A new approach to sustainability
by Alon Yakolchik and Batel Dinur
Dr. Batel Dinur and Alon Yakolchik
Alon and Batel are town planners, architects and researchers. They were born and raised in Israel and spent the last 7 years working in England , before coming to Auroville in July 2009.
Auroville is expected to undergo a big change in the near future; by this social and physical infrastructures will be affected as well as the natural environment. Up to now, some Aurovilians have been very much involved in the organizational and administrative work trying to understand the overall picture of Auroville's evolution, while others have been less involved and some have even ignored it altogether.
From now on, each participant in the Auroville experiment who will not try to understand the whole picture might find him/herself excluded from the new opportunities that arise.
Up to now, Auroville's development has been, by and large, a spontaneous development; each person was able to enjoy the freedom that the lack of central organisation implied, and find his/her unique way of being part of this unconventional experiment.
This phase in Auroville's development seems to have reached its full capacity; economically, it becomes more and more difficult to cater for the basic needs of 2000 inhabitants, while socially it is no longer a small group of pioneers willing to share the same plate.
Auroville's social and physical complexity is about to increase and Auroville should get ready to enter this new, perhaps less spontaneous and more “conscious,” phase of its development. “Conscious” here doesn't have to mean more rules and regulations, only a collective consensus on a way to utilise the new possibilities which face Auroville, in a way that will benefit it, and thereby avoiding future conflicts. It is perhaps this unique point – described beautifully by complexity scientists “the edge of chaos” – which is critical in any complex system's development – that can lead either to complete chaos or to a new, more advanced stage in a system's development pattern.
The spontaneous process of any society's development can be described as “subconscious” in that it is carried out before a conscious understanding has been fully acquired. The term “subconscious” is used to refer to those instances in which human beings pursue a new line of activity in any field without a conscious knowledge of the end results toward which they are moving, the obstacles and essential conditions for success, and the stages and principles governing the process of accomplishment.
Some Aurovilians think that there is no need to plan Auroville's development and that the whole idea is to let unorganised activities spontaneously create the society and the city's structure. According to Jacobs (1) et al. there is one central characteristic that most clearly distinguishes development from other forms of social change, but whose importance may not always be appreciated because it is largely non-material in nature.
That characteristic is organisation.
The essential nature of the process is the progressive development of social organisations and institutions that harness and direct the social energies for higher levels of accomplishment. Society develops by organising all the knowledge, human energies and material resources at its disposal to fulfill its aspirations.
When Mother was approached with the idea that “many in Auroville say that an organised working is not desirable in Auroville; they are for spontaneous working,” Mother responded: “ Spontaneous work can be done only by a man of genius. Is there anyone claiming to be a genius? ” (2)
So how can Auroville move from a spontaneous, “subconscious” process of gradual development into a more organised, “conscious” and possibly more rapid development process? How can it develop an organizational structure which is flexible enough to enable decision making and at the same time allow the Auroville experiment to continue without leading it into a complete chaos?
Aromar Revi (3) , an international sustainability consultant, suggests the need for identification of potential areas of strengths in which initial development in Auroville can move ahead. This may be an important step in encouraging a new kind of reflection within Auroville's community, which can generate a more conscious engagement where choices need to be made within the community and in relation to the external world.
According to Jacobs et al (4) . the success of any planned development effort depends on its ability to provide the necessary conditions and elements required for natural development. The stages that both processes must traverse and the principles that govern them are otherwise the same. Many planned development efforts fail because they are initiated with insufficient understanding of the essential conditions and the steps necessary to mimic the natural social process.
It may therefore be important to understand the natural, spontaneous process of Auroville's development up to this point in time before attempting to take up any new organisational framework. This, according to our point of view, should be done through a participatory process of revealing the essential vital energy that exists in Auroville and generating a platform for its continued evolution.
Sri Aurobindo sees the vital part of us as “necessary to our completeness, but it is a true instrument only when its feelings and tendencies have been purified by the psychic touch and taken up and governed by the spiritual light and power.” (5)
The direction in which Auroville will choose to proceed depends on its accumulated knowledge as well as on its increasing awareness of the emerging opportunities and challenges that it faces. Jacobs et al. claim that the energy that drives the process is determined by the intensity of the collective social aspiration for higher levels of accomplishment released by this accumulated knowledge and growing awareness and that these in turn are strongly influenced by the level of organisation of the social collective. From this it can be concluded that social organisation is important not only as an outcome of such a process but also as its generator. In other words, the way in which Auroville is currently organised can be the tool or obstacle for its further development.
A new energy or will for change, in itself, is not enough to drive this change forward, but it should be accompanied by an appropriate organisational structure that can accommodate it. It is therefore important for Auroville to invest some time and energy in defining a new organisational structure for itself that can enable it to rise to its next level of development.
L'avenir df'Auroville realized this challenge and decided to work towards developing a new approach to planning. That brings us to our role and our reason for coming here. From our point of view, ecological planning is firstly about recognizing the organisational vitality of a place. This requires at the same time a possibility to experience the place as “an insider,” as well as an ability to systematically analyse it as an observer.
We begin by dividing the collective into three fields of reference: the physical, the social and the natural. We choose to name them:
Each field of reference, according to our observations, contains within it several sectors or ‘action groups'. In the physical infrastructure we identified: architecture, solid waste, water management, energy, mobility, housing and food. In the social infrastructure we identified: health, education, economy, culture, communication, guests & newcomers, governance and villages. And in the natural environment we identified: agriculture/farms, forests, horticulture and land management.
Within each one of these sectors we begin to map the actual existing Auroville units and projects which compose it. We believe that the mere action of recognising one's position within and in relation to the whole system that is Auroville can make a difference. Simply by becoming aware of one's role within the whole, one's perspective can change.
A second step in the ecological mapping is to become aware not only of one's position within the whole but also of one's relationships with the other parts that compose the same whole. This is an important step which is usually not an easy one to take. It is at this stage that conflicts surface and disagreements arise. But it is also a beautiful stage where fruitful links are acknowledged and shared, and new collaborations suddenly become possible.
If we consider all possible links between the different sectors in Auroville, there are close to two hundred links that can be examined, but the initial stage is perhaps for each sector to identify the important links that it should put its emphasis on and develop from there.
The main assumption behind our proposal is that increased connectivity implies increased sustainability. The more connections that can be generated between the different units, projects and sectors that compose Auroville, the more sustainable Auroville will become. Systems thinking, ecological philosophy and complexity sciences all teach us that the connections between the parts of a system are the “essence” of that system, its vital force. The more connections that exist between the different parts and different levels, the more resilient the system is considered to be – i.e. more sustainable.
Now, how does all of this relate to town planning and to Auroville's future planning in particular?
The main idea is to shift the focus of attention from the investment in isolated projects, which together compose Auroville's physical, social and natural landscape, into an investment in the interlinks among projects. What does this mean in reality?
Firstly, and most importantly, it entails reaching a consensus about the future line of development for Auroville. What is the main aim of Auroville?
Is it still the same aim that Mother intended?
If so, then how can it be manifested under today's ground reality?
What is the economy going to be like in 15-20 years?
What is people's standard of living going to be like?
What is the future of the villages within Auroville? What is education going to be like?
These are all essential questions that must be answered before any further development can take place, otherwise Auroville will soon be given away to local and international market forces (a process which has already begun), just like any other city in the world.
We would like to propose that planning is not just about designing roads, buildings and water bodies; these, in fact, are the outcomes of a much more complex task of decision–making on a plethora of interconnected issues regarding people's desired way of life. Auroville, as an experimental city, claiming to be the new “ city the earth needs ,” should take its planning process very seriously, as an ongoing opportunity to bring its spiritual vision into material manifestation.
It should ideally engage all its citizens in a conscious decision-making process regarding their future and the future of their shared vision.
Ideally, Auroville should be able to continue its development in line with its original vision and aims, taking into consideration current ground realities, which will allow its spontaneous, “subconscious” vitality to continue to flourish ina more conscious way.
Planning rules and regulations may not be adequate in Auroville in the same way they are anywhere else in the world, since Auroville's freedom is its main asset.
If Auroville wants to remain an experimental city and continue to draw people from all over the world who come to participate in an experiment and not simply live a relaxed life in a beautiful environment, then it should aspire to develop a unique planning process which is experimental in itself.
We therefore suggest that a substitute to planning rules and regulations in Auroville may be a set of questions that can guide an experimental and collaborative planning process. The questions will provide guidelines for anyone in Auroville who wishes to develop a new or already existing project in a direction that will promote increased connectivity with other Auroville projects.
This will ensure, at least to some extent, that any development within Auroville will have to comply with certain agreed guidelines, not through imposed regulations, but through increased linkages.
In this way the “subconscious” development process will not be eliminated nor suppressed, but kept in line with the aims of the Auroville project.
According to Tan (7) , it is not the conscious mind but the subconscious mind that does the work of manifestation. You have to think about what you want at the start, and then “let go” by letting your subconscious mind take over the manifestation process. One will have to state what one wants at the starting point, and then one will receive a set of questions to guide the manifestation process.
One will then have the creative freedom to think about ways to link with other Auroville projects.
The planning permission will be based on the contribution of the project to the whole.
1.Jacobs, G., Macfarlane, R., 1. Asokan, N. (1997).
Comprehensive Theory of Social Development. USA :
International Center for Peace and Development.
2. The Mother, Auroville aims and ideals . Selections from
the writings and conversations of The Mother, (2006).
Bob Zwicher (ed.), Auroville Publication Group.
3. Revi, Aromar (2007). Auroville mission notes. Courtesy
of L'avenir d'Auroville.
4. Op. cit. (CTSD)
5. Aurobindo, Sri. “Letters on Yoga” in Dalal, A.S. (ed.)
(2001). A Greater Psychology . Sri Aurobindo Ashram
6. Op. cit. p. 30 (AAI)
7. Tan, E. (2008). “Holistic manifesting with conscious
and subconscious mind.” http://www.dreammanifesto.
html [accessed March 2009].
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