Micro to macro: how the local and global can show a kind of "fractal" growth

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Quite often when we share small, beautifully designed events or initiatives happening at the local level, they are met with ambivalence. In the same breath, people are appreciating what they are seeing and regretting that it is so small, with such limited impact. They ask – how can you scale this? But even as they ask, they know that making it bigger will rob it of its quality and feel; the relationships embedded within.

So does that consign localism to the margins in the model for radical change? A nice luxury for those with time and space?

When we look at the other end of the scale – regional, national or even global projects - it’s easy to have an equally ambivalent, but opposite, response. Large scale operations with massive investment seem to alienate individuals: it’s hard to find an entry point, let alone a means of bringing what they offer into your community.

To some extent, this is where we are right now – with the local and global running at different speeds and not benefitting each other. Or worse, the global instrumentalising the local for cheap labour and resources. And the local actively resisting the global.

But how about the phenomenon when the local and global reflect each other – meaning, the way they are designed and operate hold similar properties? When the values embedded at both scales are the same, the structures are similar except in the numbers and measurements involved, and the patterns of engagement keep each other in mind? Where the global is designed to work on a local level, benefitting the citizens; and the local can be easily copied around the world and is aware of its impact upon the planet.

When projects or organisations appear spontaneously far removed from each other but displaying similar patterns and behaviours, this could be described as fractal development.

As a study on fractals and universality., published in New Journal of Physics, described:

A fractal is an object or a quantity that is self-similar, or almost so, on all scales. The object need not exhibit exactly the same structure at all scales, but the same “type” of structures must appear on all scales. With a cauliflower, for example, it is impossible to tell if a close-up image of it is the entire head of the cauliflower or just a single floret. Simply put, a fractal is a system where any one part is similar to the whole.

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It's what came to mind when we saw Alternative Co-creator, Tess Wilmott’s March event in Devonport – see right – to celebrate ten years of creating edible landscapes in Plymouth. The language and design of the poster describes easily the natural, community, planting and sharing culture.

Let us swiftly follow this with a report on Bioeconomies, attached here. An excerpt:

“As the EU aims to head towards a sustainable, low-carbon future, experts in bio-based industries at the forefront of this transition are turning food waste and waste-water sludge into bioplastics and converting decommissioned factories into new biorefineries by working with local populations…

 According to figures cited in renewed EU plans for a circular bioeconomy, biobased industries, which currently account for 8% of the EU’s workforce, could create one million new green jobs by 2030. Projects in this area could stimulate local communities from both an economic and environmental perspective. They could also be key to uniting communities behind challenges like cutting down on plastics, which gained traction with the European Parliament last week moving to ban throw-away plastics.

Firms such as Novamont in Italy are using renewable resources to develop bioplastics and biochemicals, through the use of biorefineries. This also brings benefits to the local communities and agricultural sector by enlisting local workers and skills, partnerships with farmers, and raw materials such as waste and low-input crops from marginal lands.

…These kinds of effort are addressing some of the key interconnected issues of our time that need local communities to work together for solutions.

‘This type of research in our part of the world is essential because it changes the paradigm of food waste,’ said Newman. ‘You’ve got climate change, you’ve got food waste, you’ve got plastics, and they’re all connected. The whole thing is a circular movement.’

While the two projects are operating on quite different scales, they ‘see’ each other. That is, they honour the natural, circular patterns of behaviour and imply each other in a system of growth that will change communities and planets.