I sent this to the Hartford, CT, Habitat for Humanity chapter, Habitat International and to http://www.transitionnetwork.org. About regenerative and strategic partnerships informed by Bucky Fuller’s Trimtab, greatest effect for least effort, leverage design. But, also related to land use policy of “highest and best use.”
To the Board of Directors, Habitat for Humanity—Hartford:
Warm greetings and congratulations on 200+ low-income homeownership units during your first 25 years! Perhaps searching for a new Executive Director is not everyone’s favorite way of celebrating a 25 year anniversary; but there is much precedent and I want to encourage you to take this as an opportunity to look at this transition toward a vision that will serve the next several generations.
I have been around Connecticut and affordable housing, economic, and (0) carbon-footprint development since 1991. During the early 90s I was on the Board for Habitat in New Haven and did some consulting with the folks in Americus that led to federal grants for property acquisition, designed specifically to fit with the HforH mission. Then I worked with the YouthBuild-Hartford program for several years and, in that context, brought the first youth-targeted Individual Development Account program to the State of Connecticut. I also helped form Cheshire Interfaith Housing to retain its indigenous Cheshire leadership and autonomy, while also working on projects in partnership with Habitat-New Haven. This is a model that I believe has been used elsewhere to avoid the inefficiencies of balkanization of development corporations while enjoying the strengths of local faith-community leadership within each municipality. This organizational structure may be worth considering if you decide to move forward with a project in Cromwell that I have referred in your direction; the Tanner property.
With that as personal introduction, please forgive me for ruminating, perhaps at rather too much length, about the strategic issues faced by Habitat for Humanity globally, but also in Hartford County specifically.
Twenty-five years ago we defined “inadequate housing” much differently than we think about “unsustainable habitat” today, in North America. Back in the “growth-is-the-answer-to-all-systemic-problems” days of community development, we rightly gave priority to ownership and to affordability when we used adjectives like “decent” and “adequate” and “revitalized” in reference to housing and neighborhoods. Ownership and affordability remain tightly linked to sustainability, but continuing commitment to Business As Usual in the construction industry, use and reuse of materials and resources, the environment, our financial economy, our schools, our aging neighborhood infrastructures, our soaring fuel and energy costs, our continuing despair over health and child and elder care, and growing income disparity is evaporating within the religious sector. A permaculturally rich global and neighborhood habitat for humanity is increasingly informed by an interfaith eco-equity value system that asks “What on earth is adequate housing in Hartford County” from a profoundly different millennial perspective than Millard Fuller asked in Alabama.
So I arrive at Hartford Habitat’s mission, to “eliminate inadequate housing” in a 33-town Hartford area, thinking more like a soon-to-be-Certified Permaculture Designer, as well as an interfaith theologian, wanting to understand how we are going to jump from less than 10 units/year, on average, to address the habitat adequacy challenges of approximately 350,000 households in Hartford County. A truly strategic plan must confront that question with candor, integrity, drawing on the strength of experience during the first 25 years, but also recognizing that habitat issues have moved into an environmentally critical arena of systems analysis.
My work in affordable housing, community, economic, and now permaculture systems development, has often benefitted from what Unitarian Buckminster Fuller called the “Trimtab” leverage question. How do we get the most effect with the least effort? In a Deep Ecology, and faith, context, we are asking, both within our congregations, and without, Given our eco-equity challenges, where do we discover our most abundant hope for metanoia, for transformation, for regeneration? What is our shared habitat vocation?
The Tellus Institute (www.tellusinstitute.org) takes this question into the 21st Century of computer simulation to offer us some comparative projections linking economic and ecological sustainability. We find the most abundantly sustainable trajectory in their Great Transition paradigm:
- Reuse/recycle/incorporate materials and energy to increase the ecosystem’s regenerative capacity.
- Strategically envision for the long-term (i.e., the “7-Generation” perspective of Native American cultures).
- Increase inclusion and diversity in socio-ecological systems therapy.
- Reinsert “humans” into our holistically inclusive concerns for sacred-nature equitable outcomes: optimized and sustainable solidarity, community, health and well-being for all individuals and species.
- Enhance public choice-making to improve consensus (decrease polarization) and eco² [my own symbol for the combination of “economic” and “ecological”] sustainability.
- Strengthen our eco² outcomes by folding in habitat-strengthening cooperative approaches to child care, education, health, pensions, elder care, nutrition, energy-production, acquiring both perishables and non-perishables, landscaping, self-care, employment as vocation.
- Increase public and private investment in cooperative research and design, with specific priority for eco² sustainable well-being.
- Develop and advocate new tax and financial institution regulatory policies and incentives to increase social capital investments. Grow a policy and investment infrastructure that reverses the trend toward economic disparity by committing our wealth deposits and property to a new cooperative-oriented economy of long-term sustainability.
- Remember the Principle of Subsidiarity, and keep it holy, or holistic. In Whole Open Systems Theory, optimized abundant values matriculate up from integrated/confluent individuals and families, through neighborhoods, to communities, sub-regions, regions, and globally inclusive eco² integrity.
- Re-member the PermaCultured Principle of Complementarity: The human-natural interior landscape and the exterior natural landscape inform, and mutually define, each other in a Deep Learning and Listening sacred process of sustainable regeneration. This is our Species’ interfaith hope; it is permanently encultured in all religious traditions and faith paradigms. It is our source of gratitude for Creation as a sacred gift.
Religious institutions, congregations, mosques, synagogues, ashrams, intentional communities, scientific communities, and think-tanks, even bionic intelligence, are discovering greatest effect for least effort by noticing the sociotherapeutic value of Deep Eco-Justice, Deep Learning, Deep Ecology, Regenerative Systems design and development. Faith communities that have worked on their “Interior Landscape Design” and their “Exterior Landscape Design” are emergently aware of synchronization around a slower cooperative economic-ecology of nutrient value abundance. As a Regenerative Faith Species, we long for nature balance, for goodness and beauty within and without, while retaining our values for effectiveness, optimized system function, fairness, freedom, inclusion, diversity, gratitude, hope, faith, love. Vibrant communities of intent, and intentional families, and intentional individuals, are those who holistically practice eco-equity caring for self, other people, and our planet. These three habitats, journeys, pilgrimages, are an integrally Trinitarian conversation.
We are remembering the permacultured time when what was good ecologically was understood as what was best economically because they were the same agrarian-natural value system. Prior to currency, this was obvious in the short terms of life and death growing seasons, and in the longer terms of a “7-Generation” hope for the sustainable future. Economic values separated from ecological values as we forgot that human nature is intrinsically tied to all organic nature. We share RNA back to a tap root much older than the “self” consciousness of our species.
I wonder how many Habitat volunteers and property owners identify themselves as global citizens more readily than members of a particular religious institution. If we are many, what can all of us global-habitat citizens from diverse faith communities, and neighborhoods, and families, do to strategically enrich our interior and exterior habitats?
The Habitat Hartford strategic plan does look for strengthening the Interior Landscape of the staff culture, and does aspire to strengthen the Exterior Landscape through developing ally partnerships. Both of these strategies could be envisioned from a Business-As-Usual perspective, or from a more Great Transition perspective. At this point it is probably clear where I would put my time and money, but I want to conclude with a more specific resource partnership suggestion. Theology, theory, even computer simulated scenario projections to the year 2100 are all fine and well, but Habitat for Humanity core volunteers tend to like something closer to nuts and bolts, hammers and nails.
Perhaps you are familiar with the Transition Network (www.transitionnetwork.org), which originated in the UK, and now has a National Hub in California. I have no direct experience with being part of a Transition Team, although I know there have been some projects in New England. I recently accepted an invitation to comment on their new strategic plan. Perhaps that is why they come to mind as a potential resource for incarnating HH’s Interior and Exterior Landscape improvement goals.
The Transition Network has a fairly well developed eco²-equity culture, and their mission is to help local volunteer groups, with emphasis on building adolescent and young adult leadership, improve their ecological and economic habitats. They have many on-line resources, project stories, and the intent to increase on-line communication and financial resource networking, including, perhaps, the capacity to link projects internationally. So, for example, if HH wanted to take on a neighborhood improvement and house renovation project while building communication and financial linkages to a Habitat project in Haiti, the Transition Network could probably help you with that. If a cluster of Cromwell faith communities wanted to organize and support a HH new construction project in Cromwell, linked to a new construction project in South America, or Africa, or not, the Transition Network (TN) resources and fundraising and organizing support system is as accessible as a laptop or smart phone.
TN as a Habitat ally, locally, and internationally, seems particularly compelling to me because there is great potential for participating faith communities to develop an inclusive interfaith permacultured eco-justice formation that could capture the imagination and momentum of high school kids and young adults. This is the age group most needed for a successful Great Transition, for successful Habitat projects, for vibrantly growing faith communities, and it is the age group of priority to the Transition Network.
If there were an interest in developing urban neighborhood interfaith, and suburban community interfaith youth EcoMinistry Teams working on HH and TN Interior-Exterior Landscape Care Designs for Self, Others, and Earth, while that is rather a mouthful, I might be able to help with that. These could also be urban/suburban yoked for increased eco²equity—greatest effect for least effort might also include international yoking, if HH might have a Habitat affiliate, or a TN affiliate, or everybody affiliated with everybody. In terms of religious maturation, this is also the time when we may be losing kids from intentional faith communities because they are more interested in spending some time discovering how their own spiritual path is informed by the “Religious Commons,” what is held as sacred by all faith traditions. This is precisely why Habitat and each of the religious traditions invested in Habitat and eco-justice need each other.
Resilient learning development systems help us understand “self” identity most effectively in an intentionally diverse environment, with others who we may primordially see as not like me. This seems to be true in all regenerative economies, whether they be pedagogical, spiritual, financial, communication, or possibly even genetic information systems. A Habitat-TN youth EcoMinistry, intentionally diverse and interfaith, could be regeneratively powerful at the local, national, and global levels.
The Tellus Institute forecasts an emergent Co-Operative CommonWealth. Some things that might emerge from Solidarity Habitat Co-Operatives:
Neighborhoods self-organize to cooperatively build solar or wind infrastructure, compost, organize Community Farm Associations, design organic, edible landscapes and gardens, open neighborhood cooperative stores and libraries to ReHabitat clothing, toys, books, tools, seeds, organic fertilizers, mulch.
Neighborhood cooperatives could fulfill multiple functions: child and elder care, employment support groups, homeschooling (maybe even with a “school nurse”), food banks, tax assistance, classes in nonviolent communication, writing, entrepreneurial development, natural construction and crafts, permaculture design, interfaith dialogue, cooking, yoga, Tai Chi, meditation.
With Habitat support, neighborhood cooperative centers might facilitate the formation of residential cooperative ownership in partnership with interested (and often absentee) property owners.
Faith communities might help individuals invest in CDFIs, cooperative loan funds, and do so themselves, if they have not already committed any investments in this direction (although many have been global leaders in disinvestment from sociopathology and reinvestment in sociotherapeutic economies).
Faith communities could work within their neighborhoods to convert lawns to beautiful and edible landscape designs that are self-regenerating and require no long-term care. The plants provide shade to each other so watering is seldom needed, if ever. They cross-pollinate and bring balanced nutrients into the soil. They self-mulch. Then the faithful may learn to see that, with sufficient diversity and some re-sourcing ingenuity, we can often take care of each other in ways that are analogous to the ways that our well-designed ecosystems take care of each other.
Faith communities might host the neighborhood cooperative schools and stores and libraries, as so many already do.
Faith communities might further develop our eco-justice agendas to attend more fully to public sector policies and procedures that would decrease income disparity while enriching the new cooperative, and regenerative, economy.
Habitat for Humanity is well-poised to help us move toward a more nutritious and inclusive, more affordable with less effort, regenerative interfaith journey. The Transition Network might be a useful ally, and the locally planted Habitat infrastructure and culture could help TN with some of their own sustainability concerns. Their all-volunteer, no paid staff, model does help keep the momentum on youth leadership, but young people have a way of going off to college, transitioning to new jobs in new locations. Perhaps the combination of Habitat for Humanity and Transition Network and interfaith volunteer networks is just what we all need to cross-pollinate and regenerate ourselves into the Great Transition.