.


To conclude, here is a summary of the commonalities between the projects presented:

  • Shift in mindset — from ‘business as usual’ to believing something greater can be achieved.  The vision becomes an attractor and a powerful force that brings life and creative energy to the project.
  • Long-term view — because the sustainability and resilience of living systems operate in the long-term.
  • Potential-driven process — these projects do not focus on solving a given problem but on unlocking the inherent potential that exists in a given organization or system to uncover new possibilities.  Generative strategies emerge out of the context and history of the place and/or system.
  • Relationship-driven process — the value of collaboration and partnerships is recognized as essential to achieving greater outcomes for the whole community and the environment.  By pulling together the necessary skills and resources, new ties are created that are in themselves, generative.
  • Open system — these projects redefine and expand the problem’s boundaries to generate higher value.
  • Reframing — the questions we ask influence our answers.  All generative processes are learning processes that are inherently transformative.
  • Focus on the ‘how’— there is nothing more inspiring than joining our efforts to co-create solutions that are truly innovative for the greater good.
  • Trust — often not present at the outset of a project, trust between stakeholders must be consciously developed to enable a cooperative culture.
  • Transformative — generative projects shift the way participants see themselves and the role they play within the larger ecosystem.
  • Development of new capacity — Generative projects offers a creative learning environment where new skills and capacities are being developed.



[1] Portland Sustainable Stormwater Management:

[2] EPA (2009).  Portland Launches a Stormwater Marketplace.  Nonpoint Source News-Notes.  February 2009.  Issue #86.

[3] Portland Clean Rivers Reward Program:

[4] Reed, Bill (2007).  A Living Systems Approach to Design.  Keynote Address for the AIA National Convention in May 2007.

[5] Benne, Beatrice (2005).  Doctoral Dissertation: Managing AEC Project Organizations at the Edge of Chaos: An Analysis of AEC Projects Adaptive Capacity from a Living Systems Perspective.  University of Berkeley. (Note: for King Library story see Chapter 5).