The work we have to do together is to be ourselves. This is what my local community of practice realized this fall, when we took some time to settle into the purpose of why we make the effort to meet each month. Here’s what our circle had to say to us:
Stretch and foldA spiritual showerof inspiration and energyfalling in rest and replenishmentof the soula pausewhere our only responsibility is to stretch and foldthe agency of communitythe currency of relationshipto hostwholeheartedwholeness
Do you ever wonder how long something has been sitting there, right under your nose?
For just over two years, I have been walking over the the riverbank near my house most mornings for some quiet time before the day starts. It started when we had some contractors working on our house and there was no quiet time IN the house. It is time where I settle into the me I want to be for the day, and on days where I don’t get there until later in the day, it is time where I find my way back to being who I want to be.
Five months ago, I went on a wilderness quest, or vision quest, an ancient rite of passage in cultures all over the world. It was an experience that held great meaning for me and my whole being, and one of the things I came away with was the smell of sage in the smudging ceremony. The smell transports me back to a powerful moment just before I stepped into the wild alone.
Before I left for the quest, I knew that my morning walks to the river would be different after the quest. A few weeks after my return, I was stunned to see sage growing a few feet away from my ‘spot’. Had it been there all along?
I rubbed the plant’s leaves, feeling through my nose the sacred in this spot where I look out on the wild of the city.
Today, I pause to notice what I choose to do with the peace in my life.
Canadians pause to remember today. To remember the 2.3 million men and women who have served, and more than 118,000 who died. To remember those who continue to serve. To remember Canadians who gave their lives and their future so that we may live in peace.
Today, I pause to notice the peace I experience in my life, in exchange for their sacrifice.
: to have or keep an image or idea in your mind
: to cause (something) to come back into your mind
: to keep (information) in your mind : to not forget something
How do we get stuck at simply remembering the past instead of re-membering the future, of bringing back into relationship what has been torn apart?
The peace in my part of the world allowed me to go on a wilderness quest. A month ahead of the quest, I recognized that my intention was to find the bigger ME that sees abundance in the world, to find my abundant Self. At the time, I called this my effort to rewire the reptilian in me, to awaken my whole being to what scarcity looks and feels like (no food for two nights in the wild). I did this safely, without fear of loss of life.
The peace in my part of the world allowed me to go on the wilderness quest with people who travelled safely from Canada, the United States, Germany and Australia. In my case, I drove 1500 km with one uneventful border crossing, and hours of beautiful countryside. Nestled in the northern part of the Cascade Mountains that stretch from northern California, to southern British Columbia, I enjoyed the passage of Chronos + Kairos time.
The peace in my part of the world allowed me to Earth gaze from Earth. I contemplated my self, my Higher Self and the nature of me and the nature around me. I was contemplating my planet and my place in it. I found a place to camp up the valley to the right of the Sacred Mountain.
The peace in my part of the world allowed me to listen to the voices of longing in my soul, my soul hungers.
Today is tuesdayon the Sacred Mountainwhich means I noticewhat I’m really hungry fori have shelteri am warm enoughmy thirst is quenchedmy hunger is for my soul to be seenby mefor my soul to be seenby othersfor my soul to be seenby this placeto see Meto see Othersto see my PlaceI am hungry for Mehere I am.
The peace in my part of the world allowed me to take time to settle in to the experience for weeks afterwards. In this time, I recognized that synchronicity is the Universe tapping you on the shoulder, a wild synchronicity that invites me to be awake in every moment. Further, I noticed cascading synchronicity, a series of events and understanding that revealed the synchronicity in synchronicity. Words in books, on maps, in experiences. Everywhere I went.
The peace in my part of the world allows me to fully be Me.
The peace in my part of the world allows me to look after others.
The peace in my part of the world allows me to look after place.
Everything a city does – or does not do – is a result of our actions as citizens, community organizations, the business community and our public institutions. How each of us show up in the city affects how the city serves us, individually and collectively. (Remember the difference between the corporate ‘City’ government and the ‘city‘ habitat we build for ourselves.)
Back in September, in village in the city, I connected the work of Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea on the purpose of a village to the purpose of the city. The result was another a twist on what a city does for its citizens (a reminder of city purposes).
To show up well, in any of the roles we play in the city, we need to be conscious of our civic practice. After our basic survival needs are met, we engage in story and this feeds everything in the city, at every scale. Imagine the village again, where we share stories to ensure our collective survival. Our stories are also full of passion and they feed pride and identity. We will even battle and fight when our stories are threatened. In a village, we are called to be clear about our agreements with each other, and hold ourselves accountable to each other, to be fair and just. As a village develops, we are also compelled to take action on what needs to be done, and be creative and entrepreneurial, allowing our drive to thrive to fuel us. Eventually, we are able to see and learn and benefit from everyone’s contributions and gifts. The village becomes a place where we learn to live with conflicting truths and uncertainties, allowing us to live the ‘village’ everywhere. It is a place where we can integrate feeling and knowing, and simply be in awe of how the world works.
The Spiral reveals that there are layers of civic practice:
Once our survival needs are met, we …
Connect with each other through our stories. We belong to each other.
Allow our stories to fuel our passion, feed our identity and pride as individuals and as a group.
Seek clarity in our agreements with each other, and hold ourselves accountable, to be fair and just.
Take action on what needs action, allowing our drive to be creative to serve us as opportunities arise.
Look after each other, our diverse needs, and chase our diverse desires.
Explore what’s necessary, natural and next, learning anywhere, everywhere with anyone.
Integrate feeling and knowing, with radical optimism.
For the graphically inclined, here’s how they the layers of civic practice show up on the Spiral:
How do you nurture your civic practice? How do you ensure you show up well for your city?
The words that instinctively came out of my mouth were wiser than the words I scripted for myself. At the opening of the Alberta Professional Planners Institute conference, in front of the crowd, I was to named the conference theme, “Lifecycle of a Planner,” but the word “lifestyle” came out.
This made immediate sense to me as professional citizenship, and the practices that enable professional life to include the interests of the citizen in each of us, as well as the citizens (and the public interest) we serve as professionals. As I listened to Paul Bedford’s story of this life as a professional planner, including as Chief City Planner for the City of Toronto and now as an urban mentor, I found these underlying questions that underpin a lifestyle of professional practice that serves both self and citizens well.
What fascinates you?
Do you get paid to do what you love?
Where do you have a contribution to make?
Who are you? Where do you belong?
What are you learning?
What do you do to nourish your self, and your creativity?
Do you feel good about your work?
How much courage do you have?
What are the principles that guide you?
Where am I growing?
Explore these questions in your own way. On a walk, in a journal, while at the gym or playing the guitar. Find some time to settle into you, and settle into a question, recognizing that any one of these questions is a point of entry into the messiness and confusion that is naturally a part of being human. Transition from one part of your life to another part of your life is part of the lifecycle. How we live in these transitions sabotages or nourishes our personal growth. The lifestyle with which we live the lifecycle matters.
I had clear instructions. Introduce the speaker and remind the audience about the hashtag #lifecycleofaplanner (for twitter), the conference theme. What came out of my mouth was #lifestyleofaplanner. As I listened to the speaker, I realized I wasn’t wrong. My mouth knew something my brain did not know.
Drawing on a lifetime of experience working as a city planner in Toronto, including as Chief City Planner, Paul Bedford described the life of a planner: connecting the dots, capturing the heart and mind, and the need to be bold or go home. He described a lifestyle. The planner as a person and the work s/he does are not separate. As he put it, the ability to learn is the only constant in change. That is lifestyle.
To be the planner our cities need of us, you:
Live, breathe and love your city. You choose to be a part of your city. You dive into your city to better serve your self, citizens and your city.
Know what you believe. You have figured out your personal beliefs, and they align with your work.
Live your work as a privilege. You approach your work with curiosity and passion. You choose this work, or maybe it has chosen you. You do not take it for granted and fully enjoy
Live as a change agent. When you know what you believe, and you choose to live what you believe, you make change happen. Anywhere and everywhere.
Serve citizens in the present and future. You are positive and proactive.
Search for, and make decisions based on purpose and principles. You are connected to the underlying purpose and intention of your work. You are flexible in how you get there, noticing which methods are the the best things in each given context.
Experiment with creativity. As you learn and grow in your practice, you explore how to experiment and be creative in your work.
Connect the big picture and the ground in simple ways. You find synthesize and integrate everywhere you go, enabling yourself to better understand your context, as well as others. You find language that has meaning for others.
Welcome the constant renovation of life. You recognize that you are always under renovation, as your city is too. You shed what you no longer need, and allow the new to come forward.
Choose to swim, not float. You choose the direction you move in.
This is the lifestyle of a planner who serves citizens well. This is professional citizenship, a lifestyle, a personal journey on the inside that shows up on the outside in the work we do. If these do not apply to you, you are in the wrong job, or the wrong line of work.
The purpose of a village is also the purpose of a city. For Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, a village does many things at once: protects and looks after its inhabitants; feeds them and ensures the goods and services needed are on hand; supports the varied work of villagers so they can participate in community commerce; educates and initiates; governs with a social structure of shared mores; builds webs of identity and relationships; and grows the spirit of the place with traditions of meaning.
A village is doing many things at once, each of which connects to the story, the heart, of a place. The story is what connects and binds us to each other and is a foundation on which we build our cities.
In any human system, there is a progression of values, and our intelligence, that we experience that form our stories as individuals and any scale of collective (family, organization, village, city). I took at look at how these levels of values show up in the city. We begin with our full attention on our survival, and once that is looked after, our attention expands to focus on: collective survival; economic and military power; authority and moral codes; prosperity and entrepreneurship; diversity of knowledge; then systemic flow and global life force. (For more details on these levels of values, please explore my primer on Spiral Dynamics integral. For their application to the city, start with Is the unplanned city unplanned – part 4.)
As I look at Baldwin and Linnea’s model, I can see several layers of the Spiral. The village looks after the basic survival needs of villagers. It will step in and protect if need be. It has rules and protocols. It recognizes that it is a place where learning takes place. It recognizes that at the heart of the village is story, the glue that binds us. Here’s what happens if I look at the purpose of the city with “villageness” in mind:
What does a city do?
Meet basic needs of citizens
Nurture shared sense of belonging, for collective survival
Cultivate pride and identity / protect city from danger
Provide necessary structure to meet citizens’ needs (physical, economic, social)
Create the conditions for property, development and growth
Create the conditions for expanding knowledge, receiving and giving knowledge
Learn to flex and flow with uncertainty and conflicting truths
Serve as Gaia’s reflective organ
A city, just as a village, does many things at once. Not every citizen is doing each of these things all at the same time, but collectively, as our attention shifts to meet the demands of each moment, the city shifts too. The graphic at the top of this post is purposely purple, for the notion of village is firmly rooted in the early stages of human evolution, when we are grappling for collective survival, and where myths, mystery and story were our tools to understand the world.
Cultivating the village in the city is not about going back in time, but rather a way to cultivate a new story to tell ourselves about our cities and our roles in them as citizens. When we do, it will reshape all the layers we have created above the story.
[They] sought to create art that consciously responded to the world events surrounding them. All saw art as a form of spiritual quest.
I found these words in the Seattle Art Museum’s (SAM) pamphlet on their summer exhibition: Modernism in the Pacific Northwest: The Myths & the Mystical, describing the work of Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan, and Guy Anderson. As I explored their work, and the text provided by SAM, here are some juicy bits:
visualizations of the world in flux, of the human spirit transcendent, or of the cosmos.If there was any hope that the world could survive the threat of annihilation, . . . it was found . . . from the closely observed cycle of life.. . . symbols . . . through close observation of the world around them – in the energy of the wartime city or in the fight for survival that defines the natural world. . .. . . the visual language of Northwest Coast people as a . . . lexicon of symbols for conveying universal brotherhood, a common spirituality and a belief in the primacy of the laws of nature. . .
And I was compelled to see how the titles of their artwork could fit together:
The mythic and the mystical formfollows man, a rummage ofmoving moments riding on the mountainin the white nightsearching for the morningdove of the inner eyeto find on the seventh daythe seed was in itself
And Seattle? She was beautiful too. She is her own artwork.
Over the course of the summer I have been rereading Charles Montgomery’s book, Happy City: Transforming our Lives Through Urban Design, teasing out the city essentials for city life. Here are some big ideas that have surfaced for me in the posts related to / sparked by Happy City:
The city is a shared project that allows us to thrive together, and the shared tension is necessary for our growth and happiness. Ultimately, the city is a happiness project.
Our social habitats struggle when our physical city habitat is dispersed (longer commute times; less trust among people in mono functional, car-dependant neighbourhoods than in walkable neighbourhoods with diverse house in, shops and places to work). How we design – to be in close proximity to each other – matters. The cities we design design our lives. We can choose to build places that make us feel good.
The professionals who design our cities are only part of the picture. Citizens also play a role, as do the business community and our community organizations. It’s not just city hall. At the end of the day, the habits of professionals are as we expect them to be because their job is to serve the public interest.
Everyone, everywhere can actively work to build the city to save the world. It means we have to recognize that we are hardwired to be dissatisfied make bad decisions all the time. And happiness moves – so every time we reach what would make us happy, it moves on and we are dissatisfied. It’s a journey that requires us at every turn to be present to the changes demanded of us. This never ending journey is the force that allows us to improve our cities – and save the world.
People want to be close to each other and apart at the same time: the proximity/retreat conundrum. The design of cities needs to embrace this challenge. We can effectively retrofit our cities by weaving nature into the city at every scale and designing for conviviality.
A city is not happy when the only way to move around is by car. Happy mobility is in multiple modes. A happy city allows for choices in how we move around, gives us destinations in reach, and provides connections.
Happiness in the city is about fairness, which means designing cities that accommodate everyone’s experience of the city. But what if the city is not broken, but right on schedule? What if we are where we should be – compelled to improve…
Multiple modes of transportation, rather than a focus primarily on the car, allows us to tap into the abundance of everything, everywhere. The interconnections everywhere in city life are our resilience strategy. Montgomery inspires a new story of the city that gives us much more than we expect.
Change the code, change the city, in two ways. First, if we change the rules that guide the physical developmen of the city, we will change the physical shape of the city. Further, this requires thinking of the city, and our role in it, differently.
Citizens can change the city by thinking about it differently. You don’t have to be an engineer or a city planner to get a better city for yourself. Rethink how you think of it, your relationship with others, and your relationship with the city itself. And when you do, the rest of the city will recalibrate itself. Change up the dance moves, and the others will have to too.
You are a city maker.
And as you explore what you can do to make your city better, as you find your way in the city, you are letting your city find you, and grow you.
Here’s the great irony of the American (and Canadian) city as Montgomery sees it:
… a nation that celebrates freedom and weaves liberty into its national myth rarely gives regular people the chance to shape their own communities. Municipal governments, often with the counsel and assistance of land developers, lay down community plans complete with restrictive zoning long before residents arrive on the scene. Residents have no say about what their streets and parks and gathering places will look like. And once they move in, it is illegal for them to tinker with the shape of the public places they share, or, … to use their homes for anything beyond the dictates of strict zoning bylaws (p. 306).
The challenge is not that municipal governments and land developers need to be fought, but that the voices of citizens and civil society are weak and need to be strengthened. We have been building cities, without making cities that serve us well. (Montgomery’s premise is that cities are a happiness project, and that cities design our lives .)
Looking at the city as a whole system, there are four distinct voices and roles in city making (see my last post on Happy City, change the code, change the city): citizens are the voice of the city spirit, embodying the city’s values; civic managers are civic expertise, looking after our public institutions, serving as the city brain; civil society is the cultural voice of the city, the city’s heart; and the civic builders and developers invest in and build the infrastructure of the city. Civic managers (city hall) and civic builders and developers build the city, giving it intelligence and physical form. Citizens and civil society add the psychological and cultural aspects of the city. Montgomery articulates an imbalance in today’s city, where we put emphasis on the building, without consciously considering what we are making.
How we make our cities is evolving. They start with people building their own shelter, organizing paths, then roads and more formal buildings and transportation systems, along with water and wastewater systems etc. (Check out Is the unplanned city unplanned?) Cities are changing all the time to respond to the needs of its people, in their context, to create a habitat in which people survive and thrive. As this evolution takes place, our work evolves too. It gets more and more specialized. Just as we don’t do our own dentistry anymore, most of us don’t build our own homes, streets, cities, and sewer lines. But that does not mean we are not interested in them, and how they serve us. That is Montgomery’s point. They are not serving us well. He is calling for a recalibration of these four voices in the city.
The value of Montgomery’s work is that it helps citizens – and civic managers, civic builders and developers and civil society – see what we are building and consider how we could be building cities that serve citizens better. Stories of how citizens step up into work that improves the built form of cities are useful and inspirational: intersection interventions, city repair. Citizens can dive in.
Citizens need to dive in. Citizens need to think about – and choose – the city that will best serve them. And they need to change how they think.
We are all, through the very geography of our lives, natural stewards and owners of the city. Those who acknowledge it claim great power (p. 295).
Montgomery names concrete ways in which we can think differently about city life, and there is great power in each of these:
Think engagement and curiosity, rather than retreat. Today’s city is a design problem (in the realm of civici managers and builders) but also a psychological, cultural problem (citizens and civil society): “we have translated the uncertainty of city life into retreat instead of curiosity and engagement (p. 316).”
Think trust and cooperation. There are parts of ourselves that are more inclined toward curiosity, trust, and cooperation, and these qualities of behaviour make us feel good. We are equally hardwired for dissatisfaction and status anxiety, as we we are for trust and cooperation.
Think relationships. Between people, but also between the village and its villagers. Does the city welcome cooperators and walkers?
Think of your place in the city. Confront your relationship with the city. Can you change your place in the city? Are your habits making you unhappy? Do you need to revisit what the good life looks like? Do you live where you can leave your car at home?
Stand up with imagination. There is a struggle underway as citizens (and even some civic managers and civic builders) grapple with policies and practices that create unhappy cities. And there are lots of creative ways to create the changes we want. You can stand up in full-blown political ways, or simply changing your place in the city.
How we think about our cities, particularly when we align our minds and hearts with our action, is a political act.
This is the truth that shines over the journey toward the happy city. We do not need to wait for someone else to make it. We build it when we choose how and where to live. We build it when we move a little bit closer. We build it when we choose to move a little slower. We build it by choosing to put aside our fear of the city and other people. We build the happy city by pursuing it in our own lives and, in so doing, pushing the city to change with us. We build it by living it (p. 321).
The four voices in the city are looking out for different things, so they don’t see eye to eye. But the tension in the city is not about ranking the perspective of one over the others, but rather figuring out the role of each in each challenge we face. It is a dance of voices and values; Montgomery invites citizens to change up the dance moves.