Meshing hierarchies and self-organizing
Photo Credit: Stanford Medecine

This image is from a 2010 article on 3D imagery showing the brain’s circuitry in the highest resolution yet (follow this link to Stanford Medicine’s YouTube video.  Essentially they have taken 700 nanometer slices of a mouse’s cortex and mapped the connections.  Even with the new imagery, the result is a level of complexity seen in the brain that is hard to comprehend. Our cities, as our creations, are as complex.  There is much that we can’t see, and lots of what we can see is hard to comprehend.

Here’s what Stanford professor Stephen Smith has to say about this, according to writer Rebecca Boyle:

“A human cerebral cortex holds about 125 trillion synapses, which are connections among neurons, packed into an ultra-thin layer of tissue. That’s equivalent to the number of stars in 1,500 Milky Way galaxies…These electrical interfaces are found throughout the brain, control our thinking, feeling and movement.
“The sheer number of synapses makes it nearly impossible to see them – even the best traditional-light microscopes cannot resolve them all… A single neuron might have tens of thousands of synaptic contacts with other neurons.”

When I look at cities, I have the same imagery in mind.  Just on a different scale.  These images of brains bring to mind images of cities.  Here is a photo of cities in China, taken from the International Space Station in December 2010 (Photo Credit: NASA):

Photo Credit: NASA

Whether looking at our brains inside us, or the cities we build outside of us, it is clear that despite the fact that there is no one element or person that is in charge, clear patterns emerge.  All of our brains are so alike that we recognize ourselves as a singe species.  Our cities also take remarkably similar shapes independently.  The pattern that emerges from both of these environments is that chaos and order exist simultaneously.

Meshworking is the ability to hold both hierarchies of order and self-organizing systems.  Marilyn Hamilton began using this term to describe the work that she does in cities.  Typically a term used in brain science, she applied it to cities, where she noticed that “the city integrates enabling hierarchies and self-organizing webs of relationships by aligning different capacities, functions and locations so they can be of service to a purpose and each other [1].”

The city, just like a brain, needs hierarchy and order to build itself.  The order is scaffolding.  Once the scaffolding is in place, the city self-organizes itself in numerous, infinite ways by making connections.  It is an amazing combination: the ability to forever reinvent as well as the ability to sort and choose [2].

The value of meshworking – the ability to make catalytic connections – in cities is that it enables whole system thinking.  This is work that naturally takes place in our cities and it is a work that we can choose to enhance to nourish our cities’ emergence into what they next need to be for us.  It requires establishing new order when old hierarchies are in need of recalibration.  It requires establishing new connections at every turn to nurture our self-organizing.  All of this is about our collective learning together to create habitats that meet our needs.

Cities are full of hierarchies and self-organizing systems. The challenge in our work is to find the balance, each and every moment, that meets our life conditions.  Always at the appropriate scale.

There is so much more to say about meshworking.  You may be interested in Hamilton’s work: click here for her web sitehere for her book.  As I conclude this post, I realize that yesterday’s post about inquiry intelligence, and this post about meshworking intelligence, are two types of evolutionary intelligence that nourish the city that is wanting to come into being.

We are in a new era of communication (think social media, internet etc) that is building whole new ways and kinds of connections between cities.  This is certainly a new form of scaffolding (order) we are building for ourselves in our cities.  It is also creating the conditions for new ways for citizens to self-organize.  A new city is emerging.  I wonder what it is.

Tomorrow’s post will explore another evolutionary intelligence for cities: navigating intelligence.



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[1] Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 221-222

[2] Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 223

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If you are interested in learning more about evolutionary intelligences relating to cities, you will be interested in the Integral City eLaboratory – Co-Creating the Future of the Human Hive

Inquiry intelligence nourishes cities

This post is about inquiry intelligence – our capacity to release potential – one of 12 evolutionary intelligences identified by Marilyn Hamilton in her Integral City work (click here for her web sitehere for her book).  Her work is based on the premise that cities are intelligent human systems.  I share that belief and her quest to unlock the potential of cities.

The essence of inquiry intelligence lays in appreciative inquiry, a practice of exploring that integrates many perspectives.  It is a practice that looks for surprise.  In cities it is a practice that notices what works in our cities, the things of which we would like more.  Our potential lies in what is working and the new paths that will emerge.

We get more of what we put our attention to, so stopping to notice what we appreciate in our cities is a good practice.  It serves two purposes – we  recognize what works and we recognize what we want more of.

Inquiry intelligence takes this wisdom and looks at it with curiosity.  When I began the Nest City posts I explored the nature of work, and how we regularly look for new ways of thinking, making and doing new things.  This is inquiry intelligence at work.

Marilyn Hamilton flags how questions play a key role in unlocking the potential of cities.  Particularly questions that are appreciative in nature.  Asking a question such as, ‘What are the strengths of your city?’ will reveal what Hamilton calls the ‘cadence’ of the city, when we are able to see the variety of values evident in how we see and experience the city.

To see our potential, let alone achieve it, we need to create the conditions that allow us to see what works and what we want more of, and to inquire about what our cities naturally need next.

The power of inquiry is simply in asking and exploring questions, endlessly. It is a key intelligence that brought our cities to where they are today because it is a learning intelligence.  It allows us to know and understand things differently.   Inquiry nourishes our selves and our cities.

Tomorrow’s post will explore meshing intelligence, our capacity to hold both order and creativity simultaneously.  

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If you are interested in learning more about evolutionary intelligences relating to cities, you will be interested in the Integral City eLaboratory – Co-Creating the Future of the Human Hive

Four Integral City voices

The last four posts briefly articulate four evolutionary intelligences that reflect the four quadrants of integral theory:

  1. Conscious capacity – upper left
  2. Embodying intelligence in action – upper right
  3. Building structural intelligence – lower right
  4. Culture of relationship intelligence – lower left

Marilyn Hamilton [1] frames these intelligences explicitly as the four integral voices of the city, each of which contributes to the ‘discourse’ of the city: citizens, civic managers, civic developers and civil society.

The voices of citizens express the center of gravity of the city’s values.  In democratic countries, citizens have the power to elect and criticize the other voices in the city.  They have power as intentional consumers. They express the power of engagement and intention.  They are the voice of the city spirit.

The voices of city managers are the voice of city expertise; they are the guides  that oversee the needs of the city.  They are the people who work at city hall, school boards, health institutions on our behalf.  They are the voice of the city brain.

The voices of civil society are the cultural voice of the city. These are the social organizations and non-government organizations that attend to the social needs of the city.  They are the voices of the city’s heart.

The voices of city developers are traditionally the people who ‘conceive of, invest in and build the infrastructure of the city’.  These voices focus on the future – the vision and promise of the city.

Hamilton sums up these voices this way: “While the voice of the citizens and city managers are usually preoccupied with the affairs of the present and the voices of civil society value things of the past, the voices of city developers speak in the future tense.”

The co-mingling of these voices are the dance of the city, and the tension in the city too.  This tension is a critical dynamic in the evolution of cities and our relationship with them, in our multiple roles as citizens, civic managers, civic developers and civil society.

My next post will continue to explore evolutionary intelligence – and the power of inquiry to reach our evolutionary potential.


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[1] Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 190-194


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If you are interested in learning more about evolutionary intelligences relating to cities, you will be interested in the Integral City eLaboratory – Co-Creating the Future of the Human Hive

Culture of relationship intelligence

The culture of the city represents the lived values of its citizens.  It is the perpetual barometer of ‘what’s important around here.’ [1]

I began this series of posts on evolutionary intelligences with integral intelligence (part 1 and part 2).  In these two parts, four maps were shared that help us see our cities as wholes.  One of those maps was the integral map with four quadrants (see part 2).  Marilyn Hamilton imagines the four quadrants as four intelligences for an Integral City (her book, her website).

This is the last of four posts that look at four of the evolutionary intelligences for the city from the vantage point of each of the four quadrants.  The last post, building intelligence, explored the lower right quadrant – building intelligence.  Today, we look at the lower left and our capacity to feed the spirit of the city and each other in cities.

The culture of cities is about relationships – and the relationship of cultures.  For Hamilton, “The relationships of the city’s cultures can be heard and felt [2].”  They are ‘tangible’ on the collective level the same way our emotions within ourselves as individuals are tangible.  They are real and alive.  The strength of this intelligence from the lower left quadrant is dependent upon the quality of relationships among our cultures.  In fact, as Hamilton puts it, relationships may the be prime currency of the Integral City, a city that integrates the range of evolutionary intelligences.

Hamilton highlights three kinds of relationships[3]:

  1. Simple transactional relationships, where an exchange is made, but neither part to the relationship are changed.
  2. Transformative relationships, where the exchange causes one or both parties to recognizably change form.
  3. Transmutational relationships, the parties are fundamentally recombined into something completely new.  A new pattern emerges.
New patterns are critical to evolutionary intelligence, for it is the emergence of new patterns that signal our evolution, our response to changing life conditions.  The three relationships above are simple, complicated and complex.  The complex relationships are the ones that lead to new patterns.
Recall Spiral Dynamics, one of the four integral maps to see whole systems of a city (click here for a primer on evolutionary expansion and here for a recap of the integral maps).  Our movement up the Spiral is a result of new patterns, new ways of being in relationship with our surroundings.  Our relationship with our surroundings – at the scale of the individual and collective – is at the heart of our drive to survive.  At every turn we see new things that need to be done and we seek to improve them.  At every turn our context changes and we seek to improve it.  And as we grow our values shift and adjust in response.

At the heart of this intelligence is our need to thrive with each other.  We are in cities to create the conditions to thrive.  We choose cities to create the conditions to thrive.  Our relationships are getting more and more complex and we continue to evolve.  We have no idea where we will go exactly, but we are going on.  We will continue to thrive.

My next post will offer a recap of the four integral city voices: citizens, city managers, city developers/builders, and civil society.





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[1] Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 206

[2] Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 179

[3] Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 182

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If you are interested in learning more about evolutionary intelligences relating to cities, you will be interested in the Integral City eLaboratory – Co-Creating the Future of the Human Hive

Building structural intelligence

I began this series of posts on evolutionary intelligences with integral intelligence (part 1 and part 2).  In these two parts, four maps were shared that help us see our cities as wholes.  One of those maps was the integral map with four quadrants (see part 2).  Marilyn Hamilton imagines the four quadrants as four intelligences for an Integral City (her book, her website).

This is the third of four posts that look at four of the evolutionary intelligences for the city from the vantage point of each of the four quadrants.  The last post, embodying intelligence in action, explored the upper right quadrant – outer intelligence.  Today, we look at the lower right and our capacity to create structures that meet our needs in cities.  In particular, this intelligence is about building structures that flex and flex and flow in response to our changing needs.

The city is a built environment.  It is built by us for us.  It is built to serve our needs, whether we do this consciously or not.

When I first started the Nest City Blog back on May 1, I traced the migration of humans from a small settlement in Africa to the expanse of our planet.  As we migrated, we physically built everything from makeshift shelters and eventually cities.  We also built social structures to organize ourselves to meet our needs.  As we build cities, we build physical artifacts and social systems.

The relationship between physical and social structures is critical.  As Hamilton puts it: “… the alignment of infrastructure and human organizational structure optimizes intelligence [1].”

Building intelligence is part of the story of the evolution of St. John’s, Newfoundland that I relayed in my posts entitled Is the uplanned city unplanned? Part 1part 2, part 3, part 4).  In these posts I write about how as the purpose of a settlement evolves, the structures (physical or social) evolve alongside (see part 3).  These structures will respond to the life conditions of the time – and our value systems as they are evolving.  This is the essential relationship between us and our habitat, and one of the results is our building intelligence.  (For more on evolving value systems, please visit A primer on the emerging spiral.”

So our structures reveal our values.

Edmonton’s City Market Downtown is vital to the exchange of goods in the city, particularly between the city and its region:


This reliable, sturdy building houses accountants in Toronto:

The Art Gallery of Ontario exhibits creativity and entrepreneurship:

The physical shape we give our cities reflects our values, as do our social structure choices.  This is how our building intelligence of the lower right quadrant materializes in cities; “Structures become a visible history of human intentions, choices and relationships [2].”

What we build (physically and socially) always adjusts over time in response to our needs.  Our ability to do this rests not alone in the building intelligence of the lower right quadrant. It has everything to do with our ability to adjust our intentions (upper left) and our actions and choices (upper right) that result in what we build (lower right).  The integration of these integral city perspectives is what creates the conditions for cities and citizens to thrive – particularly when this intelligence can flex and flow with the changing conditions.  

My next post will highlight the lower left quadrant – story intelligence – and how we culturally feed each other in our cities. 

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[1] Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 160
[2] Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 167

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If you are interested in learning more about evolutionary intelligences relating to cities, you will be interested in the Integral City eLaboratory – Co-Creating the Future of the Human Hive

Embodying intelligence in action

I began this series of posts on evolutionary intelligences with integral intelligence (part 1 and part 2).  In these two parts, four maps were shared that help us see our cities as wholes.  One of those maps was the integral map with four quadrants (see part 2).  Marilyn Hamilton imagines the four quadrants as four intelligences for an Integral City (her book, her website).

This is the second of four posts that look at four of the evolutionary intelligences for the city from the vantage point of each of the four quadrants.  The last post, conscious capacity, explored the upper left quadrant – inner intelligence.  Today, we look at the upper right and our capacity to turn our intention into right action – outer intelligence.

If inner intelligence is about seeing the collective intention, or purpose, of a city.  Outer intelligence, in the upper right quadrant, is about embodying that intention.  It is about making the intention come to life; making it happen.  As intention changes over time, outer intelligence is about changing our behaviours to align with changes in a city’s purpose as we evolve.

In yesterday’s blog, Hamilton briefly describes the role of demographics in outer intelligence.  Just as a human body acts and behaves, so too does the city system.  Just as the human body has networks of feedback systems, so too does the city.  Understanding the characteristics of individuals and groups in the city will help us make decisions about how to ensure, as a collective, we are providing for our biophysical needs (air, water, food, clothing and shelter) and beyond.

In a city, one of our feedback mechanisms is the myriad of data that surround us.  Demographic information provides with feedback on our city system.  So too do other emerging sources of data.  Here’s an interesting piece of urban research in The Economist: The laws of the city – A deluge of data makes cities laboratories for those seeking to run them better.  Here are some highlights:

  1. Larger cities are likely to be richer
  2. Bid cities decentralize as they grow
  3. Transport, telecom networks and social media spawn new data
  4. Urbanites consume less and produce more
  5. Cities foster the exchange of ideas
  6. A new science of the city is emerging – like physics or biology
  7. One day city hall may be packed with screens like a Formula 1 pit
We are just beginning to learn about how the deluge of data will change how we see our cities – and how we manage them.  In what ways can we use data to see if our actions are aligned with our intentions as we choose, increasingly, to live in cities together?
Drawing on the four quadrants, I can see that the city managers (upper right) can use this emerging deluge of data to track our collective actions.  I can imagine city builders using it as they decide what to build.  I can imagine civil society (lower left) contributing its understanding into the mix.  I can imagine citizens (upper left) reflecting on data to ascertain if our intentions are appropriate and adjusting as necessary.
The feedback loops that allow the city to sense itself play a significant role in city life.  Right now, with the development of new data sets and the practice of analytics, we are just scratching the surface of a whole new way to see how the city system acts and behaves.  The city is actively evolving with us right now, creating the conditions for us to evolve and thrive.
My next post will explore the lower right quadrant – building intelligence – and the structures that allow us to flex and flow in our cities.

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If you are interested in learning more about evolutionary intelligences relating to cities, you will be interested in the Integral City eLaboratory – Co-Creating the Future of the Human Hive

Conscious capacity – a city intelligence

I began this series of posts on evolutionary intelligences with integral intelligence (part 1 and part 2).  In these two parts, four maps were shared that help us see our cities as wholes.  One of those maps was the integral map, shown like this (illustrated by Brandy Agerbeck):

This, and the next three posts, will each focus on one of these quadrants, as applied to the city.  Author Marilyn Hamilton calls this Integral City (her book, her website).  For our purposes, imagine the four quadrants like this:

Four of the evolutionary intelligences identified by Hamilton are from the vantage point of each of the four quadrants.  Today, we look at the upper left – inner intelligence.

As we explored emerging intelligence, I made the case that the city is alive.  Alive also means consciousness, a key aspect to Hamilton’s inner intelligence.  When exploring emerging intelligence, I also introduced the notion of the city as a whole system made up of smaller whole systems, such as individuals, families, neighbourhoods, organizations, etc.  Each of these whole systems are holons, each with a conscious intention.  From the vantage point on inner intelligence, Hamilton states that “individual citizen attention and citizen intention lie at the heart of the intelligent city and at the center of the city’s capacity to sustain itself [1].”

It is from our inner intelligence, that together, as a social holon, citizens of a city discern purpose.  Again, Hamilton: “For a city to function optimally, its citizens need to practise, manage and lead from a sense of purpose in their collective lives.  Such an awareness could coalesce the intention of all learning systems with the relevant application of resources in the city [2].”

As we choose to live collectively in the city, we do so with purpose – to create the conditions for us to thrive.  And the very purpose we see for our cities evolves along with us.  It emerges.  Remember the purposes of the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland, and how we conceive the purpose for the city is in relation to our life conditions.  We evolve and what we need from our cities also evolves.

City Purposes

What we need form our cities comes from the inner intelligence of our individual intentions.  In the holon of the city, this is the intelligence of collective citizenship.   This collective sense of purpose of the city is actually a big mess.  “A citizen in any given city will hold a spectrum of values to which she pays attention and for which she will form intentions and purposes [3].”  Compound this with all the citizens of a city and the values and intentions and purposes end up being potentially quite diffused.  Yet, as Hamilton points out, when enough people share their dreams the cities vision, or mission, or purpose can emerge.  It emerges from the inner intelligence of citizenship.

Our inner intelligence is growing.  Our conscious capacity is growing. As we grow and evolve with our cities we learn new capacities at every turn.  We are learning to grow our capacities to be conscious of our habitat and respond appropriately.  Our inner intelligence is growing so we can be the citizens our cities need.  

My next post will explore outer intelligence, the upper right quadrant, and our capacity to ’embody right action.’


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If you are interested in learning more about evolutionary intelligences relating to cities, you need to know about the Integral City eLaboratory – Co-Creating the Future of the Human Hive

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[1] Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 102

[2] Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 105

[3] Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 111

Emerging intelligence of the city

This post is the 5th in a series outlining Marilyn Hamilton’s 12 evolutionary intelligences.  We have seen how integral intelligence and ecosphere intelligence are crucial to the successful evolution of cities.  Both of these intelligences, for Hamilton, are critical to learning a new language about cities that helps us contemplate cities as whole systems of integral systems.

Emerging intelligence is about seeing wholeness and aliveness in the city.  It is also about looking for more than we usually see.

In this post, I will highlight the sense Hamilton makes of this form of intelligence and reveal the sense that I make about how this intelligence shapes our work in and for cities and citizens.

First, consider that cities are alive.  Hamilton draws on scientists such as Fritjof Capra (his book Web of Life), and what he tells us about the qualities of aliveness.  To be alive means that a system:

  1. survives,
  2. connects to its environment, and
  3. regenerates
Reflecting on my previous blogs, I can see that cities as systems behave this way.  So let’s contemplate each of these three elements of the city as a system.

The city survives

Each city is a whole system that survives.  Cities have survived for many generations, decades, centuries and millennia. If it survives, it is alive.  It is, as a system, also an alive ‘whole’.  Another scientist comes into Hamilton’s view: Arthur Koestler, who coined the term ‘holon‘ to describe a whole system.   Each whole is a holon.  The holons of the city are articulated in Hamilton’s nested holarchy of city systems.

The city, as a holon, is made of other several smaller wholes, or holons.  Each their own whole, identifiable system.  Seeing the city this way it is easy to discern what Hamilton calls the “massive interconnections” between the holons that make up a city.  It is a series of relationships that are both dynamic and stable.
The alive city is not made up of parts that can be easily disassembled and assembled.  The city is “a whole system of the human species that has characteristics as a whole that transcend but include communities, organizations, groups, families and individuals and the built environment that we have created to contain us [1].”  Cities are alive because they are made of wholes that are alive.

The city connects to its environment

Hamilton astutely ascertains that the second quality of aliveness is really about adaptiveness. Cities are very connected to habitat; their existence relies on our ecosphere intelligence.   As I explored in Chapter 1, everything we think, make and do is our work, our economic life, and it is always in response to the changing conditions around us.  In particular the physical conditions we are given or created by us.  We are the mechanism by which cities adjust.  As individuals adapt to internal and external life conditions, so too our neighbourhoods and cities[2].  In part and in whole, citizens and city aim to survive and we regularly adapt to ensure our survival.
This back and forth relationship between ourselves and our habitat is what creates our resilience – in ourselves and our cities.  Our adaptiveness is our “capacity to survive under conditions of stress [3].”  This back and forth is also what allows evolution to emerge.

The city regenerates

Our evolving relationship with our city habitat also results in the regeneration of our cities.  Our internal relationships with each other, the makers of cities in all our wholes, are what create city regeneration: “regeneration occurs through inner renewal, shared learning and teaching and coaching others in roles, competencies and capacities, inevitably in collective groupings [4].”  The city’s adaptiveness depends on the adaptiveness of the holons that make up the city.

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Emergence is about the creation of new capacities to respond appropriately to the changing conditions around us.  Hamilton questions whether the “emerging city” might have more traction than the “sustainable city”.  It just might, particularly when “emerging” connotes adaptiveness.  But this is new, unfamiliar language.  “Sustainable Development” was also at one time new, unfamiliar language, but perhaps it isn’t about naming the language just yet.
Our work is about naming the intention – to be keenly adaptive to our changing conditions.  Hamilton issues a more distinct intention than this: “to add value to life on Earth that is both sustainable (not over-using resources) adn emergent (always creating new capacities from existing resources) [5].”  This is our emerging intelligence.  It is what allows us to thrive.
My next post take a closer look at first of the four quadrants of integral theory applied to the city: inner intelligence and conscious capacity.  

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If you are interested in learning more about evolutionary intelligences relating to cities, you need to know about the Integral City eLaboratory – Co-Creating the Future of the Human Hive


[1]   Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 30-31

[2]   Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 28-33

[3]   Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 35

[4]   Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 37

[5]   Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 49


Evolving ecosphere intelligence

Ecosphere intelligence is both our ability to locate human settlements in appropriate locations and our ability to shift and to forever adjust with changing conditions to our habitat.  As a species, we clearly exhibit this intelligence as we continue our migration across the planet and into cities.  (Please see early Nest City posts: Are people growing cities or are cities growing people? and Driven to do more than merely survive.)

At every turn, we have chosen places to settle depending on geography, for example.  These choices have life and death results.  The choice to settle in St. John’s, Newfoundland had everything to do with ecosphere intelligence: an ice-free, protected harbour at the eastern most point of NorthAmerica with abundant fish stocks.   Much as Jane Jacobs wrote, Hamilton notes that our cities have begun in relationship with their specific physical habitat.  We choose places to settle because they make sense.  This relationship with our habitat continues, even if we have stopped noticing.  At every turn our cities are adjusting:“…the stability of our cities is forever dynamic.”[1].

Figure A - City Dynamic

Our ecosphere intelligence applies both to establishment of a settlement and to a city’s ongoing existence. The fundamental relationship is between everything we do – our work – and our habitat (Figure A – City Dynamic).  Cities are the result of our evolving interaction with our habitat.

To continue, our cities need quality feedback from our habitat to ensure that we are able to adjust.   The quality of the relationship between our economic life – our work- with our social and physical habitats dictates our ability to generate cities that meet our economic, social and physical needs.  The feedback loops within this dynamic are what give us our ecosphere intelligence.   Without the feedback, we do not have this intelligence.

Figure B - City Dynamic (with feedback activity)

Here is a big question – How do we organize for ongoing, quality feedback for our cities?  the good news is that we already know how to do this.  We have been doing this for thousands of years.  Every time, as a species, we set up a new settlement and every time that settlement has shifted to accommodate changing conditions, we exhibit this intelligence.  We adjust to the changing weather conditions over the short and the long term.  We adjust to the physical changes we ourselves make to our habitat and we keep growing.  We know how to do this.

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This post is the third instalment in a series of posts about Marilyn Hamilton’s 12 evolutionary intelligences for the Integral City.  The first two posts outlined four ways of looking at cities as whole human systems: integral intelligence part 1 and part 2. The four integral maps in these posts are critical to understand the future development of our ecosphere intelligence.  Our cities are becoming more complex, which is in itself a life condition to which we have to respond.  Our usual ways of obtaining feedback about our cities are of an era of earlier complexity.  Think about the census as opposed to the practice of analytics now, where data is everywhere. more and more open to the public.  Public decision-making is becoming more public.

I don’t know what ecosphere intelligence will look like in a few short years, but I know we will use it.  It’s what we do.  As we organize ourselves in cities, we will use this data to create feedback loops to form and  inform our decision-making in cities.  It is time to create the conditions for us to dynamically steer our cities to the future.  This is what it will take to create cities that serve us well: being in tune with our habitat and forever evolving with our habitat.  

Tomorrow’s post is about Emerging Intelligence – seeing wholeness and aliveness in the city

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If you are interested in learning more about evolutionary intelligences relating to cities, you need to know about the Integral City eLaboratory – Co-Creating the Future of the Human Hive

[1]   Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 16




Integral intelligence for the city – part 2

In my last post, Integral intelligence for the city – part 1, I outlined two maps that help us see cities as whole, integrated systems: the nested holarchy of city systems and Spiral Dynamics integral.   The two remaining maps complete the collection of maps presented by Marilyn Hamilton in Integral City (click here for the book and here for the website).

The two maps I present today are the integral map and the scalar, fractal relationship map.

1.  The integral map

The basics of this intelligence have been applied in the Nest City blog in my post entitled  City – a dance of voice and values. The map here is very simple: four quadrants that help us notice within our selves and any scale of human system the individual and collective, and the internal and external.

Figure A - Wilber's Four Quadrants (illustrated by Brandy Agerbeck)

As a map, it helps us track this territoity.  It isn’t the territory itself, but a frame for us to explore the territory we are experiencing, or not. Marilyn Hamilton applies this lens expressly to the city:

  1. Upper Left (individual, internal, subjective, intangible) – appreciates the beauty of life and the city, particularly in living systems.  This is the psychological well-being of the city.
  2. Upper Right (individual, external, objective, tangible) – appreciates the truth of life: the actions that support our material survival in the city.  From this perspective we determine the energy flow in the city for life: water, food, waste, shelter, clothing. Our attention here gives us a quality built environment. This is the biological well-being of the city.
  3. Lower Right (collective, external, interobjective, tangible) – appreciates the the truth that emerges from the material systems generated by the Upper Right.  From here the artifact of the city emerges for us to live in collectively – our combined habitat.  This is the social well-being of the city.
  4. Lower Left (collective, internal, intersubjective, intengible)-  appreciates the Goodness in life.  From this perspective we see the moral qualities of our collective choices.  We weave this voice into the stories of everyday life.  We see this view in our formal laws.  This is the cultural-well-being of the city.
For more on Hamilton’s view of this work, please explore her book, Integral City – click here for the book and here for the website.
The lens of the integral map is crucial to seeing the whole city as a system of citizens, city managers, city builders and civil society.  Any contemplation of a city without all four of these integral voices is not complete.  In our work to create cities as habitats in which we thrive, this is a crucial part of integral intelligence.

2.  The scalar, fractal relationships of human systems

I have not written about this map in an explicit fashion so far, but the spirit of this map is within Next City.  Two images I have shared here are fractal: our work and habitat, and the city dynamic.

Figure B - Work in Habitat (at any scale)
Figure C - The City Dynamic (at any scale)

(For further description of work and habitat, visit this post: The development of cities is a survival skill.  For further description of the city dynamic, visit this post: Dynamically steering cities to the future.

By fractal, I mean that regardless of the scale, the pattern is the same.  The image and concept of our work evolving in response to our habitat, social and physical, is one that holds for individuals, families, neighbourhoods, cities and so on.  We don’t come up with new ways of doing things but for in response to some kind of challenge that we face.  This pattern is in place regardless of scale of human system.

The other important consideration when using this map, is that each individual whole that makes up a larger system (think nested holarchy of city systems in my last post) is each in response to her/his/its own set of life conditions, making a soup of values and responses to changing conditions.  Understanding these dynamics are critical to understand as we upgrade our work to ensure cities are habitats for citizens to thrive.


The pattern

We build habitats for ourselves at many scales.  We build habitats for self, for family, for our neighbourhood, our organizations, our whole cities, regions, nations, continents and even our planet.  We have even begun building habitats for ourselves when we spend time in outer space.  The scale at which we do this work is expanding, yet it is only as good as the health of the wholes that make up the whole.  The well-being of selves, families, neighbourhoods, organizations, cities, etc., determine the well-being of the larger wholes.  Our work, as people keen on creating cities that serve citizens, is always at many scales, and in many directions (think quadrants) at once.

Marilyn Hamilton – An Integral City “is dynamic, adaptive, and responsive to its internal and external life conditions.  An Integral City acts much like a complex adaptive human system that concentrates habitat for humans like a beehive does for bees or an anthill does for ants.”[1] 

My next post will explore ecosphere intelligence – our ability to locate cities in appropriate locations.


[1]   Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 52