A new era of planning cities

I keep asking myself if planning is the right word any more to describe this organizing activity that takes place in our cities.  It is the right word if it can hold a lot more than a tidy, linear, mechanical, rational practice.  There is a time for this kind of work, but planning can and should be much more to accommodate the messy, uncertain, complex world we live in.

Of all the organizing we do, planning can simply be act of declaring a destination and the steps it will take to get there.  At the end of my last post, Recalibrating the purpose of planning, I left you with a diagram (Figure 1) noting that planning also involves the ability to learn and adapt along the way (journey) in order to accommodate a future that we have know way of knowing will actually be (emergence).  Our planning work shapes the future but does not define our future.

Figure 1 - City "Nestworking"

A new era of organizing our cities is emerging that is much more conscious of collective intention and purpose to drive our work.  I see a different kind of planning that doesn’t reject the work we already do, but adds to it and informs it.  It is time to build upon the mechanical processes and plans we have created.  There is a time and place for them, but like any tool, just because we like the took does not mean we ought to use it everywhere.  When we pretend to have control we thwart our ability to thrive as both citizens and as whole communities.  We sabotage the potency of our collective wisdom.  It is time to learn how to live with the messy, uncertain world – an plan accordingly.

We are not comfortable in a messy world, so our tendency to seek control actually reduces our ability to reach our destination.  We choose to ignore feedback that tells us something we would rather not hear.  This new era of planning is complex yet very effective – if we get out of the way.  Every day, every moment, we live with tension as we discern what we can control and what we can not.  This work is as much about our inner selves as it is about the work we do in the world.

Cities are growing and we are growing with them. We are organizing ourselves in response to life conditions, which are as varied as the purposes of a city are varied.  In fact, being in service to a city’s varied efforts to organize itself in response to life conditions is a role for the people that build the city, the people that manage the city, civil society and citizens. There is a role and responsibility for everyone to support a city’s efforts to notice, adjust and organize for the purposes of creating the conditions for citizens to survive and thrive.

I will next tackle Chapter Three – The Thriving Impulse, to explore what it means to thrive, a foundational piece before presenting how Nest City thinking works in Parts Two and Three.

I leave you today, at the end of Chapter 2 – The Planning Impulse, with the wise words of Ben Okri.

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