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 (
  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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City infrastructure needs citizens

Every once and awhile city infrastructure needs a little help from its citizens.

We had a lot of rain and hail come down in a short amount of time this afternoon.  Flights circled overhead as the storm blew threw.  23 manhole covers blew off.  On my simple little street, the water filled the street and jumped the curb.

As Mother Nature cleaned her trees of leaves and twigs, the city’s infrastructure couldn’t let them through on its own.  The leaves and twigs collected and blocked the water’s passage down the drain.

The city’s infrastructure needed some help. I had three choices:

  1. Do nothing.
  2. Call the City to fix it.
  3. See what I could do.

I chose the latter.  I donned my rubber boots and raincoat and headed out the garage to find a helpful tool. (I have to chuckle that I was more excited than my kids about going out to muck about in a big puddle!)  What fun!  The water was aching to make its way down the drain.  When I moved a wee bit of the blockage the drain sucked the water.  Almost violently.

The city’s infrastructure was aching to do its work.  It just needed a little assistance from a citizen to perform today.  As I citizen, I often forget how closely linked my life is to the vast infrastructure we create, generation by generation, to create our city habitats.  Our work has specialized to allow us not only to build, operate, maintain and renew this infrastructure.  That is the work that some citizens do for cities, explicitly building the city.

Citizens who perform other kinds of work in cities are still closely connected to our infrastructure.  Everything we do depends on it. And from time to time it needs very basic attention, for which no engineering expertise is required.

Sometimes the infrastructure system we have made for ourselves needs a little help from citizens.  No expertise required.

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If interseted in the relationships between citizens, city infrastructure, and city decision-making, you may be interested in the Integral City Expo and eLab from Sept 4-27, 2012.  I was the program co-designer and will be interviewing many of the 50 visionaries that will be participating.