A Report from the Virtual Living Future unConference
by Margaret Montgomery, FAIA
When faced with COVID-19 and a ban on gatherings, what happens to a conference known for its close-knit community; its variety of activities, formats, and after-parties; and its leading-edge perspective? Living Future unConference attendees found out last month. Challenged to pivot quickly from an in-person event with an eerily prescient theme, “Sustaining Hope in Crisis” to visualizing a virtual alternative, ILFI’s staff got creative and tackled the problem. The outcome stood out for several reasons:
Participation and Community: The virtual format proved to be engaging, informative and – thanks to the chat window’s steady stream of commentary and attendee greetings to each other – surprisingly intimate and social. Who knew? And while hammer-throwing after-parties were definitely not on the menu, the online Mural co-created by attendees felt like a party of its own. The thoughts, images and reactions shared by attendees from seven continents brought the far-flung Living Future community into an unexpectedly tight group.
Inspiring Keynotes: Jason McLennan’s keynote was the shot of energy we all needed at this moment, full of resonance. I personally loved the audio of Wendell Berry reading “The Peace of Wild Things”. And knowing that this coming decade is a make-or-break time for our future, Jason left us with an inspiring call to action in five points: Decarbonize everything, End single-use plastics and red list chemicals, Save everything left, Invite Life back, and Vote for love, not hate.
Project Celebration: This year had more to celebrate than ever, with Living Future Heroes and the most projects ever on the spectrum from Zero Energy to Living Buildings. And right now, there’s nothing we need more than examples of inspiration and achievement in the face of adversity, along with role models to follow in our own lives. Living Future Hero Ellen Southard’s charge to us stuck with me: “Loving others and the planet as much as we love our own families is the equalizing solution.”
Session Series: ILFI has stretched a Session Series over the next few weeks to keep feeding us inspiration every week. The hour of extended Q&A discussion among the panelists at the end of each Session day is bonus brain food.
Richard Piacentini, a colleague on the board, summed it up well. “With all the turmoil and isolation we are experiencing now, it was great to be able to connect with and be inspired by people who are continuing to do great work in connecting human and ecological health in the built environment and beyond.” It’s up to us to carry that inspiration forward over the coming months and years and live – and love – into the future we want to create.