Retreat results

Last Wednesday I headed into a writing retreat.  I popped back out into the world Sunday afternoon feeling satisfied with the time I spent with myself, exploring our evolutionary relationship with cities and the reasons for whichI am compelled to do this work.

Strawberry Creek Lodge is in a beautiful setting in aspen parkland – full of the genus populus, after which my company is named.  I love to spend time outside, so I took my tent and set up camp on the edge of a meadow, on a bluff overlooking strawberry creek a hundred feet below.  The view from my tent was impeded by the forest growth crawling up the bank.  Yet despite the visual obstacle, I knew what was on the other side – a beautiful view.

I learned that I need a good night’s sleep in order to be able think and write clearly.  In the end, I spent only two nights in the tent, bookending the summer solstice.  I learned that while I am writing, it is absolutely critical for me to have a good night’s sleep.  Waking up at 4:40 am and working from 5-8am before breakfast and then being so tired to have to sleep until noon is not a recipe for success with my body.  Sleep in split shifts is not helpful. I chose then to sleep in my room in the lodge and make treks out to my tent to think about my writing.

It feels good to just sit and write.   it was a great way to mark the transition into summertime.

My accomplishments:

  1. I completed and submitted my book proposal to New Society Publishers.
  2. I have organized a bit of a ‘plot’ to guide the next series of posts on evolutionary intelligence.  In July, I will introduce the intelligences for the city articulated by Marilyn Hamilton (Integral City).  In September, my blogging time will be consumed by my participation in the Integral City eLaboratory, an online conference.  You can expect many more details on evolutionary intelligences for the city.  Over the course of August, I will tease out the principles and practices that specifically create the conditions for a  social habitat  that allows for us to integrate our economic life with our physical habitat.
  3. A Nest City Manifesto is coming.  As I conclude the first piece of this book that has a hold of me, I am preparing a 30 page ‘report’ to share with readers.  I will share this freely (literally) with readers in the fall of 2012.
  4. I have updated some of the text on my website.  I have some things to keep adjusting, but I have recognized that it may be time for a refresh of the whole thing.  The truth is, I am not sure what needs to be done on this front.  Comments welcome!
  5. I have rearticulated my business plan and how I wish to spend my time – in my personal and work life – in support of writing and exploring our evolutionary relationship with cities.

Thanks for reading – I appreciate this opportunity to share what I am thinking, finding and writing with all of you.

Here are two great blogs that have shaped several decisions over the last few months: Chris Guillebeau’s unconventional strategies for life, work and travel, and Nina Amir’s How to blog a book.  Enjoy!

Evolutionary intelligence – integrally

The last five posts articulate a body of work called Spiral Dynamics:

  1. Pause for evolutionary understanding begins Chapter 3 – The Thriving Impulse outlines the need to pause and understand our evolutionary trip as we organize ourselves in cities.
  2. Primer on the emerging spiral reveals a pattern in our emerging intelligence: Spiral Dynamics.
  3. 7 principles frame the emerging spiral articulates how the Spiral works: the trends behind the trends.
  4. Conditions for evolutionary expansion articulates the conditions that need to be met for the natural growth in our intelligence.
  5. Evolutionary impulse to thrive looks at movement on the Spiral in the context of changing life conditions.
The perspective offered by Spiral Dynamics is best viewed integrally, that is to say in consideration of the spheres and scales by which we experience the city.  In City – a dance of voice and values, I begin to knit together the Spiral of values and the four integral city voices: civic managers, civic developers, civil society and citizens.
Imagine the Spiral alive in each quadrant.  Imagine the Spiral alive in each individual in each quadrant. Imagine the Spiral alive across the whole city: a symphony of voices each expressing themselves from where they are at any given moment.  When an earthquake hits and our city is destroyed, we will hunker down for BEIGE survival.  On a day when the local hockey team has just one a big game, the city experiences a surge of RED elation and pride.  On a day when a drunk driver has killed a busload of school children, we call for a recalibration of our BLUE rules.    When we reach the big job at the top of the corporate ladder, we revel in our ORANGE achievement.  When we realize that our success has meant that others do not succeed, we are motivated by a GREEN communitarian ethic.  There is a point where we realize that the gifts of all these value systems are indeed of value together, rather than in competition with each other.  This is when we hunger for the integration of YELLOW, to flex and flow.
In a city’s population, these value systems are forever in flux, in each and all of us. The dance of voice and values is in self, others and the city all at once, all the time, at every scale, at every moment.
It makes city life a wonderfully dynamic experience with endless possibilities.
The next series of posts will explore some broad, macro principles that help create the conditions for the self and the city to thrive: evolutionary intelligence.


A primer on the emerging spiral

Figure 1 - City Purposes (St. John's)

There is a pattern in human activity that reveals how our intelligence evolves (Figure 1).  The story of St. John’s emergence as a city in Chapter 2 – The Planning Impulse highlights this evolution in the creation of a city.  The purpose of this post is to provide a primer in one way of thinking of evolving intelligence: Spiral Dynamics.

Spiral Dynamics

Imagine the double-helix spiral of our DNA and the work that has been done to catalogue our genes – the codes that guide our physical being. Imagine a similar spiral with our cultural codes: our organizing principles.

Don Beck and Christopher Cowan, drawing on the work of Clare Graves in the 1970s, have revealed how the organizing principles emerge in humans, and how they glue together our social systems. This area of work is called Spiral Dynamics.  The organizing principles are found in levels of value systems that emerge as we evolve.  They are called value memes, or vMEMES for short (rhymes with genes), as coined by Richard Dawkins.

vMEMES are codes, or behavioural instructions that are passed on from generation to the next, social artifacts, and value-laden symbols that glue together social systems.[1]  Beck and Cowan:

These vMEMES include instructions for our world views, assumptions about how everything works, and the rationale for decisions we make.[2] 

We evolve and grow through these vMEMES – as individuals, as families, cultures, workplaces, cities, nations and as a species. Here is a summary of the eight vMEMES that have appeared to date in humans – our ideas and beliefs gather around each of these:

The spiral of city purposes in Figure 1 is an interpretation of the vMEMES described above. Here is another take on the spiral with some key words you will recognize as the structures and processes associated with ways of thinking at different levels of the spiral:


The first six vMEMES, BEIGE through GREEN, form the first tier of value codes.  Their focus is subsistence.  Very simply: BEIGE, is explicitly about surviving.  When our basic needs are met, in PURPLE we survive together and make sense of the magical world in groups.  When resources become scarce, our groups compete for independence (RED).  When we recognize that stability is needed, BLUE surfaces and we establish institutions, protocols and rules with purpose.  When those rules get in the way, ORANGE shows up as an entrepreneurial, creative spirit.  When uncomfortable with achievement orientation of ORANGE, GREEN emerges and seeks caring and socially responsible communities.

These first six vMEMES have very little tolerance for each other; we see great conflict between the values of competition and community, or the power of the individual vs the role of the collective.  A second tier of  vMEMES (YELLOW, TURQUOISE) surfaces when we desire to integrate the first six.

It is critical to note that none of these vMEMES are better than another.  They simply reflect different perspectives on what the world  and its complexity .[3]  Each vMEME builds on the one(s) before.  Each building block arrives as we adjust to new levels of complexity. Each transcends and includes the previous vMEMES, responding to increased complexity in the world, meaning that the building blocks already created remain in us.

vMEMES are types of thinking in us, not types of us.[4]  As a body of work, Spiral Dynamics notices the patterns in human development, and recognizing the pattern allows for deeper views of the role of cities – and ourselves – in human development.

How does the Spiral work?  The next post will describe seven principles that frame the emergence of new patterns.  As Beck and Cowan put it, the trends that generate trends…


[1]   Beck and Cowan, Spiral Dynamics, p. 31

[2]   Beck and Cowan, Spiral Dynamics, p. 32

[3]   Beck and Cowan,  Spiral Dynamics,p. 50

[4]   Beck and Cowan,  Spiral Dynamics,p. 63

 Additional Reading:



Pause for evolutionary understanding

Figure 1 - City Habitats

If the purpose of cities is to grow and evolve the human species, then it is necessary to understand the evolutionary forces in play.  There are huge implications for our relationships with each other as we create cities that support our efforts to learn both as individuals and as a species

In today’s world we are in the process of recalibrating how we relate with each other.  We are adjusting our relationships with smartphones, texting and social media.  We are in contact with each other, both locally and globally, in whole new and unforeseen ways.  Information is distributed very quickly. We are both more informed and misinformed.  We are deeply engaged in life and rewiring the nature of our engagement with self and other and the city in our city life.

The advent of social media does not remove our desire to create cities that serve us well, or minimize our desire for face-to-face contact.  We still hunger for it.  We use social media to organize ourselves – to share information, to rally, to have fun.  Ultimately it is a form of connecting.  As communication sparked an evolutionary burst in humans 60,000 years ago, and with the printing press more recently, we are sparking another evolutionary burst now – where do we need to put our attention to ride it out safely? 

Figure 2 - City "Nestworking"

Organizing ourselves into and within cities is a process of organizing human intelligence.  Looking back at Chapter 1 – The City Impulse, we can see that we are organizing our economic life in the context of our physical habitat.  We are doing this by creating a social habitat that allows for feedback and integration (Figure 1). There is no ‘plan’, per se, but as my colleagues Don Beck and Marilyn Hamilton would say, there are patterns in the life conditions. One of the patterns is the activity of planning our cities. In Chapter 2 – The Planning Impulse, I propose that planning is one of many activities we undertake to organize ourselves.  The Venn diagram in Figure 2 articulates the planning of our cities as an activity that is non-linear, messy and uncomfortable work for an uncertain future.

Our attention needs to be on cities –  because cities are a source of innovation.  The development of cities is a survival skill for the human species.  Moreover, as we organize ourselves in cities, we need to pause and learn about ourselves and our evolutionary trip before diving further into the Nest City model (Figure 2).  That is the focus of the upcoming series of posts that form Chapter 3 – The Thriving Impulse, where I will describe and explore:

  1. Evolutionary intelligence
  2. Evolutionary intelligence in the city
  3. Protocols and practices that support the evolution of the city

Conclusion of The Planning Impulse

The purpose of planning is to support a city’s efforts to notice, adjust and organize to ensure the city is able to integrate the needs of its citizens with its context.  As we build cities, our work is to ensure that we create a habitat for ourselves in which we will thrive.

This second chapter of Nest City explores where the impulse to plan comes from as our cities become more complex. The first four posts that form the second chapter of Next City build on  my experience in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where Mayor Dennis O’Keefe invites visitors to a planning conference to explore the ‘unplanned’ city.  My exploring continued after my visit there.  The first four posts that make this chapter are:

  • Is an unplanned city unplanned?  Part 1  Life conditions – the times we live in, the geographic place, the challenges we face and the social circumstances – shape the purpose of a city.  
  • Is an unplanned city unplanned?  Part 2  The shape of a city is determined by its geography, its purpose, the activities within and in connection to other cities – it’s life conditions.
  • Is an unplanned city unplanned?  Part 3  As life conditions change, cities shift and adjust. The purpose of the city evolves.  Planning is an activity that supports our collective work to organize ourselves to ensure our habitat – our cities – serve us well.
  • Is an unplanned city unplanned?  Part 4  Along with evolving purposes of the city come corresponding evolving modes of organizing.  One of the new ways of organizing was the planning profession.

The subsequent posts tease out the complexity of planning now – it is not a simple linear, mechanical process:

  • City – a dance of voice and values  The evolving city purposes and modes of organizing are part of an evolving value system.  There are four integral ‘voices’ in the city: city managers, city builders, civil society and citizens.  These values and voices are in the mix as we organize ourselves to thrive in cities.
  • Integrating voices and values  Many purposes, modes of organizing and purposes occur all at once, creating a messy and uncertain world.  No one entity has control of the city.  Planners do not have a recipe – let alone all the ingredients.
  • Recalibrating the purpose of planning  As an activity, planning has to hold a destination in mind, allow for learning and adjustment along the way, and recognize that we do not know exactly where we are going to end up.
  • A new era of planning cities  Planning now is about have a clear, collective sense of intention and purpose to drive our work.  Cities are growing and we are growing with them.  The opportunity is to grow purposefully.
Two conclusions arise.  The first is that the overriding purpose of a city is to integrate the needs of its people, with its context, to create a habitat in which people will survive and thrive (Is an unplanned city unplanned? Part 3).  The second is that the purpose of planning is to support city efforts to notice, adjust and organize to ensure people survive and thrive (Is an unplanned city unplanned? Part 4).
The activity of planning is in the process of recalibrating, in order to integrate the new and emerging voices and values of the city.  This is necessary for planning to respond to today’s life conditions, rather than those of decades or centuries ago.  To meet the needs of  citizens, cities must adapt.  In order for cities to adapt to the evolving needs of citizens, citizens need to adapt as well.
The next series of posts will form Chapter Three – The Thriving Impulse.  They will explore what it means to thrive, from an evolutionary sense.  Part Two – Organizing for Emergence and Part Three – Nest City will get into the details of how we can organize ourselves to serve ourselves better.  
Sources –

Beck, Don Edward and Cowan, Christopher C., Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford (2006), particularly pages 52-56.

Hamilton, Marilyn, Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive, New Society Publishers Inc., Gabriola Island (2008)

Sanders, Beth, “From the High Water Mark to the Back of the Fish Flakes: The Evolutionary Purpose of Cities,” Vol 51, No. 4, p 26-31, Plan Canada.  Print publication of the Canadian Institute of Planners.

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.

My own work snuck up on me


That is the message I left in my manuscript to describe Chapter 3 – The Thriving Impulse.   Chapters 1 and 2 had been written and rewritten over and over again, leaving them in a state that seemed to make turning the text into smaller chunks for blog posts relatively easy.  I had to rewrite and reorganize things, but the frame was in place.

I am getting organized to start blogging Chapter 3.  Funny that the guiding text for Chapter 3, from John O’Donohue’s blessing, For the Time of Necessary Decision, is this:

For time gathers its moments secretly.

Time does gather its moments secretly.  I thought it was a scary chapter, though now when I look at it after a few months, the emerging outline seems clear.  My own work has snuck up on me over time.  I have a frame on which to hang the next series of posts:

  1. What is evolutionary intelligence?
  2. How does evolutionary intelligence shape the city?
  3. What are the protocols and practices for an evolving, emerging city?

Recalibrating the purpose of planning

Figure 1 - Evolving City Purposes

The activity of planning cities is a kind of work that has emerged with cities.  It is a mode of organizing that began in Canada with land surveyors and engineers. The work of planners and planning in Canada is recent; Canada’s Commission of Conservation hired Britain’s Thomas Adams in 1914 as its Town Planning Advisor. His work supported the creation of town planning legislation across Canada, and a whole new area of work distinct from that of surveying and engineering.  For Adams, the additional focus of planning was to improve civic conditions[1].  This was the beginning of a structure (legislation) and a profession dedicated to contributing order to settlements across Canada, work that emerged with the fourth purpose of the city (Figure 1), and the fourth level of organizing (Figure 2).  (For more on the evolution of city purposes and modes of organizing, please see Is the unplanned city unplanned? Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4).

Figure 2 - Evolving Modes of Organizing

The activity of planning our communities – even just thinking about planning – has played a critical role in the shape our communities today.  Gerald Hodge and David L. A. Gordon, authors of Canada’s primary text for students of planning Canadian communities, note:

…the regard for planning and making plans is strong.  Even in… contentious situations, the essential debate is not about the need for planning, but for better planning – not whether but how it should be done.”[2] 

Citizens, developers and builders, civil society and our various public institutions and politicians are always ready to tell planners about needed improvements. And they are right – there are many improvements to be made.  What we ought to be wary of is the assumption that it is up to planners to make the changes.

Today’s challenge – recalibrating the purpose of planning, plans and planners

This is the challenge that faces planners, citizens and decision-makers today: our communities function with an extended focus, broadened purpose and less concentrated decision-making processes. The formal act of ‘planning’ as we recognize it today, with zoning by-laws and area structure plans, is in response to life conditions of a certain time, geography, challenges, and social circumstances.  It is as set of activities that fits the era in which Thomas Adams worked. In today’s world the work of organizing a city belongs to many.  The planning profession is simply one of many kinds of work.  The work of organizing ourselves to thrive belongs to all of us.  In 1922, Thomas Adams stated: “Cities do not grow – all of them are planned.”[3]  It is as though we build them as we build a building, with a complete set of plans.  That just doesn’t happen with cities.  They do grow.

None of this means that plans and planning are not relevant.  Plans do have a purpose. Having a plan means that we know where we are going and what it will take to get there.  A plan documents our shared purpose, intention and intended actions to reach our goals.  In every aspect of life, this is a critical function.  Specific to city planning, Hodge and Gordon describe it this way: a plan is “for the purpose of achieving a goal desired by its citizens… community planning is about attaining a preferred future built and natural environment.”[4]  They cite two reasons why a community makes plans: to solve some problems associated with its development; and/or to achieve some preferred form of development.[5]  This is work that makes a meaningful contribution to cities.

In conventional planning circles, the professional planners are charged with this work.  Citizens, civil society, civic builders and developers along with politicians provide feedback to planners through formal public engagement activities.  Yet we are growing into an understanding that city hall is not the only player who organizes a city, but that there are many others involved.  Numerous organizations, activities and events shape the city without city hall’s direction.  Environmental groups have had an influence on our tolerance for weeds.  Arts foundations find the funds to build new museums and art galleries.  Business leaders join forces to advance technology research and innovation.  The university hospital chooses to emphasize health research and expands its facilities.  School boards decide to allow families to choose their schools.  Citizens choose where to live in relation to employment/schools/services.  All and each of these players shape our complex cities.

Citizens, civil society, civic builders and developers are increasingly demanding a role in the process of planning our communities.  Even departments inside city hall are hungry for ways to integrate their work with planners.  As a result, the role of the plan has evolved into something new.  City plans are no longer simply the blueprint early land surveyors and engineers prepared for orderly development.  A new kind of work is being called for that supports an expanded view of what it takes to make cities that are healthy habitats for citizens.

The value of plans is in their intention and common direction.  They are now more about shape and spirit, rather than control.  There are times when control is important, but the scope of planning is widening and more and more aspects of planning are about much more than control.  As an activity, planning has to hold a destination in mind, allow for learning and adjustment along the way, and recognize that we do not know exactly what we are going to end up with and we can’t control that.  Part Two and Part Three of this writing endeavour will flesh out how to organize ourselves with kind of understanding.  For the moment I offer this:

Figure 3 - City "Nestworking"

The next post will conclude Chapter 2 – The Planning Impulse with a question: Is planning even the right word any more?   Chapter  3 – The Thriving Impulse, will be a theory side trip into what it means to thrive before thoroughly exploring the City Nestworking model above for the remainder of the book in Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence and Part 3 – Nest City.  

[2]   Gerald Hodge and David L.A. Gordon, Planning Canadian Communities, p. 3

[3]   As quoted by Hodge and Gordon

[4]   Gerald Hodge and David L.A. Gordon, Planning Canadian Communities, p. 5

[5]   Gerald Hodge and David L.A. Gordon, Planning Canadian Communities, p. 5


Other Sources –

Beck, Don Edward and Cowan, Christopher C., Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford (2006), particularly pages 52-56.

Hamilton, Marilyn, Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive, New Society Publishers Inc., Gabriola Island (2008)

Sanders, Beth, “From the High Water Mark to the Back of the Fish Flakes: The Evolutionary Purpose of Cities,” Vol 51, No. 4, p 26-31, Plan Canada.  Print publication of the Canadian Institute of Planners.

Integrating voices and values

A city is made up of multiple perspectives, purposes and modes of organizing.  In Is an unplanned city unplanned? Part 3 and Part 4, I showed the purposes for cities that emerge and the ways we organize in accordance with each purpose.  In City – a dance of voices and values, I made the connection between purpose/organizing and Hamilton’ four voices of city life: citizens, city managers, city builders and civil society (Figure 1).

Three cities, or three different points in time in the same city, could have completely different ‘maps’ of where their values lay.  Imagine dropping the spiral of city purposes on the four quadrants of city voices (Figure 2).  Instead of spirals, imagine concentric circles, radiating out from the center, illustrating the emergence of city purposes and modes of organizing.  The values in play can be seen and mapped for all four voices of the city.

Here are three examples (Figure 3):

On the left, most city builders value competition and prosperity while a good portion of citizens and city managers have a focus on authority and rules.   A portion of civil society puts emphasis on equality.  In the center illustration, the City Managers are in “turf mode”, with little power in authority.  In contrast, citizens, civil society and city builders appear to be in a position to take advantage of a lack of authority.  In the city on the right we see citizens valuing authority and moral codes while civil society and city managers are seeking much less formal structure with value systems that flatten hierarchy.  The city builders appear to be in turf-oriented competition.  Each map presents a different picture of what is valued in that city, from the perspective of those voices.


Varied purposes of cities, along with their associated levels of organizing that correspond with those purposes, coexist. This means that many modes of organizing are occuring simultaneously.  As we organize ourselves in cities, there are people attending to our various collective needs: individual organizations might be in survival mode due to budget cuts; new immigrants assemble to cultivate a sense of belonging and identity in a new place; the fire department responds to emergencies in ‘do’ mode; municipal governments establish order with by-laws regulating on-street parking; the Chamber of Commerce seeks strategic economic advantage; social justice groups demand participative decision-making processes.  As a whole, these are activities we undertake to organize ourselves and create habitats in which we will thrive.  One of the ways we organize is to plan, where we document where we intend to go and how we think we’ll get there.

When our basic survival needs are met, we organize ourselves with the aim to thrive.  As our cities began to grow, there was a point where we saw a need for order.  Eventually, we saw a need to create a new profession: city planning.  We saw a need to articulate, and document, a desired goal to improve our cities (no one plans for things to be worse) and the details of how to get there.  We aim in the direction of making things better, and we identify the steps we need to take to make things better.  This is planning in its simplest form.  It is work we are all engaged in, as profession planners and as citizens.

Planning our cities is work that belongs to all of us at once.  The Integral City model reminds us that we all have a role to play in city life.  The city builders organize themselves to physically construct our city and they make plans to do so.  Civil society organizes the social and cultural life in our cities; they look after various non-physical qualities of our cities.  Citizens, in our day-to-day life bring life to the city with every choice we make, particularly when we follow our passions in our work – whether paid or unpaid.  City managers have a role to play to create the minimal critical structure on which cities sit: our municipal government, health services, education, etc.  Each of the city’s voices shape the city, all at once, creating a world of messiness and uncertainty because no one entity has control of a city.  This understanding is critical for citizens and professional planners alike.

Planners used to be (and some still are, as appropriate) the people that write the plans for political approval.  As policy writers, they take direction from city council or propose policy to city council.  They ask the public and stakeholders what they think and make recommendations to Council.  The policy may be a transportation plan, a facility plan for a school division, a plan for future subdivisions.  We, as the public, assign great responsibility to this profession.  We also miss-assign this responsibility because professional planners shape and influence our cities, but it is a co-creative process.  Professional planners are expected to have the answers – and the recipe – but that is not how planning happens.  Planners do not have a recipe, let alone all the ingredients.

In my next post I will explore this question:  What is the purpose of plans and planning in today’s context?


Sources –

Beck, Don Edward and Cowan, Christopher C., Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford (2006), particularly pages 52-56.

Hamilton, Marilyn, Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive, New Society Publishers Inc., Gabriola Island (2008)

Sanders, Beth, “From the High Water Mark to the Back of the Fish Flakes: The Evolutionary Purpose of Cities,” Vol 51, No. 4, p 26-31, Plan Canada.  Print publication of the Canadian Institute of Planners.

Wilber, Ken, A Brief History of Everything, Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston (1996, 2000)

City – a dance of voice and values


Figure 1 - Integral Theory 4 Quadrants (illustrated by Brandy Agerbeck)

Drawing on the work of Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, Marilyn Hamilton gives us a very simple way of seeing a whole city.

Integral theory conjures four quadrants for life experience.  The two axis in Brandy Agerbeck’s illustration (Figure 1) reflect our individual / collective experiences, and our interior/exterior experiences.  The upper left quadrant is about how I show up inside myself – my inner well-being.  The upper right quadrant is about how I show up on the outside – my behavior.   The lower right is about how we show up collectively on the outside – our structures.  The lower left is about how we collectively who up on the inside – our culture.  Simply, what is going on inside – our inner weather – and what is going on outside – the structures (physical and otherwise) we create.

The understanding that integral theory offers can be used at any scale – an individual, family, neighbourhood, city, nation, species.  Hamilton applies this framework to the city, revealing four voices:

  1. City Managers – elected officials, decision-makers, institutions
  2. City Builders [1] – those that physically build our cities – developers, builders, utilities, transportation, inspectors, municipal organizations, health authorities
  3. Citizens – the people who live in our communities
  4. Civic organizations – service organizations, not-for-profits, community organizations (chamber of commerce, sierra club, united way…)
Figure 2 - Integral City Voices

At quick glance, it is easy to see how each of these voices have a hand in shaping the place we live – both the physical structure of it, as well as the social structure.  What we don’t contemplate is how each of these roles has a legitimate role to play in our creation (and re-creation) of our communities and cities.  For example, the city managers run our institutions – the very organizations that are charged with working for the public interest.  Yet the city builders are the people and organizations that actually build the city we live in.  They take the risk, they do the work, they reap the rewards and losses.  Typically, these two facets of city creation are in conflict with each other.

Figure 3 - City Purposes

In the end, these four quadrants can be quite separate from each other.  They can be very firm in their ‘silos’, with very little interaction (ie only when necessary), let alone integration.  And this can take place within each quadrant as well.  It is easy to imagine citizens in conflict with city hall, or civic organizations in conflict with city hall.  Or an environmental group and a developer in conflict.  Conflict and opportunity is everywhere.  How does this connect to the purpose of the city and our levels of organizing that emerged when asking the question, Is the unplanned city unplanned? Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.  (See Part 3 and Part 4 for specifics on the Spiral diagram).

Figure 4 - City Voices May See Various City Purposes

The purpose of the city (Figure 3) and the levels of organizing evolve within and between each of the four integral city voices (Figure 4).  The purpose and levels of organizing do not necessarily advance equally, but the order of advancement is the same.  City voices could, in fact, be in several places at once; it is not a uniform experience.  The city managers could be looking for a high level of order while the city builders could be looking for a lesser degree of order.  Civil society could be looking for a higher degree of order than citizens.  As a whole, the city is a dance among voices and values.

The Integral City voices give us a way to look at the voices in the city – the perspectives.  Each voice, as an individual and as a collective, will see the purpose of the city differently depending upon the life conditions experienced.  How we see the purpose of the city, whether explicitly or implicitly, shapes how we organize ourselves as well. The city is a dance of voice and values, where we organize ourselves to thrive.

In my next post, I will explore how varied these voices and values can be.

[1]   I have used the word ‘builder’ here instead of developer to ensure a distinction from the qualitative aspects of the word ‘development’ in Chapter 1 – The City Impulse.


Sources –

Beck, Don Edward and Cowan, Christopher C., Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford (2006), particularly pages 52-56.

Hamilton, Marilyn, Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive, New Society Publishers Inc., Gabriola Island (2008)

Sanders, Beth, “From the High Water Mark to the Back of the Fish Flakes: The Evolutionary Purpose of Cities,” Vol 51, No. 4, p 26-31, Plan Canada.  Print publication of the Canadian Institute of Planners.

Wilber, Ken, A Brief History of Everything, Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston (1996, 2000)