The purpose of the city is survival and improvement: survival of the human species and the improvement of the quality of our life conditions.
The first-order and second-order purposes described in city purpose – survival and improvement, are essentially this: the drive of all living things to survive and reproduce, and, in humans, a self-reflective capacity. Humans possess free will, and for Steve McIntosh, author of Evolution’s Purpose, this means that we have the ability to perceive and pursue higher values.
…it is this emergent capacity to discern and make moral distinctions that gives us the ability to evolve our culture. Because of our sense of higher purpose – because we can feel the ever-widening potential of a better way – humans are continuously driven and drawn toward more complex forms of social organization (p. 146).
Our drive for improvement, the “ever-widening potential of a better way” pulls us in our own development of how we organize ourselves. The top 100 trends in urban thinking reveal the nature of this pull in the year 2012: cities are idea makers, density catalyzes human progress, the reason for the existence of cities is the well-being of inhabitants, and collaboration as part of the human experience. Our ways of organizing ourselves are continually emerging into higher levels of complexity.
One way to look at these increasingly complex forms of social organization is through Spiral Dynamics, where our development, in response to our life conditions, oscillates back and forth between me/myself/I (warm coloured text on left) and we/us/our (cool coloured text on right). As we develop, we value new things and the very purpose of our cities evolves along with us.
We have within us an impulse to thrive in cities. While we work continuously to organize ourselves to change and improve our life conditions, we are moving in a direction that is expansive and emergent. We are growing. While the specific destination is unknown, the general destination is known: survive and improve. As we work at our short-term destinations day-to-day, we can trust that an overall destination is emerging. There is direction in destination.
What is the nature of your city’s emerging destination?
This post forms part of Chapter 5 – Destination Alive or Adrift, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Click here for an overview of Chapters 4-7 (Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence). Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.