Image from Visit Melbourne

Kaj Lofgren of Regen Melbourne has a vision for a future city that balances social environmental needs to create a  space between the boundaries within which humanity can thrive.

Living Future Institute Australia’s (LFIA) Regenerate Symposium kicked off 7 March, bringing together thought leaders and regenerative design practitioners to inspire sustainable change in Australia through regenerative design. The symposium was designed to connect and encourage professionals to think about how their work can promote social justice, cultural richness, and ecological restoration. 

A keynote speech was from Kaj Lofgren, head of strategy at Small Giants Academy, part of the influential Small Giants and Impact Investment Group founded by Danny Almagor and Berry Liberman. Mr Lofgren, who is also a director at technology and design studio Typehuman, and convener at mission-led network Regen Melbourne, shared Regen Melbourne’s vision for a regenerated Melbourne, focused on the principles of knowledge, collaboration, affordability, connection through culture, thriving communities and natural systems, and economy and governance systems that “enable these visions to come to life”. 

A civil engineer by training, Lofgren also studied an arts degree and a masters of economic history. He worked for eight years with Engineers Without Borders in Australia and for the past 10 years in social impact, social enterprise, impact investment, and social finance.

It was the pandemic, he said, that triggered Regen Melbourne. 

“This idea started to emerge that perhaps we should be thinking about what Melbourne will look like on the other side of the pandemic, and perhaps we need a forum that’s been designed specifically for that purpose.”

What does that look like? Ideally, it looks like prioritising sustainability and equality, he said.

Doughnut Economics

For instance Melbourne needs to reprioritise its goals according to “doughnut economics”, a term first coined by British economist Kate Raworth in a report published in Oxfam in 2012 and her subsequent book Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st century economist. Since its release it has been picked up by policy makers, civil society, academia and businesses. 

The doughnut answers the question: how do we move the discipline of economics away from its growth-oriented goal to be more meaningful for humankind? 

The doughnut is a visual framework for sustainable development. Shaped like a doughnut, it combines the concepts of social (quality of life and wellbeing) and environment (sustainable use of ecological processes). The space between indicates the boundaries within which humanity can thrive.

The model sets a new goal or compass for the direction of our economy and policy making. It stipulates that aside from abandoning the absolute objective of growth, 21st century economists need “systems thinking”, to emphasises complex dynamics between things and how they interconnect, depend on, and affect one another.

The concept of the ecological ceiling and planetary boundaries framework comes out of the Stockholm Resilience Centre (a recent David Attenborough documentary on the subject is currently available on Netflix, which Mr Lofgren recommends). Humanity may have already crossed the environmental ceiling for at least three of the nine dimensions: climate change, nitrogen use, and biodiversity loss. 

To get into the doughnut’s “safe and just space for humanity”, we also need to tackle the distribution of global resource use in both consumption and production. 

The Roadmap

Regen Melbourne’s roadmap for a regenerated Melbourne is to further community activation through business forums to enhance collaboration, establishing Regen Melbourne neighbourhood groups to explore local, place-based activation of Melbourne’s doughnut, and establishing a regenerative project incubator to support new ideas and ventures that work towards the Melbourne doughnut vision. 

It means establishing expert-led working groups, investigating gaps and opportunities in local, state and federal government policy that can inform the development of doughnut-aligned policies for Greater Melbourne, and establishing a data and measurement working group and identifying primary indicators and associated data sources. 

It means further development of networks through establishing a Regen Melbourne steering committee, governance framework and resourcing strategy, creating an interactive map of people, organisations, projects and research that is accelerating the city into a safe and just space for humanity. 

“We have got a huge amount of work to do to try and get our global species into the safe and just space for humanity.”

Regen Melbourne rose at the end of October 2020 out of Melbourne’s collective challenges with lockdowns. Its vision and mission speak to building a more healthy, connected, enabled city. 

“The goal of this work is to bring Melbourne into the safe and just space between our social foundation and ecological ceiling.” 

“That’s our goal. That’s the goal of our politics. That’s the goal of our economics. That’s the goal of our business. That’s the goal of our social welfare is to get people inside this safe and just space for humanity and to leave nobody behind,” Mr Lofgren explains.

“This idea of trickle-down economics or trickle-down sustainability just doesn’t work, certainly not fast enough, even if it were to be true. And so, what we need to instead be thinking about is what are the regenerative principles that we can bake into our work by design from the very beginning. That starts to upend some of the principles that have led to this crisis that were in the first place.” 

“A regenerative Melbourne is full of life,” he said. With thriving neighbourhoods, localism, and natural ecosystems that are full of life where Melbournians can swim in their own rivers. It is a vision of community and relationships, diversity, art and culture.  

“We can learn in nature. We can grow food in the city. This speaks about the idea of embracing life in the fullness of life.” 

The idea also means that Melbourne should be a more affordable place where everyone has secure safe and comfortable housing, and affordable clean energy.

Mr Lofgren says that what is needed to shift this transition is more community activation and cross-sector conversations. 

“We have a wonderful housing network in Melbourne, a wonderful climate network, and a great emerging food network in Melbourne. But many times those conversations are happening within the silos that our economic system has kind of designed,” he said. “And so it’s not super surprising that we have a system where cross-sector collaboration is quite difficult.” 

“If we really want to look at what is inherently unsustainable about the economic system that we’re in, we need to encourage those cross-sector collaborations and those cross-sector conversations.”

Mr Lofgren called for similar minded organisations to join him in his vision for a new Melbourne and sign up to his network of Regen Melbourne.

“We can really set important and tangible stretch goals that we should be all aiming for as a community, and not settle for something that could be less than what it could be at a time of massive disruption.”

“We can rise together to create the vision.”

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