IV Understanding Community (cont'd)

A Socio-Economic Perspective:
Bioregionalism

The idea of bioregionalism has resurfaced in the past three decades. The practise of bioregionalism is as ancient as the human culture (Shapiro 1993). The further back in time one assesses, the more natural the concept of bioregionalism was and the more prevalent was its integration into everyday life. Bioregionalism makes sense. Since our culture has lost a great deal of its sense of direction, we now need a conceptual framework and theory to follow. Bioregionalism is not yet fashionable - mainstream media has not caught onto the idea.

The works of several authors have reflected the bioregionalism paradigm. (McTaggart 1993). Such a holistic philosophy was implicit in the works of Patrick Geddes and Lewis Mumford. Their proposals were for city developments, as a direct response to the social, aesthetic and physical devastation provoked by the forces of the industrial revolution. These regional planners were not romantics. Their plans were about improvements for the community. The landscape for these planners was more than the element upon which the community was built upon, it was representative of the quality of the community life. The degraded landscape was replaced by Garden Cities. This development established a relationship between the people and the region. Regional planning was strongest in the 1920's but its philosophies are widely practised today in the 1990's as well.

Bioregionalism is an active way of understanding and being involved in self-organising systems, rather than simply a knowledge about something (McTaggart 1993). The pattern of values involved are not enshrined within primarily anthropocentric terms. It involves a planetary perspective where a partnership with the region is formed through the coming to know and respect the locality, the recognition of it as a matrix and the development of an effective sustainable existence. It encompasses the rejection of a reductionist approach. Therefore through the bioregionalism paradigm, natural systems are elevated to a level of interdependence where the richness of the area is acknowledged as well as its limitations (Corcoran and Sievers 1994). There is an emphasis on place, ecological consciousness and a feeling of a "bioregional spirit".

Prior to industrialization, regions were more distinctive by their language, religion and culture. To reinstate this would be very unrealistic. However, within the industrial society especially within the city, a recultivation of the sense of place is possible; it is especially probable when within the city there is a focus beyond its physical structures. Large communities have gone beyond sustainable operations. A bioregion is a part of the earth's surface whose rough boundaries are determined by natural characteristics rather than human dictates (Pepper 1993). It is therefore difficult to be precise in defining a specific boundary. This fact can actually be positive in that it minimizes possessiveness and defensiveness.

The "bioregional paradigm" differs greatly from the present "industrio-scientific paradigm" (Pepper 1993). The scale of the bioregional approach is regional and community oriented. The economy is focused on conservation, self sufficiency and co-operation. Politics within this framework are decentralized and diverse. The society is an intricate network of symbiotic relationships that evolve with one another in a balance. On the contrary, the industrial-scientific paradigm operates on a larger basis of the state, nation or world; with an economic structure focused on exploitation, competition and a world economy. The politics within this paradigm are centralized, hierarchical and uniform. The industrial-scientific paradigm is characterised by a society that is focused on monoculture, violence, and polarization (Pepper 1993). As does deep-ecology and communitarianism, a shift in the modern Western European thought is therefore required to subscribe to this means of existence.

There are four principles to bioregionalism as laid out by Sale (Pepper 1993).

  1. Liberating the self: reducing the importance of impersonal market forces and bureaucracies, broadening local, political and economic opportunities, living with communitarian values of cooperation, participation, reciprocity and confraternity and the development of roots.

  2. Developing the region towards self-reliance.

  3. Knowing the land: Becoming conscience of the area ie) specific birds, trees

  4. Learning the lore: knowing the folklore and history, the traditional ways of the Natives of the area; since the Natives lived sustainable lives.
There are three systems within the concept bioregionalism - the biophysical, the inhabiting system, and the network system. These three systems have an intricate relationship. The biophysical system is one component within the matrix, which obviously includes the natural environment. The inhabiting system is the agent of change, for it is the local population who works upon and whose actions are limited by the biophysical component. Therefore the link between the biophysical and the local inhabiting system is very strong. The network system is comprised of the system of economics, politics and ideology. The present trend within the network system is to rely heavily on external systems. The transition towards local dependence impacts the biophysical environment through the local inhabiting system and indirectly affects the biophysical system through the local inhabiting system.

There are two primary characteristics of bioregionalism. First is praxis, change oriented action (McTaggart 1993). Secondly bioregionalism is a community effort to redefine its interactions with the environment. These two characteristics are at the heart of the movement towards bioregionalism and a sustainable community.

Working Examples of Community:
The Healthy Communities Initiative

The United Nations defines health as a state of physical, mental and social well-being (ERS 100, p48). In response to this definition, the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1985 started a Healthy Cities project in Europe. It was based on the idea that human health and environmental health are not separable. By committing to social justice, economic and environmental health, integrating concerns about healthy people and environments and keeping these issues central to all policy decision making, municipalities could declare themselves Healthy Cities. The movement first began in Canada in Toronto and quickly became Healthy Communities to allow rural areas to become involved.(ERS 100, 1994). The movement spread rapidly and today there are over 350 cities in many different countries that have identified themselves with the Healthy Cities movement. There are around 250 communities in Canada, approximately 75 of these are in Ontario.(Wismer, 1996).

The healthy community approach is action oriented, based on four main ideas:

  1. Local government commitment - Local governments pass a resolution supporting the idea of healthy communities and committing themselves to including the promotion of health in all their areas of responsibility.

  2. Community participation - The members of the community are involved in workshops, working groups, doing action oriented research and through consultation processes.

  3. Intersectoral involvement - Because health issues are trans-boundary, representatives from different sectors of the community are involved in planning and running activities.

  4. The importance of policy - Policies guide decision making. If these policies show commitment to community health then there is an acceptable structure in place for future decision-making (ERS 100, 1994).

A very close example of a Healthy Community can be found in Woolwich township. Contamination of the groundwater supply started the ball rolling and got people thinking about taking action to build a healthy community. This became "official" in 1991.

The Ecosystem Approach

The Ecosystem Approach presented in Regeneration that reports on the work of the Royal Commission on the Future of the Toronto Waterfront can be applied to the understanding of sustainability in the University of Waterloo campus. This approach regards the city as a natural ecosystem that requires an integrated approach for solving the problems. It is believed that the quality of life will not deteriorate only if we change the processes and criteria of making decision that responds to the awareness of human as being part of ecosystem.

There are five main themes in the Ecosystem Approach: Ecosystem as Home, Everything is Connected to Everything Else, Sustainability, Understanding Places, and the Integrating Process.

1. Ecosystem as "Home"
It is a concept that regards humans as part of ecosystem, but not separate. Ecosystems are like "homes" that provide both physical and spiritual needs for us. Therefore, we should have affection towards it, and are responsible for our homes by maintaining and protecting their natural perfection. It is difficult for individual to think about the globe as "home" in daily life. However, "think globally, act locally" does has a great value. It implies that those with opportunities and power should have a responsibility to act in ways that respect the needs of others who are on the other side of the earth, and the physical environment.

2. Everything is Connected to Everything Else
Knowing that everything is connected to everything is essential in understanding ecosystem. By viewing a city as ecosystem, we can look at the supply, flow, transformation, and disposal of energy and materials. After further analysis, we can identify the effects of human activities on ecological processes, and know how to use the resources efficiently. It results in a shift in thinking about environmental management from emphasis on remediation and regulation to preventing damage. In this concept, environment, community and economy are all interrelated in decision-making processes that aim for a healthy city. Our health depends on the quality of social, physical, and economic environments and the interactions among the. Here, the well being of community plays an important role. An example is shown in a report Healthy Toronto 2000. Government departments and the community work together in order to improve the quality of life. Community empowerment has been one of the main issues to be focused on. In order to achieve the goal, a wide range of programs have been established. The quality of a healthy community depends on a range of characteristics such as access to health care, a good educational system, recreation and cultural facilities.

In applying this concept to community aspect in the campus, it is clear that a strong sense of community contributes much in achieving a healthy system in the three components - environment, economy, and community relationship.

3. Sustainability
Sustainable development is the development that meets our current needs without compromising the well-beings of our future generations. It can be achieved by our working on all levels - global, national, provincial, and local to sustain natural capital. Therefore, starting at a community level is the first step to achieve it, and it is the cumulative effect of how each member plays his or her role in the community that affect the community health. We are responsible for ensuring activities and lifestyles in the community that contribute to global sustainability.

In analyzing how the residents of Greater Toronto Region being affected by the issue of sustainability, it is found that the urban activities have a global influence on environment in producing food for export, polluting air and water, depleting ozone layer, and the greenhouse effect. Some questions should be asked in order to evaluate their negative influence on the environment. For instance, how sustainable are the economy, natural environment, and the quality of life here? What are the natural limits of the ecosystem in supporting and tolerating human activities? How will trends in economic activities affect the use of materials and energy, and the production of pollution and wastes?

It is applicable to sustainability in the campus by asking similar but "smaller scale" questions in evaluating its sustainability since everything happens in the global level originates from the lowest community level. Strategies and plans for future should then be addressed.

4. Understanding places
The idea of understanding places based on that many interrelating ecosystems are nested within the biosphere. Thinking about the whole bioregion helps understand the interdependency and links between city and countryside, natural and cultural processes, water and land, community and the outsides. There is a need for us to feel connected with the natural world. If we have a stronger sense of it this affection, we will understand it more, and thus will be more likely to perceive it as "home". It thus results in changes in decision making-processes and behaviour that can harmonize with its special qualities. In Regeneration, the Royal Commission used the principle of natural boundaries to define the Greater Toronto Bioregion. This idea, if applied to campus, can help it to function sustainably. A stronger sense of community towards the nature leads to a better understanding of it, and its linkages to other surrounding places, and to a higher level. For example, the river in campus affect land and flows to other places. In other words, the bioregion is influenced by what we are doing in campus. Decision making processes can then be changed when considering the broader effect, and hence making better places for all kinds of activities.

5. Integrated Processes
Sustainability requires changes in our thinking and the way we make decision. The theme of integrating processes suggests seeking full consultation with all interested parties and the affected ones. The Royal Commission in Regeneration used a cross-sectoral approach to come to a solution that is most mutually beneficial to all parties. A healthy community provides each member their wants by understanding their needs, listening and considering their opinion. Therefore, integrating all parties in making decision is important in understanding community.

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