On Plan-Making


In this second installment of Questions & Answers, we delve into plan-making.

We will not know what new realities these changes will bring
But we know we need to make plans now, even when we do not know.

(from manifesto)

Question: I have my own ideas as to why it is important to make plans even without knowing the exact reasons and/or outcomes. Could you explain why it is important to you? What is the value/necessity in this curiosity or exploration?

[AH] While we may not be able to make concrete plans right now without being ready to change them, we still need to be doing so.

The act of making plans is as important as the plans are themselves.

When we acknowledge the uncertainty of our collective future under rapid environmental change, we are forced to be flexible—to supplicate ourselves to powers greater than ourselves, things which I believe will always exist and form the encounters that lead to feelings of meaning or value in human experience.

[CT] Design and the act of making plans is the way we manifest our capacity to disrupt and select from our environments.

Examined from a distance, the primary ecological role of Homo sapiens is to be both disruptors and selectors within their ecological contexts. Having blurred the regionality of human populations, specifically since the beginnings of mass transit in the Industrial Age, we are no longer adept at partnering with the living world in this role of disruptor and selector.

These are not unique ecological roles in the animal kingdom. This is principally a result of “freeing” ourselves from the annual cycles of growth and bounty. In the rush to occupy cities and benefit from importation from the hinterlands we’ve chosen to assign our capacity to disrupt and select to self-aggrandizing and self-referential pursuits—cities are and always have been where we go when we failed to have good relationships with the larger world. There is no judgement here, just a dire warning that we are not a species that can persist in isolation from the living world.

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.
— John Muir

[AH] Outside influences force us into a state of adaptability and it is within that adaptable mindset that any relationship begins to be mutually beneficial, healthy, and full of growth. So when we begin to make adaptable plans for uncertain conditions, we are forced not to look toward our own desired outcomes, but to the possible futures of collective relationships.

[CT] I see our work as building capacity in human populations so they may thrive in greater autonomy from other human populations. As you dig into our work further you’ll see that concepts such as circular and regional economies, development of place-contextual skills, and the bolstering of local knowledges are the primary outcomes we are working to achieve.

Where this gets complex, likely really complex, is when we acknowledge that there can be no success in these areas unless human communities are in a dependency with all the biotic and abiotic processes and actors of their land-base.

[AH] Right now, we need the whole picture. We’ve ignored too much for too long and it has come back to us directly (like climate change) and indirectly (like cultural shifts due to technological changes).

When we keep our heads in the sands of human exceptionalism,
we make ourselves less exceptional than we can be.

We need to be able to see the whole ecology of living—and to best understand the individual connections, relationships, exchanges, and flows between each part—so we can stay on the best pathway forward under evolving conditions.

[CT] With this type of open-ended planning we must also continue to develop methods to predict outcomes of rapid environmental change, to define likely outcomes and trends, and to develop long-term plans based on current conditions. We need to continue to develop infrastructure that reacts to the environment around us—we just need to see better how that development fits into the larger whole and to move those large, collective investments toward forms that are adaptable to future conditions. Infrastructure is what increases our standard of living and that is something we all are striving for.

Resilience is only achieved when the conditions are in place to do it all again.

[AH] The act of preparation makes us stronger. Awareness of the complexities and challenges of life empowers us. It allows us to gain a full picture, but this can only happen if we stop ignoring the hard parts of human development, the things we usually just write off as externalities.

[CT] This sort of design work is not what we in the West consider classical design outcomes. You’ll never find LbCV winning awards for a stadium design or a city park. If we did, we’d have failed. We’re seeking to develop the sort of world where the integration of human habitat into the larger environmental systems is the normal outcome of development.

Design and planning is the manifestation of our primary ecological roles
as disruptor and selector.

Our land-based ethic simply requires that we work with a larger palette and at timescales that don’t fit within modern economic models.