Disrupt the story of the land

A road trip is full of possibility. With the flexibility of time to take one of those turn-offs, there’s a chance to see something with fresh eyes. At the beginning of July, a friend and I drove from Portland, Oregon to Reno, Nevada in the United States. It was new territory — volcanic territory — that pulled us up to a lookout and down into a cave. 
In the northeast corner of California, just west of Highway 139, the Timber Mountain Lookout beckoned us off the highway. Wendy (waving in the photo below) toured us around her summer home, a place to keep an eye on things and send out the alert when there are ‘smokes’ — the evidence of fire. 
Wendy has all she needs in her lookout. It is a wee home with all she needs to look after herself and keep an eye on the land.

She has a kitchen, a bed, maps, cameras and lenses. 
It is a place of solitude, the quiet and peaceful kind or the solitude that comes with proximity of a surrounding storm. It is a place where there are few human and many animal visitors, but contact with fellow humans is the point. Wendy and her fellow lookout colleagues are in contact with each other and the wider emergency response system. In that location she is alone, but she is part of a larger endeavour.  
We created these lookouts to keep ourselves safe from fire. We chose to make these structures, at sensible locations, and create a means for the people working in the lookouts to identify clearly the location of smokes for their emergency services colleagues to investigate and, if necessary, fight fire that threatens homes and/or livelihoods. 
The lookouts come with a contract — the one who resides in the lookout is expected to see things we cannot see, to see on our behalf. And we who receive their messages trust what they name is worthy of investigation. 
The lookout comes with a contract — the one who resides in the lookout is expected to see things we cannot see, to see on our behalf. And we who receive their messages trust that what they name is worthy of investigation. 
I wonder, who are the people on the lookout for us all in other ways? And are we willing to receive their messages?
Who are the people on the lookout in other ways? And are we willing to receive their messages? 
I took this question to our next stop, nearby lava tube caves and a visitor centre at the Lava Beds National Monument. This second pause in our road trip shone a light on a story dominant culture does not like to hear: we settlers arrived to colonize North America and kill or displace people already here. 
A cave, for me, is dark and unfamiliar terrain,  a world that is unsettling and uncomfortable. Unfamiliar to me, yet intimately familiar to the Modoc people who have left evidence of having lived here for 14,000 years. 
When European traders and settlers arrived in the early 1800s there was displacement and a change in the way of life. Then displacement turned into state-sponsored extermination and California’s state legislature funded of a campaign to kill Native people: state sponsored genocide. 
A standoff between the colonizers and the Modoc people (who resisted ill-treatment and displacement to reserves and wished to be reunited with their homeland) involved the Modoc vanishing into the caves they knew intimately. Outnumbered 10-1, over the winter of 1872-1873 (the Modoc War), their knowledge of the land allowed them to resist and survive. 
The Modoc, who know the story of the land most intimately — where to find water, where to find food, what makes good shelter, the stories of the land and sky that sustain life and a thriving culture — were killed or forcibly removed from their homeland to a reservation in Oklahoma. The stewardship of the land changed dramatically.  
The Modoc were killed or forcibly removed from their homeland to a reservation in Oklahoma. 
The colonizers began a process to reclaim the land for homesteading. Between 1908 and 1930 Tule Lake was drained and converted to farmland. By lottery out of a pickle jar the land was given to homesteaders. A stunning map in the visitor center tells the tale. 
By lottery out of a pickle jar the land was given to homesteaders.
The vast majority of the lake was converted to farmland. What remained of the waterbody was labeled “Tule Lake Restricted Sump”. 
Our settler/colonizer language is fascinating: 
  1. retrieve or recover (something previously lost, give, or paid); obtain the return of.
  2. bring (waste land or land formerly underwater)under cultivation.
Our language reveals what we thought of the land and the people who lived on it:
  1. The land is ours to take. 
  2. Indigenous use of the land is unproductive. 
  3. Settler use of the land is more productive.
  4. Indigenous people are not productive.
  5. Settler people are productive.
  6. Indigenous people are inferior. 
  7. Settler people are superior. 
We had our idea of what the land could be used for and, deeming ourselves and our ideas to be superior, we occupied the land.  We killed and forcibly removed people to do so, and now we non-indigenous people call it our homeland. 
Deeming ourselves and our ideas to be superior, we occupied the land. We killed and forcibly removed people to do so, and now we non-indigenous people call it our homeland.  
I feel a connection to the story of the Modoc because it helps me see my family land lineage more clearly. In similar fashion, colonizers declared land open for homesteaders in central Alberta and my Norwegian great-grandparents arrived as homesteaders. In another family branch, my grandparents took advantage of others having declared land was available for purchase on a lakeshore. They bought lake property to serve as a recreational property, along with many others, surrounding an Indian Reservation. And me, I own land in my city that was claimed for settlement of non-indigenous people. There are Indigenous people who feel the land my city — and “my” land — sits on was stolen. My family lineage, then and now, benefits from the land we assumed to be ours for the taking. 
And here I have a choice about how far to go into this cave, and I have at least two stories to choose from. 
I could choose to believe that since my people were stronger and superior, then no reparations are needed. It is a story in which there is no room for weakness, especially mine. There is no room to accept that my people before me did anything wrong. (Or if I do accept they did, there is nothing I have done wrong.) This is a story about winners and losers, and when you’re a winner you enjoy the spoils and when you’re a loser you have to buck up and take it. This is a story that takes me to the entrance of the cave and causes me little discomfort as I continue to reap the benefits of living in a system works to raise my people and put others down.
A different story will take me into the cave, where I am uncomfortable and in the dark, unsure how to make my way forward. It is the settler/colonizer story where I take intergenerational responsibility for the actions of my people, decades and centuries ago, that were taken from a place of superiority and power. It is a story where I accept that I am part of the settler/colonizer culture that continues to benefit from having taken land. I am part of the settler/colonizer culture that experiences unearned privilege because of my ancestors actions. I am part of the culture that continues to propagate this old story: we settler people are better than Indigenous people. 
I am part of the culture that continues to propagate this old story: we settler people are better than Indigenous people. 
A part of this new story shows up in how we tell the story of the land we live on, whether the land of the Modoc, or the Plains Cree where I live. I grew up, and was trained as.a city planner, thinking about two things: 1) the geography and nature of the land (topography, water systems, plant life, geology, etc), and 2) the story of settlers on the land. I paid some attention to the Indigenous people who traverse these time horizons, but not an appropriate amount. Our pattern is to behave as though a group of people did not and does not exist. Further, we are conditioned to not take into consideration their existence. 
How we tell the story of the land is changing. The usual story I tell and hear, as a settler/colonizer, is the big natural story, and then the story of settling the land. We are conditioned to tell the story as though no one was here when we arrived. We tell the story as if there were no humans of worth here.
Yes, Medicine Lake is a volcano that has been active for over 500,000 years, with the last eruption 950 years ago. Yes the Oregon Trail and the Applegate Trail are significant stories of European “discovery” and settlement of western North America. Yes, the Lava Beds National Monument acknowledges, rather than hides, the story of the Modoc, but it is the stories of settler/colonizer triumph, the hardship, the hard work, the heroes, the defeated that thrive. And we avoid looking at the stuff that makes us uncomfortable. We avoid looking at the things that take us off the security of our superiority pedestal. 
We avoid looking at the things that take us off the security of our superiority pedestal. 
The new story will acknowledge this more widely. 
The new story will acknowledge this more widely.
My friend and I went into one easy to travel (and lit!) cave. There are many more deeper, darker and challenging caves to look explore. As i write, I imagine myself in a place of solitude up on Wendy’s lookout on Timber Mountain. I learn some peaceful things about myself, and I also witness the disturbance of stormy weather within myself.
There is a series of caves I have only begun to explore as a settler/colonizer of North America:  
  1. I do not understand and acknowledge my people’s role in the story of displacement and genocide and North America’s Indigenous Peoples. 
  2. I do not fully understand the implications of my people’s arrival and settlement, that it involved a desire to explicitly to “kill” and “terminate” the Indians”.
  3. I continue to live in a story of superiority over Indigenous Peoples.
  4. As descendants of settlers and colonizers, I have benefited and received the privileges that come with their actions and a story of superiority.
  5. I do not fully understand or acknowledge the explicit and subtle ways this story of superiority runs in my life.
  6. I am conditioned to remain unconscious to the ways the story of superiority runs my life. 
  7. I am threatened by the “loss”  I perceive if I lessen my hold on what I own.
The story of the land we live on is not singular. The story I grew up with, the dominant story, conditions me and us to believe in a superior people. And this story works very hard to maintain its position of dominance. The way to erode the power of that story: make room for others stories of the land, and our relationships with the land. This makes room for disruption.

 This post first appeared in the Nest City News on July 24, 2019.

The fiery gifts of the dragon

First – look the dragon in the eye

Two weeks ago, a board I serve on was brave enough to look the dragon in the eye and see the truth: it was time to let our organization die with dignity. Despite her fading spirit, we were expending excessive energy keeping her alive. Before it faded too far, we needed to find a new home for her spirit, a place to serve what she longs to be today, without the substantial, gloomy baggage that has been bringing her down and holding back her potential for years.

The people closest to her heart, the board of directors, knew the status quo was no longer possible. We named the decision to celebrate her dignities and wind down her current ‘home’ so she could have a fresh start in the fullness of possibility. As we started to talk to others, in confidence, to figure out how to do this with the greatest of care, a colleague and friend tweeted the news out to the world. We were chucked under the bus, unable to get up when battered with accusations of misconduct and hate mail. Our ability to respond well to reasonable demands for information were lack-lustre. We weren’t ready because we were just figuring out how to handle the news ourselves. Everyone was hurting.

But let’s pause here for a moment . . .

The dynamics in play are bigger than the people involved, including me and my twitter friend. It is a cultural norm to do whatever is necessary to deny endings, and in doing so we refuse to see the possibilities that come with an ending. An ending does not have to be an end. It is only a catastrophic birth – a transition from one stable state of being to another stable state of being with a messy, awful feeling in the middle.

Assume for a moment my colleages and I were accurate in discerning a diagnosis of “terminal illness” for our organization (I’m always open to a second, informed opinion). As we reached our decision that day, we realized that we had been experiencing the stages of loss and grief (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/) humans feel when facing death in loved ones. Our love for our organization and the loss and grief of its end are no different:

  1. We denied the reality of the situation. We found endless reasons and means to keep her alive. We blocked out the facts.
  2. We were angry. We looked for other people to blame for our situation.
  3. We were bargaining. We looked for excuses, recognizing that if we had only (insert action here), we would be ok now.
  4. We were crying. We were sad and low, full of regret. We wished it didn’t come to this, wished we could have done a better job. We wished the facts didn’t say what they said.
  5. We accepted that death was inevitable. This wasn’t a matter of giving up, but rather choosing to be in a good relationship with our organization – and her membership –  for her last days, enabling us to retrieve all her goodness to share with others. We no longer needed to know why, no longer needed an explanation.

This is what transition feels like, when we move from one reality to a new reality. A typical first reaction is that we don’t want change so we deny the transition is needed or we get angry. These are natural human reactions my colleagues and I recognized in ourselves, and we knew would be experienced by the members of our organization.  This is exactly what happened after the tweet and the ‘diagnosis’ spread: demands for facts, new facts, better facts, precise facts; anger and fury and frustration; and even bargaining to find a way to keep her alive.

My sadness in this whole endeavour comes not in the death of the organization, because I accept that it is the right thing to do, but in our inability to tend and care for the people affected by the diagnosis. We did not have an opportunity to figure out how to do the ‘ending’ work with care. In an effort to make me feel better, a friend said to me, “the band-aid came off quick and at least the band-aid is off now.” My colleagues and I feel like someone swooped in an punched us in the face before pulling the band-aid off. Mostly, I feel bad that there was no opportunity to care for people, even to feed them the facts they were looking for. We had just reached the realization ourselves and it wasn’t as simple as, “the cancer has spread throughout your chest cavity and is inoperable.”  It’s like the doctor’s friend took on sharing the doctor’s diagnosis because it seemed like the patient shouldn’t have to wait a day or two, even though the doctor had a role to gather the evidence in a way that would be helpful for the patient. It was the doctor’s information to share, not the friend’s.

Second – trial by dragon

I feel a dragon in my midst.

The ultimate dragon is within you, it is your ego clamping you down.
Jospeph Campbell

The dragon isn’t my friend, but rather the feeling of betrayal, swooping down on me each day, breathing hot fires of sickness and disappointment on me. Searing tears from a wound deep down in my soul come forth, rocking me, demanding a deeper-than-usual inquiry between my ego-self and my Higher Self. A Higher Self that is not from a ‘high’ place, but a deep place. I need new language to describe my Higher Self, but I’m struggling to find it. My Deeper Soul-Self?

… it’s not about what the dragon looks like; it’s about what the dragon activates inside of us that makes it so difficult to face.
Sera Beak

The metaphor, or symbol, of the dragon has shown up a few places this week, calling me to look at what is difficult for me to face inside me, not in the outside world. The friend that betrayed my confidence is a metaphorical dragon. What does the betrayal activate?

The important thing to remember about dragons is that they guard our buried treasure. When a dragon appears, it means gold is right behind it… if we have the courage to stand our ground and fully meet it.
It is Meeting time…
Sera Beak

Here’s the gold I met behind the dragon: the truth is I don’t believe I am good enough. Deep down, my ego-self believes I deserve to be taken out at the knees. Deep down, my ego-self believes I deserve to have 200 colleagues continue to kick me while I’m down.

The true betrayal is that I have betrayed myself.

We’re our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.
Tom Robbins

The betrayal has nothing to do with whether I was right or wrong when it came to ending an organization. That was right. The betrayal was my lack of confidence in trusting the decision we made, and feeling shaky about that decision in the face of powerful forces that work hard to keep change from happening, that keep improvements and evolution at bay. It was a much deeper betrayal.

It was a test of me, revealing that my ego-self does not trust my Higher Self, my inner authority, or my Deeper Self, my Soul Authority.

That is the power of the status quo – it works deep inside of me. Even when I feel I am immune to it, I am not. It is deeply at work, tricking me into feeling weak, tricking me into thinking that transition is not what I want. All along, it was lulling me into indifference, denial, anger, bargaining and tears. Then undermining even my acceptance of Me.


The powerful force in the world that does not want change works on my ego as much as it works on others’ ego.

Third – receive fiery gifts 

In unwrapping the betrayals I am experiencing, I have so far received 10 fiery gifts from the dragon’s mouth.

What I now understand about the world around me:

  1. There are unconscious energies running the show. Huge forces are at work, at every scale, to keep us where we are. They are all around us and all within us, at times healthy and at other times unhealthy.
  2. And they take whatever action necessary. The systems in which we work are attached to the status quo and will work hard against anything new that will cause upheaval. The systems, and the people in it, will go to great lengths to maintain the status quo.
  3. We spend vast amounts of human energy on denial and anger. We deny transition, often without even thinking about it. We hunker down in anger and join in mob-like defiance of realizations we don’t want to acknowledge. We are quick to fuel the status quo, often unconsciously, saying things we regret later. A friend and colleague was saddened by the sharp words he spoke in the emotion of the situation: “you should be ashamed of yourselves.”
  4. The words ‘this isn’t personal’ are code for ‘this is personal.’ When angry, we often say and think that our attacks on others are not personal, that we do not mean to hurt others. The truth is that the speaker is hurting and the words allow the speaker to deny the hurt within himself or herself. It is personal, just not where s/he thought. Transition hurts.
  5. Possibility for the new is more nourishing than the anger and denial that fuels the status quo. There’s a tipping point where serving the status quo, or some hybrid of it, takes more energy than switching gears to fuel a fresh start. But the myth of stability and the status quo will tell us this is not so, fuelling us with denial and anger and a misplaced investment of our energy. There is a point in the transition from the old to the new where there is more energy for the new possibility. The trick is in noticing when this happens.
  6. The birth of a new system is impersonally personal. Even though our reactions to change are personal – it hurts – the changes themselves are not personal. Perhaps it is the impersonal nature of the world around us that hurts us. The Universe is not conspiring to personally attack you or me, but it is sending us experiences from which to learn. Maybe it is personal; just not how we think it is.

What I now understand about me in the world:

  1. I am capable of listening to, and hearing, a great deal of anger aimed at me. While not fun, I am capable of sitting through hours of what a colleague named as a “public stoning.” I recognize hate mail as an expression of anger and denial – and hurt.
  2. My ego-self is hurting, but not all of me. The parts of me not hurt are able to listen to my ego-self and hear her story. My Higher Self and my Deeper Soul-Self are able to see the bigger picture and support and witness the agony of my ego-self.
  3. I do not need to ‘fight’ to make my ego-self feel better. I do not need to hunker down into anger and denial of my own feelings and fight back. That makes it impossible for others to begin to hear themselves.
  4. The friend is not the ‘enemy’. I am just as capable as others of making decisions that hurt other people. My twitter friend is as human as I am. The trust is gone, but not the human I know and recognize as part of a powerful game bigger than the decision to share confidential information. If I put my personal energy in conflict with the friend, I give my energy to the forces that demand the status quo and suck the life out of anything new.

From a short distance of time, I see that the essential kernel of truth is out there – that the status quo of our organization is no longer possible. While sad we were unable to share this realization in a healthy way, I trust that this is how it needed to happen. An effort is underway to renew life support, and perhaps this long absent cry for life will embolden her spirit, or, better yet, fuel the fresh start that is waiting for our energy.

My fresh start is elsewhere.

This is my next discernment.

Fourth – the catastrophe of birth

These words of Joseph Campbell – the catastrophe of birth – help me see that what feels catastrophic is a flag for transition in me.  I am letting parts of me die off, and welcoming deeper, truer parts of me.

A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed. It may also posess you completely. Whatever; eventually it will out. It will make its claim. [It] will not go away.
James Hillman

I am engaging in extreme – but humane – self-inquiry, and I have a choice to make. Will I midwife myself into being more Me?

… there comes a point in your path where you need to fiercely embrace that which you are still in the process of becoming.
Sera Beak

There is a fiery Beth emerging. In dancing with dragons, she will shed her skin over and over again, renewing and regenerating, ever finding ways to live from and embody her Soul.

Every ending is a beginning.

The Ultimate ride for me isn’t about losing any part of my Self; rather, it’s about coming into conscious alignment with every part of my Self.
Sera Beak



Rewire the reptilian


In a month’s time I will be going on a vision quest. My intention is to recalibrate my reptilian being.

I wrote last week about citizen superpowers and two parts of our brains: the part that serves as our deeper, higher Self (the middle prefrontal cortex, what Shirzad Chabine calls the Empathic Circuitry (mirror neuron system, the insular cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex) and the right brain; and the  fight-or-flight parts of our brain (brain stem and limbic system). The former generates what I call our citizen superpowers, our passion to improve, while the latter is the source of Chabine’s ten saboteurs (see citizen superpowers).

The brain stem and limbic system is also known as our reptilian brain. It is in survival mode at all times, but in  my life, I do not need to be in survival mode at all times.  I have reliable shelter. I have a good food supply. Far more than my basic needs are met. Yet this old part of my brain tells me that there is never enough, that it will never last. I puts me on the defensive and the offensive. It feeds my behaviours that sabotage me and my ability be my best Me.

The reptilian me is focused on scarcity.


When it comes to food, I have engrained habits that are based in deprivation. I eat whatever is in front of me because it feels like it is my only chance. A few years ago I tried my first diet and it worked wonders. I lost 30 pounds, was physically active and felt super fit. I felt wonderful. I even learned some good habits in the process – I now crave vegetables and fruit.

Inevitably, I started to gain weight back because I lacked the willpower to deprive myself of the foods I want. And when I have access to the food I want, or when I find myself super hungry, I eat like I will not have an opportunity to eat for a couple days. After depriving myself, the reptilian part of my brain takes over when it has a chance. Depriving myself of food I like/want is a pattern of scarcity.

The reptilian me is focused on scarcity.


I can feel a shift underway.  I long to trust my body and its signals about what I need to eat and when. I want to fully appreciate what my body is and what it looks like. I want to shift to appreciate my body from  within, rather than external measures (weight, people’s comments, the mirror).  To pursue this exploration, I am embarking on an experience that will involve true deprivation: a fast.

In June, I will be heading out on a Wilderness Quest on a mountain in the Eastern Cascade mountains with the support of Ann Linnea, Christina Baldwin and Deborah Greene-Jacobi. It is a rite of passage that started when I chose to do this, though I can not better describe what I am moving from, or moving to. That will come. What I learn on this journey could be entirely different from what I imagine. I know I will ease myself into life on the mountain for a couple days, then head out alone, fasting, for two days, then circle up with my fellow questers to “digest” our learnings and prepare to re-enter the world.

My only expectation is time to explore and discover. And I may discover nothing right away.

There is a bigger ME that sees abundance.


My intention is to rewire my reptilian brain, to awaken my whole being to what real scarcity looks and feels like. My intention is to experience what the reptilian me sees, and bend with it to more fully see and appreciate – and embody – the abundance in life.

My quest is my abundant Self. 





A soul-feeding winter rest


I am  sneaking back into the digital world today after a winter rest of digital darkness that began on December 20, 2012.  I stopped blogging and stepped away from the variety of social media in which I participate.

As I dive back into the digital aspect of my life today I notice that my ‘dark’ time was spent connecting to my habitat.

On the first day of darkness, I met the sun at the edge of a nearby riverbank for my morning practice. I bid the sun goodnight with a cross-country ski from along the river in the heart of my city. I took walks through my city, exploring Christmas lights in neighbourhoods and trails in creek valleys. The wonder of winter in my physical habitat is alive.

My dark time also brought my social habitat alive, while building a gingerbread house, gathering for Christmas parties with friends and family. Many gatherings also connected us to our physical place – we tobogganed on New Year’s Eve in the moonlight, downhill skied in the Rocky Mountains, and had a birthday party on the lake my family has enjoyed for decades.  

A winter rest, leaning into the darkness of the season, fuels my inner being. My physical place feeds me. Exercise and fresh air feeds me. Time to float and lightly contemplate the world feeds me. Social time with friends and family, steeped in culture and tradition feeds me. A winter rest with time alone and with others, both active and inactive, allows me to be well for me and for others.

My soul has found more solid ground, prepared to start a new year with renewed vigor for my work.

Happy New Year from my soul to yours.









Journey and destination


Does having a destination in mind make the journey any easier?  While there is so much to say about the uneasiness we experience in our evolutionary journey with cities, it is time to look more closely at the role of ‘destination’ in our journey.  We organize our cities; do we have some kind of destination in mind?

It seems that having some sense of direction is key as we organize for emergence, but do we have a sense of direction?  Are we on a journey with a destination or are we adrift?

We are living in a culture of extreme advocacy, of confrontation, of judgment, and of verdict.  Discussion has given way to debate.  Communication has become a contest of wills.  Public talking has become obnoxious and insincere.  Why?  Maybe it’s because deep down under the chatter we have come to a place where we know that we don’t know… anything.  But nobody’s willing to say that.
John Patrick Stanley *
Over the course of the last series of posts, pieces of Chapter 4 – An Uneasy Journey, I argue that our cities are a platform for our never-ending journey. It is not an easy journey, but it enables us to grow and learn together. I identify 10 practices that help us travel in this uneasy fashion, rather than fight it.
As I dive into sharing parts of Chapter 5 – Destination Alive or Adrift, here are some plot helpers for Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book that I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

The next series of posts will explore the role of destination as we organize ourselves and our cities for continuous improvement.

Is your city alive with a sense of direction, or adrift?

_____ _____ _____

* In the playbill for The Citadel’s production of his play, Doubt, 2008-2009 season (Edmonton, Canada).



10 practices for uneasy city journey


Embracing our cities as part of our personal and collective learning journey requires practice.  It is not easy work, yet it is essential.  Here are some practices we can engage in with self, each other, and our cities to enable ourselves and our cities to be the best they can be:

  1. Notice y(our) response to the unknown. No matter how hard and smart we work, we can not shake the unknown. The more conscious we are of our inner worlds, the better we are able to serve ourselves, others and our cities well.    
  2. Notice if it is time for change. An essential practice is noticing if the conditions are right for change. If not, be patient, if yes, seek out the ways to influence the conditions for change.
  3. Seek out freedom, growth and joy for self/city.  When we align ourselves with our work, great cities that serve us well will emerge because our work is aligned with our true selves.
  4. Organize for emergence – fractally. At every scale, from self to planet, we can choose to organize well by sorting out our destination, embracing our learning journey and allowing the city we need to emerge.
  5. Allow cities to be as good as they can be. When we put our attention on what we want to fix, to where we are, we stay there.  When we put our attention to where we want to go, we move in a new direction.
  6. Perform with purpose. Choose to work with purpose – and with feedback loops that reveal when on/off track. Notice when the wheals are spinning and when there is traction.
  7. Stop and listen – to Self and city. Break the momentum from time to time and check in with Higher Self, seeking alignment with your work.  This serves Self and the city.
  8. Use ‘not knowing’ purposefully. Seek out the unknown from a positive-feeling stance for the purposes of learning. Noticing what we do not know helps see wrong decisions, ensure we have the information we need and see what needs to be known.
  9. Create feedback loops. Our city infrastructure is slow to change, but we have the potential to be wonderfully adaptable with that infrastructure. The customized feedback loops emerging with social media are reshaping our view of cities.
  10. Flexibility rules. Rules have a critical role to play in our world.  They are at their healthiest when they align with the purpose they are meant to serve.  And those purposes are always changing in response to our changing world.

 What practices do you use as you participate in the uneasy journey of our cities?  What would you add?  


_____ ______ ______

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.



Cities – platform for never-ending journey


Our work to improve our cities is a very personal journey, both as individuals and as collectives. This is not a journey that is meant to end and it is full of uncertainty. Over the last two months I have been sharing pieces of Chapter 4 – An Uneasy Journey, the first chapter of the second part of the book I am working on: Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Here are the highlights of the ground I have covered:

  1. Planning as we have is a dinosaur move.  It is essential to notice that our context is always changing. Not noticing is hazardous to our health.
  2. Our cities are perpetually unfinished because we are always learning.
  3. Cities are meant to make us feel uneasy. The human species is on a journey – as an act of travel and as an act of learning. At this point in our journey, cities are our the habitat we have made for ourselves.
  4. Our cities are itching for improvement. We are on a quest for improvement, which means we must scratch the itch. We must explicitly explore what is bothering us.
  5. Tension is an evolutionary driver of cities. The tension we feel between what we have and what we could have – improvement – is hard to live with yet essential to our evolution.
  6. As we welcome and seek deeper knowing, we invite uneasiness. Scratching the itch is what generates new ways of to think, make and do things, the source of the city impulse itself.
  7. Our social habitat is key our journey in cities.  It is time to choose to bring out the best in us, supporting each of us individually and collectively in the discomfort we find when we scratch the itch.
Cities are the habitat we have created for ourselves on a journey that will take us to unknown places and potentials.  Our cities are our platform for future growth.  The better we tend ourselves, the better we tend them.  The better we tend them, the better we tend ourselves.

My next post will recap 10 practices that have been articulated here, that support our uneasy journey in cities.  


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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.



Flexibility rules


I heard this a few times last week: citizens do not want every neighbourhood to be the same; developers do not want every neighbourhood to be the same; city hall employees do not want every neighbourhood to be thesame.  Seems everyone thinks that is what we have, and the finger pointing for the reasons why is dramatic.

Recall the four Integral City voices, each with their distinct perspectives and roles as we organize our cities: civic managers, civic builders and developers, citizens and civil society.  The civic managers run our public institutions: city hall, schools, health services, etc.  The civic builders and developers physically build our cities.  Both of these voices make explicit what we need as citizens: they put our intelligence in action by creating organizations that deliver programs, services and physical structures, all of which is to serve citizens.  Civil society is the cultural voice of the city.

Each voice plays a valid role in how we organize ourselves.  All four are needed.  While each voice has myriad perspectives within it, I hear a smattering of citizens, developers and city hall employees all say the same thing: rules have a place, but the wrong rules stifle our ability to create the neighbourhoods we want.

Remember Spiral Dynamics?  Our value systems, emanating from each of us, our organizations, our neighbourhoods, our cities, nations and planet, are forever in flux in response to our changing life conditions.  It seems there is alignment of values among some portions of the Integral City voices in a call for a recalibration of the ‘rules’ that shape our neighbourhoods, a recalibration of the BLUE vMeme.

Let me be clear – not everyone sees or desires this alignment, but that does not make it less relevant.  There are citizens looking for ways to make existing neighbourhoods more interesting and they find that City Hall’s rules get in the way.  Developers and builders are looking or ways to build new neighbourhoods, or build new homes in existing neighbourhoods, that respond to the desires of citizens.  There are folks working in civil society that wish to better serve the city, and they struggle with this.  There are even City Hall employees that are looking for flexibility.  Do all these folks share the same intention?  We don’t know if they do.

This is the essential work for us in cities if we wish to create cities that serve us well: to clearly see what is we wish to achieve, our destination.  When we know what we wish to achieve, then we will know what rules are necessary.

Rules articulate standards and practices necessary to achieve an outcome.  Rules only make sense with a purpose in mind.  The growing demand for a change in rules indicates a need to declare a new destination.  The contrast appears to be a change from rules for certainty to rules for support.

What we want from rules says a lot about us.  This is the clash I see in my city: the need for rules to prescribe our future vs. the need for rules to support our emerging, unknown future.

At last week’s workshop with The Natural Step Canada, Awesome Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable City, the Integral City voices together articulated neighbourhoods for which there is no recipe.  There are no rules that will give us, with certainty, what we are aiming for.

Rules are needed, however.  They play a critical role in guiding what we create, flexing with the changing conditions.

Flexibility rules.

Are the rules in your world aligned with that they aim to do?


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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.



Cities – more like Titanic or iPhone?


At the Awesome Neighbourhoods for a  Sustainable City workshop I co-hosted last week with The Natural Step Canada, a question surfaced that is still simmering for me: Are cities more like the Titanic the iPhone?

Windmills to power the city – without noise

We started the day building models of awesome neighbourhoods that contribute to the city’s sustainability.  Citizens, developers, civil society and city managers (the four integral voices of the city) worked together to find what makes a neighbourhood look, feel, sound and smell awesome.  The models told the stories of what people are hungry for in our cities.  Andrea and Daniel, two participants from Workshop 1, summarized the stories.  It seems we are looking for neighbourhoods that:

  • Appeal aesthetically – beautiful buildings, visual diversity, artistic expression and public art, and interaction between buildings, transportation and open space
  • Generate sustainability – community based energy generation, increased density, and a shift in modes of transportation away from the automobile
  • Invite – a mix of public and private spaces, places for community activities and gathering, a great place
  • Meet basic needs – safe and secure, housing for all stages of life, places of worship, health services, schools, mixed land uses and affordability

Model under construction

After having built a neighbourhood and taken guided tours of each other’s neighbourhoods, we settled in to look at our collective work.  We noticed that cities are like the Titanic: hard to turn.  We explored this metaphor and found it both negative and positive.  The Titanic sunk and killed many.  We noted that the Titanic was ahead of her time; she represented great progress in that she was something we had never done before.   Unlike the Titanic that was unable to turn in time, we see that our cities are turning.  They are changing and evolving to be what we need.

Cities are changing and evolving because they are created by us and we are changing and evolving.  All of us, as citizens, as the folks that run our public institutions, the people that physically go out to build our city, and our civil society that organizes to live and speak our values and culture, play a role in how much we consciously respond to our surroundings.

We choose to stay in the fun dance hall at the heart of the Titanic, perhaps oblivious to our fate.  We choose to dare look out the window or go out on deck for fresh air and a view, looking out for the obstacles that could sink our ship.  We each choose, in our Titanic cities, to assume everything is okay or to look for feedback that may require our adaptation.  We choose the information we would like to have on our city/ship instrument panel.

Here’s where the iphone fits in: it is a platform for adaptation and customization.  It is a source of open, public feedback for our cities.  At the workshop, Carmen dreamed of knowing where all the saskatoon berry bushes are in Edmonton.  I imagine an iphone app where citizens upload geographic locations, enabling Carmen to harvest her favourite food across the city.  In Edmonton we tweet about where the food trucks mysteriously locate each day.  We have at our disposal unimaginable opportunities to share our cities with each other.  We have, as well, opportunities to share our understanding of whether our cities are serving us well or not.  This is the feedback we need to ensure our cities serve us well.

Tour of an awesome public gathering place

No one person or authority builds our cities.  We depend on ourselves and others to make sure we organize ourselves to build the ship and that she is sturdy enough for the voyage and flexible enough to meet our needs.  We depend on ourselves and others to  have appropriate standards and oversight to ensure what we create meets our needs.  We depend on ourselves and others to ensure that our cities reflect our evolving values and actively support the well-being of all inhabitants of the city and eco-region.

Our learning journey together revealed to me that cities are slow-turning Titanics that increasingly have inhabitants that create feedback loops.  The feedback within our ships/cities, between cities and among our planet of cities is improving.  These inhabitants are, from within the ship, creating new ways to turn and power cities so we no longer have the burden of the Titanic as a slow-moving ship heading to disaster.  Instead, we have ship that serves us well with a future of iPhonic feedback.

What makes your neighbourhood an awesome part of your sustainable city?  What would make it even more awesome?  


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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.


Use ‘not knowing’ purposefully


Eventually we realize that not knowing what to do is just as real and just as useful as knowing what to do. Not knowing stops us from taking false directions.  
If you think you know where you are, you stop looking. 
David Whyte, The Three Marriages (p. 131)

We do not seek out uncertainty, or not knowing – let alone purposefully explore it – because it seems to naturally lead to negative thoughts and feelings.  If we choose to generate positive-feeling thoughts and beliefs about not knowing, what role would we give to uncertainty in our lives?  What would we reveal?

Pondering these questions requires that we stop and listen, to our selves and our city.  Noticing what we do not know is a start.  Whyte notes that this is purposeful; it prevents us from taking false directions.  Noticing what we do not know can be a reality check, keeping us aware of what we do not know when we make decisions, ensuring that we do have the information we need.  Noticing what we do not know may lead to knowing more and making better decisions.

Noticing what we do not know may also compel the realization that we can not know more.  In some instances, it is critical to know as much as possible before proceeding.  In other instances it is not possible to know.  I need to be certain that the brakes work on my vehicle, but I do not need to be certain of the route I will take to get my daughter to the mall for new jeans.  I just need to know where I am going and have a few options.

In the longer term, it is less and less possible to know exactly what will happen.  We live in a complex world where innumerable variables affect the future we create for ourselves.  There are many instances where we may never know what we need to know to make decisions today.  This is particularly acute as we organize our cities.  We do not know what economic drivers will ensure our cities’ success.  We do not know what the demographic trends of our cities will be in 40 years. We do not know where our energy infrastructure will look like in 40 years. We do not know if plague will reduce the human population dramatically.  We do not know if we will be travelling in space in 40 years.  There are innumerable questions as we look at our future that we can answer, but those answers are only placeholders in place of not knowing.

Our curiosity is a pathway into the learning journey we share in our cities.  Our curiosity in what we do not know, whether it can be known or not, allows us to deepen our understanding in both our selves, others and our city habitats.  To make wise decisions, and to live with not knowing when we can not know, we must be able to be well with self and others.

While not knowing makes us uneasy, we can use not knowing purposefully to:

  1. Notice what we do not know
  2. Notice if we need to know more
  3. Notice if we can know more
  4. Notice if we can not know more
  5. Notice the meaning in what we can not know
  6. Notice the learning in what we do not know

 What do you notice?


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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.