Follow what resonates and sparks

NestCity-BlogPostI didn’t know it, but this time nine years ago, I was almost ready to leave my dream job. While full of adrenaline and ambition, it was no longer nourishing me, but I wasn’t ready to let go. Little did I know I was putting the psychological pieces in place to set out on my own. Continue reading Follow what resonates and sparks

Citizens are city makers


I am learning about what I am writing while I am writing. While I sit here, I shape what I write and in return my writing is shaping me and what I write next. Its the same endless loop, on a grander scale, at work in our cities too.

Last week, as I wrapped up my exploration of Chapter 8 – The City Making Exchange last week, I sent off my latest newsletter, The Nest City News, declaring that you are a city maker. The 4 principles and 6 practices for city making that emerged on the Nest City Blog last week found a new home and audience. And the words “you are a city maker” stood out loud and clear, for readers and for me too.  How I think of this chapter has simplified to these words: you are a city maker.

As I head into my exploration of Chapter 9 – Enduring Civic Practice, I realize that my working title for this chapter needs to adjust too. If you are a city maker, then any discussion of civic practice is truly about this: be the best citizen you can be.

Everyone of us have a hand in the creation and recreation of our cities. The posts that follow offer some ideas and practices to help you be the best citizen you can be – for your self and your city. To start, off the top of your head,

What do you do to be the best citizen you can be? 


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This post is part of Chapter 9 – Be the Best Citizen You Can Be. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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Civic practice starts with questions


nestworks all in small.057
The Nestworks

How we show up, acknowledging that life is a journey at every scale, is a critical part of city making. Part of that journey is trusting that much of what comes us in life is not what we could have known. In the poem that has helped me shake out the structure of Nest City, John O’Donohue’s ‘Time for Necessary Decision’, these words stand out:

Feel the deeper knowing in us sure

Of all that is about to be born beyond

Access to deeper knowing is through having a willingness to learn and grow, a critical capacity to build and create the city habitats we need for our emergent journey. More specifically,this capacity is about a willingness for intentional learning, but this doesn’t mean choosing what I want to learn, but being intentionally open to what I need to learn. We do know know what is in the depths of each and all of us. We just know there is learning to be done, endlessly.

The 4 principles and 6 practices that end Chapter 8 – The City Making Exchange for now, form a solid foundation on which to begin exploring Chapter 9 – Enduring Civic Practice, the relationship between our individual and journeys and emergence. Questions play a big role in this exploration of civic practice. Here are a few I am holding as I write today:

  1. What does it take to be brave enough to invite ‘deeper knowing’?
  2. What does it mean to feel ‘the deeper knowing’?
  3. How much ‘deeper knowing’ can I accommodate in my being?
  4. If tension is an evolutionary driver of cities, what is my relationship with tension?
  5. As we emerge to new destinations, how do I explore my relationship with the thresholds I face?
  6. What are my personal practices to look after self, others and our places?
  7. How can I trust what I do not know?

Here’s the question at the heart of this next series of posts:

What do you do to find deeper knowing in your life and work?

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This post is part of Chapter 9 – Enduring Civic Practice. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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10 principles/practices for city-making


My mom told me last week about two loons on the lake after the ice started to melt. When the wind picked up, the ice blew toward the shore, leaving less and less water around them. She learned that they need open water for their runway, to allow take off. The slushy ice that crept toward them made take-off impossibly exhausting. They couldn’t do it.

The city-making exchange is a similar exchange: we are all species interacting with our habitat. In our case, there is one key difference – we are making the habitat that we are using for our evolutionary runway. And we need to build the right runway, one that gives us energy, not depletes. That gives us lift.

We make the cities that serve as our runways.

Over the course of the last several weeks I have been exploring The City Making Exchange, Chapter 8 of the book I am working on: Nest City. (For a recap of where I’ve been on the blog, visit The plot for part 3.)  – the relationship between where we want to go (destination) and our personal, individual and collective, journeys.

Here are the highlights The City-Making Exchange, the relationship between where we want to go (destination) and our personal, individual and collective journeys, in the form of principles and practices for life and work in the city.

4 principles

  1. The purpose of cities is to allow us to reach our fullest potential. City making is driven by our impulse to create the conditions for each and all of us to survive and thrive – as individuals, families, neighbourhoods, organizations, nations, our species and our planet.
  2. Everyone, everywhere is creating city life. There is an endless city-citizen transaction.
  3. When we follow passion, the city changes itself to serve us better. Follow your passion to change your city. As we trust in and pursue our passions our cities regenerate. Further, the city gives us opportunities to pursue our passion; the city helps us find ourselves and in doing so we regenerate ourselves and our city habitat.  
  4. We tell the stories that shape our cities. We shape the stories we tell ourselves and each other about our cities – at every scale of time and geography. Our landscape shapes us and we shape our landscape. Are we telling the stories we want and need to tell?

6 practices

  1. Pursue your passion. It takes practice to follow your passion, so find people who share your passion and spend time with them. In ways you can’t imagine, they will support you. They are  your collaborators to help you – and the city – make more work you love. Serving the city well means to boldly grow the self.
  2. Focus on what matters. We can easily be distracted from what we truly care about. Two examples: when caught in fight drama, the thrill of a fight overrides what’s really important, or the “I haven’t been asked” trap that coaxes you into thinking you need another’s permission to follow the yearning in your soul.
  3. Jump in. Your contributions matter, to both your personal development and that of your city. Its worth risking an exchange with your city, because all kinds of work matter. Just as our work builds on those who have come before us, the cities to come  need our work to build upon as well.
  4. Invite conflict, while nourishing self, others and places. The city-making exchange is full of conflict, full of value clashes, but conflict is what is needed for our growth and this is a necessary dance that is largely meaningful, even if it doesn’t feel good. Things get ugly and confusing, so make sure you nourish self, others and the places we inhabit. (Hot tip – feeling good is not a steady state. It comes and goes.)
  5. Adjust structures along the way. Every aspect of city life needs structures that meet our needs. The trick is knowing structural purpose, when creating, adjusting or jettisoning structures. Our journey requires structure that meets our needs in each context in which we find ourselves, and our changing social, physical and economic habitats.
  6. Know who your city wants to be and where it wants to go. The city-making exchange means noticing the direction we wish to go in and our relationship with that direction, how we’ll get there, and who we’ll be along the way. Here’s a wee example of what happened in my city – the Awesome Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Edmonton workshops.

Just as loons need the right kind of runway (they did eventually make it), we need runways that don’t tire us too.

Where are you pursuing your passion in your city?

Under what conditions do you get lift-off?


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This post is part of Chapter 8 – The City Making Exchange. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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The plot for Part 3


nestworks 4 cogs

In Part 3 – Nestworks, the three circles of destination, journey and emergence introduced in Part 2 are integrated, resulting in three cog-like features of city nestworks: city making, civic practice, and the city emerging. At the heart of the city’s nestworks is a sweet spot at the center – the city impulse that is explored in Part 1 – City Patterns:

City Emergence Dynamic by hand

Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence describes the city organizing dynamic:

Destination venn

Part 3 – Nestworks looks at the how the circles interact with each other:

nestworks closeup


Chapter 8 – The City Making Exchange is about getting where we want to go. How can we know if we are making the cities we want and need? By choosing to build cities purposefully, a necessary transaction emerges: we need to know if we are getting what we are seeking. This chapter explores the feedback loops and mechanisms to notice if we get what we want.

Chapter 9 – Enduring Civic Practice explores how citizenship affects our ability to create cities that serve citizens well. How we ‘show up’ has an impact on the well being of ourselves and our city. Our practices create the conditions for us to each offer the diversity of work needed for the city to be able to met the needs of its inhabitants. There is a deeper knowing in us in our work and life – what will it take to find it?

Chapter 10 – The Emerging City asks how our collective practice creates cities that serve citizens. Humanity has a great desire to live life beyond mere survival.We desire, deeply, to thrive and this is why we build cities. As past civilizations have fallen, so too will ours without making the necessary connection between our economic life and our social and physical habitats. We can choose to create the conditions to thrive in ways we have yet to contemplate by searching for processes that allow us to aim for a destination – even if we do now know exactly what it is.

Chapter 11 – Nest City wraps up this endeavour – for now. The sweet spot in the nestworks is scalar – it is found in individuals, families, neighbourhoods, cities, regions, continents, etc. It is elusive, but it is the place that knits our journey with a destination and the surprise of things that emerge. It is where we notice the kind of city we wish to create and the practices that are needed to move in that direction. It is about noticing what we need to thrive and organizing ourselves to create cities that will support us on our evolutionary journey.


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Nest City is organized into three parts, each with a collection of chapters. Here are some plot helpers:

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Focus, learn, emerge


Organizing for emergence means actively engaging in our individual and collective learning journeys, stopping to notice where we wish to go, and trusting that thresholds we face (and cross) along the way allow us to emerge in that direction. We reach not quite the destination in mind, but something that still suits us, something that somehow makes more sense.

I am concluding Part Two and moving on to Part Three at just the right time. Today is the Spring Equinox: the light of day is waxing and I am leaving behind the darkness I felt, and struggled with, three months ago. Yet that darkness was productive, for I explored the essence of Chapters 4-6, each with a focus on a facet of how we organize for emergence (journey, destination and emergence) and Chapter 7, their relationship with the city’s habitats – our nest.

Destination venn

Chapter 4 – An Uneasy Journey explores the notion that cities are meant to feel uneasy. In fact, they are itching for improvement. The tension we feel in our cities is an evolutionary driver. In itchy patterns, I reach these two conclusions:

  1. If we welcome and seek deeper knowing, we invite uneasiness.
  2. As we work to organize ourselves, in cities or at any scale, we must develop practices to explore uneasiness.

Our social habitat is key to the journey we face in cities, for it is where we see, acknowledge and respond to the our habitat: the development of cities – new work – is a survival skill. Explicitly acknowledging our learning journeys, as individuals and as cities, is a survival skill that allows us and our city habitats to evolve.  I conclude Chapter 4 with 10 practices for the uneasy city journey and the notion that cities are a platform for our never-ending learning journey.

In Chapter 5 – Destination Alive or Adrift, I discerned destination as some kind of improvement. At every turn, that is our work in cities, to improve something. And what we choose to improve always changes, so the very purpose of evolution is evolving. For cities particularly, this means that their purpose is both for our survival and improvement. Our work moves us in a direction, even if we can’t quite see it in the moment. As I explored nested, or scaled purposes, I found that the more immediate the purpose, the more specific the destination. The more ‘expansive’ the purpose, the destination becomes a direction: improvement.

A city’s destination is our evolving purposes, where each citizen is a building block for the larger, whole, city. As we pursue our improvements and purposes – our passions – our city enables us to do so. It does, however, require us each to ask: what is my intrinsic purpose, and how is that instrumental to the intrinsic value of the city? In other words – if we are the building blocks for our city, what sort of building blocks do we choose to be? What are we choosing to build together? What is our destination?

We know what we are building and we don’t know what we are building at the same time. I wrote this in destination is both alive and adrift:

Destination is simultaneously alive and adrift. It is most alive when we work from our passion, our inner drive to improve. When we catch glimpses of bigger destinations,for both self and the city, our direction, through short-term destinations, is discerned for fleeting moments. Between these fleeting moments, we fell adrift, which is to feel alive. 

Chapter 6 – Emerging Thresholds begins with the acknowledgement that we stand, at each moment, at the threshold of a new age, with a choice. Emergence is defined as order out of chaos, the new and novel understandings we reach as more complex systems form. At each transition there is a threshold, across which we see with fresh eyes. As I wrote, I found many helpful tips as we emerge to new destinations:

  1. We learn consciously and unconsciously, spurred on by persistent practical problems.
  2. We chaotically reorganize ourselves by exploring our in-tuition.
  3. We take a step back from the edge, as needed, in order to choose the right leap for the context.
  4. We are learning how to let a scary idea warm us up first, then explore the inner struggle, recognizing that each struggle is powering us up for something bigger and more challenging.
  5. The more we consciously explore the thresholds before us, and their nature within us, we will make wiser choices, to either go forward or turn away, as appropriate.
  6. It is in each of us to reach the places we wish to go.

Our exploration of thresholds allows us to emerge to new destinations, to see and reach new possibilities. Chapter 7 – (Un)known Possibility wraps up Part Two, noticing that we shape our physical habitat (neighbourhoods are up to us) and our social habitat (neighbourhood soccer fields), both of which, with practice, allow us to serve possibility in our lives.

The possibilities, known and unknown, emerge when:

  1. We look at our cities from a different perspective (stand on the city’s river).
  2. We follow what we are courageously smitten with step into the unknown.
  3. We grow antennae to look for and explore thresholds.
  4. We actively seek ways to find possibilities unknown to us.
  5. We chaotically reorganize to reach toward what we long for.

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As I was struggling with darkness at the Winter Equinox, I latched onto the words Focus, learn and choose. Since that time, as I continued to explore destination, journey and emergence in Chapters 4-6, I see that it is really the same thing. Here’s how I see Part Two – Organizing for Emergence now:

Focus learn and emerge nest 2.044

As I head into the Part Three, I realize that I don’t know what will be written. The writing to be done  is murky and unclear, but with focus, searching for ways to learn and exploration of emerging thresholds, it will come. A Nest City of (un)known possibility.

I continue to focus, learn and emerge.

My work continues to focus, learn and emerge.


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This post summarizes Part Two – Organizing for Emergence. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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Nest City’s third part


As I begin blogging parts of Nest City’s third part, I realize that I am at a point in writing where I feel the least comfortable with the terrain I am about to cover.

The ‘front end’ of my work, Part One – City Patterns was the most clear. It builds a broad foundation for my argument, that cities build evolutionary capacity. I introduce foundational impulse patterns that explain why cities exist, how they are created and the underlying values that evolve within and with us as our cities grow and develop. The content I was going to explore was clear and it was a matter of making it clear – a most useful blogging exercise.

As I embarked on Part Two – Organizing for Emergence, which explores the organizing patterns of humans as we create and live in cities, I had a frame that needed to be fleshed out. We organize to reach a destination, we experience uncertainty along the way, and the future that comes to pass is something unexpected at every turn. This is how the nest works: destination, journey and emergence. Compared to Part One, I content ‘ready’ to write and explore in blog posts; it was messy and disorganized. I didn’t know exactly how it would turn out.

Part Three – Nest City embodies the ’emergence’ piece of the dynamic explored in Part Two. I have a destination in mind (the frame for Part Three), I am on a journey publicly learning here with you while I write, and I have no idea exactly how this will turn out.

The direction I am moving in, however, is integration of destination, journey and emergence. I see a “nestwork”, a cog-like relationship of these three organizing patterns, and a sweet spot, that will shed light on how to co-create cities that serve us well. That is what I will be sharing as I explore, publicly, Part Three – Nest City.

My next post will recap the chapters of Part Two – Organizing for Emergence.

The following post will lay out the shape of Part Three’s four chapters.  


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This post marks the beginning of Part Three – Nest City. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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Chaotically reorganize with longing


Desire and longing are creatively destructive forces. I wrap up exploring Chapter 7: (Un)known Possibilities, with David Whyte:

… without the creatively destructive dynamics of desire and longing, our protected sense of self cannot be destabilized or subverted from our old way of being; we cannot be chaotically reorganized to accommodate ourselves to anything fresh.  A certain state of blinding ecstasy seems necessary for navigating the first crucial thresholds…

In other words, for each step into possibilities both known and unknown, I need to be willing to take risks. We are designed to be smitten with an idea as much as we are designed to be smitten with a person; we become ‘blinded’ in order to take the risk, so its not so risky after all. Whether in a relationship, trying out a new job, or a renewed commitment to self, work, family, city, etc, a leap of faith is what gets us across a threshold.

When courageously smitten, a sense of direction and purpose emerges as we make our way through the personal journey of life. Thresholds emerge to challenge us and our  longing pulls us through to new possibilities.  We emerge to new destinations. This happens when we allow ourselves to chaotically reorganize for what we desire.

The dynamic of focus, and emerge  creates the conditions for emerging possibility. Anywhere, in our neighbourhoods and on the soccer field, we create possibilities, especially if we prepare for possibility and create the conditions to see possibility. We can chaotically reorganize to see familiar and new possibilities that align with our longing, and being smitten with what we are aiming for helps us through each threshold.

Douglas Hofstadter:

It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a façade of order – and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.

The key is finding ways to reveal the unknown possibilities, the lurking chaos. Our work, then, is to chaotically reorganize ourselves to be smitten with longing.

In what ways do you/we chaotically reorganize to reach what you long for?


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Sources / Further Reading

David Whyte, The Three Marriages, p. 48

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This post is part of Chapter 7 – (Un)known Possibilities, here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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Emerging possibility


Our work in cities is about emerging possibilities. We are not planning our cities with linear processes, but rather we are organizing them. It is a messy process, murky and full of uncertainty. Where are we headed? How do we organize to find our way?

I am sharing bits of the book I am working on, Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, here on my blog. For the last few months, I have been immersed in Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence, (Chapters 4-7), where I have been exploring the dynamics of how we organize ourselves.

Here is what I have found.

Cities are meant to be messy, requiring us to change and adjust as individuals and as a collective. Cities create uncertainty for us; they are a journey that is not meant to end, because they generate the conditions for our ongoing learning journey. You may find these 10 practices for the uneasy city journey helpful.

We need to have a sense of where we are going in order to get “there”.  It doesn’t mean we know exactly where we are going, but that we have a sense of direction. Purpose place a significant role in our development, both as a higher order purpose, or sense of direction, and as a specific purpose, a specific destination. Destination is both alive and adrift in us, for we know where we are going and we don’t know where we are going.  In city life, the intrinsic value of each citizen is instrumental to the city. The purpose of the city is to allow us each to reach our full potentials as citizens, but that only happens when each citizen is pursuing the improvements we long to see.

At every turn, on our way to a destination, thresholds emerge, challenging our understanding of the world and our interaction with it. Each threshold is a piece of the learning journey. Our exploration of thresholds allows us to emerge to new destinations.

The never-ending journey to create cities that serve their inhabitants well is evident. We focus on what we want to achieve and we learn about how to get there and we learn along the way. We learn how things work ‘out’ in the world as well as ‘within’ us, and at every turn thresholds emerge to challenge our assumptions, our path, our very focus. In this dance, we revisit everything: our focus, what we are learning and what is emerging within and around us.

This is the dance – FOCUS, LEARN and EMERGE.

And this dance is dancing with the habitat that is both given to us, created by us, and forever in relationship with us. As we engage as individuals and collectives with in this dance, our nests change with us to meet our needs. The result of this dance is wonderful possibilities, both known and unknown. How well we dance, with self, other and our city nests, has an impact on the quality of the possibilities we create.

This next round of posts will conclude Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence with pieces of Chapter 7 – Unknown Possibilities. These coming posts will knit together destination, journey and emergence to illuminate how we can unleash the possibilities that surround us – for ourselves and our cities.

What possibilities do you see for your self, others and your city?

Focus learn and emerge nest 2.044


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As I begin sharing parts Chapter 7 – (Un)known Possibilities, here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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Emerging to new destinations


I started this series of posts with emerging thresholds, a post that articulated my transition in writing about “destination” (Chapter 5) to writing about “emergence” (Chapter 6).  I recognize that I am now making a transition out of “emergence” and into “possibility”. Before I do so, I need to revisit the three elements that are crucial organizing ourselves in cities: journey, destination and emergence.

Destination venn

A key habitat we build for ourselves on our evolutionary journey is cities, and they are meant to feel uneasy. Cities are a platform for our never-ending journey, in which we see need for great improvement. The improvement we see is a destination that is both alive and adrift. Our destinations/purposes are both planned and not planned, for they are continuously shaped and reshaped by our life conditions. What emerges along our journey depends upon our destination and journey AND changes our destination and journey. These three elements are in a continual dance with each other.

We never build the city we think we will – or the lives we think we will – because what we conceive of what we want moves as learn on our journey to get there. And when we “get there” we see a new destination to move in. A new destination has emerged to challenge us to improve.

When it comes to organizing our cities, and all the intelligence embedded within them, it is essential to spend time noticing where we wish to go and how we’ll get there. It is equally important to ensure we create habitats to learn along the way so that as things emerge to thwart or aid our efforts we skillfully navigate our way, creating new patterns of order on the other side of chaos. We learn to handle new life conditions, get comfortable with those life conditions until we reach another chasm, facing another journey across another threshold and a new order again.

Thresholds have a critical role to play in our individual and collective learning and growth. Each is the ‘shoreline of a new world’, as John O’Donohue puts it. It is a reminder that my/our chosen destination, the direction we wish to move in, is in another world and we need to embark on a journey to get there.  And when we get there, it won’t be what we thought. It can’t be, because it is another world. Being in relationship with thresholds is a learning journey itself, where we begin to think, make and do new things, allowing new patterns to emerge. The quality of our relationships with the thresholds we face – as individuals and as a collective – is a factor in our reaching desired destinations.

So we articulate where we wish to go – a direction, or a specific destination. Along the way, we encounter things that get in the way of moving in the direction we wish. Life conditions change in any manner or at any scale, requiring adjustment on our part. The obstacles can be any manner of chasm – threshold – that requires us shift and adjust. Our adjustments take place consciously and unconsciously. We learn consciously and unconsciously, spurred on by persistent practical problems. We struggle with chasms seen and unseen.

In the end, we chaotically reorganize ourselves by exploring our  in-tuition. We  take a step back from the edge as needed in order to choose the right leap for the context. We are learning how to let a scary idea warm us up first, then explore the inner struggle, recognizing that each struggle is powering us up for something bigger and more challenging.

The more we consciously explore the thresholds before us, and their nature within us, we will make wiser choices: go forward or turn away.

It is in each of us to reach the places we wish to go.

What thresholds must you cross to reach the places you wish to go?

What thresholds must we cross to reach the places we wish to go?


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Sources / Further reading

Peggy Holman, Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity

John O’Donohue, Bless the Space Between Us

David Whyte, The Three Marriages

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This post forms part of Chapter 6 – Emerging Thresholds, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Click here for an overview of Chapters 4-7 (Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence). Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.

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