Cities are meant to feel uneasy


We don’t plan our cities, we organize them.  And we organize them at every scale (self, family, neighbourhood, organization, city, nation, planet, universe).  This is how we do it: we figure out a destination, on our journey to get there we learn about how to get there, and where we actually end up emerges.  We don’t ever quite get ‘there’.  In this dynamic, it is more about moving in a direction, rather than getting somewhere where our work is ‘done’.

This relationship takes place in the context of our economic, social and physical (environmental) habitats.  It is driven by unknown possibility, and it looks like this:

Consider these two common definitions of ‘journey’:

  1. an occasion when you travel from one place to another, especially when there is a long distance between the places.  Synonyms: circuit, commute, crossing, excursion, expedition, exploration, peregrination, pilgrimage.  (MacMillan Dictionary Thesaurus)
  2. a process of changing and developing over a period of time.  Synonyms: transition, conversion, transformation, revision, change, adaptation, modification, flux. (MacMillan Dictionary Thesaurus)
‘Journey’ is both the act of travelling and an act of learning.  We sense where we are going (destination) even though we are unsure of exactly where we will end up (emergence).  We must necessarily embark on a journey to ‘get there’ that involves learning along the way.
When it comes to cities, ‘there’ is two things: cities that serve citizens well and citizens that serve cities well.  It is time for us to learn about being together in our cities in a way that serves ourselves well.  Our cities are made by us; they are not by anyone or anything else.  Cities are what we make of them.  Cities are what we make of us.
Here’s the deal.  Our cities are the engines of human innovation.  Cities are where we gather to spark each our own and others potential, generating deepened, ongoing innovation.  We are compelled, at an unprecedented rate, to gather in cities because we find work and opportunity to find what we each feel we have to offer the world.  (Yes, if you find your life is best suited to life outside of cities, your contributions are valuable.  What I say here is not at the exclusion of you, for the vast majority of folks outside of cities life in relationship with cities.)
We make cities and our cities make us in return, which means that the more explicit our relationship with cities is, the better our cities will be for us.  How we organize our cities is not up to city hall and planners.  It is up to the full range of perspectives in our cities.  We are entering a new era of planning our cities, where we organize ourselves in response to our changing life conditions.  ‘City planning’ is no longer a linear affair with a critical path laid out to a destination.  It is now about having a sense of where we are going, figuring out how to maintain that direction along the way (even course correction when warranted) and trusting that where we end up is where we ought to be.  Even if unimagined.
This means living with uncertainty.  As with any journey, there are aspects of our city journey that is uneasy.  This means finding ways to support self, others, and whole cities with uneasy journey we are on in our cities.  It seems that cities are the vehicle in which we are travelling on the human journey.  A planet powered by cities.
We must remember that what we power is determined by us.  It is time to build the nest we need.  It is time to live into an uneasy journey and use it to our full advantage.  It is time to exercise the power of we.


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This post forms part of Chapter 4 – An Uneasy Journey, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities.

Nest City is organized into three parts, each with a collection of chapters.  Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.  Click here for an overview of Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence, chapters 4-7.



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