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John Thackara:

"A strong candidate for that connective idea is the bioregion. A bioregion re-connects us with living systems, and each other, through the places where we live. It acknowledges that we live among watersheds, foodsheds, fibersheds, and food systems – not just in cities, towns, or ‘the countryside’.

A bioregion, in this sense, is culturally dynamic because it is literally and etymologically a ‘life-place’, in Robert Thayer’s words, that is definable by natural rather than political or economic boundaries. Its geographic, climatic, hydrological, and ecological qualities – its metabolism – can be the basis for meaning and identity because they are unique.

Growth, in a bioregion, is redefined as improvements to the health and carrying capacity of the land, and the resilience of communities. Its core value is stewardship, not extraction, a bioregion therefore frames the next economy, not the dying one we have now."


Scope of a bioregion

John Thackara:

"A bioregion is not an abstract model; it describes social as well as ecological systems that are unique to each place. The ways these social and ecological systems interact with each other are as significant as are list of species and social assets.

Stewarding a bioregion involves measuring the carrying capacity of the land and watersheds; putting systems in place to monitor progress; and feeding back results. This attention to ecosystem health is direct and ongoing; it involves diverse forms of expertise; translation skills, and open information channels, are needed to share different kinds of knowledge.

A bioregion provides livelihoods, not just amenity. It builds on existing economic relocalisation efforts that measure where resources come from; identify ‘leakages’ in the local economy; and explore how these leaks could be plugged by locally available resources.

Bioregional food – and health

One such ‘leak’ is food – and new kinds of work are involved in ecological agriculture. This work begins with understanding the soils – and growing crops, and rearing animals, in ways that regenerate them. Each farm has to be understood and designed as an ecosystem within a bioregional web of natural systems. This approach to farming is more knowledge-intensive than the industrial model it’s replacing; multiple skills, in new combinations, are needed to cope with that complexity.

At a bioregional scale, ecological agriculture also includes the development of new forms of land tenure, distribution models, processing facilities, financing, and training. With ‘social farming‘ and ‘care farming’- the direct participation of citizens in farm-based activities needs also to be enabled by service platforms.

Health and wellbeing are local and place-based, too. In place of a biomedical healthcare system designed around individuals and diseases, an ecological model of health gives priority to the vitality of food, water, air and other ecosystems, and interactions among them.

In the US, the idea of a Health Commons has been proposed as a geographical model for improving the health of ecosystems and the people who live in them. The Glasgow Indicators Project is another effort to develop tools that link community health and ecosystem health.

Cities are in bioregions, too

The thinking behind bioregions grew out of the conservation movement in the North Western United States, in the 1970s. It was inspired, then, by the notion of wilderness, and focused on protected areas, biosphere reserves, species conservation, and ecosystem management.

But awareness is now growing that our cities are part of the bioregional story, too – that they do not exist separately from the land they are built on, and the resources that feed them.

Blogs and platforms such as Nature of Cities, Ecocity Design Institute, and Biophilic Cities, although they do not focus on a bioregional perspective, do encourage a city’s citizens, and its managers, to re-connect in practical ways with the soils, trees, animals, landscapes, energy systems, water and energy sources on which all life depends.

The urban landscape itself is re-imagined as an ecology with the potential to support us. Attention is turning to metabolic cycles and the ‘capillarity’ of the metropolis wherein rivers and bio-corridors are given pride of place."

More Information


Dig Deeper: What is a Bioregion? [1]

– Berg, P. et Dasmann, R. 1977. « Reinhabiting California », The Ecologist, vol. 7, n° 10, p. 399-401. – Sale, K. 1985. Dwellers in the Land. The Bioregional Vision, San Francisco : Sierra Book Club. – Sale, K. 1991. Le regioni della natura. La proposta bioregionalista, Milan : Elèuthera. – Sale, K. 2019. L?Hypothèse biorégionale. Une habitation terrestre, Marseille : Parenthèses. – Lawrence F. London, Jr., What is a Bioregion?, 10 May 2000 – Thayer, R. 2003. LifePlace. Bioregional Thought and Practice, Berkeley :University of California Press.