The Deep Place Method

The Deep Place Method was developed to tackle the twin ‘wicked issues’ of our times: poverty and environmental sustainability. It has been informed by the belief that they are interconnected problems that have been exacerbated by the predominance of neo-liberalism and its approach to economic development. As the globalised, growth-based agenda has been aggressively pursued for nearly 40 years, we have seen rising levels of both poverty and environmental degradation. Governments globally have followed a similar track of internationalised economic development, married to an internal fiscal and monetary policy characterised by a quest for a ‘small state’ and minimum government expenditure.

In the developed world we have seen the demise of ‘blue collar’ work and a rapidly emerging decline in traditional middle class occupations, as production and administrative functions have been offshored to jurisdictions with less labour regulation and lower costs. For less developed nations, internationalised production chains have brought rapid industrialisation, but with the penalty of increased pollution and carbon production. Globally, these consequences are seen as inevitable and the most neo-liberal nations, including the USA, the UK and Australia, trail behind social democratic nations in tackling both poverty and sustainability.

Neo-liberal economics positions both anti-poverty regulation and environmental protection as hindrances to economic growth. Poverty and pollution are by-products of a globalised economic model that focus on short-term gain for a global elite. Climate change denial and the slashing of welfare budgets have the same origin in the quest for economic growth measured as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). On the poverty front, most developed nations have seen a rapid rise in relative poverty levels over the last 50 years, a situation made far worse by the abandonment of welfare obligations developed in the post 1945 era. At a time of significant disruption caused by the transition to post-industrial economies, the welfare support systems have been drastically reduced. Labour deregulation has driven down wages and working poverty has become the norm.

Despite the overriding predominance of neo-liberal economics at nation-state level, there are global processes that have recognised the crisis of poverty and climate change. In sub-national, regional and city levels of governance we see innovative action to challenge the poverty and social exclusion that many cities experience. Similarly, climate change mitigation is flourishing at city level. Whilst the 2014 Paris Agreement has lost USA federal support, over 2,500 USA cities have signed the We Are Still In pledge. In Australia, some of the most radical renewable energy strategies are being pursued at State level, while the Federal Government flounders in a last-ditch attempt to support the coal industry. In India and China, often presented as the dirty polluters of the age, active pursuit of the low-carbon economy is advancing rapidly, albeit from a low base and with some way to go.

In the realm of supra-national politics three major developments have emerged to promote nation-state government action. They are:

· The 2014 Paris Agreement; Signed by 197 signatories, currently ratified by 170:

· The 2015 Sustainable Development Goals: Agreed by 193 nations

· The 2016 New Urban Agenda; Signed by 167 nations

All three frameworks present opportunities to tackle environmental sustainability and poverty. They provide a global framework for positive growth and social justice.

In the context of the Deep Place method both the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the New Urban Agenda create ideal frameworks in which Deep Place practitioners can situate their activity. With 17 SDGs and 169 related targets (, we find a structured policy and practice environment that can inform both poverty alleviation and climate change mitigation. The combined impact of the separate goals, if achieved, will radically impact poverty levels from the streets of developed nation mega-cities to the informal settlements of the lesser-developed nations.

SDG One is simple: ‘No Poverty’. This is unequivocal! Other targets in health, education, employment and equality follow on from this. Equity and climate action underpin the SDGs and unify the quest for poverty eradication and environmental sustainability.

Alongside the SDGs, The New Urban Agenda frames how they will be achieved in all urban and human settlements. It takes as its founding principle SDG 11:

‘Making cities and human settlements safe, sustainable, inclusive and sustainable’.

Key phrases from the New Urban Agenda include the ‘city for all’ and ‘no-one left behind’. In 136 paragraphs it outlines the paradigm shift required in a wide range of urban policies and processes to ensure that by 2036 our cities and human settlements are equitable and sustainable. It previews the extent of urbanisation and the benefits and challenges that rapid urbanisation brings for all nations.

Deep Place closely aligns with the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda. Developed in 2014, it was predictive of the current unification of the twin objectives of poverty eradication and environmental sustainability. The Deep Place method can inform international practice that is currently developing in programs and forums promoted by the United Nations and offshoot organisations. The value of all three supra-national frameworks is the development of global infrastructure to think through the difficult challenges the world confronts on its journey to the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement, the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda. Organisations like the World Urban Campaign and events like the World Urban Forum provide spaces and places where the concerns identified in the original Deep Place report are being considered globally. Already the exchange of ideas is phenomenal and national and international gatherings are exploring the path to paradigm change.

The Deep Place Centre commits itself wholeheartedly to the achievement of the SDGs and the goals of the New Urban Agenda. It welcomes the unification that is taking place globally between the desire to create equitable and sustainable cities and human settlements. In our original Deep Place report we identified the need for a “new settlement’ in which governments recognised their responsibilities for citizen and environmental welfare. This will be the new ‘urban paradigm’ called for in the New Urban Agenda. The Deep Place method provides a means of analysing the challenges and opportunities for communities, cities, regions and nations and for developing a plan and collaborative program for change that will assist its achievement.

You can download this article as a PDF by clicking here.

November 2017

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