Our impulse to thrive in cities

I am at the end of Chapter 3 – The Thriving Impulse.  Beginning with my June 13, 2012 post, Pause for evolutionary understanding, I asked this question: where do we need to put our attention to ride out our evolutionary burst successfully?

To begin, I explored some theoretical frameworks to shed some light on our evolutionary relationship with cities.  I looked first at Spiral Dynamics with a primer,  the principles that frame the Spiral and the conditions that guide evolutionary expansion.   We grow and develop – evolve – in response to our life conditions.  We evolve with our habitat in all aspects of our lives.  We have within us an evolutionary impulse to thrive.

From this point, I choose to explore Dr. Marilyn Hamilton’s 12 evolutionary intelligences one at a time.  As I concluded this process, I realized that I can summarize these 12 evolutionary intelligences in one 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.  

We see the whole city with integral maps, such as the nesting holarchy of city systems and Spiral Dynamics integralthe four quadrants and scalar, fractal relationships.  The four integral quadrants of the city allow us to see the city’s inner intelligence (our conscious capacity and psychological well-being), outer intelligence (embodying right action and biological well-being), building intelligence (creating structures that flex and flow, and our social well-being) and cultural intelligence (feeding each other and cultural well-being).

Thinking of cities as alive draws on our ecosphere intelligence and our living intelligence.  Seeing cities as evolving wholes draws on our emerging intelligence and our evolving intelligence.  And just like any living entity, cities need nourishment.  Cities and citizens thrive with inquiry intelligence and meshworking intelligence.

Our navigating intelligence allows us to declare a destination and notice if we are on track.  Ultimately, I believe we are aiming for cities that serve citizens well – and citizens that serve cities well.

This work is about thriving.  This is work that never ends.


This post wraps up Chapter 3 – The Thriving Impulse AND it also wraps up the first Part of Nest City.  Part One – City Patterns has looked at three impulses in the human species: the city impulse, the planning impulse and the thriving impulse. My next post will recap the patterns in our relationship with cities before switching gears and tackling how we can organize ourselves, and our nest cities, for emergence.


_____ _____ _____

If you are interested in learning more about evolutionary intelligences relating to cities, you will be interested in the Integral City eLaboratory – Co-Creating the Future of the Human Hive.


Conclusion of The Planning Impulse

The purpose of planning is to support a city’s efforts to notice, adjust and organize to ensure the city is able to integrate the needs of its citizens with its context.  As we build cities, our work is to ensure that we create a habitat for ourselves in which we will thrive.

This second chapter of Nest City explores where the impulse to plan comes from as our cities become more complex. The first four posts that form the second chapter of Next City build on  my experience in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where Mayor Dennis O’Keefe invites visitors to a planning conference to explore the ‘unplanned’ city.  My exploring continued after my visit there.  The first four posts that make this chapter are:

  • Is an unplanned city unplanned?  Part 1  Life conditions – the times we live in, the geographic place, the challenges we face and the social circumstances – shape the purpose of a city.  
  • Is an unplanned city unplanned?  Part 2  The shape of a city is determined by its geography, its purpose, the activities within and in connection to other cities – it’s life conditions.
  • Is an unplanned city unplanned?  Part 3  As life conditions change, cities shift and adjust. The purpose of the city evolves.  Planning is an activity that supports our collective work to organize ourselves to ensure our habitat – our cities – serve us well.
  • Is an unplanned city unplanned?  Part 4  Along with evolving purposes of the city come corresponding evolving modes of organizing.  One of the new ways of organizing was the planning profession.

The subsequent posts tease out the complexity of planning now – it is not a simple linear, mechanical process:

  • City – a dance of voice and values  The evolving city purposes and modes of organizing are part of an evolving value system.  There are four integral ‘voices’ in the city: city managers, city builders, civil society and citizens.  These values and voices are in the mix as we organize ourselves to thrive in cities.
  • Integrating voices and values  Many purposes, modes of organizing and purposes occur all at once, creating a messy and uncertain world.  No one entity has control of the city.  Planners do not have a recipe – let alone all the ingredients.
  • Recalibrating the purpose of planning  As an activity, planning has to hold a destination in mind, allow for learning and adjustment along the way, and recognize that we do not know exactly where we are going to end up.
  • A new era of planning cities  Planning now is about have a clear, collective sense of intention and purpose to drive our work.  Cities are growing and we are growing with them.  The opportunity is to grow purposefully.
Two conclusions arise.  The first is that the overriding purpose of a city is to integrate the needs of its people, with its context, to create a habitat in which people will survive and thrive (Is an unplanned city unplanned? Part 3).  The second is that the purpose of planning is to support city efforts to notice, adjust and organize to ensure people survive and thrive (Is an unplanned city unplanned? Part 4).
The activity of planning is in the process of recalibrating, in order to integrate the new and emerging voices and values of the city.  This is necessary for planning to respond to today’s life conditions, rather than those of decades or centuries ago.  To meet the needs of  citizens, cities must adapt.  In order for cities to adapt to the evolving needs of citizens, citizens need to adapt as well.
The next series of posts will form Chapter Three – The Thriving Impulse.  They will explore what it means to thrive, from an evolutionary sense.  Part Two – Organizing for Emergence and Part Three – Nest City will get into the details of how we can organize ourselves to serve ourselves better.  
Sources –

Beck, Don Edward and Cowan, Christopher C., Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford (2006), particularly pages 52-56.

Hamilton, Marilyn, Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive, New Society Publishers Inc., Gabriola Island (2008)

Sanders, Beth, “From the High Water Mark to the Back of the Fish Flakes: The Evolutionary Purpose of Cities,” Vol 51, No. 4, p 26-31, Plan Canada.  Print publication of the Canadian Institute of Planners.

Nest City in three parts

The overall frame for Nest City is John O’Donohue’s blessing, The Time for Necessary Decision.  The chapters of the book follow the trajectory of the blessing by moving from seeing patterns (Part 1), to the organizing patterns we create in cities (Part 2) and the ways to integrate our organizing patterns to achieve cities that serve us well (Part 3).

In the column to the right of each post, if you click on “Categories” you will be able to navigate to all the posts in a Part or Chapter of the book.  I have categorized the most recent posts that form Chapter One – The City Impulse, and I have sorted out the older posts into Chapters as well.  Please feel free to explore and comment.

Here is the gist of each Part (and group of corresponding chapters):

  1. Part One – City Patterns builds a broad foundation for my argument: cities build evolutionary capacity.  The foundational ‘impulse’ patterns are introduced, explaining why cities exist, how they are created and the underlying values that evolve within and with us as our cities grow and develop.
  2. Part Two – Organizing for Emergence explores the organizing patterns of humans as we create and live in cities.  We set plans to reach a destination.  We experience uncertainty along the way.  Then a whole new and unexpected future comes to pass.  The first level of city “nestworks” are presented.
  3. Part Three – Nest City integrates the three elements of destination, journey and emergence presented in Part Two.  This is a second level of city “nestworks”, cog-like features of the nest city: city making, civic practice, city emerging and a sweetspot at the heart of city nestworks.

The next series of posts originate from Chapter Two – The Planning Impulse and focus on the impulse within us to “plan” our cities.  Are our cities actually planned?



A great poem shapes the arc of Nest City

John O’Donohue’s blessing, For the Time of Necessary Decision, served me at a most critical point in writing Nest City.  When I was trying to sort hundreds of pages of information into a cogent way of organizing my thinking, my mom gave me his book, To Bless this Space Between Us.  When I read this piece, I saw immediately that the arc of Nest City follows the blessing in the form of 10 chapters and an epilogue:

1.  The City Impulse

2.  The Planning Impulse

3.  The Thriving Impulse

4.  An Uneasy Journey

5.  Destination Alive or Adrift

6.  Emerging Thresholds

7. (Un)Known Possibility

8.  The City Making Exchange

9.  Enduring Civic Practice

10.  The Emerging City

Epilogue – The Soul’s desire