THE RESTORATION ECONOMY: “The major driver of economic growth in the twenty-first century will be redeveloping our nations, revitalizing our cities, and rehabilitating and expanding our ecosystems,” wrote Storm Cunningham, author & futurist (2002)

Note to Reader:

Everywhere one turns these days, some form of the words “renewal”, “restoration” or “regeneration” appear. Storm Cunningham was the catalyst of that global “re” trend when he published The Restoration Economy in 2002. This was followed by reWealth in 2008. Coming in 2019 is his third book, RECONOMICS: Resilient Prosperity For All.

Storm Cunningham’s books are meant to launch a new dialogue, not to resolve or end one. He believes that we need to start talking about, thinking about, and researching the “whole” created by the myriad activities that are already restoring our built and natural environments worldwide.

The Restoration Economy

“During the ’70s and ’80s, my return trips to favorite islands, villages, SCUBA sites, and mountain jungles almost invariably broke my heart. Usually they had significantly deteriorated – and often had been destroyed outright – since my last visit,” wrote Storm Cunningham in the Preface to The Restoration Economy, published in 2002.

“In many cities, their best assets had been replaced with sterile, ugly monstrosities that would themselves be torn down in 30 years. Developers were increasingly desperate for new land to conquer and were taking whatever they could get…appropriate or not.

And then, a miracle!

“But then, in the late ’90s, I began noticing a miraculous new trend: a number of places – both ecosystems and communities – were actually getting better, some spectacularly so. Rivers  that had been devoid of fish were teeming with them. Blighted industrial waterfronts were becoming gorgeous, lively, economically thriving public areas. Devastated, clear-cut hills were becoming forests again – real forests, not just the typical tree farms that are devoid of wildlife.

“I began investigating this seeming miracle and discovered a monstrously huge, almost entirely hidden economic sector. It was restoring our world – both our built environment and our natural environment – and it already accounted for over a trillion dollars per year. But nobody was paying it any attention! I found this incredible, and decided to expose these sneaky people.

“I also wanted to help bring the millions of restorationists together. All were working in isolation, unaware that they were part of the fastest-growing economic sector on the planet.”

Why it is happening

“During the last two decades of the twentieth century, we failed to notice a turning point of immense significance. New development – the development mode that has dominated the past three centuries – lost significant ‘market share’ to another mode: restorative development. How could we miss a story like that?

“More importantly, why is it happening? Primarily, it’s because we’ve now developed most of the world that can be developed without destroying some other inherent value or vital function of that property. The major driver of economic growth in the twenty-first century will thus be redeveloping our nations, revitalizing our cities, and rehabilitating and expanding our ecosystems,” concluded Storm Cunningham.

The Three Modes of the Development Life Cycle

“Maturing civilizations stand on three legs: new development (adaptive conquest); maintenance/conservation; and restorative development (adaptive renewal),” explains Storm Cunningham. “Dominance periodically shifts from one leg to another, fundamentally altering technology, culture, and commerce. We are now in such a transition.

  • Adaptive Conquest: This crude pioneering mode launches most communities and civilizations, but destroys irreplaceable assets if prolonged. New development is fast becoming less profitable, less desirable, and less possible.
  • Maintenance/Conservation: This calmer mode is always present, seldom dominant.
  • Adaptive Renewal: This dynamic, high-energy mode restores the existing built environment and natural environment. Restorative development is nearing dominance – in construction, ecology, government and business.

“Obvious? Sure. But we’ve failed to formally acknowledge these three modes of development in our economic and social dialogue,” wrote Storm Cunningham in 2002. “This failure substantially delayed  our inevitable transition to the long-lasting ‘third’ mode – restoration (the real ‘third wave’?).

A vast frontier of opportunity

“This has been a tragic oversight, because, of the three development modes, restorative development is the only one that can fuel continual economic growth without limit. Fortunately, the ‘restoration backlog’ is creating such pressure that we seem to be making up for lost time.

“Those leaders who become aware of this vast new frontier of opportunity, and who guide their community, national, and company futures in this direction, will be the foremost leaders of the twenty-first century.

“This is not some wistful vision of the future: it’s already happening. Restoration comprises the largest new economic growth cycle since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

“Our ‘frontier-style’ economic mode, in which we turn virgin land into farms, highways, and buildings – and irreplaceable virgin resources into product and waste – is reaching its natural terminus. Development has arrived at the ends of the Earth. Progress has nowhere to turn,  except to revisit and restore what we’ve already wrought,” he concluded.

Working Definitions by Storm Cunningham

Restorative Development: A mode of economic activity that returns property, structures, or objects to an earlier condition, transforms them into a healthier and/or more functional condition, or replaces an unsalvageable structure without consuming more land.

The Realm of Restorative Development: The industries, institutions, professions, government agencies, etc. that research, teach, fund, design, or perform restorative development, or supply its technologies.

Restoration Economy: An economic period in which restorative development is the dominant mode (as opposed to either new development or maintenance/conservation).

Trimodal Development Perspective – An updated version of a graphic from The Restoration Economy

Dewealth, Preservative Wealth, and reWealth

There are three types of wealth creation in this world, says Storm Cunningham.

Destructive wealth, or “dewealth” is derived from depleting the earth’s resources and ecosystems and replacing them with such transitory assets as office complexes and shopping malls. It’s the model that enabled the building of new civilizations, but can also destroy them if they don’t shift into a renewal mode.

Then there is preservative wealth, which derives from preserving assets and maintaining systems, while neither depleting nor actively replenishing the world’s assets.

Finally, there is regenerative wealth, or “reWealth,” derived from replenishing natural and cultural resources, by restoring, reusing, renovating, regenerating the built environment.

That’s the premise of Cunningham’s book, reWealth! (2008), which serves almost as a handbook for readers following up on his earlier book The Restoration Economy (2002).

The Restoration Economy

The Restoration Economy introduced the huge and multifaceted industrial opportunity that gave the book its title. It was the first book to encompass restoration of both built and natural environments, documenting the crises, disciplines and industries that lie beneath what Cunningham sees as a global trend toward renewal.

In reWealth! he makes a clear distinction between what he calls dewealth and rewealth economies. The first depletes resources, depletes wildlife habitat, degrades the environment, and, in return, yields something called progress. In contrast, a rewealth economy restores all those things, leaving everything better than it was when we found it.

In proposing rewealth, what he is really proposing is a new economic model.

“Making our old economic model greener and more sustainable,” he said, “is like inventing a healthier form of cancer, rather than eliminating it.”

The principles outlined in the book apply to every level of society, from neighbourhoods up. And they can be applied without spending a lot of money.