Damascus Civic Ecology Workshops

In February of 2011, the City of Damascus hosted a Civic Ecology Workshop at Damascus City Hall. The workshop was facilitated by staff from SERA Architects and CH2M HILL as part of on-going sustainability planning efforts for the City. The premise behind Civic Ecology is that attaining sustainability requires careful attention to planning, constructing, and managing a comprehensive framework of community systems. Energy flows, local food production systems, local-global economic webs, social networks, community governance, resource sharing networks, and integrated land use and transportation are just some of the community systems that, when synergized in a specific place, constitute a complex human ecosystem or “Civic Ecology.” Nurturing this web of relationships and flows affords communities opportunities to enhance their local wealth (environmental, economic, and cultural), resilience, and competitiveness, and to take control of designing and managing their future.

The majority of workshop attendees were from Damascus and the surrounding communities; attendees represented a range of community groups, professional disciplines, and personal talents. The workshop stimulated lively discussions on a broad range of sustainability topics, with a strong emphasis placed on potential initiatives that could be community-conceived and led. Participants envisioned a diverse range of system flows within their community. Brainstorms included connecting systems that could localize and secure wealth, energy, and food production; capture and reuse available resources; and form beneficial community networks. The projects that resulted from this exercise included a community recycling center, community-scaled compost, an agricultural co-operative, a new community center/city hall, and an organization to facilitate jobs and knowledge sharing.

The goals of the first workshop were to introduce community members to the Civic Ecology model and have them brainstorm initiatives and projects that could both serve local needs and be championed by empowered groups and individuals (with the option of partnering with the City if appropriate). As such, this workshop also was intended as a networking venue for a diverse constituency. The motivation derived from this first workshop inspired City staff to host a follow-up workshop to provide interested participants the opportunity to focus on the advancement of projects and the organizational steps necessary to get them started.

In April, participants reconvened to work on projects conceived at the first workshop, and to introduce and explore new project ideas. Working in groups, participants determined the finer points of each project, such as potential partners, feasibility, and benefits to the community. Each project was categorized by how it would impact surrounding community systems like water, food, waste, social capital, and the local economy.

Workshop participants have begun to take great strides to put these ideas into place. A major milestone was reached when the Civic Ecology participants repurposed an existing community-based non-profit to focus specifically on the implementation of these projects.