Our cities are itching for improvement


At the heart of our impulse to thrive (Chapter 3), is the essential itch in us all – to improve our quality of life.  What triggers this impulse is what makes us uneasy on the journey of life as individuals, as cities and as a planet of cities.

We are uneasy when we catch a glimpse of something that is wrong, especially when we see how that something could be better and some kind of change is needed.  We are uneasy when we see that there is room and possibility for improvement.  We are endlessly aiming to close the gap between what we have and what we would like, what we actually do and what we would like to do, what we are and what we would like to be.

The gulf between what we know we ought to do, and what we actually do is called akrasia.  This never-ending gulf is the driver of improvement and it requires that we live with unease and consciously allow our unease to be full of meaning.

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines akrasia:

The Greek word ‘akrasia’ is usually said to translate literally as ‘lack of self-control’, but it has come to be used as a general term for the phenomenon known as weakness of will, or incontinence, the disposition to act contrary to one’s own considered judgement about what it is best to do.  

The reasons for akrasia vary. Philosopher Donald Davidson notes that knowing that if A is better than B, and that if B is chosen, it can be because of lack of will, or due to consideration of a subset of consideration, not an all-things-considered judgement.  It can also be a result of conflict between reason and emotion (see this Wikipedia page on Akrasia for more).  Psychologist George Ainslie notes that akrasia can be a result of hyperbolic discounting; we make different choices depending on our proximity to a reward.

Another philospher, Amelie Rorty, see four forms of akrasia: akrasia of direction or aim, of interpretation, of irrationality, of character.  While we may ‘suffer’ from akrasia, it is actually serving us in a most essential way.  It is at the heart of  our evolutionary impulse to thrive.  It is what compels us to improve our work, which is at the heart of the impulse that fuels our evolution and the very creation and recreation of cities.

Regardless of definition or interpretation of akrasia, we experience a never-ending quest to cross (or close) the gulf between where we are and where we want to be.  Between what we see and what more there is to see.  Between what we understand and what more there is to understand.  Between who we are and who we wish to be.

Our reality is that as soon as we cross the gulf we see another.  This fuels our unease in the world.  This is why consciously embarking on a learning journey alongside our trek to a destination is so critical.  We need to be well individually and collectively to ensure we find a chosen destination.


It is not enough to simply say where we want to go and start travelling; that avoids the unease and discomfort.  It is time recognize that it is hard work travelling together and learn how to learn along the way.  In this way, we can take advantage of the akratic gap, rather than be paralyzed and fearful of uncertain future.  Because our cities are literally itching for improvement.

My next post will explore the role of the akratic gap in the city journey. 


_____ _____ ____

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.


One thought on “Our cities are itching for improvement”

  1. akrasia – this topic fascinates me. As cities evolve to fill this gap, I don’t believe they take into account that the agriculturalists must stay static in their practices on the eastern slopes. Their static preservation practices maintain both quality and quantity of water than cities demand. Yet. Those urban dwellers insist it is the “right” to bring their recreational toys out to our lands resulting in devastation to the preservation we maintain. This is a gap that must not be filled. Stop it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.