Sustainability & good government of the territories

Original Title: The allegory of good government through the ages

by Rodolphe Deborre

Originally published on: Future Shapers

As a leader cultivated from the past, you might find yourself curious to build a prosperous future, especially in the pressing times we currently find ourselves in. The word prosperous quite aptly translates to “better days” taken from the Greek word “pro spero” (“hoping for better days”). 

Did you know that the renaissance produced a magnificent fresco on the good government of the territories (and its counterpart, bad government) and that everything we need is depicted in there? It is about “Inspiration!” 

According to Julien Dossier, author of the book “ Renaissance Ecologique, 24 projects for the world of Tomorrow, Actes sud / ) a Renaissance artist, Ambrogio Lorenzetti has produced a magnificent and very inspiring fresco for our societies and organisations today. Its name: Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government (in Italian Allegoria ed Effetti del Buono e Cattivo Governo ).  

The Allegory of Good and Bad Government is a series of three fresco panels painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti between February 1338 and May 1339. The paintings are located in Siena‘s Palazzo Pubblico—specifically in the Sala dei Nove (“Salon of Nine”), the council hall of the Republic of Siena‘s nine executive magistrates, elected officials who performed executive functions (and judicial ones in secular matters). The paintings have been construed as being “designed to remind the Nine [magistrates] of just how much was at stake as they made their decisions”.

What it is about

In two pieces, we find a pleasant (and well managed) territory and a chaotic, violent and poorly managed territory. When you zoom in on well-managed territory, it presents a true revelation! In black and white with clear lines like a simple comic strip, we find everything that a balanced territory would do. Balance is described as creator of peace, creator of value and, the inescapable finesse of our time, with zero carbon emissions. 

On the left, we have the city, dynamic in movement, under construction and in perpetual rehabilitation. In the centre, we have the countryside, peri-urban or of great culture, with villages and forests. On the right, which is far away, symbolising travel or international trade for example. Throughout the fresco, humans are depicted in full life circumstances, in full interaction. We work there, we learn, we have fun, we share, we interact, we make the most of the limited assets of each part of the fresco. All this was already on Lorenzetti’s fresco.

In the second detail presented, it is noteworthy that all that is located at the bottom of the mural is easily feasible today. Starting to cultivate an (organic) vegetable garden is feasible now. Having a zero-waste Christmas market is immediately feasible. At the top of the fresco longer-term actions (10 years) are presented. Transforming the city into a photovoltaic power station can take 10 years from the idea to the realisation of projects, including potentially crowdfunding or training in construction trade.

So we have before us an attractive guide to a peaceful, desirable, low-carbon, shared world, and a feasible creator of wealth and value. It presents a guide that inspires us for the long term, strategic or politically but also inspiring the essential steps, likened to the necessity to first be able to run the first few painstaking steps before attempting a marathon several weeks later.  A guide that provides insight about agriculture, religion, finance, family, water, trade or biodiversity among 24 transformational, yet interrelated projects.

 As leaders, what can we learn from this?  

Although this fresco of Ecological Renaissance is like a travel guide, you first need to desire travelling in the first place! Some people read a guide first and then desire to apply the content whereas others desire first and then read guides to know how to organise themselves. In both cases, it is in the depths of oneself that this desire is born, by a taste for change or by fleeing from the present. Read more here.  Personally, what propels me to change is the fear of the effects of climate change and the observation that our model of society based on the past 2 or 3 centuries of carbon-based industrial revolution, is out of breath socially, it is not sanitary or desirable or even humane. We have no choice, we have to move on. Some collapsologists , sometimes devilishly convincing, tell us that this change will be a force collapse of our civilisations. One can imagine other reasons for the desperate change required as described by the fresco. 

In a low-carbon world, certain businesses will be triumphant: service trades (maintenance), trades around low-carbon mobility (bicycles), trades in energy-efficient manufacturing (construction), all local trades related to our daily ” survival” as the coronavirus confinement period so clearly shows. There will be winners and losers. The lure of gain and competition is also a powerful reason for change.  

Once you have decided for change and have the guide to the ecological renaissance fresco under your elbow, the journey begins.

For example, you are in the start-up and investment phase of the innovation life-cycle. The project is imagined and tied up according to specific challenges. Imagine positioning the project on the fresco. If you find the right spot, you will immediately understand the correlations between the project and other actors, in a dynamic and rather attractive whole.  This is often the case with building projects, job creation (the social and solidarity economy type), local food or local transport. On the other hand, if you do not find a relevant spot on the fresco, it probably means that the project either does not generate any value or well being or that it is not prosperous for a low carbon world. In this case, it is a simple signal, which arrives early and which indicates that there is a (big) problem with the project. This is the impetus for change.

In another example, you run a company that is questioned as an actor of the territory on a development or town planning project. Again, position the territorial transformation project that is submitted to you on the fresco. If you find a place easily, bingo, the project is lasting and immediately can recognise the possible impacts and collaborations of your organisation in this project of transformation of territories and flows. It remains (and it is not easy) to organise this transformation with all the actors involved, but we already know that it carries the promise of a lasting, sustainable organisation. If you cannot find a place on the fresco, it is because it is an urban transformation project that is not compatible with a world that creates wealth, shared peace and low carbon emission. It would then be advisable to offer workshops to modify the project for the benefit of the long-term players in the relevant territories, within the 3 axes of the fresco.

A final example: Imagine a viral pandemic that halts  1/3 of the economy that we have known for 150 years. A public recovery plan is announced. This is a good thing. Now let’s look at what public aid will go on the fresco, hoping all of it. Is everything there? What hope do we have?

Nothing is there? It would be similar to a dentist distributing candy to those who leave his chair.   

Let us not forget that the top of the fresco deals mainly with long-term modifications, between 5 and 10 years. We are talking about transformation projects, mutations, deep metamorphoses that require a vision and first steps. That is helpful for progress as the bottom of the fresco indicates these first steps, which can be done right away.  

Whenever I have seen these exercises take place with people ready for change, ready to move towards something else, the result has been exciting and can be seen in the smiles of relief: “phew it is possible to dream together to build something lasting and satisfying, in a low-carbon world”. The only frustration was that we wanted to start right away, in the next second as the workshop ended. 

 Obviously, the fresco of the ecological rebirth is only a guide, a checklist. It is the traveller or the pilot who decides her destiny. But when a pilot does not respect her departure checklist,  significant unexpected incidents should be expected. With the ecological renaissance fresco, we are offered a framework for dreaming and acting! 

 Mature and wise leader: Please dream our planet Greta again. 

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