Update from Living Future Institute’s Unconference – People



I was very fortunate to spend five days in Portland taking part in stimulating leadership and training programs, listening to inspirational speakers and meeting truly inspiring practitioners in the world of regenerative design.

Living Future 2018 was the 12th Annual International Living Future Institute unConference, held between May 1-4, 2018 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Oregon. This three-day event brought together some of the greatest passionate individuals and organisations to create unified action toward a living future.

With such an inspiring Living Future unconference programme and so much to see and do on my first visit to Portland, it was a packed few days of wandering the streets, taking in street art, food truck parks, microbreweries, rain gardens, and the sustainable transport options – let alone all the learning and connecting taking place at the conference itself.

With so much to share I am splitting my Portland articles into 3 short articles with this first one focusing on People.

What struck me first at the unconference was the energy and passion that could be instantly felt as passionate people connected to build capacity and ignite projects to accelerate progress for a regenerative living future.

Michelle Holliday author of ‘Thrivability‘ opened my eyes up to the application of living systems principles not only to buildings and communities but also to our organisations. This made me reflect on what some organisations have become and how far some have strayed from the definition of an organisation: ‘an entity comprising multiple people, that has a collective goal and is linked to an external environment

Bill Reed, internationally recognised practitioner, teacher, and authority in integrative systems design and regenerative community planning and implementation confirmed for me the importance of designing from Place and reconnecting People to Place. He asked questions that opened my mind, made me think and reflect about working within systems (cultural and  living) – shifting back to an alignment with life processes.

I was reminded of the power of the vital co-creative relationship between humans and the places we inhabit and how every project can be a catalyst for healing human to nature and human to human relationships.

Once again I was reminded ‘there is no such thing as a ‘sustainable building’  – which of course is not meant negatively but more as a prompt to help us all rethink our ‘why’ behind our designs and buildings.  The sustainable building discussion has been exhausted and we are firmly in the throws of regenerative terminology of asking ourselves if our buildings will be a catalyst and agent in the sustained regeneration of the larger ‘place’.

Historically tribes had no word for nature – Why? because they considered themselves part of it. He stressed that the word development is actually a positive term meaning reaching potential. Our roles as architects and designers are evolving as we become stewards for our people, communities, places and wider environments we work in.

Kathleen O’Brien led us in an inspiring day of Sustainability Leadership  training through the lens of the Emergence Leadership Model which really resonated with me and left me feeling supported, reassured and energised – reaffirming that leading change is not telling others what they should do but more a joining up of positive connections and positive conversations in order to progress regenerative development and design – after all ‘the only thing we can control is our own behaviour’ (Kathleen O’Brien).  Thank you, Kathleen, for sharing one of M Wheatleys Principles from life ‘To create better health in a living system, connect it to more of itself ‘.

Perhaps the most inspiring talk of all for me was by Majora Carter a revitalisation strategy consultant. Majora is a developer from the South Bronx who is really inspiring change through the direct action of creating infrastructure, cafes, and tech startups in the Bronx – giving hope, purpose, and vibrancy to the Bronx. She shared her personal journey of feeling the stigma of being attached to the Bronx and how all she wanted was to leave, she returned but under duress. She said most people ’when they see a community like the South Bronx they don’t even consider the major possibilities and potential ‘They just want to stop the bleeding. She is a firm believer that ‘things can change in low-status communities ‘

One statement I won’t forget is that she pointed out how ‘Beauty reflects on people’ and that low-status communities need awesome inspiring beautiful places –  if all that’s around you is dirty and ugly that’s how you are going to feel!

Majora co-founded the now 750+ member Bronx Tech Meetup, as well as the StartUpBox Software Services company which is rebuilding the entry level tech job pipeline by using market forces and established business practices to help diversify the US tech sector.

Last but not least I was thrilled to take part in the Living Building Heroes recognition ceremony and delighted to see long standing friend and colleague  Martin Brown rewarded and recognised for his passionate work in the field of reimaging the status quo . Martin has an unrivalled ability to challenge current practice and lead others to strive for the best in projects and life. If you haven’t read his book  Futurestorative  – it’s a great bringing together of sustainability thinking in the built environment. Awarded alongside Martin were the Frasers Australia and Living Futures team of Paulo Bevilaqua and Stephen Choi . There was a time when people said it would be impossible to do a Living Building retail development – well done guys for breaking the mould and proving them wrong.



Claire Bowles

Claire Bowles

Purpose Director