This Pandemic Calls for New Economic and Housing Models

824px-Doughnut_(economic_model)

As usual I’ve been thinking a lot about property but increasingly through the lens of a new economic framework I’ve been learning about called Doughnut Economics. This framework provides a way of looking at growth on a macroeconomic level where the more challenged socioeconomic classes never “fall into the hole” in the middle and maintain a good level of access to housing, energy, food, health and the other essentials of life. This is the “inner limit.” There is also an outer limit where there is a natural point that we should not push beyond in terms of the climate and planet’s resources. This “outer limit” gives us an understanding of the boundaries to which we can help countries and communities thrive, rather than grow at all costs and push beyond.

I’ve been asking myself: how can planning, property, law and structure be used for new ways of living? How can we effectively reduce our collective carbon footprint? Support better land use? Find ways to not just be “net neutral” in any category but go even further to help actually rehabilitate and regenerate the ecology surrounding us?

A few structures and ideas that I’m exploring here in no particular order are:

  • more land protected (trusts, foundations, national park systems)
  • planning for lightweight human settlements, communities and villages put in to place inside these
  • international protected commons were commons where human connect with each other in nature while protecting it and improving it
  • additional rights for indigenous people

Questions:

  • how impactful have existing structures been for the environment? What evidence exists? e.g. national parks
  • what land use practice and planning principles have worked well vs poorly?

Ever since I graduated university in 2006 and got into real estate I wondered endlessly about how you could use property as a vehicle to create greater good. Profit is important for a sustainable business model, but you can’t only consider financial value, you have to consider how to deliver economic, social and environmental value as well.

Particularly during and post this Covid Pandemic, I believe one of the greatest opportunities for humanity is to take a step back. Take a collective deep breath. And use this time to reassess the models we use to live, work and play.

Part of why I’m in Portugal and looking into the property market so closely here is that it’s at an earlier stage in its development, sophistication and institutional capital. The other way this could be explained is that the market has yet to be corrupted, pillaged and destroyed – it’s authentic. The community feeling of being in the country, the way people help each other, is something only rivalled to one other country I’ve ever been where it felt even remotely close to as welcoming: Costa Rica. At the same time, my experience working in the United States and the United Kingdom across real estate, sustainability and property technology sectors is enabling me to look at how some of the models from these countries, particularly social housing, multi-family and Build to Rent could help more people and communities to live,  grow and allow people to thrive.

One project I’ve been thinking deeply about, researching other successful and unsuccessful communities and trying to envisage how financial, environmental and social benefit could be put together is a Founders Village. In my view, this would be a place within a forest, within walking distance or short drive to the beach. A neighbourhood filled with creative people: entrepreneurs, artists, writers, authors, poets, technical people, scientists, musicians, researchers and local people. It will be a place governed by the principles underpinning Doughnut Economics filled with folks that want to find a way to live like modern day technologically empowered hippies connecting through creativity and shared values. There will be permaculture at the heart of this community to sustain the local community and eliminate supply chains, packaging and waste.

Finding ways create systems, communities and housing where humans add back to nature, while regenerating the ecology and supporting a sustainable economy will be one of the biggest silver linings of this Covid thing. The fact that right now the planet is faring better and that humans are the ones carrying this novel virus can be seen as an analogy for what so many of our countries, societies and cultures have been doing to our planet for a while now. This is not to denigrate the human tragedy of this pandemic – but we’ve been pillaging the earth as a species since the industrial age.

I’d love to see a world in which we humans do more good than damage.

Proving this out is humanity’s greatest opportunity coming out of this crisis.

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