From the Swiss Southwest to the American Southwest: Urban growth, water consumption, and (un)sustainability

The chair to which I was appointed at the University of Lausanne is labeled “Sustainability and Economic Anthropology.” This can mean many things. I take it to mean an area of research and teaching that deals with the connections between economic culture (what, how, and why people produce and consume) and the possibility for a human community to exist in a sustainable fashion.

These days and for the foreseeable future, one of my main research projects is called “An economic anthropology of urban growth, water consumption, and (un)sustainability in the semi-arid Southwestern United States.”

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A talk on Los Angeles and the Swiss “Horizontal Metropolis”

On September 20, 2017, I was invited by Paola Viganò’s Lab-U urbanism team to give a talk on Los Angeles and Switzerland at the EPFL (Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne). The talk was one among various contributions gathered for the “Bernardo Secchi Day 2017,” organized annually by Paola and her team in memory of the late, great Italian architect, urbanist, and engineer Bernardo Secchi (1934-2014). The topic of the 2017 edition was “The urbanism of hope,” and you can see the whole program by clicking here.

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“To irrigate our souls”: Some thoughts on a Southwestern “hydrosophy” and the Colorado River

In my previous post, I offered some thoughts about how, in our quest for a perma-circular economy and society, we could learn – or re-learn – from the great cycles of the Earth’s biosphere. In this post, I want to dwell on one of those cycles: the water cycle and, more specifically, the “water wisdom” we might gain from flowing water, in the form of rivers and streams – a wisdom I will call “hydrosophy.” While I live and work in a country blessed with beautiful watercourses and majestic watersheds circumscribed in part by formidable mountains, I couldn’t have written this post if my partner and I hadn’t traveled in the Southwestern United States this past summer and the one before. So I will begin from over there even though, as I am writing, it’s so far away from here… and I’ll end up suggesting that, perhaps, the Southwest’s most iconic river, the Colorado, might be the right place to start on our hydrosophical journey.

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Towards a permacircular humanity: An illustrated lecture

This is kind of a continuation, by other means, of the musings I offered in my earlier post on “native wisdom” and “Native Modernity.” At the beginning of March, 2017, I gave a half-hour lecture, complete with PowerPoint slides, to a group of about twenty Master’s students from the University of Lausanne, where I work here in Switzerland. The context was an interfaculty course on “Global Warming and Societal Change” (conducted jointly with the University of Lancaster) in which a colleague and I were to teach one session on homo economicus and the overcoming of “petro-anthropology.” You may wonder what those words have to do with permacircularity. Read on and I trust you’ll get some useful pointers.

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GUEST POST: Re-visioning Los Angeles and envisioning permacircular settlements through the ecovillage paradigm, by Paul Glover

A while ago I announced that, as part of my “Ecovillage L.A. 2066” project, I would review the 2012 edition of Paul Glover’s book Los Angeles: A History of the Future, initially published in 1982. Instead, I now have the pleasure and the privilege of publishing this guest post by Paul himself, in which he details his vision for Los Angeles on the basis of the ecovillage paradigm, and offers an example taken from an initiative with which he is involved in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In doing so, he significantly enhances our understanding of the basics of permacircularity – even though he doesn’t use the term himself. Paul Glover is a famous community organizer, probably best known for being the creator, in 1991, of “Ithaca HOURS” in New York, one of the United States’ oldest functioning community currency. He is also the founder of the Philadelphia Orchard Project as well as a dozen other organizations and initiatives. His website can be visited at I’m convinced this text will soon be recognized as foundational by many of us who are seriously engaging with permacircularity and its implications for city and settlement design.

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GUEST POST: Towards permacircular currencies? Why a regenerative economy calls for new forms of money, by Matthew Slater

The British community currency designer Matthew Slater, co-founder of Community Forge and co-author of the Money & Society MOOC, has sent me a text on why we should make our money system permacircular and how we might go about doing it. Because he sent it to me right before my father’s death, and because in January and February I was overburdened with administrative university work, it took me a while to edit it and upload it. Here it is now, and I’m excited and honored to be hosting Matthew’s thoughts – rooted in many years of practice in the area of community currency design (currently focused on upgrading and open sourcing the largest of the community exchange networks, CES) – on my blog.

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Fractality — Isotropy — Permacircularity: Richard Register, Paola Viganò, and the new foundations of settlement design

As the US presidential election campaign drags on and becomes more and more alarming with regard to the planet’s true needs, I’ve been seeking intellectual and existential solace in my family and also in further forays into the “Ecovillage L.A. 2066” project I outlined in one of my earlier posts.

In this context, I’ve recently been reading stuff by Richard Register, the father of the “ecocity” concept and founder of EcoCity Builders. I love it.

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GUEST POST: Quasi-circular growth and the uncertain future of recycling, by François Grosse

The French engineer François Grosse, currently the CEO of the urbanism consultancy ForCity, whose quantitative analysis of recycling underlies the contents of my most visited and quoted post up to now, is doing me the honor and the pleasure of contributing this blog’s first guest post. He delineates the rationale for what he calls “quasi-circular growth,” based on his understanding of why (a) recycling might well be useless in the long run in a growing economy but why (b) a de-growth — or negative growth — economy isn’t the answer. Ultimately, he calls for a deeper cultural overhaul of our entrenched habits if we are going to usher in a permacircular society.

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From the metropolis to the “metrochorio,” from the megalopolis to the “choriopolis” as a network of “kiklikochorios”

My collaborative-utopian-imaginative-radical open-action-research project Ecovillage L.A. 2066 has been out there now for a few days. It’s getting off to a somewhat slow start, but that’s probably normal. Perma-circularity is in itself a new notion to wrap one’s head around, and applying it to an urban “hyper-organism” such as Los Angeles might seem like a tall order even for those who are prepared to go permacircular at full throttle.

So while, hopefully, the word gets around and gradually spreads, today I want to send out a somewhat geeky post. Some geekiness is called for, because we need a whole new vocabulary for the challenges facing us.

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Los Angeles, a permacircular metropolis in fifty years? Launching “Ecovillage L.A. 2066”

It’s kind of a dream idea. A bit crazy, in fact — the stuff utopian ideas and innovations are made of. You might call it a thought experiment. On a massive scale.

I want to call it “Ecovillage L.A. 2066.”

The question: What if, 50 years from now, Los Angeles were organized and inhabited as an ecovillage, or – more to the point – a federation of ecovillages? A metropolitan ecovillage of 20 million people, envisioned as a permacircular region: What would it look and feel like? What would have to change, and why would those changes – momentous as they would have to be – offer exciting new cultural and social horizons?

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