Jeff Stein

Still Life

Written by Jeff Stein

by Jeff Stein, Ecocity Builders

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”                                                                                      

That was the French mathematician and Catholic theologian Blaise Pascal writing in the mid-1600’s. Now, some 350 years later, many of the 8 billion of us humans alive on the planet today get to see if he was correct.

Just looking out at the sky, the clear air, hills in the distance, and reveling in the lack of machine-noise in the neighborhood, no cars flashing by, the roar of diesel trucks gone, no jet planes flying overhead, the smell of spring rising up from the earth and the lack of burning hydrocarbons, it looks as if Pascal could have been on to something. The coronavirus has put a temporary halt to the peripatetic hyper-consumption of pretty-much everything by pretty-much everyone just now. We seem to be in a moment here, shut-in by the Covid-19 pandemic, out of a job — those of us who used to make all those things the rest of us used to drive around purchasing — dependent now on each other’s kindness, on what the term “community” means here in the twenty-first century.

A kind of politics of despair still rules many of our global institutions, but out here on the edge, breathing deeply in the quiet of our rooms in Oakland and elsewhere, it doesn’t look as if we will be returning to the old “normal” anytime soon. In fact the Franciscan Richard Rohr, at the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, points out that for him, there appears to be a reformation rising from the margins of our institutions and society. This reformation is nonviolent, beyond the usual binary arguments, he says, and is transforming human consciousness and communities at both the conscious and unconscious levels.

This has always been the work of EcoCity Builders: transforming consciousness. Sure, over the years we have done some building, landscape reclamation, repair of natural systems. But for the thousands of attendees at our EcoCity World Summits, planners using our Urbinsight, community leaders initiating EcoCity Standards, the act of finding ways of working and living together has led to a change of consciousness for many, a change of life for quite a few. Rohr has also noted, “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking!” That is the intent of our focused projects; and now, suddenly, everyone gets to try it, we’re all participants, whether we have been looking forward to it or not. How else will cities change? Park the car. Clear the air. Take the auto insurance rebate…and let’s see what kind of world we can make going forward. It’s not going to be the one the virus has awakened us from; but we have some models…

About the author

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is currently President of the Cosanti Foundation, building Arcosanti, Arizona, and keeper of Paolo Soleri’s architectural and philosophical legacy. Jeff lectures internationally and presents on special invitations such as Keynote at the 100th Anniversary Conference celebrating the founding of Tel-Aviv, Israel.