The Future Isn’t Here Yet …. Living Future 2010 insights!

Along with almost 1,000 other people, from many parts of the country, I attended the 2010 Living Future Conference in Seattle last week. The majority of the audience represented the Cascadia Regions’ design build commercial community. Also in attendance were corporate leaders, foundations, municipal representatives, community organizers, sustainability consultants, and marketing, and media folks to name a few. Keynotes spanned a range of perspectives from dark possible outcomes to enlightened focus on humanity’s ability to reinvent itself.

James Howard Kunstler, urban planning expert, social critic, and author, gave a controversial talk warning our audience not to try and hold onto the status quo. Kunstler considers most of our “green” efforts window dressing and not the fundamental shifts we need to make and also model for the rest of the developing world. He sees us embracing technology such as electric cars to maintain our lifestyles and culture but not changing ourselves in preparation for a post- (cheap) fossil-fuel based economy.

Jason McLennan, CEO, of Cascadia Green Building Council, was the engaging master of ceremonies. He is an incredible visionary and asset to the green building and environmental communities. McLennan offered us a message of hope while not ignoring the challenges in our society. He took the green building conversation beyond the rectangle of the structure to include entire systems, communities and districts. While the built arena is not completely responsible for our climate crisis, given its huge impact on GHG and GDP, he stated that it should be accountable and reverse our negative impact on our resources going forward. McLennan challenged us to go back to our professional and personal lives and deliver change beyond the conversation and drive action in our sphere of influence. One project along those lines is a new initiative, the Living City Design Competition which provides the winner with a $125,000 prize.

Pliny Fisk III, co-director, Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems presented the evening keynote on day two of the conference. You know you are in the company of brilliance when you hear someone present ideas in concept but you feel that you need a translator to really bring it home for you. Pliny uses data and analysis to identify trends before they occur. He is a true futurist and “grandfather” of the sustainability movement. Also, he lives in a totally rockin’ city, Austin (yes, that is in Texas)!

Dr. John Francis, founder and director, Planetwalk, gave the most inspirational talk of the conference. It was good to hear from a speaker who was not directly involved in the building arena. This fascinating man literally walks the environmental talk. After witnessing the San Francisco Bay oil tanker disaster in 1971, he decided to boycott oil dependant transportation modes and walked and cycled his way across America for the next 17 years. In addition, tired of arguing with people about the environment he decided to stop talking and learned to really listen. His environmental commitment came full circle when he was called in to assist with the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Dr. Francis is living proof of one man making a difference in our world. At the heart center of his philosophy is that humanity is really at the core of the environmental movement.

The Conference also delivered dozens of content rich education sessions. One of my personal favorites was entitled Food for Thought: Vertical Farming and Urban Agriculture. With a reputation for killing plastic flowers, I, for one, wanted to learn how we are going to teach city dwellers to reduce their carbon footprints, to provide healthy food options and to increase their food security by growing, distributing, shopping and eating locally. It seems these days that everything old is new again as we embrace our historical agrarian roots. Demographic forecasts indicate that 75% of people will be living in dense metropolitan areas. The number of people in the world will go from 6 billion to 9 billion. We will need to feed these populations however we are challenged in the rapidly developing world by those that emulate a more American lifestyle: more meat, more convenience and more choices. The urban agricultural movement is one strategy for feeding the populations of tomorrow in a healthy, low-carbon and cost-effective way.

Think about the choices that you make daily in your business and in your personal life. If you chose to be more responsible and sustainable what radical choices might you need to make? Would you walk across the country in protest or stop talking for 17 years? Discuss your ideas with friends, family, neighbors and local leaders and inspire those around you by example. Remember to share your ideas with us, too!

Remember to save the date for Living Future 2011, April 27 – 29, in Vancouver, BC. Consider early registration for a deep discount to the conference. I am inspired by next year’s theme, Our Children’s Cities: Visualizing a Restorative Civilization. See you there!
–alex