This is an introduction to an integral-holistic approach for transformation to sustainable communities by Patricia van der Haak and Carla Onderdelinden, Co-Founders of Transitiereizen, The Netherlands.

Organizing abundance and sustainability

You probably know the concept of the all inclusive holiday with as much food, sunshine, and swimming as you wish? The impact of the all inclusive neighborhood is the same: how much healthy food, work, leisure, happiness, labour, care or energy do you wish? It is all possible when you decide to work toghether and purchase and act as a collective.

Doing so, gives a whole new spectrum of:

  1. urban business models: citizen to citizen, business to community, community to business, community to government, government to community.
  2. integral-holistic organs and infrastructure in a neighborhood: like social purchase companies, social networks, social enterprises, social big data / algorithms. As we suggest below: these organs and infrastructure work like the lungs and veins of a community (to the interest of all).

The all-inclusive neigborhood (in Dutch: de all inclusive wijk)

This is a community based business model and a method to realize socio-economic transformation in communities like a neighborhood, a village or a city. The model shows how a neighborhood can work as a collective, using community owned structures to organize daily life. This way of working together opens new opportunities for community entrepreneurship, socio-economic transformation and the introduction of MVC (multiple value creation) business models.

How does it work?

Seeing a neighborhood as a whole, as a body or one household (instead of a number of separated, family-based households), with an infrastructure that facilitates food, healthcare, work, energy, maintenance and more to the benefit of all, it becomes possible to start organizing a sustainable, circular and inclusive neighborhood.

At this moment, communities aren’t organized very efficiently:

  1. every household organizes all aspects of daily life themselves. For instance their own food, their own house, their own insurance, car, furniture, maintenance, etc. A neighborhood has none of its own organs and none of its own infrastructure to attract or produce what it needs for its own good (it has public infrastructure, like roads of shopping malls but they are owned by government or companies and not by the community as a whole).

From the point of view of an organism this is strange. Imagine that your body had no lungs or veins to bring oxygen to your cells and every cell had to move towards your skin all the time to get some air. That would be an impossible or at least very inefficient and busy way of life (for your fragmented self: the community of cells). But that’s what we do in our daily life in our communities and that is why you meet your neighbors at the check out point of your supermarket and not at home. This makes the costs of our metabolism unnecessarily high. This is profitable for your supermarket, insurance company, internet provider and so on, but it doesn’t serve the community as a whole.

  1. Every community has its own specific, beautiful and valuable forms of capital: social capital, physical capital, ecological capital, economic capital, human capital, cultural capital. Much of it stays unused because it doesn’t fit into the system. For instance, using the talent and knowledge of elderly people or an empty building or the fruits and nuts in a local forest. Or in the city of Arnhem (neighborhood Spijkerkwartier): where citizens want to grow mushrooms on the waste product of the coffee machines from the local cafes. They can’t get a permit to do this because it is not allowed in the Netherlands to produce food with garbage. And the waste product of coffee machines is labelled as garbage, so it can’t become soil for growing mushrooms.

Not using what is available, and making what you can make yourself as a community instead of buying your needs from elsewhere, costs a lot of money. This forces people to work outside their community just to make money to buy mushrooms at the supermarket. At Transitiereizen we think this is not efficient and not sustainable.

The concept of the all inclusive neighborhood tries to transform these kinds of inefficiencies. In such a neighborhood, unused capacity (like talent or assets) gets activated, exporting of talent and assets to outside the system gets contained and a huge amount of money, materials, energy and CO2, can be saved due to much more efficient local organization. Also, when it start acting as a whole (more or less like a company or a living organism) it becomes possible for a community to give assignments to local government to really integrate and work together as partners on social, economic or ecological wicked issues, such as transformation to sustainable houses, energy, environment, food, welfare and more.

The concept of the all-inclusive neighborhood has already been introduced in several cities / neighborhoods in the Netherlands, such as Nijmegen, Arnhem, Wageningen, Zutphen and Zwolle.

In this article we’d like to introduce and reveal this new infrastructure and urban business model through exploring two of our projects: Wageningen and Arnhem.

Project – Wageningen, The Netherlands

Most households in The Netherlands heat their houses and cook their meals on natural gas. But the gas extraction in the northern part of The Netherlands will stop within a few years: it is causing more and more earthquakes. This makes national, regional and local governments ambitious to transform the natual gas system to a decentralized, sustainable energy system. In pursuit of this objective, the local government of the city of Wageningen asks: can we link the disconnecting of the natural gas network with the realization of social goals that residents consider important and other work that has to be done in this area?

Team Wageningen (citizens, local government, civil servants, business innovators) visiting Arnhem, summer 2018.

“The Hood” or “De Nude”[1] neighborhood in Wageningen is labeled as an innovative ”district of the future ”: one of the first neighborhoods in the Netherlands that wants to disconnect from the natural gas network and transform the energy system. It is also a neighborhood where major maintenance is necessary: houses, sewage system, public green areas and pavement need to be renovated and renewed. By looking not only at the energy proposition but also at this public maintenance assignment and the social community goals of the citizens themselves, we helped them to develop an integrated vision for this neighborhood. This vision is a basis for an integrated value case and co-creation process for the development of this neighborhood for the years ahead.

[1] In Dutch Nude is just a ordinary name for a neighborhood, you say Nuu-the 😉

With the approach of the all-inclusive neighborhood method [2] it is possible to manage this complex process (with more than 15 stakeholders and 60 participating citizens) and to organize mutual cooperation using a smart grid. The investment to take as much time as necessary will pay off later in the process. This involves our facilitating the investigation with citizens, local government and stakeholders who share common space and interests how we can work together to make the neighborhood agile, resilient and “future-proof”.

Initial questions for the integral business case are:

  • What does a new decentralized energy supply look like in De Nude?
  • How do we organize and finance the work that has to be done?
  • Which part of the work can be accommodated in a neighborhood company?
  • Which social goals can we link (substantively and financially)?
  • Who benefits from our work (people, planet, profit)?

Project – Arnhem, The Netherlands

Local Citizens in Arnhem ask: can we develop new functions for an empty school building in the Geitenkamp neighborhood that stimulates the development of this very poor area of the city of Arnhem?

The socio-economic problems in the Geitenkamp are huge: three generations of unemployed people and no insight into the underlying pattern that causes it.

By linking the socio-economic urgency (like unemployment, no trust, no future, no meaning, debts, nuisance and violence) in this area to the maintenance work that has to be done to make the neighborhood and the city of Arnhem sustainable (implementing new energy systems, new sewage system, renovating houses to make them sustainable) an integral vision emerged. This vision focused on the wishes and values of the Geitenkamp instead of their problems. The approach of the all-inclusive neighborhood provided new insights into the cause of the problems and structured the cooperation between the stakeholders involved. We demonstrate (below) with the school project how this framework illustrates our methodology.

  1. The neighborhood contains a huge stock of people with construction and craft skills, but they are not employed because these people are rejected from jobs opportunities, for the reason that they don’t have school diplomas. They learned their crafts and skills working on the job as individuals. On the other hand, we see local government with a huge ambition to make the city of Arnhem sustainable.

School Building (currently used by artists).

We see, there is a lot of work to be done. We are curious if we can connect the potential of people to the ambitions of local government and use the empty school building as a recruiting office and training center run by local craftmasters (instead of formal teachers and civil servants)? The training center would not become a school: instead it would act as a skill endorsement center. That would mean, when you show the local craftmaster at the training center that you know how to repair a boiler or how to build a jetty, you would receive the ”approved-by-the-community” label. With this community label you could go to the recruiting office in the school building to get a job (a job to make the city sustainable). This would give you an income and a lot of self-esteem. No diploma, just talent and motivation would be required.

  1. The Geitenkamp is a neighborhoood with an above average number of people with health, social and financial problems. Important functions like work and schools have disappeared from the neighborhood. Loneliness is also a problem. Because of this, the neighborhood is not resilient and very vulnerable. We wonder if we can we use the former school playground around the building to start an educational farm (as a social enterprise)? A farm where the community can grow their own vegetables and work on personal growth as well.

    Community garden on school grounds.

  2. During meetings and interviews the community has expressed a deep wish to have their own place. A place where they can meet each other, be together, have a drink, a little talk. We are inspired to have discovered that a local citizen has the ambition to start a social and sustainable beer-brewery in the school building. This would be a fine opportunity to transform the school to a really attractive community building where you could volunteer, meet your friends and have a drink. We are looking for investors right now.

As we write this article (September 2018) De Geitenkamp neighborhood is now on the verge of a long-term development process towards implementing learning-workplaces, craft work, social-cultural entrepreneurship and resilience.

Clients and partners

We would like to recognize our clients who finance us to develop the all inclusive neighborhood in Wageningen and Arnhem. They include:

  • Wageningen, De Nude: local government Wageningen and the Woningstichting.
  • Arnhem, De Geitenkamp: de Leefbaarheidsalliantie (province of Gelderland and Spectrum, partner with Elan).

These clients place a lot of trust in us, in this pioneering and complex work and help us to develop instruments and share knowledge. In addition, we work together with a lot of volunteering citizens, social entrepreneurs, cultural and welfare organisations like Rijnstad or SLAK and of course the local government of Arnhem and their team Leefomgeving. The next step will be for us to connect with schools and companies and initiate more beautiful integral-holistic business cases by 2019.

We’ll let you know how we progress!

[2] This article gives just a first introduction to the model and method of the all inclusive neighborhood. If you want more information about our approach, please contact us.

This blog is contributed by Patricia van der Haak and Carla Onderdelinden and their firm Transitiereizen, who are members of the Integral City Constellation, practising in Arnhem and Wageningen, The Netherlands.