Our Thoughts on Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World

In his recent book, Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World, HRH The Prince of Wales presents an eloquent and impassioned call for a Sustainability Revolution. With his co-authors, Tony Juniper and Ian Kelly, Prince Charles traces the roots of our modern crisis to the way we see and understand how the world works. We have lost a sense of connectedness to Nature that formed the basis of all cultures and religions until the modern age. While our objectivity has fostered great scientific discoveries and accumulation of a vast body of knowledge, it has also allowed us to manipulate Nature and exploit the Earth, perhaps to the point of no return.

Nature, the Prince observes, shows us the relationships and interdependencies of all living things. No one part of Nature “can grow well and true without it relating to – and being in accordance with – the well-being of the whole”. This book, both fervent and restrained in tone, illustrates the connection and interdependency among our economic, ecological, and social well-being.

As Prince Charles points out, the concept of ecological design has a direct implication for the design and fostering of livable cities. Through his Foundation for the Built Environment, Prince Charles places a continued emphasis on the importance of sustainable planning goals, stating that we can and should add “social and environmental value to towns and cityscapes through mixed-use development, by placing the pedestrian at the centre of the design process, by emphasizing local identity and character and by the use of ecological building techniques.”

Those of us passionate about shaping the built environment to strengthen community will be pleased by his emphasis on the importance of community capital, “the local wealth that holds community together and enriches people’s lives through mutual support, love, loyalty and identity. The value of this kind of community capital cannot be overstated”. To support community capital, the Prince emphasizes, “congenial, attractive public spaces have a huge role to play… They must be seen as opportunities for people to connect with each other and with our shared inheritance, not to mention our common future”.

Prince Charles discusses how car-dependent development patterns have deepened our reliance on foreign oil and other finite resources while threatening social cohesion, and criticizes modern architecture as being distinctly inhuman, referring to public housing skyscrapers as “concrete cul-de-sacs in the sky”. While his work on the built environment tends to support the New Urbanism model (take the Foundation for the Built Environment’s Poundbury development), the Prince’s vision in Harmony is more holistic, or “whole-istic,” placing equal emphasis on sustainable agriculture, healthcare, education, the arts, and economic stability.

For decades, Prince Charles has been a committed advocate of the natural world and humanity’s responsibilities to it. He has also made unpopular (among certain groups) choices—famously and symbolically transforming his 1,000 acre farm to organic status in the 1980s, a time of seemingly endless wealth and resources. With this book, Prince Charles is imploring readers to join together in a return to Nature as the guide to the way we live, govern, design and grow. The accompanying film features rare footage of a decades-old interview with Al Gore (another leader widely admired and also occasionally mocked for his environmental initiatives) and is less about the Prince’s endeavors and more about the importance of learning from the best teachers how to move “forward with Nature.”

The Prince emphasizes that these ideas are far from original. Indeed, his goal is to draw on the wisdom of ages to guide us towards a healthier, more sustainable future. The work finds roots in the ancient religions, stands on the shoulders of giants (Plato, Thomas Aquinas), and acknowledges the inspiration of many, including E. F. Schumacher, Gregory Bateson, Christopher Alexander, and Wendell Berry. Many others have trod similar paths for a solution to our modern crisis, including Bill McKibben, Sim Van der Ryn, and Stephen Kellert.

If wisdom is not simply the accumulation of knowledge, but the understanding of relationships, then Harmony is truly a wise book. It shows how all the areas the Prince has addressed in the past – architecture and planning, agriculture, education, the arts, healthcare, society and economy – have all suffered as a result of our disconnect from Nature. Through outstanding examples and best practices, he shows how each field is beginning to heal through the exemplary work of individuals and groups around the globe.

Prince Charles urges us all to work collaboratively, creatively and with urgency that we might “tread more lightly upon this Earth, the miracle of creation that it is our privilege to call ‘home’.