IMPROVING THE PROCESS OF IMPROVING PLACES: Should Storm Cunningham’s RECONOMICS be mandatory reading for Mayors, Chief Administrative Officers & Directors of Planning in cities and regions?

Note to Reader:

Storm Cunningham, author and futurist, is a source of inspiration for those who are champions of ‘restorative development. He has written three ground-breaking books: The Restoration Economy (2002), Rewealth (2008), and now RECONOMICS (2020). Storm is the Executive Director of the new RECONOMICS Institute: The Society of Revitalization and Resilience Professionalshttps://reconomics.orgwhose slogan is “improving the process of improving places”.

RECONOMICS includes a plethora of Canadian anecdotes and references. Of relevance to the readers of the Waterbucket News, Storm Cunningham elaborates on his participation at the Parksville 2019 Water Stewardship Symposium, co-hosted by the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia.

The ripple effects of Storm’s participation and important role at Parksville 2019 are still being felt – for example, his RECONOMICS Process was immediately applied to a case study for a popular course taught by Nancy Randall at ElderCollege, Vancouver Island University. This year, her course filled within the first three hours of the opening of registration, with 27 on the wait-list.

“We applied Cunningham’s six-stage RECONOMICS process to a water course conservation initiative as a case study,” states Nancy Randall. “Working through all stages of the resilience process would enable the participants to more easily apply these concepts in other revitalization and resilience contexts.”

Publication of RECONOMICS is timely. It is a useful reference for those wishing to improve where they live, and are in search of a process to help communities implement an ‘actionable vision’ for land and water that would result in transformational changes in practice on the ground.

“Storm’s RECONOMICS Process raises the bar for community and regional revitalization. It’s a powerful package, succinctly capturing the process that we have doggedly tried to identify over time, not always knowing the next step,” states Eric Bonham, founding member, Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia

Building on the success of Parksville 2019, and in keeping with the ‘hard work of hope’ spirit that Storm Cunningham personifies, the Comox Valley 2020 Water Stewardship Symposium introduces a new phrase: “stitching together altered landscapes”. This is a way to visualize the goal of landscape restoration as an outcome of restorative development.

For those interested in attending Comox Valley 2020, take note of the Kus-kus-sum restoration project and the community vision for transforming a decommissioned sawmill site into a park with wetland habitat.

The Kus-sum-sum project has attracted the attention of, and funding from, BC Premier John Horgan and his provincial government cabinet. Could Kus-sum-sum restoration be a catalyst for a program of stitching together, over time, other altered landscapes in the Comox Valley and beyond?

Improving the Process of Improving Places

“Most people who are traditionally seen as being responsible for creating community revitalization—mayors, economic developers, private developers, planners, etc. – don’t actually know how to think about revitalization. Most of them tend to think of it as a goal, rather than as a process,” observes Storm Cunningham.

“As a result, they have ‘magical’ expectations: they assume that revitalization will automatically emerge if they just keep doing more of whatever it is they know how to do.”

Importance of an Ongoing Program

“The first step is to create an ongoing revitalization (or resilience) program, which constantly initiates, perpetuates, evaluates and adjusts local renewal efforts. Without an ongoing program, you have little chance of building momentum, which is essential to increasing confidence in the future of the place.

“The first job of that program (which is usually housed by a foundation or non-profit organization) is to facilitate a shared vision for the future. The second step is to create a strategy to implement that vision. Next, it’s best to do some policy work, adding policies to support that strategy, and removing policies that undermine it.”

The RECONOMICS Process – a synthesis of Storm Cunningham’s research to identify commonalities

“Every public leader knows that the reliable production of anything requires a process, whether it’s a factory producing air conditioners, a tailor producing clothing or a tree producing nuts, wood and oxygen. They also know, deep down, that they have no real strategy or reliable process for producing either revitalization or resilience in their community (though few would acknowledge it),” writes Storm Cunningham in the preface to RECONOMICS.

“I’ve spent the past 20 years leading workshops, keynoting summits and consulting in planning sessions at urban and rural places worldwide. All of these events were focused on some aspect of creating revitalization or resilience.

“Most of those events had other speakers who recounted their on-the-ground efforts and lessons learned. I’ve thus spent the past two decades researching commonalities: what’s usually present in the successes, and what’s usually missing in the failures?

“I’ve boiled it down to six elements. Each of them individually increases the likelihood of success. The more of them you have, the more likely you are to succeed. All of them together creates a process that’s far more dynamic than the sum of its parts. If you’re a community leader, you can thus start assembling the locally-missing pieces of the process in whatever order makes sense—and is least disruptive—for your situation.

“Many mayors, governors and presidents have intuitively tried to form such a process. Most had two or three of the six elements. Some had four or five: none had all. Even in those few places that came close, the elements didn’t form a process. They were disjointed—usually spread over a long period of time—and had no logical order. In other words, they had the body parts, but no fully-functional body. Thus, they often went nowhere…or not very far. No process = no progress.”