The Patterns of a Conservation Economy
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Residents of the Mattole watershed in northwestern California scrutinize an aerial photograph during a field trip to evaluate proposed new land-use regulations.
Image by Seth Zuckerman.


The frenetic pace and physical isolation of contemporary life is making it difficult to sustain both the ongoing informal interactions and long-term formal organizations that sustain communities.

Community is the convivial, day-to-day gathering of people of all ages and kinds to maintain family and friendships; transact business; establish neighborhoods; and join in common purpose. It provides for several Fundamental Needs: participation, identity, a shared story, and Health. It is at the root of what it means to be human, and constitutes one of the most critical components of Social Capital. It helps replace apparent needs for conspicuous consumption with the genuine benefits of solidarity and companionship.

When Compact Towns and Cities are woven together by Human-Scale Neighborhoods with a wide mix of uses, income levels, and transportation options; which are walkable; and which offer many informal places to gather for conversation, Community and will most often flourish. When neighborhoods are zoned for only one use, accommodate only one income level, and are dominated by cars, it is more difficult to sustain Community. The physical design of places critically determines the degree and kind of community that will flourish.

Communities are the incubators for Cultural Diversity and Cultural Preservation. They allow people of many different races, faiths, and worldviews to enrich each other, providing an enduring sense of Security. Communities enhance Social Equity by providing a variety of safety nets — including religious organizations, neighborhood associations, and non-profit entities — that help marginalized people meet their needs.

Communities engage in a wide range of cultural activities that promote Beauty and Play. They provide many ways to celebrate and connect with nature, creating a Sense of Place.

Communities that engage in deep dialogue about their values and direction create significant amounts of Social Capital. This cultivation of Civic Society reduces the kind of polarization that has recently characterized everything from natural resources to transportation planning. It also prepares the way for a Just Transition to A Conservation Economy that has widespread support and commitment.

Encourage human-scale neighborhoods that create opportunities for community and democracy through their physical design and mix of uses. Support community efforts to enhance social equity, celebrate cultural diversity, and create a sense of place. Build community capital over the long-term to aid in the just transition to a conservation economy.

Examples of this pattern in action:

Real Change Homeless Empowerment Project (RCHEP)
Excerpts taken from: "Real Change — Seattle's Homeless Newspaper" by Amber Himes, ATR member and office intern Real Change Homeless Empowerment Project (RCHEP), which is one of the few homeless-empowerment projects in the United States, provides an environment to create support and a community for the poor and homeless, and gives them skills to express themselves, both politically and creatively. The newspaper has had a total of approximately 4000 vendors since its inception and now boasts a print run of up to 30,000 papers per month. More importantly, selling the newspaper becomes a vehicle for changing the lives of the homeless. Shane Thompson, a vendor of almost two years, saved enough money from selling the newspaper to get an apartment and off the streets after four months. "It doesn't improve your life," Thompson insists. "But instead makes your life less difficult and miserable. You also meet a lot of people and friends by selling the paper." Comments another vendor, who wishes to remain anonymous, "I had been panhandling which is very basic, but selling Real Change makes me not a beggar but a small businessman, a more honorable position."

The Bicycle Community Project unites at risk youth and environmentalists in integrating extensive youth development programs with bicycle services, thereby increasing job and training opportunities and the use of bicycles while improving the quality of life for individuals and communities.

Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:

A Territory Resource

Communities for a Better Environment


Etzioni, Amitai. The Spirit of Community: The Reinvention of American Society. Touchstone Books. Carmichael, CA. 1994.

Kemmis, Daniel. The Good City and the Good Life: Renewing the Sense of Community. Houghton Mifflin Company. New York, NY. 1995.

Kretzmann, John P and John L. McKnight. Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Towards Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets. The Asset-Based Community Development Institute. Evanston, IL. 1993.

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Pattern Index

A Conservation Economy

Social Capital

Fundamental Needs

Subsistence Rights

Shelter For All


Access To Knowledge


Social Equity


Cultural Diversity

Cultural Preservation

Sense Of Place

Beauty And Play

Just Transitions

Civic Society

Natural Capital

Ecological Land-Use

Connected Wildlands

Core Reserves

Wildlife Corridors

Buffer Zones

Productive Rural Areas

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Fisheries


Compact Towns And Cities

Human-Scale Neighborhoods

Green Building

Transit Access

Ecological Infrastructure

Urban Growth Boundaries

Ecosystem Services

Watershed Services

Soil Services

Climate Services


Economic Capital

Household Economies

Green Business

Long-Term Profitability

Community Benefit

Green Procurement

Renewable Energy

Sustainable Materials Cycles

Resource Efficiency

Waste As Resource

Product As Service

Local Economies

Value-Added Production

Rural-Urban Linkages

Local Assets

Bioregional Economies

Fair Trade

True Cost Pricing

Product Labeling