Ezio Manzini, a Italian design professor and expert on social innvoation (whatever that is) argues that we are moving towards a new model of organizing society, production and consumption. He uses the words small, open, local and connected to describe this new model.
It’s a way to imagine the way in which the social services are delivered in society and the way in which we can imagine economies that are at the same time rooted in a place and partially self-sufficient but connected to the others and open to the others. This is a very interesting relationship between being local, being related to a certain context and at the same time being open and connected, not provincial or one closed community that risks being against the others.
This is an idea that is clear and strong if you talk about the arena where people are dealing with networks, open source and peer to peer. But it can become a very general metaphor, and embed itself in some realities to become a powerful way to organize a sustainable society.
Manzini is applying these notions in practice in Nutrire Milano — a network that works to redefine the food chain of the city and develop innovative and sustainable urban farming. In a way, it is rather similar to the Copenhagen Food Coop that I’m involved in.
He goes on to describe the challenges that the project faces:
We have to recognize that to promote the small and local perspective can also be very dangerous. In fact, it can bring people to jail themselves in closed communities. To isolate themselves. And moving from here, to create a fake identity of who is inside his/hers “gated community”, against all the others. That is what, unfortunately, today is happening in many places in the world.
Vice versa, what we have to search for is to be local and open, at the same time. To create permeable interfaces between communities and places. To cultivate diversity to permit, at the same time, the free flow of people and ideas.
All this, of course, is very difficult: to blend the local and the open could appear to be a quasi-oxymoron. But maybe, it is exactly from dealing with this kind of quasi-oxymoron that a sustainable society will find the ground to emerge. A society that is based on a multiplicity of interconnected communities and places will appear as a large ecology of people, animals, plants, places and products.
This is exactly the same challenge that we face with the food coop here in Copenhagen: To create and strengthen our local community, and at the same time be open and connect to other projects, share our experiences, learn from theirs, and help new projects get started.
It’s easy to be small and local. It’s easy to be open and connected. It’s even easy to be small, open and local or small, connected and open. But we have to find out how to be small, open, local and connected all at once.
One thing that is small, open, local and connected at the same time is an ecology, as Manzini says. And that is what we’re going to have to create. A fundamental characteristic of an ecology is that we can’t control it. Instead, we have to learn from how other eco-systems work, and adapt accordingly.
That is also what I the core of what I mean by the notion of organisational permaculture.