As I reflect on yesterday’s distillation of 12 evolutionary intelligences that serve cities, I can’t help but think that there are things for us to do and ways for us to be to allow these intelligences to flourish. If these intelligences flourish, then so will citizens and cities.
So what would activation of our evolutionary intelligences look like? Endlessly practicing to:
See the whole city, the good and the bad.
Notice the systems within the city system, and the systems of cities.
Integrate of the four integral voices of self and the city: citizens (psychological well-being), city managers (biological well-being), city builders (social well-being), and civil society (cultural well-being).
Take action with the knowledge that our cities are alive, and extensions of us.
Make decisions with the knowledge that we shape our cities and our cities shape us.
Nourish our cities with our curiosity and catalytic connections.
Name our destination – the relationship we wish to have with our cities.
As I look at these points, I see that living these intelligences means knowing where we are going and not knowing where we are going at the same time. It means being certain in uncertainty. It means trusting ambiguity, and seeing clearing in ambiguity. It means embracing the gifts of differing opinions. It means being the citizens we need to be to have cities that serve us all well.
It means courageously having a destination in mind, even if only a thread. It means accepting that as individuals and as a species we are on a learning journey. It means being open to the future that is wanting to come into being and trusting that the future we want is the future we can have.
It means organizing ourselves and our habitat – our nest cities – to thrive.
As I leave this post with you today, I am at the end of Chapter 3 – The Thriving Impulse. Beginning with my June 13, 2012 post, Pause for evolutionary understanding, I explored some theoretical frameworks to shed some light on our evolutionary relationship with cities: Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory. My next post will begin the transition from city patterns – our impulses to create cities and organize them so we thrive – to how we can go about organizing ourselves in our cities for emergence.
Over the last several weeks I have been exploring Marilyn Hamilton’s 12 evolutionary intelligences for the city. They cover a great deal of territory and are so interconnected. I often find it difficult to grasp and discern the 12 intelligences and I am hungry for a simpler way to ‘hold’ them. 12 are too many for my being to juggle.
At this juncture, I distill all 12 evolutionary intelligences for cities into the following sentence:
Seeing the whole city as alive, evolving wholes that need nourishment allows us to navigate toward cities that serve citizens well, and citizens that serve cities well.
Let me unpack this sentence and reach back into each of the 12 evolutionary intelligences explored over the last few weeks to see how they fit, how they add up to this sentence.
Cities grow out of our evolving interaction with our habitat. Our ecosphere intelligence allows us to be in relationship with our habitat and adjust and grow with it as life conditions change. When we engage our living intelligence, we see that the city is alive because its survives, it connects with its environment and it regenerates. If it doesn’t do this, it does not survive or thrive, but dies.
Our emerging intelligenceallows us to city the aliveness of the city and its complexity. The city is made up of many other whole, identifiable systems: citizens, families, organizations, neighbourhoods, etc. The city survives just as these systems survive, has a relationship with its environment as these systems do, and regenerates as these systems do. The relationship between the city system and its systems are always in relationship with each other, which creates the conditions for our evolving intelligence. The back-and-forth between cities and citizens, for example, fuels the development of all wholes.
that need nourishment
Cities and citizens alike need to be nourished to thrive. Inquiry intelligence allows us to unlock the potential of cities by simply noticing and appreciating what works in cities and working to get more of it. Inquiry also gives us the opportunity to imagine what we need that is well beyond “fixing”. A “fix” keeps us where we are, but curiosity about what naturally needs to come next, and the inquiry into that, is hugely nourishing. Asking and exploring questions endlessly nourishes our cities.
Then connections we make in cities, and the quality and quantity of those connections, also nourish the city. This is meshing intelligence, our capacity to make catalytic connections within and between whole systems. These relationships are self-organizing and hierarchical at the same time. The health of both nourish the city.
allows us to navigate toward
Our navigating intelligence allows us to inhabit two behaviours – aiming for a destination and the activity of discerning if on course to that destination. This intelligence is all about feedback loops, and the creation of feedback loops that allow us to see whether our actions are helping or harming our journey to where we wish to go. This intelligence is increasingly asking us to know where we wish to go and what “getting there” would look like.
cities that serve citizens well, and citizens that serve cities well.
In a very general way, this phrase is what we are aiming for. It is a superordinate goal. As all of the intelligences weave together, and as we spend time contemplating what a city that serves its citizens well looks and feels like, or how citizens that serve the city well would show up, we will begin to identify what this relationship is really about. Ultimately, this relationship is emerging and it will continue to emerge as the relationship between citizens and cities shifts and adjusts over time.
A parting thought for today
As we organize ourselves in cities, it is clear that how we “plan” is no longer a simple linear activity. It is one way to organize ourselves, but it does not encompass the complexity of the ways we organize ourselves. My writing to come will focus on this simple model to live the intelligences and make the relationship between citizens and cities more whole:
Organizing our cities requires a clear sense of destination to which we navigate. We are on a journey to make our way to this destination, yet the truth is we do not know what the destination really is. It is both clear where we are going and unclear. We have a sense of direction, yet we recognize that where we will end up has yet to emerge. Our destination, our journey and the emergent quality of our travels are all because of the 12 evolutionary intelligences, and supported by them. It’s a big trip we are on.
My next post will explore the practices and protocols that allow evolutionary intelligence – and our cities – to thrive. In the meantime, here is a quick and tidy set of links to the 12 evolutionary intelligences:
Hamilton asks this essential question: How can we live in cities intelligently? To answer this question, I propose two more:
How do citizens create the city?
How do cities create citizens?
There is a back-and-forth relationship between these two elements. Cities and citizens co-evolve together. As one shifts and changes, so does the other. The whole city system and all the systems that make up the city are constantly adjusting, readjusting to the changing conditions surrounding them. Our physical environment is changing, our biology is changing, our psychology is changing, our culture is changing. Our very consciousness is changing. Citizens and cities are co-evolving.
Cities, as a are citizens, are not steady-state. Cities are forever responding to many changing conditions. Here is Hamilton’s logic about evolving intelligence for cities :
Seeing the city as a whole system of whole systems reveals an emergent, evolving system.
Seeing systems reveals interconnections and non-linearity.
Non-linearity helps us live with, prepare for and anticipate the unexpected.
Having muscles for the unexpected creates resilience.
Resilience means greater adaptability.
Greater adaptability means greater survivability.
Greater survivability means more joy, expansion, creativity, potential.
The very relationship between our species and the habitat we build for ourselves serves our evolution. Understanding this is allows our intelligence to evolve. Understanding our relationship with our habitat – both given to us and created by us – allows us to thrive.
My next post will distill the 12 evolutionary intelligences into bite-size pieces.
I just got back to civilization yesterday afternoon after spending four days in the backcountry hiking Skyline Trail near Jasper, Canada. We hiked 46 km in varied mountain terrain – up an old fire road, around mountains, over mountains, through mountain passes, down into valleys, through alpine meadows and a 4.5 km stretch simply along the skyline with a 360 degree view of of the Canadian Rockies.
I was far removed from the city, yet one simple, familiar premise about cities kept popping up in my mind as we hiked: humans settle where the habitat is suitable.
The hikers: We were two families of four. Eight of us ranging from grade 4 to early forties. We chose to take three or four days for the hike. Many hikers take two or three days; we met a running group who were doing the trail in one day. We gave ourselves the option to spend an extra night and have a fourth day in case we needed (which is what we did).
Our navigation aids: We travelled without GPS. We knew the trail would be obvious. We also knew there would be people on the trail with information on the trail ahead of us. We had good topographical maps so we could monitor landmarks and determine our general position.
Our challenge: We did not know exactly where the camps were located. None of the maps we could find showed precisely where the ‘settlements’ were. We knew how far to hike to get to each campsite, but we had no way to measure specifically how far we had hiked and how far we had to go. On relatively flat terrain, we know we move at about 3 km / hour, including a break. We were travelling very irregular terrain and our time estimates for distance were off. Signage with distances to campsites were only at campsites, not in between. Our challenge was when we were getting tired we needed to know how much farther we had to go.
Then we started noticing the characteristics of the campsites we had seen so for – these were the criteria that gave us clues about how to look for the next campsite for which we so desperately longed. We grew new navigational antennae…
Campsite criteria: As we came through the Notch and looked out over Curator Lake, we were ready to quit for the day. We were tired and we had no idea how far we had to go before we could stop for the day. The pass on the horizon, just right of center in Figure 2, was part of tomorrow’s trek. Just above Curator lake, in Figure 2, is a green area. We made the correct assumption that somewhere in there we would find our campsite. The vast majority of the terrain was not suitable for any kind of temporary settlement. This green area off in the distance was the only place we could see that met campsite criteria:
An easily accessible water source
Protection from the elements
Land suitable for setting up shelter (tents)
Campsite design: Here what we noticed about how each campsite was organized:
A place to set up shelter
A place to cook and store food
A place for human waste (toilet)
The trail and the campsites are described by Parks Canada as primitive. These are very basic places to settle for a bit and they are fully in relationship with the surrounding habitat. The way the sites are organized are for primarily the safety of hikers – the places we prepare and store our food are entirely separate from where we will spend the night. This is for our safety and the wildlife.
A suitable settlement takes into account its surroundings – its habitat – and the needs of the settlers. In today’s life conditions, we are not looking to establish new settlements. We are recalibrating our settlements – our cities – to suit our needs. Increasingly, we are are again taking into account our relationship with our surrounding habitat. We are making our way toward suitable settlements and finding new ways of navigating that will ensure we reach this goal. We just need to know what we are aiming for.
In the second last of my series of posts on Marilyn Hamilton’s 12 evolutionary intelligences for cities, I explore living intelligence. For Hamilton, a city is considered alive because it is has the ability to:
connect with its environment
replicate its capacities
This leads Hamilton to two critical questions:
How can we optimize the life of people in the city?
How can we optimize the life of the city in people?
The possible answers to these questions give us a sense of the kind of feedback we should be seeking as we navigate towards cities that serve us well (and citizenship that serves cities well). Drawing on evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris, Hamilton asks a series of questions that I reframe here as qualities for our cities that serve as likely ‘destinations’. We desire our cities to be able to:
Sustain healthy bio-physical, psychological, cultural and social life
Create and replenish the life conditions that support life
Know where and how to renew
Our ability – collectively and individually – to do the above is an indicator of health, illness or death. The cycle of life is alive in cities, just as it is in us.
I believe that cities are alive. Just as we can recognize in ourselves, they are “constantly learning to adapt and survive under all possible life conditions: stable, stormy/unsettled, turbulent, clear .” Cities battle to be healthy and thrive. Cities battle forces that work against them from time to time and when savvy will adjust to changing life conditions to survive and thrive. This is complex work for cities, as they are complex systems. Nothing linear is at work here. It is a web of meshes that is full of both hierarchies and self-organizing systems. Order and chaos.
My next post will explore the last of the 12 evolutionary intelligences – evolving intelligence. After that, I sense that I will need to reorganize these intelligences to present them in a simpler format. That will be my challenge for next week…
Over the course of several posts I have been exploring, one by one, the 12 evolutionary intelligences for cities proposed by Marilyn Hamilton. I have three left. Today’s post is about navigating intelligence: whole-system feedback processes.
As I have been exploring the qualities of cities and what drives their evolution, there is one very clear pattern: feedback. Feedback ensures that we are able to know and understand our world, and this is a very important factor when we consider that our world is always changing. It is crucial that we understand the changes that are taking place, understand the adjustments that are needed, make those adjustments and confirm if the adjustments have the desired effect. None of this is possible without feedback.
My view of how cities work (and evolve) looks like this:
Our work, our constant efforts to think, make and do new things, drives our economic life and is, in fact, the force that creates cities. This takes place in the context of our physical habitat. Cities start where they make sense, where there is water, shelter, food and a resource on which to build an economy. As the settlement grows, our work also becomes the physical making of the city. Our social habitat is the glue – it is where, and through which, feedback travels, telling us when times are changing and new methods of farming are needed, or that communication via computers is possible, etc.
Feedback loops are absolutely critical in the relationship between humans and our habitat. The quality of our habitat depends on it. The quality of our lives depends on it. Our ability to thrive depends on it.
We are moving into a new era where the possibilities of having the means to monitor how are cities are doing is totally possible. Cities I worked with several years ago slaved to have performance indicators to tell them how there were doing in relation to housing, water quality, education, etc. But it was hard to get that data and confirm that it was accurate and politically defensible. As data becomes more and more open, there will be more and more citizens and organizations examining the dynamics of their cities and pointing out what works and what does not. A new era of noticing city dynamics is soon upon us. A new era of feedback on how well our cities serve us is coming.
There is insight in data, and we now have an abundance of data and abundant access to data. The next question is what we hope to do with the data we have. What questions should we ask? What insight do we want and need? Where do we want to go with our cities (ie purpose)? What do we need more of to get there?
This whole business if feedback requires us to be prepared to ask questions and receive answers. And also prepared to respond as needed. It requires bravery and courage. It is a necessary skill to ensure that we are able to navigate our way to cities that serve citizens well. The hard part will be articulating the purpose of our cities – our destination – and what success looks like. Then we will be equipped to navigate our world and dynamically steer our cities into the future.
My next post will focus on living intelligence and the insight of life cycles in cities.
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):
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 .”
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 .
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 site, here 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.
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 site, here 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.
Marilyn Hamilton  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.
The culture of the city represents the lived values of its citizens. It is the perpetual barometer of ‘what’s important around here.’ 
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 .” 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:
Simple transactional relationships, where an exchange is made, but neither part to the relationship are changed.
Transformative relationships, where the exchange causes one or both parties to recognizably change form.
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.