Work at scale to serve the city

In Wednesday’s post, Dynamically steering cities into the future, I reached the conclusion that it is only with feedback that we can adjust our path appropriately when needed.  Without feedback, any adjustment is simply uninformed action.  The world is changing in so many ways, it is not even possible to know what is changing and what it will turn into.  The true work at hand is learning how to dynamically steer our cities into the future.  We need to know our destination and then find the adjustments that will get us there.  It means being open to feedback and willing to take action – at any and all scales.  There is lots of work for us to do.

Figure A

The intelligence of the city lays at many scales, and each of us work at many scales in each moment, each day, in each of our lives.  In two posts (The development of cities is a survival skill, and Cities: the result of our evolving interaction with our habitat) I have referred to Marilyn Hamilton’s nested hierarchy, or holarchy, of city systems (Figure A).  This is one of four key maps Hamilton uses to chart the intelligence of a city.  This particular map articulates the city as a human system made up of a series of systems that are each, themselves, whole.  (If you would like to read more please explore her book, Integral City, or the Integral City website.)

I recognize each of these ‘wholes’ in my economic life as I work (paid and unpaid) at several scales:

  1. As an individual, I follow my passion and look for people with whom I can exchange my passion for what I need for my livelihood.
  2. As a family, we work together to create a social and physical habitat that will support us, right down to this summer’s project: a new roof.
  3. My extended family goes for a backcountry hike each summer.  This takes a lot of work to organize, and the payoff is time spent with each other and reconnection.
  4. I work as a consultant to a variety of organizations: cities, NGOs, corporations.
  5. I serve my neighbourhood organization as a volunteer.
  6. Much of my consulting work serves the whole city and its well-being.
  7. I am conscious of my actions that strengthen the connection between my city and its eco-region in my consulting work and our spending choices as a family.
There are three additional scales at which I serve cities: I serve as president of the Alberta Professional Planners Institute, a body of 903 professionals serving human settlements Alberta, Nunavut and Northwest Territories.  In a year’s time, I will be serving as APPI’s representative on the board of the Canadian Institute of Planners.  I also serve as a founding member of a fledgling group, the Center for Human Emergence: Canada, part of a global constellation of organizations aiming to create the conditions for human understanding of, and responsibility for, the health of people and the planet, recognizing that everything and everyone is interwoven.
At each scale, I can tease out the size and character of my habitat.  As the scale grows, my habitat becomes larger and more complex.  While the illustration in Figure A conveys that each city system is nested within larger systems, it does not convey that each larger system includes several, many, or thousands, or millions of the smaller systems.  As the scale increases, the complexity increases. Over time, as our cities become larger and larger, they become more complex, but the importance of smaller city systems does not decline.
Our work as individuals remains as critical as it ever was, for this is the scale at which we make our contributions.  The city is only as healthy as each whole system – including each of us – that make up the city.  Our work at every scale matters.
My next post will tie back in to where this first series of posts began – cities and innovation – and conclude this series of posts on the city impulse with these questions (at two scales):
  1. What can my city do for me?
  2. What can I do for my city? 
  3. What can our city do for us?
  4. What can we do for our city?

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