Story of Place®

The Regenesis approach begins with the creation of a Story of Place as an over-arching context for the design and development process.

A story is a coherent organization of information that illuminates the relationships and connections between discrete facts derived from differing, and even divergent, bodies of knowledge. In other words, stories relate data in a way that reveals a holistic, understandable picture.

In every place on Earth the geological, natural, and human history and culture interweave to create a unique nature of place. The story of this unique interweaving helps us to understand this nature through understanding the development of a place both throughout time and in relation to the human and natural landscape in which it is embedded.

Story of Place as a context serves multiple purposes. First, history has shown that, without the spirit of caring that comes from a deep connection to place, we will not make, let alone maintain day after day, the changes needed for sustainability. Second, discovering the story of a place enables us to understand how living systems work in a particular place, and provides greater intelligence about how humans can then align themselves with that way of working to the benefit of both. Finally, the Story of Place provides a framework for an ongoing learning process that enables humans to co-evolve with their environment.

All living systems are in a continuous state of transition, either evolving or devolving. In order to interact with a site in a beneficial way one needs to be able to discern the trajectory of its development so that the strategic places and ways to intervene to support its health and ongoing evolution are clear. This trajectory is clearly revealed by the Story of Place. We can then effectively interact with it in a beneficial and mutually supportive way.

We begin to develop the Story of Place by developing an understanding of the unique rhythms, patterns, capacity and potential of a site. This understanding helps to reveal both the existing and potential collaborations that weave together the diverse human and natural needs, aspirations and dynamics of a place into a coherent, harmonious and sustainable whole. Through promoting the cooperative interaction of human and natural systems, well-designed developments can actively contribute to the revitalization of the ecology, the community culture, and the regional economy in which they take place. It is the Story of Place that is the critical window into clearly seeing this potential.

Beyond the initial design and development process, the Story of Place provides the organizing mental framework that turns our surroundings into a curriculum rich environment for learning to live intelligently on the earth. Seeing it as an unfolding story enables us to understand the interconnected roles played by the plants, animals and insects around us, and to access the wisdom of living in place that they embody.

The three phases of a Story of Place process are as follows.

Phase One—Understanding Relationship to Place: Whole Systems Assessment

Places are socio-ecological wholes—complex living systems that include the activities of humans and myriad other organisms within a specific geophysical and historical context. We utilize a whole systems (cultural, economic, geographic, climatic, and ecological) Integral AssessmentTM to explore the layering and interweaving of a region and its biological, cultural, and economic habitat. This reveals the underlying patterns of natural and human forces that have shaped, and continue to shape, this place and its potential future. These original patterns of human and ecological interrelationships help to determine the potentials for strengthening and evolving those patterns, and to identify the leverage points for optimal effectiveness. As a holistic assessment, it grounds people in a way that they can understand and better partner with the living systems of their place.

Phase Two—Designing for Harmony with Place: Synthesis and Story Development

The systemic pattern understanding that emerges from research must then be translated into a form useful to diverse constituencies, including developers, businesses, governing officials, NGO’s, educators, and others, without losing the wholeness it conveys. Known as a Story of PlaceTM, this synthesis integrates the information, insights, systemic frameworks and layered maps developed in the assessment. It illuminates the essential underlying relationship patterns that give a place its distinctive character, enabling a better grasp of the whole of what is happening and the choices people have before them.

Story is a universal vehicle for making complex wholes comprehensible and meaningful. For millennia humans maintained and evolved their knowledge of a place through song cycles, stories and epic poems. Stories give us the ability to convey “who” a place is, what we are, or can be, the cause of and how to play a contributing part. They serve as cross-generational “guidebooks” for shaping and aligning cultures and economies with local and regional ecologies, capturing generations of accumulated wisdom about how to sustainably live and thrive in a place.

Rather than being the last word on the subject, a Story of Place® provides a framework that invites ongoing inquiry, elaboration and learning from locals and visitors. It is designed to be shared, drawn on for guidance, and collectively evolved by both professionals and lay people. Most notably, it is a process in which people literally fall in love all over again with their place, thus promoting the nature of caring and stewardship that all the green technology in the world can never replace.

A Story of Place creates a higher order starting place for a whole range of planning and design initiatives (e.g. urban planning, education, business development, infrastructure or open space improvement, etc.) Through seeing their relationship to a shared story, these initiatives can be linked, integrated, and understood in terms of their contribution to a larger whole. Seeing place as a whole system makes it easier to identify actions having the highest potential for leverage. By catalyzing and working with initiatives that are designed as elaborations of the story, it becomes possible to harmonize human actions with the underlying dynamics of place, while at the same time generating a shared sense of community identity and vocation.

Phase Three—Planning for Co-Evolution: Building Regenerative Thinking and Infrastructural Capacities

The Story of Place is the starting point for place-positive strategic planning and design processes in which local stakeholders play a vital role. Integrating systemic bio-cultural understanding into public and private planning and design charrettes and public engagements enables a multi-dimensional planning dialogue. This nature of dialogue facilitates consensus around a vision serving both people and place that is grounded in a systemic understanding of the whole.

The story provides a creative and unifying context for developing design concepts and principles, establishing priorities and setting goals and indicators. The process produces integrated solutions that turn interrelated socio-ecological issues into regenerative economic and cultural revitalization opportunities. Technical designs informed by this context have greater synergy with the local human and natural systems, leveraging the effectiveness of green features and technologies.

Finally, work done in the first two phases, no matter how excellent, will never realize its full potential if not accompanied by work to grow supportive social infrastructure. Engaging as many parts of the community in sharing and deepening the understanding of how to live regeneratively in this place builds community capacity to understand and design with living systems, and to share this understanding with other key partners throughout its region. Since living systems are always changing, the capacity to be holistic and adaptive, yet always authentic to place, is critical to any community viability and vitality through time.