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


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