As we are moving forward in the Anthropocene, with an ever-growing technosphere and a threatened natural life, many wonder where to start saving our planet and livelihoods. Modern places like supermarkets, airports or motorways have become emblematic for a consumerist and fast-paced society. At the same time, the virtual digital space shapes more and more aspects of our daily experiences. How can the notion of place help in re-creating healthy and thriving local economies at the benefit of people and the planet?

This article is part of Perspectivist’s #Regenerate21 series. Watch the Video Highlights of our “Economy of Place” event with Jenny Andersson under “more” below.
Next #Regenerate21 event: “Natural Intelligence” with Innovation Biologist Leen Gorissen

Our current globalized economy is based on the idea of free markets somehow self-regulating through what Adam Smith called the “invisible hand”. The supposedly rational individual is making choices to maximize its interest within a competitive and growth-oriented market. Not only the assumption of machine-like rationality is erroneous, but also the bias towards market mechanisms and the externalization of all that is essential to life itself.

Today, economic dynamics drive unhealthy and unhappy lifestyles, divided communities and destructive business practices. We are more and more surrounded by standardized products, processes and even lives. Value extraction is dominating over value creation. Globally, unique local places and communities are being substituted by anonymous and functional (often grey) infrastructure. Against this background, many economists and related disciplines have developed alternative approaches, including the economy of the commons and the regenerative economy.

As Jenny Andersson powerfully states in her Economy of Place Series,

“What we need to do is explore how to weave some of the intrinsic qualities of the times in which we lived in balance with the biosphere, with the modern global, advanced technology-driven economy in which we current live.”

For that, the notion of place is crucial in the process of realising our collective potential. While the sustainable development and circular economy approaches certainly do have their value in thinking the transition, the regenerative approach, underlying the work of Jenny Andersson, seems to be more encompassing for dealing with a VUCA* world in need of profound and interconnected change.

The economy of place is, according to Andersson, „rooted in the natural geology, geography, topography of place, alongside the unique cultural heritage that each and every region on this earth can draw upon.“ Through regenerative design, framework conditions are created to ensure various types of interconnected capitals (ecological, social, human, production, financial) drive systemic vitality. Instead of seeking slow, incremental change, it is about designing a transformed economy that is prepared for future trends, caters to human needs and actively works with the carrying capacities of the places we inhabit.

By understanding the local economy as a living system, rather than a functional machine, new evolutionary dynamics are unleashed. Extensive cooperation, the use of complementary and unique competences of various stakeholders and smart intervention points are the drivers of the regenerative economy. Concretely, this can mean that businesses work with civil society organisations and researchers to develop local construction materials for sustainable buildings in order to decrease social stress from housing precarity.

If we are to regenerate the 21st century in a thriving, life-affirming and wiser way, we have to build places of regeneration. Interconnected places in which communities, businesses and ecosystems can evolve to reverse the trends of the Anthropocene.

More about the Economy of Place

“Economy of Place” Video Highlights with Jenny Andersson from our first #Regenerate21 event on 28 January 2021

Read Jenny Andersson’s The Economy of Place series here.

*Volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous