Understanding and Developing Place as a Living Ecosystem (PART 2)
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
The 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 ‘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.”
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.)
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.
During 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!