In a changing and uncertain world, how do we (re)learn how to live in our place?
The 7-Generation initiative in the Greater Tkaronto Bioregion (GTB) recognizes that both the scope and scale at which we address current challenges are critical. Based on earth systems science, a bioregion is the smallest regenerative scale reflecting the planetary system. To catalyze action in a bioregion and give that action more meaningful impact over the long term, each bioregion needs a Bioregional Learning Center (BLC). The BLC is guided by the principles of the Earth Charter while being grounded in a specific place/bioregion.
We're working to establish a 7-Generation GTB Bioregional Learning Center.
7-Generation GTB is organized by the land; the land anchors and brings coherence to the structures and processes people co-create.
The three key structures are a Bioregional Learning Center, Bioregional Foundation, and Portfolio of Projects. These are woven together through two key social processes: 1) prosocial collaborations (fostering psychological flexibility, complexity thinking, creativity) across organizations/municipalities/silos and 2) intergenerational relationships, especially connecting youth with elders.
The Portfolio of Projects brings together fragmented, decontextualized activities in the bioregion. It makes existing and new regenerative projects visible to each other and the community; enables a holistic evaluation of needs and priorities for integrated landscape planning and multisolving; supports coordination and cooperation for whole-system social and ecological regeneration at the bioregional scale; enables mutual learning across projects; and multiplies impact through synergies.
The Bioregional Foundation manages governance and regenerative value flow in a bioregion. It convenes local groups/organizations/projects and enables meaningful participation in decision-making, improving equitable environmental and socioeconomic outcomes for present and future generations. It creates community funding structures and mobilizes resources – financial, social, natural – across the entire bioregion. It also monitors and evaluates progress.
In many ways, the Bioregional Learning Center is the keystone structure. The BLC is a community-facing learning lab for real-world resilience and inspiration, as well as social and ecological regeneration. It helps people better understand the geology, ecology, culture and history of their location on the planet and come together in their place in the context of lifetimes across generations. It creates a coherent story of place and a shared bioregional identity. The BLC connects across sectors – from water, food, and energy to health, culture, livelihoods – and can do integrated modelling and simulations. It's the literal and figurative entry point for everyone to learn about the GTB and how to care for it – not only people who live in this place, but also newcomers and visitors.
The BLC concept emerged from ten years of meetings in the 1980s of some of the best minds in the world, the Balaton Group. The group was named for the lake in Hungary where they held their first meeting, and was led by systems scientist Donella Meadows who was the lead author of The Limits to Growth.
The Balaton Group explored the big question of how humans could live sustainably on the planet. The answer took the form of a vision of a bioregional approach with centers "where information and models about resources and the environment are housed."
From the bioregional vision of Donella Meadows:
"There needs to be many of these centers, all over the world, each one responsible for a discrete bioregion.
They would contain people with excellent minds and tools, but they would not be walled off, as scientific centers so often are, either from the lives of ordinary people or from the realities of political processes. The people in these centers would be at home with farmers, miners, planners, and heads of state and they would be able to both listen to and talk to all of them…
The centers collect, make sense of, and disseminate information about the resources of their bioregions, and about the welfare of the people and of the ecosystems. They are partly data repositories, partly publishing and broadcasting and teaching centers, partly experiment stations and extension agents. They know about the latest technologies, and the traditional ones, and about which ones work best under what conditions.
They are able to see things as a whole, to look at long-term consequences, and to tell the truth. They are also able to perceive and admit freely where the boundaries of the state of knowledge are and what is not known. Above all, the job of these centers is to hold clear and true the context, the values, the ways of thinking, through which all development plans and resource management schemes proceed."
Wraps up Meadows, "This will take years, but [the centers] have the potential to transform the way people all over the world think about their resources and their options."
Global regeneration leader Joe Brewer believes that one of the most important parts of bioregional social and ecological regeneration is organizing a learning ecosystem that coherently integrates everything taking place in the bioregion.
Joe comments on the Bioregional Learning Center concept: "In these centers, there must be ways to retain and pass on practical knowledge about native species, understanding how to build homes in the local climate using locally-sourced materials, comprehension of what it means to have sustainable food systems in this particular place, complexity thinking, prosocial skills, and incorporation of the performance arts that cultivate sacred relationships with local ecologies in respectful and persistent ways… Bioregional learning centers around the world learn from each other." Hear more in this introductory BLC video:
In the context of the GTB as part of Canada, we must continue with the process of truth and reconciliation – and go one step beyond to weave together holistic Indigenous knowledge systems with the best of Western scientific thinking to find a "third way." A 7-Generation GTB Bioregional Learning Center can become a place of convergence,
Dr. Dan Longboat is an Associate Professor in the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies at Trent University and one of the Group of Seven advisors for the
Says Dr. Longboat, "One of the things that's really central in engaging with different perspectives and different knowledge systems, in how they interact, is the idea of sacred space; it is really about ethical space. Within our context of it as Haudenosaunee, whenever individuals or two things come together to make an agreement, whenever they collaborate… then the space in between them is the sacred space; you can kind of think about it in terms of how they are respectful towards one another, how they are caring and compassionate towards each other, how they are empathetic with one another… We [Indigenous peoples and settlers] are both sailing down the river of life together. And our responsibility is to help one another, but more specifically, the river of life is in danger right now and there will be no more river of life. So, it behooves us now to utilize our knowledge together to work to sustain, to perpetuate, to strengthen the river of life. Why? So that all life will continue. And at the end of the day any social innovation or systems stuff should be all about the continuation of life and however we understand it to be – not just human life but all of it, for this generation right to the end of time."
The BLC can be a powerful intergenerational space in the GTB bringing together many ways of knowing to put life at the center of every decision and action.
The BLC can also have a mycelial network into neighbourhoods across the GTB through schools and libraries.
A Village Learning process brings generations together to learn from and with each other in the real-world context of the community, especially on regenerative legacy projects. Village Learning emphasizes a land-based approach. As part of the Village Learning, Elders-in-Residence become a part of every school and every library. This draws on the ethos of The Intergenerational School (TIS), a public charter school in Cleveland, OH. It was co-founded by Dr. Peter Whitehouse, who is part of the Group of Seven advisors for the
A BLC in the GTB can start now – drawing on existing programs in local universities, schools, and conservation authorities, together with field sites like regenerative farms – and evolve. We can co-create, across generations, a compelling and grounded story of our bioregion which powerfully translates into "how we do things."
Initial 7-Generation GTB Bioregional Learning Center relationships include:
Waterfront Regeneration Trust and Great Lakes Waterfront Trail – This amazing trail reconnects people to the water and is a catalyst for improvements in many of the communities it interconnects. The Trail is a powerful opportunity to be on the land in the GTB, for a quick stroll or a multi-day, long distance adventure. "The essence of greenways is connections – not simply connecting recreational areas through trails, but connecting wildlife habitats to each other, human communities to other human communities, city to country, people to nature."
Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) – The largest conservation authority in the GTB. Across its watersheds, TRCA hosts webinars and e-learning activities, guided hikes, festivals and other seasonal events, educational workshops, and public consultations.
Rouge National Urban Park – Canada's largest at 7,900 hectares. This natural environment is easily accessible from the city. It includes forests, creeks, farms and trails as well as marshland, a beach on Lake Ontario, and human history spanning over 10,000 years. You can explore on your own, enjoy a free guided walk, and even take a virtual hike on one of several trails.
Myseum – Offers experiences that tell the stories of Toronto history. Millions call the GTB home. It contains many histories. It changes by the hour. By inspiring curiosity and sharing stories, we foster deeper relationships between people and place.
Markham Public Library – We're working with the eight branches of MPL across Markham on a Generations Dream community process and Elders-in-Residence to connect generations into bioregional experiences.
York University – We're working with Dr. José Etcheverry on creating local park experiences to help people of all ages understand meaningful actions they can take in the GTB.
Ontario Woodlot Association – OWA bridges the gap between agriculture and forestry. They define "woodlot" to mean any private or community-owned treed property including all woodlands, wetlands, and forest-forming habitats. The term "forest" is used to describe the larger treed landscape. OWA is currently running pilot projects exploring regenerative approaches for both farms and forested areas.
Toronto Black Farmers – Growing clean food, building community, and helping others learn about regenerative practices. Founded by Jacqueline Dwyer and Noel Livingston. Jacqueline is a passionate community organizer and farmer. She wants to see all generations in the African diaspora realize food sustainability. Noel is an urban farmer, musician, and food agro processor. He's focused on community development, food justice, and the continued growth of a healthy African family and community initiative.
Heartwood Farm & Cidery – A regenerative 42-acre farm with fresh air, good soil, healthy plants and animals, and a lively kitchen table. You're invited to the conversation. They offer overnight farm stays, educational programs, and a store. "We like to say we're in the business of transformation. We enliven and awaken people by showing them the connections between all the things that make up a good life: sunlight to plants, grass to meat, fruit to juice, sap to syrup, cider to conversation."
To learn more about the local bioregional context, check out the