Happy Election Day!


Today we choose who will be leading the significant public institutions who have a significant hand in shaping our city.  Today, we choose who will run city hall and our school boards. If you haven’t already done so, here’s a link to a site full of links to candidates so you can make an informed choice (thank you Dave Cournoyer).

As a citizen, you are an evolutionary agent when you make your choice and cast your vote.

Fuel the electoral energy in the city and cast your vote.

You have a say. Use it.




A house in order assembles light


A house in order assembles light

Focused energy

supports our planet of cities

a house in order

assembles light

to let go

to let go of the underbrush

to trust that what I bring to the world

is valuable

to trust that what I integrate

is what I need to integrate

and the rest just sits

at the center

as the fullness of emptiness

comes present

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A poem harvested from the check-in of the Integral City sangha this afternoon.



Don’t take your thoughts too seriously


The momentum of the world around me is overwhelming at times, particularly in cities. We tell stories about our cities to ourselves and the stories we tell are the stories we create. Do we tell ourselves that cities are big and ugly and inhumane, or that they accelerate the development of our well-being, in health practices, the arts, and economic opportunities?

Eckhart Tolle (in Stillness Speaks):

The stream of thinking has enormous momentum that can easily drag you along with it. Every thought pretends that it matters so much. It wants to draw your attention in completely.

Here is a new spiritual practice for you: don’t take your thoughts too seriously.

As a citizen, there is great value in recognizing when I am simply getting caught up in things, particular the drama in my mind. As Tolle puts it, “it is easy for people to become trapped in their conceptual prisons.”

We have thoughts, and we ought to notice those thoughts and tell the stories of what we are noticing because we notice ways to improve our cities and this serves the evolutionary impulse. But we do not need to get caught up in the momentum of what we see. See it, be aware of it, and yet hold it light enough that we do not take the new story so seriously that we hold onto it as tightly as we held the first story.

To be comfortable with uncertainty, we need to be able to hold our stories lightly enough to toss them when they no longer serve us as well as they could.

Are you holding a story that limits your experience of the city?

What new story is emerging in the city you see? 

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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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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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Lost? Let the city find you


Yesterday had great potential to be soul-sucking.

I signed up to spend the day listening to David Whyte, a writer of prose and poetry I greatly admire. I chose to spend the day sitting and listening, which is a very hard thing for me to do. I do not sit and listen well to anyone who speaks for an hour, let alone a day.

So I chose to simply sit. And listen. And play and doodle and draw while I was listening, to engage in parallel play, and see what would come to me.

Many things did come.

Here is one.

David Whyte was exploring our relationship to the unknown, and in particular, the invitation we send out into the unknown. His invitation (to us) is to let the world speak to us on its own terms. He read David Wagoner‘s poem, Lost:

Lost (Wagoner)

In reflecting on Lost, David Whyte remarked the forest is everywhere. It’s in the forest, of course, but it is equally in our workplaces, our families, and our cities.

I left this note for myself:

Let the city find you

This is an essential part of the city making exchange: the more we pursue the work that fills us with passion, the more the city offers opportunities for us to follow our passion.

The city helps us find ourselves.


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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 city-citizen transaction


Each citizen is in a relationship with other citizens and the city as a whole. There are endless exchanges taking place. Endless transactions.

Transaction (Merriam-Webster):

  1. something transacted; especially: an exchange or transfer of goods, services, or funds
  2. the often published record of the meeting of a society or association
  3. an act, process or instance of transacting
  4. a communicative action or activity involving two parties or things that reciprocally affect or influence each other

 Transact (Merriam-Webster):

  1. to carry on or conduct to a conclusion or settement (dictionary.com)
  2. to carry on business
  3. to carry on the operation or management of: do
  4. to carry on business

The webs of transactions across a city are everywhere and at every scale. They may appear small, such as a the payment I make to my dentist, but when I take a step back I can see all the choices I have for a dentist across my city and all the transactions that took place for my dentist to become a dentist and set up her clinic. She needed to grow up, housed, and fed and schooled. She needed to acquire a specialized education. She needed to find staff to work with her and she needed to find a building and furnish it with basic furniture, but also the specialized equipment she uses in her practice. And all that equipment needed to be created and delivered. My simple transaction is simply one end of a huge web of webs: a meshwork.

So where does the citizen fit into this?

A single citizen is in many places all at once in this meshwork. Take my dentist for example. Laura offers specific services to her clients and that is one of her transactions, but like every other citizen, she also needs shelter and food and she makes regular transactions on that front. She also has a family who enjoys life in the city. They play sports, take in the arts and enjoy the latest in movies and video games. People everywhere are creating these opportunities for them in their work.

Everyone, everywhere, is creating city life.

What do you do to create city life?


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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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Stand on the city’s river


Over the weekend, I found myself exploring the valley I visit most mornings, as part of my centering practice, from a different perspective. Instead of standing and sitting at the edge of the ravine, overlooking how the wild knits itself into the city, and vice-versa, I found myself leaving the top of the bank and heading down to the North Saskatchewan River.

As I peeled away from the infrastructure of the city, I was reminded to slow as I headed downhill, with the flow of the trail, where a stream used to be, toward the river.

bridge and slow sign

As I arrived at the river’s edge, I broke off the formal trail to explore a trail closed by officials, just above and beside the river. I walked along for a few minutes, but a wee path behind me was calling me down to the river herself.

river edge path

path down to the river

More specifically, the footprints on the river were calling me. As I had been walking parallel to the river, I realized the reason I was staying on the land was because I was afraid of stepping down, onto the river. Upon closer inspection, I could see that once down the bank I would still be on land. I could see the ‘beach’ on this outer edge of the river angling ever so slightly down to the flat of the ice, the river herself. I have spent a lot of time in my river city, but I have never been on my river. So I stepped out for a new view.

City from the river

After a few cautious steps onto the river, I noticed that I did not have the courage to venture out as far onto the ice as others had – I chose not to step out as far as many footprints left behind before me. My comfort had rippled out far enough, so I trusted my instincts and stayed put for a while, curious about this perspective of my river city in winter.

I have been pondering how the city and the wild knit themselves together. Cities begin with settlements that are appropriate to the geography –  early explorers and settlers navigated for settlement habitat. The city and the wild, however, are never fully separate. The wild reaches in, and the city reaches out, yet as I have walked, cycled and driven over this river for decades, I have not been on this river. I have stood on the river, and I recognize a need to be on the river in the opposite season, summer. This coming summer I will paddle through my city. What will my city look like? How will it change what I see, what I feel about my home?

Like most journeys, it is when I turn to return that I see something else.

the city's edge

The city is not simply up on the riverbank; it is in the river. Concrete remnants of construction and a beer can have reached down to the river. As I look downstream I see storm sewer outfalls that will whisk water away from the city into the river. The city continues to reach into the wild.

As I look upstream I see a couple making their way down to the river and making their way toward me. While the footprints on the river were a clue that others had been here before me, they were further evidence that others travel with me and that others travel further than me. There are so few situations when am truly the first to do anything, yet there are endless situations when it is my first time.

It occurs to me that first times can be daunting and exhilarating, scary and thrilling. First times, and how we handle them, play a critical role in our ability to see possibilities in all aspects of our lives, for seeing possibility often means seeing things from a different perspective, with a fresh look. A fresh look might mean a new physical perspective, or a mental one. It means finding a way to look anew at an old perspective, generating a ‘first time’ feeling that allows possibilities to emerge.

My lesson – stand on the river to see new possibilities. While I wasn’t the first person to look at the city from here, and I won’t be the last, that isn’t the objective. The objective is to find courage to step out on the ice and to simply see what I will see, and to see what I will do with what I see.

I had to step into a new place in my city to see me differently.

What do you do to create the conditions for seeing possibilities?


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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:



Emergence defined


In my last post, I declared a goal: to have a supportive relationship with 40,000 people about cities and our relationship with them. I have crossed a threshold to think this goal, let alone say it out loud and communicate it to the many of you who are reading my blog, following me on twitter, LinkedIn and facebook.

This goal makes me feel distinctly uncomfortable, so I recognize it as my own version of a threshold of a new age.  This goal requires me to reach out very far, much farther than my internal filters say is appropriate. I am a ‘good Canadian’, who doesn’t toot her own horn. Yet the opportunity before me, using social media, is profound. It is a new age, where I can connect with people across the planet. The people who see cities as I do are not concentrated in one spot – we are all over, and there is so much to learn from each other’s experiences. Because of this new age, I can find my tribe across the planet, build relationships with them and seek out ways to support each other in our work. This, I actively wish to pursue: making connections and see what comes.

What will our work be? That will emerge…

Peggy Holman provides a simple definition of emergence in her book, Engaging Emergence: order arising out of chaos. The result is new levels of patterns as we make sense of the world. On the Nest City Blog, there are many posts that speak to this – simply search for posts with the tag “Spiral Dynamics integral.”  Our value systems have evolved – emerged – in response to our life conditions. We make sense out of the chaos we see, then find more chaos, followed by more order. As a reminder, here is the Spiral as we have looked at it here:

Spiral of purposes - 8.005

Each level on the Spiral is a new order of complexity (complexity is increasing with movement upwards). As Holman puts it: “Emergent order arises when a novel, more complex system forms (p. 18).” There is a transition from one order to the next, and in this transition there is a threshold.

Each level of emergence is a new world that we see with fresh eyes. It works differently, it organizes itself differently and it values different things for different purposes. To see the new world, we must cross a threshold:

Without warning, thresholds can open directly before our feet. These thresholds are also the shorelines of new worlds.   (John O’Donohue)  

The passage to a shoreline of a new world, from the sea, can be rough or calm. Whether a straightforward or dramatic manoeuvre, it is a transition from what we know into a world we do not know. It is daunting and thrilling at the same time to make the voyage through thresholds into the unknown and the uncertain.

As cities and citizens we come upon thresholds. What is their role in our own emergence?


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Sources / Further reading

Peggy Holman, Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity

John O’Donohue, Bless the Space Between Us

Don Edward Beck and Christopher C. Cowan, Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change 

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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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Emerging thresholds


As I make the transition from destination to emergence, from writing pieces of Chapter 5 to Chapter 6, I’ll take a moment to lay out the threshold at which I stand. I have been exploring how destination, journey and emergence are critical elements to how we organize ourselves at any scale, from self to city to species. These three elements are forever in relationship with each other, within a nest of possibility that we both can and can not imagine.

Destination venn

A series of posts on journey culminate with the notion that cities are a platform for a never-ending journey and 10 practices that support the journey. As part of our evolutionary journey, cities are meant to feel uneasy.  A subsequent series of posts on destination conclude on this note: destination is both alive and adrift. Our purposes are both planned and unplanned.

Today I am at the threshold of exploring emergence and its role in how we organize our lives in cities. This is hinted at in both journey and destination; it is time to be explicit.

As I step over the threshold into emergence, recall John O’Donohue’s blessing, For the Time of Necessary Decision, that shapes the arc of nest city. Here are the words that stand out as I begin contemplating emergence:

Until we stand before a threshold we know

We have to cross to come alive once more. 

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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.



Destination both alive AND adrift


The last series of posts explored the role of destination as we organize ourselves – and our city habitat – for continuous improvement.  In Destination alive or adrift, I proposed to cover the role of ‘purpose’ in a city, what makes a city alive, how we can tell when we are adrift, and the connection between individual work and city purpose. All of this to reveal why our work matters.

Cities are alive with purpose. Higher order purposes give us something to latch onto, allowing us to focus, learn and choose. Higher order purposes are not precisely planned, but we do have an opportunity to shape them because the purpose of evolution is evolving. We are moved to improve our conditions and this takes place in a self-other dialectic; we pursue self-improvement and give to the wider community at the same time. This is the evolutionary influence at work. Evolution has a purpose that is co-created by the agency of humanity.

This evolutionary impulse is alive and adrift. It is very alive in each of us, and the collectives of which we are each part, yet since we don’t know the purpose of evolution, which is itself evolving, things are also adrift. As Steve McIntosh put it, evolution “cannot be discerned with finality because it is still in the process of being determined by the beings whose choices are required for its creation (p. 161).”  The highest order purpose, or destination, can not quite be defined because it is alive.

The city’s purpose, as it is for each of us, is survival and improvement. At every turn, we aim to survive and improve (see 100 urban trends), which adds up to our continuous attraction to move “toward more complex forms of social organization (McIntosh, p.  146).”  Our impulse to thrive in cities is alive and well, and the result is a nest of city purposes (Figures A and B), at every scale (from individual, to city/region, to planet):

Nest of city purposes - colours ascending order.002.002
Figure A: Next of purposes
Spiral of purposes - 8.005
Figure B: Spiral of purposes

Our short-term destinations and our bigger destinations are connected, with each of us, between each of us, and between each of us and the larger collective. There are scales of purpose in the purposes themselves and the scales of our social organization. The small is connected to the small – and the large.

As we discern that the city’s destination is our own evolving purposes, it necessitates looking at our role – and purpose – in the city. To use Steve McIntosh’s language, each citizen, as a whole evolutionary entity, has intrinsic value. Citizens have value both as a whole, and as a fundamental part of something larger. As a part, it is instrumental. Citizens are of instrumental value to the intrinsic value of the city created by us. Instrumental and intrinsic purposes are evident at scale. The intrinsic value of each citizen is instrumental to the city.

How we show up as citizens, showing up for our quest for survival and continuous improvement, for both self and others, is critical. If I don’t show up, then I affect my personal ability to survive and continuously improve as well as my city’s ability to do the same. Self and the city are only as good as we make them. Everything we do matters. Our cities are as good as we make them.

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 feel adrift, which is to feel alive.

What is your intrinsic value? 

How are you instrumental to your city?


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This post forms part of Chapter 5 – Destination Alive or Adrift, 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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Further reading…

McIntosh, Steve. Evolution’s Purpose: An Integral Interpretation of the Scientific Story of Our Origins