By Suzie Barnett and originally published on the Living Future Institute of Australia’s website
I was lucky enough to attend the first Living Future Institute of Australia (LFIA) Symposium in Manly on 15 September and thought I’d share some thoughts inspired by the event.
When Paolo Bevilacqua, Director and Chair of the LFIA opened the day’s discussions he said something that stirred me. He said “we all spend too much time creating spaces that are just less bad. Less bad for us, for the people that use them, for the communities around them, and for the environment.”
Less bad. Could it be true? And if it is, how do we deliver good or even great spaces? What are we missing when our business as usual isn’t quite hitting the mark?
Here are some of the key insights I took away from the day’s talks that might help us shift out of the ‘less bad’ category and into ‘great’ – delivering socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative spaces now, 10, 20, and even 50 years down the road.
We have an obligation to share and preserve
One of the keynote speakers at the Symposium was Tony McAvoy, a barrister of the Supreme Court of NSW and Australia’s first indigenous Silk. He told us about aboriginal culture and the sense of community that indigenous people share. McAvoy explained that this sense of community comes with an obligation to share and preserve resources so everyone can benefit from them – now and in the future.
Another speaker, Kirsti Luke, Chief Executive of Tūhoe Te Uru Taumatua, Ngāi Tūhoe’s Tribal Authority shared the story of Te Kura Whare – the world’s most recent fully-certified Living Building in New Zealand.
The self-proclaimed ‘survivor of the Living Building Challenge’ explained how it has galvanised her community to work together to achieve this great outcome. To this community, it’s not the dollars saved that’s worth talking about – it’s the people-focused outcomes:
“Don’t ask me about a return on investment, I’m talking about empowering a whole community and that’s the shit that counts.”
But it’s not just about people. Indigenous communities understand our connection to the land and the broader environment. McAvoy noted that non-indigenous people have lost this sense of connectedness to the land and to each other – we don’t feel an obligation to anyone or anything else – so that desire to share and preserve isn’t there. There is a cultural disconnect we need to rectify in order to feel that sense of obligation to our world. Perhaps when we do we can go from ‘less bad’ outcomes to good ones.
Learning as a lifelong pursuit
In the education session we had some school kids tell us their vision for the future and it was inspiring. They gave the audience hope that the next generation won’t shy away from the challenges we’ve left them. They are determined and ready to fight for a better future (despite our generation sometimes getting in their way).
One of the points that resonated with me was the knowledge – even at 11 years of age – that learning is a lifelong pursuit, and a valuable one at that.
Aspiring architect, Jacob, 11 said: “I believe that I and others have so much more to learn and we should never stop. We need to aim high and break the boundaries.”
From the mouths of babes, huh? It was so encouraging to see these children – the future leaders of the industry, Australia and the world – articulate the value of education when it comes to solving complex sociological and environmental problems.
Clearly, what we know is not enough. Do we expect the problems we face now to be solved by the curriculum taught to us 15 or 20 years ago? What we know created these complex problems. It is going to take something more to solve them.
I think it is something we are all guilty of – we pursue an education for the piece of paper and qualification attached to it, for entry into the job market – not for the knowledge it brings. We need to remember that education is not something to check off our to-do lists. We should continue learning (both formal and informal) throughout our careers, and indeed, lives.
Story-hearing rather than story-telling
Something I really enjoyed about the Symposium was hearing different voices. So often we hear from the same people and while their insight is valuable, hearing from one group of people alone limits the stories we hear and the solutions we develop.
Hearing from indigenous people and women, people from different countries and backgrounds, people with different abilities and disciplines means we can build spaces that are great for everyone. So when Laura Hamilton-O’Hara, Sydney Facilitator for the Centre for Sustainability Leadership spoke about story-hearing rather than story-telling, my interest was piqued.
Story telling is important but it is irrevocably connected with the act of listening or hearing. They are partners. As Hamilton-O’Hara pointed out, listening is often the bigger task because it is the foundation of empathy and empathy can bring two seemingly opposing sides together.
I think this is as important for great design and delivery as it is for repairing world conflicts. Shared stories lead to stronger connections and these in turn lead to thoughtful, meaningful outcomes for everyone.
We can fall into the trap of ‘public consultation’ as another checkbox to tick off in our list of project KPIs. We can post a notice in a newspaper and say we notified affected stakeholders – but did we engage with them? Did we hear their story or simply tell our own? What kind of outcomes can we expect from real, meaningful consultation with a diverse range of people?
Final thoughts on the day
Hamilton-O’Hara noted that what makes us humans able to evolve is our ability to coordinate in large numbers and to do so flexibly. She also said what makes us happy is the quality of our relationships. For this, community, respect, knowledge and a shared story is key.