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PRINCIPLES OF LEGACY COMMUNITY BUILDING
by Susan V. Bosak
Legacy Project Chair
Principles of Legacy Community Building

The generational landscape is changing, and with that change comes a tremendous opportunity.

By the year 2030, 1 in every 5 Americans will be over 65 years of age. For the first time in history, and probably for the rest of human history, people age 65 and older will outnumber children under age five. This demographic shift creates the potential for rich intergenerational connections across seven or more generations: your own generation, three generations before you – parents, grandparents, great-grandparents – and three generations after you – children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

The demographic shift also brings with it challenges in the way cities are designed and operated to meet the needs of a larger older population. Many communities haven't yet started planning for the new reality.

The Legacy Project has developed YOU 177 in response to the unique needs of the twenty-first century. It's about big-picture community planning and policy. It's about community planning that doesn't focus on just the land, but the people on the land across time – from children through to elders. Legacy Community Building looks at the psychosocial needs as well as the physical needs of people, and the dynamics of the interactions between those people. And it looks at people in a big-picture timeframe: lifetimes across generations.

Take a look at what the Legacy Project is doing in one city with Legacy Community Building:

It's About Time

Our understanding and experience of time underlies lives and community issues. It fundamentally influences how we think and act, individually and collectively. Legacy Community Building is based on the premise that if we can transform our collective relationship with time, we can effect profound and lasting social change.

In the modern world, we've distorted our understanding and experience of the speed and span of time. We're surrounded by fast-paced complexity and bombarded with the "new" – from trends to technology. The "old" – ideas, technology, and people – are quickly dismissed. We experience one narrow, superficial, artificially-conceived, rushed, disconnected moment after another. Age-segregation – students in schools, elders in retirement communities, each served by separate organizational structures – means we don't even have the generational contact so vital to glimpsing a longer-term perspective.

The result is that too often, in all areas, we make poorly-informed, short-term decisions. Our distorted relationship with time confines us to short-term thinking rather than allowing us to see and act in the bigger picture.

It's almost a cliché today when people talk about needing new paradigms. Our deep underlying worldviews certainly affect the choices we make and the actions we take. But to address the challenges of the twenty-first century, it's about something more than a paradigm.

A paradigm is essentially a mental model – for example, shifting from a flat-Earth to round-Earth understanding of this planet. But a metaperspective, like Legacy Community Building, is about seeing the Earth from the universe.

A metaperspective is a perspective rooted in a higher level that's more encompassing, inclusive and, ultimately, transformative.

We all have momentary glimpses of something bigger. It's not a transformation, but a starting point. You become more aware of new possibilities. But to effect real change at the individual and community levels, we need to travel time to see the bigger picture consistently in every choice we make. Every good time traveler knows you need a portal, a way in.

Legacy is a time travel portal. Legacy takes time and makes it personal. Your life multiplied by time equals legacy. Legacy is a rich concept that speaks to time both in terms of the individual and the collective.

A metaperspective accessed through the portal of legacy prompts us to examine the past for relevant knowledge, experience, and precedent; explore the present context of any problem to be solved; and project into the future the long-range effects, particularly for successive generations.

The smaller, everyday goal is to help people with time – your lifetime in the context of the generations and world around you. The bigger, long-term goal is to empower individuals, organizations, and communities to transform our fundamental relationship with time in a way that moves us toward a more meaningful, equitable, sustainable world.

Read Our Story to learn more about a legacy metaperspective.


City Planning Plus

Cities are so amazing because they're collaborations across time between people, place, and space. They are very much about the legacies of the leaders and citizens of a given time.

Every city is unique, the product of decades, even centuries, of historical evolution. As you walk through a city's streets, you walk through time, encountering the built legacy of past generations.

Traditional city planning looked at places (i.e. land) on which to develop built spaces that happened to have people in them. As planning approaches evolved, there was more recognition of the needs of the people that were occupying the places and spaces. We then recognized that people of different ages have certain needs. From that evolved age-friendly and livable city planning. We also recognized that built space needed to respect place, the natural environment. So, there has been more emphasis on sustainable planning and design, and the importance of making nature a key part of cities for livability and health.

An intergenerational lens magnifies potential benefits across the entire community. It shows us that while different ages may have some different needs, those needs can be complementary, compatible and, in fact, may answer each other.

What's still missing in many communities, and for many individuals, is connection and meaning. We're struggling with increasingly limited resources, financial and otherwise. We're struggling to get along with and to meet the needs of more people who seem "different" than we are, either because of age or race. We're struggling to stay healthy in a largely unnatural environment. We feel empty and alone – just at the moment when we most need to find our strength and come together.

Legacy Community Building speaks to the meaning and connection across time that all individuals and communities need to overcome adversity and thrive. It looks at psychosocial factors. It gets to the heart of the matter.

Community building in general has received a lot of attention in recent years. You need to bring out a community's own direction, character, and energy. Many natural communities never grow beyond a network of friends because they fail to attract enough participants. Many intentional communities fall apart soon after their initial launch because they don't have enough energy to sustain themselves. Communities, unlike teams and other structures, need to enable genuine interaction over the long term so that they can be truly alive.

We are all, young and old, part of a larger community across time, a community that must remember its history to build its future. Community exists before you are born and remains after you are gone. Each part of your life, from childhood to adulthood to elderhood, has a role in taking in or passing on the lessons of the past in order to create a better future.

Legacy Community Building takes a big-picture approach across time. The Legacy Project has developed the concept over nearly two decades of research in the social and natural sciences, including human communication, literacy, life course, human development, aging, intergenerational relationships, family, conflict resolution, community building, economics, engineering, systems design, environmental science and renewable energy. Under a metaperspective, the vital dynamic is making the connections between these seemingly disconnected areas.


7 Principles

The Legacy Project's work focuses on helping communities set up a process for action based on the 7 Principles of Legacy Community Building.

Legacy Community Building looks at the big picture across time. It is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. It is a means for reaching bigger aspirations. It feeds on and is fed by outcome-oriented "legacy projects" which can be implemented by individuals, groups, or the entire community. As legacy projects multiply, a community is transformed.

Legacy Community Building operates at three levels: the level of the individual lifetime, psychosocial and physical needs; the level of interactions between people, lifetimes across generations; and the collective systems that make up communities from generation to generation across time.

Legacy Community Building emphasizes "economies of scope" in which a single intervention helps or positively affects multiple issues and populations. Legacy Community Building also builds much-needed social capital and can add significant value to systemic efforts focused on education, healthcare promotion and delivery, family caregiving, housing, immigrant integration, the environment, and more.

Legacy Community Building takes shape in a big-picture action process based on seven principles:

  1. Time Shift: We operate too often in the McMoment – one narrow, superficial, artificially-conceived, rushed, disconnected experience after another. The McMoment is a uniquely modern phenomenon created by the ways in which we've changed our understanding and experience of the speed and span of time. We can consciously and consistently expand the time perspective when making choices by asking: how will this matter one year from now? Ten years from now? 100 years from now? Some choices should be made for the short term; but many others must be made for the long term.

  2. New and Old: We tend to value the new/young over the old. The new/young brings innovation and excitement, but there's a huge cost to short-term memory that neglects the old. A healthy tree cannot grow without strong roots. Throughout time, elders have been a reminder of what once was, and their stories set the bar over which we were challenged to leap. We need to emphasize the timeless over the transient. No one can survive living simply from moment to moment, denying the past and the future. Combine the new and exciting with the rooted and familiar. What in a community should be changed, and what should be preserved? There has to be a connection to a generational rhythm, a bigger heartbeat that keeps a community alive.

  3. Seven Generation Thinking: The easiest way to begin thinking in bigger terms is to look at the seven generations we will know. With increases in longevity, it's likely that you will have direct contact with at least seven generations: your own, and then three generations before you – parents, grandparents, great-grandparents – and three generations after you – children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. Every choice can be made using a seven-generation decision-making matrix. This matrix intersects time with higher level analysis and multiple generations. How will this affect the community's middle generation, three generations before, and three generations after? In other words, how will it affect everyone from the youngest young to the oldest old? How do needs of one generation overlap with another, and how can we connect the generations?

  4. People versus Systems: Too often, the needs of an existing system dictate a choice. There's an imbalance in many modern systems between productivity/profit, planet, and people (who happen to come in different ages, genders, beliefs, needs, shapes and sizes). The system becomes an excuse for a choice that's not humane or effective, and often limiting and destructive. How do we work in, work around, or rework systems as required? When looking at the people, it's always important to also balance me versus we, the personal versus the collective. Some choices are important at an individual level, and there must be enough flexibility built in to allow those choices, while others are important at a collective level of generations across time on our planet.

  5. Connect the Dots: Synthesis and collaboration should outshine complexity and expert silos. Look first to collect the dots (i.e. see what's out there across many areas) and then experiment with connecting the dots in several different ways, including adding and omitting dots, to get truly creative solutions. What's the common vision uniting individuals in the community? Who is doing what – both in the community and elsewhere? Can more than one need be addressed by one creative idea? How can people work together in new ways to combine resources, do better, get further?

  6. Biomimicry: Nature should be a mentor, model, and measure of the structures and systems humans develop. Respect for and learning from the natural world requires a shift from the industrial model of efficiency to the natural model of effectiveness. Is an idea sustainable and respectful of the natural environment? For each idea, can you find inspiration from a natural example for how it can be designed or implemented? How can you plan without constraining – plant a seed and allow it to grow? Are you benefitting from diversity? And, finally, are you allowing for evolution, for people to own and shape an idea, and for the idea to change as needs/people change? A community that's truly "alive" needs opportunities to reflect on and redesign elements of itself throughout its existence.

  7. Circle of Wisdom: Nurturing our stock of social capital is critical to a better future. We can only do this if we come to understand and experience time as a circle rather than a dotted line. In a culture that produces a constant stream of isolated bits of information, we must re-learn our relationship with time by turning that information into knowledge by adding context, and then into wisdom by adding shared values and reflection. How can we bring together our ability to think, our individual and collective life experiences (shared most powerfully through story), and an emotional maturity to make good decisions at an individual and societal level? How can we ensure that every action is founded on bigger-picture, longer-term, higher-level reflection? How can we move from an emphasis on a singular, short-term financial bottom line to a long-term triple bottom line of financial, social, and environmental? We must make wiser choices. Wisdom isn't simply for wise people, philosophers, and psychologists. It's for all people and for the future of the world.


In summary, Legacy Community Building taps into this moment in history as an incredible opportunity. The demographic shift of an aging population can be a catalyst for fundamental and far-reaching change. We're already seeing a widening understanding of the base concept of legacy, especially as Boomers head into their third age. As they come closer to the end of their life, Boomers are increasingly interested in the timeless over the transient, and fundamental quality of life issues – both for themselves and in terms of the world they want to leave their children and grandchildren. We can bring generations together in a way that's transformative. Properly focused, today's elders can help push legacy thinking to a tipping point to benefit all ages.

Find out more about YOU 177.

© Susan V. Bosak, www.legacyproject.org

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