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Towards a manifesto for regenerative design

Published on February 08, 2022

The value of regenerative design has been emphasised by the challenges of the contemporary world. Design practices that focus on restoration and renewal and give back more than they take out offer the opportunity to build a more sustainable, equitable future. The opening decades of this century, and particularly the troubled start to the 2020s, have brought interrelated environmental and social problems into sharp and often stark focus: exceedance of four of the nine planetary boundaries; the climate emergency; an ecological crisis; and glaring social inequalities and injustices. These could paint a bleak picture, but there is room for optimism and sparkling glimmers of light within an apparently gloomy canvas.

With these challenges come huge creative opportunities for those working in the built environment space who shape the future of our cities and towns and the modes by which we all live. There is growing awareness of the critical importance of nature to our physical and mental wellbeing. As nature is the planet’s life support system, we vitally need to build a better relationship with it before it is lost.

To bring about such necessary change for the benefit of the environment, our health and our wellbeing, it is vital to consider design within the framework of questions such as: “what can we give back?” and “how can we be part of the solution not the problem?” Regenerative design is a route by which we can achieve this.

Regenerative design approaches work in parallel with other systems-based processes like nature-based solutions (NbS), nature recovery networks and natural climate solutions to achieve net positives and gains. It goes beyond mere mitigation and reduction to restore the balance needed to achieve a greater good. Regenerative design considers these concepts on a ‘big picture’ scale: it is what our cities and towns need, what our infrastructure needs and what we need to realise resilient and equitable futures that address societal challenges.

In a world of great change, we need to renew practices to ensure built environment design processes are nimble, fast and adaptable. The best results for regenerative, nature-based design are always achieved through true collaboration that creates opportunities for all stakeholders to engage with and learn from others. Readdressing the balance to create fairer and better infrastructure that serves the needs of everyone today and in the future requires collaboration and inclusion, diverse project teams and new perspectives.

Creating a more equitable future has become a particular focus for the post-pandemic world. For this to be achieved, efforts need to extend to environmental protection as well as social inclusion. Biodiversity recovery needs to sit just as centrally in efforts to create greater resilience in our built infrastructure. In the UK, the government launched a consultation in January 2022 to gather perspectives on its proposals to place biodiversity net gain and environmental protection at the centre of new infrastructure developments. Ensuring all new developments are ‘nature positive’, protecting the existing environment and compensating for any impacts is a great start and will become a determiner of planning permission being granted. Placing environmental considerations at the centre of development will build sustainability and resilience into our towns and cities while ensuring outcomes reflect the needs of society following collaboration through community engagement.

Proportionate, open and timely public engagement alongside equal partnership design team thinking will create better and far richer outcomes for everyone and will lead to the ownership these projects need to bring regenerative design into the mainstream. When considering the resilient and equitable future we want and need to create, introducing regenerative practices will not only result in better environmental outcomes but also better societal outcomes. Regenerative design practices will be pivotal for generations to come in efforts to achieve truly sustainable development and will be a valuable vehicle for meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Taking the principle of collaboration and co-creation forward into all areas of design and development, along with four further vital components – the circular economy, evidence and metrics, being outcome-driven and flexibility – will ensure the environmental, social and health challenges of the contemporary world are addressed and will be key to creating a more resilient, sustainable and equitable future for all.

Join Andrew on Thursday, 10 February for a #GreenDialogues webinar on “Regenerative design: Building the future we need”. Featuring specialists from across the architecture and planning space, the webinar will offer further insight on the five principles of regenerative design in practice. 

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Andrew Tempany

Technical Director, Stephenson Halliday

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Andrew is a Chartered Landscape Architect and technical director at Stephenson Halliday, with over 21 years of experience in providing planning, design and management services across a wide array of landscape projects at all scales. He has worked across the UK and in Ireland on a wide variety of landscape projects.

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