Architectural Graduate and Permaculture Designer
Eyrie Studio

Dylan Newell has a Master of Architecture from the Melbourne School of Design, and is a permaculture practitioner who views the built environment from a landscape systems perspective. Currently, Dylan is using systems theory to envisage how the suburbs can be transformed and reinhabited through bottom-up action.

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System lock-in can make humanity's global problems seem insurmountable at a local scale—the technical human-created paradigm we live in is highly resistant to change.  However, while systems theory supports the idea of systemic lock-in, it also demonstrates why small changes can eventually lead to broader re-organisation during catastrophes and increase overall community resilience. Donella Meadows calls these small changes leverage points. I will discuss why the suburb and the street can become a place for local action in regards to leverage points. James Howard Kunstler has called the suburb the ‘greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world’; however, these misallocated resources also hold latent potential for transformation.

Per Bak’s sandpile theory proposes that all complex systems are attracted to a state of self-organised criticality. That is to say, all self-organised systems eventually collapse. Furthermore, he asserts that change only emerges from catastrophe. Permaculture co-originator David Holmgren describes this as a pulse. Crisis must now become our opportunity.

Generally speaking, the more interconnected a system network, the greater the potential collapse. Two basic categories can determine the resilience of a system: a homogeneous system, which is strongly networked and absorbs small shocks very well but is prone to rapid collapse, and a heterogeneous system, which is weakly networked and withstands shocks by constantly adapting. 

While food production, suburban roads and local communities are obvious leverage points, the direction they need to be pushed can often be counterintuitive. I will argue that simple infrastructure moves, such as limiting car use around schools and repurposing roads for landscape systems, can have a more profound long term effect than complex infrastructure development. Using simple daily issues like commuting, road safety, and playspace as leverage points allows local communities to build tiny, heterogeneous systems that can quickly adapt and expand while homogenous systems collapse from the top down.

The 2020 Festival of Landscape Architecture is taking place on Whadjuk Noongar Country. We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of Whadjuk Noongar Country and Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.