Choice of work matters to the city


This note to myself has been sitting on the side of my desk for a while, waiting for the right time to act on it. Now that my immediate tasks as Co-Designer, Interviewer and Harvester for the Integral City 2.0 Conference are looked after, I can refocus on my writing here.

 The last month has been gruelling.  Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the month of September explored one of the 12 evolutionary intelligences of the human hive, as identified by Marilyn Hamilton.   I co-designed the program of over 50 visionaries whose work makes the world a better place, many of whom I had the opportunity to interview.  My other role was to catch the story of each day and grasp the essence of each intelligence and the conference as a whole.

This window into the growing planet-wide community of thinkers, designers and practitioners confirms my belief that our work is the life force of our cities, whether we realize it or not.  Our work, and our approach to our work, is what releases our true potential IF that work is aligned with what we wish to offer the world.  The more our being is aligned with what we do, our work, the more our cities meet our needs.

My September experience compels me to revisit many of my posts since my declaration in April to blog my book, Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities.  So far, I have shared three chapters with you:  1 – The City Impulse, 2 – The Planning Impulse, and 3 – The Thriving Impulse (click here for a recap).  They paint a picture of how cities come about and the nature of our evolutionary relationship with cities.

Over the next few months my attention will be focused in two directions:

  1. Behind the scenes, I will be turning these first three chapters into their own publication that I will share with all readers as soon as it is complete.
  2. On this blog stage, I will share Part 2 of Nest City, focusing on how we can effectively organize ourselves in cities by taking into account our destination, the journey and the emergence of ourselves and our cities.

My Integral City 2.0 Online Conference expedition has fed my desire to dig deeper into our relationship with the cities we create.

My next post will revive the plot for of the city’s new story: organizing for emergence. 



Tues/Wed/Thurs in September

A reminder that my posts are not appearing here on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in September.  My writing attention for these days is going to the Integral City Expo and eLab, where I am providing a written harvest for each day of the conference.

I realized last week that this is a paying gig to write about what I am passionate about – our evolutionary relationship with cities.  It’s not lucrative, but there is a transaction.  I write and I will be paid.  I write and it will be read.  Even better – I get to have a front row seat on what’s happening, even be the interviewer for 7 sessions.

This is a marathon endeavour for the month of September and it is a thrill.  The Integral City Expo involves 50 visionary speakers in 36 sessions over 12 days. Each day focuses on one of the 12 evolutionary intelligences of cities.  I am tired at the end of day 2, and I have yet to write today’s harvest.

Go to this link to register and listen to the 30 remaining sessions live as part of the Expo.  For a small fee, you can get MP3 downloads and my take on each day’s intelligence.

Tomorrow’s focus is Living Systems Intelligence, with an opening session with Elisabet Sahtouris.


Willfully unfolding lemonade


The words willful unfolding have continued to unfold!  Relentlessly.

As part of the Integral City conference, I have four roles: co-design the eLab program with Marilyn Hamilton, interview many of the 50 visionaries we have gathered, speak to participants about the role of the Integral City master rule (take care of self, take care of others, take care of place), and harvest the meaning we make of what we are learning.

As we have been working on the conference, we have been struggling with making sure that we create the conditions for the transfer of wisdom from people who have been living the 12 evolutionary intelligences to participants.  These are the 36 live sessions that form part of the conference.  We are also aiming to create the space for an asynchronous community space that allows the participants to meet each other and make meaning together.  Holding this latter intention as been my role as the Harvester.

Up until today, I have had no idea how our harvest function was going to take place with our technology choice.  I have willfully held on to the intention to create the conditions where the emerging Integral City Collective is able to connect as a collective, rather than as individuals.  We wish to create the conditions to see the collective, to discuss within the collective.  To interact with the collective.  To be a collective.

The way to go about creating this kind of space has been very slow in unfolding.  I have had to be patient as we made decisions about the technology we use and whether it can hold the dream of a collaborative space that can hold us in our exploration really well.  Our challenge is that the technology platform we are using is moderately good at setting up individuals to connect with each other.  Not more.  And at this stage in the game we are not in a position to change our platform so we are making lemonade out of lemons, as one of my colleagues puts it.  We will make great lemonade together.

Whether we meet face to face or virtually, the quality of our interaction comes with what we each bring and the spirit in which we conduct ourselves.  Regardless of the structure, physical or virtual.  This is how we will make lemonade.  And the lemonade will nourish the next iteration of the technological structures that we need to serve us well in our virtual worlds.

The lemonade will serve the next unfolding.


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7  free interviews are posted on the Integral City Collective website.  Go to the conference page, scroll down to the bottom of the page to register for the free Integral City expo and you’ll have access to the interviews.  This is free time to learn with Don Beck, Ann Dale, Ann Duffy, Barrett Brown, Buzz Holling, Hazel Henderson and Terry Patten.  Enjoy

Go to the conference link above, then click on this button...


Planet of cities

Earth is now a planet of cities.  The implications of this stage in our evolution are going to be discussed in 15 days by world thought leaders in the first week of a four week online conference: The City 2.0.

Each day  of Week 1 will focus on an evolutionary intelligence that supports citizens and cities:

  • Tuesday Sept 4 – Ecology
  • Wednesday Sept 5 – Emergence and complexity
  • Thursday Sept 6 -Living systems

Here is a quick review of what is happening Week 1 (please enjoy the links to web pages with some information about these folks).

On Tuesday September 4, Bill Rees, co-author of Our Ecological Footprint, will begin Day 1 of the conference exploring the contribution of ecosphere intelligence in cities.  Brian Eddy and Michael Zimmerman will follow, giving us examples of how ecosphere intelligence contributes to city design.  We will wrap up the day by setting the stage for participants to share stories of living ecosphere intelligence by hearing the stories of Karen O’Brien, Lummina Horlings, and Gaston Remmers.

Day 2, on September 5, will begin with Buzz Holling‘s take on emergence and complexity in cities.  Jan de Dood and Harrie Vollaard will give us examples on how emergence and complexity contribute to city design.  Day 2 will conclude with some stories of what this intelligence looks like in real life, starting with Ian Wight and Will Varey.

Week 1 concludes on September 6 with a look at living systems.  Elisabet Sahtouris starts us off on Day 3 with a look at life cycles and aliveness in the city.  Darcy Riddell and George Por will show us how how to apply living systems intelligence.  The day will conclude with a round of stories about implementing living intelligence.  Bjarni Snaebjorn Jonnson and Roberto Bonilla-Nunez will get us started.

These folks come from around the world.  Appropriate for a week’s exploration of Earth as a planet of cities.  They hail from Canada, The Netherlands, the United States, Scotland, Norway, Iceland and Mexico.  Their work takes place on planetary and local scales.  They look at cities integrally, examining the city ‘s interior and exterior perspectives.  Among them they are thought-leaders, scholars and practitioners.  They are a wonderful blend of what it means to think about cities integrally, to feel cities integrally and to embody cities integrally.

That’s week #1 in a nutshell.

For more information, please explore the conference web site.  Speakers’ bios can be found here.





eLab: a relevant crucible for change

The Integral City eLab is taking place from September 4-27, 2012.  Our mission – to pool curious minds to co-create an exploratory space for anyone wishing to create cities that serve citizens and cities well.   We aim to create the conditions for a new, life-giving story for our cities, the habitat we create for ourselves to ensure we thrive.

eLab rooted in three principles

We have created the eLab because we believe that:

  1. Cities are the most relevant boundaries and crucibles for change
  2. For collaboration we need a common lens and language from which to communicate
  3. The city lens is under construction – it requires learning how to think differently

The purpose of the eLab is to create the conditions for these three principle to gain life, to change how we think about our cities.  Our cities are a part of our evolutionary story and a significant part of the systems we humans build to support ourselves.  It is time to understand city systems.

Here’s the skinny on the format

The eLab will take place over four weeks, three days each week for a total of 12 days.  Each day of the eLab will explore one of the 12 evolutionary intelligences I have been exploring here and that form the basis of Marilyn Hamilton’s work (Integral City website, the book).  The 12 intelligences are grouped in threes, giving each week an overal theme:

  • Week 1 (Sep 4-7)  – Planet of Cities
  • Week 2 (Sep 11-13) – Gaia’s Reflective Organ
  • Week 3 (Sep 18-20) – Aligning Strategies to Prosper
  • Week 4 (Sep 25-27) – Amplifying Intelligence

Each day will explore one evolutionary intelligence through three questions and three principles that guide the intelligence.  This will be done each day at three scales (three sessions each day): a thought leader, people who design for this intelligence and the stories of practitioners of the day’s intelligence.

Feel free to explore the eLab program further at your leisure.  For details and registration please contact Marilyn Hamilton at

Over the next couple weeks I will be highlighting the speakers that will be sharing their work, life and stories about our relationships with our cities.

Concluding city patterns


In these Nest City posts, I have looked at cities in three ways so far: our impulse to build and gather in cities, our impulse to organize our cities and last, our impulse to thrive as a species.  In exploring each of these three impulses, patterns about our cities are revealed that are crucial to understanding how to organize our cities our cities to serve their citizens well – and how to be citizens to serve cities well.

Chapter 1 – The City Impulse

Building cities as our habitat naturally occurs for us.  We work at this every day – psychologically, physically, socially and culturally.  Our work, whether paid or unpaid, is always in response to our habitat.  We work constantly to think, make and do new things, which changes our habitat and our responses to habitat.  And so on, endlessly.

Our relationship with our habitat – cities – feeds the evolution of our cities and our habitat.  Given this relationship, it is time to build the nest we need.


Chapter 2 – The Planning Impulse

The overriding purpose of a city is to integrate the needs of its people with its context, to create a habitat in which citizens will survive and thrive.  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.

The city is a dance of voices and values and  the act of linear planning is simply a level of organizing that responds to a particular set of life conditions.  There is a time and place for linear planning, and life conditions are now emerging allowing us to recalibrate the practice of planning that holds a destination in mind while allowing for learning and adjustment along the way.  We are learning to live into a reality in which we recognize that we do not know exactly where we will end up.


Chapter 3 – The Thriving Impulse

Our cities are built by us and for us.  We do this to ensure that we survive, yet as we saw in Chapter One, we have a drive to constantly think, make and do new things in our work.  The result is our drive to thrive.  This drive results in cities.  And cities compel us to think, make and do more new things.  This is the essence of our evolutionary relationship with cities: an infinity loop.

Spiral Dynamics describes this pattern well: we grow and develop – evolve – in response to our life conditions.  12 intelligences also serve the evolutionary character of cities and our relationship with cities.  While they each offer much to understanding cities, they can be summarized in as evolutionary intelligence one useful 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.  

On to Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence

Part 2 of Nest City will focus on four things: destination, journey, emergence and the sweet spot at the intersection.  This is the dynamic of how we can set ourselves up to organize ourselves and our habitats well.


My next post will lay out the plot for Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence.  


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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.


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.


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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.


Endless practices


As I reflect on yesterday’s distillation of 12 evolutionary intelligences that serve cities, I can’t help but think that there are things for us to do and ways for us to be to allow these intelligences to flourish.  If these intelligences flourish, then so will citizens and cities.

So what would activation of our evolutionary intelligences look like?  Endlessly practicing to:

  1. See the whole city, the good and the bad.
  2. Notice the systems within the city system, and the systems of cities.
  3. Integrate of the four integral voices of self and the city: citizens (psychological well-being), city managers (biological well-being), city builders (social well-being), and civil society (cultural well-being).
  4. Take action with the knowledge that our cities are alive, and extensions of us.
  5. Make decisions with the knowledge that we shape our cities and our cities shape us.
  6. Nourish our cities with our curiosity and catalytic connections.
  7. Name our destination – the relationship we wish to have with our cities.
As I look at these points, I see that living these intelligences means knowing where we are going and not knowing where we are going at the same time.  It means being certain in uncertainty.  It means trusting ambiguity, and seeing clearing in ambiguity.  It means embracing the gifts of differing opinions.  It means being the citizens we need to be to have cities that serve us all well.
It means courageously having a destination in mind, even if only a thread.  It means accepting that as individuals and as a species we are on a learning journey.  It means being open to the future that is wanting to come into being and trusting that the future we want is the future we can have.
It means organizing ourselves and our habitat – our nest cities – to thrive.
As I leave this post with you today, I am at the end of Chapter 3 – The Thriving Impulse.  Beginning with my June 13, 2012 post, Pause for evolutionary understanding, I explored some theoretical frameworks to shed some light on our evolutionary relationship with cities: Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory.  My next post will begin the transition from city patterns – our impulses to create cities and organize them so we thrive – to how we can go about organizing ourselves in our cities for emergence.  


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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.

Evolutionary intelligence in a sentence


Over the last several weeks I have been exploring Marilyn Hamilton’s 12 evolutionary intelligences for the city.  They cover a great deal of territory and are so interconnected.  I often find it difficult to grasp and discern the 12 intelligences and I am hungry for a simpler way to ‘hold’ them.  12 are too many for my being to juggle.

At this juncture, I distill all 12 evolutionary intelligences for cities into the following 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.  

Let me unpack this sentence and reach back into each of the 12 evolutionary intelligences explored over the last few weeks to see how they fit, how they add up to this sentence.

Seeing the whole city

Seeing the whole city means using ‘maps’ to look at the city as a whole.  Integral intelligence means looking at the city with integral maps. Four of these maps are explored in earlier posts.  Here they are, with links to a description of them:  the nesting holarchy of city systems and Spiral Dynamics integralthe four quadrants and scalar, fractal relationships.

Seeing the whole city also means seeing the four integral quadrants of the city:

as alive,

Cities grow out of our evolving interaction with our habitat.  Our ecosphere intelligence allows us to be in relationship with our habitat and adjust and grow with it as life conditions change.  When we engage our living intelligence, we see that the city is alive because its survives, it connects with its environment and it regenerates.  If it doesn’t do this, it does not survive or thrive, but dies.

evolving wholes

Our emerging intelligence allows us to city the aliveness of the city and its complexity.  The city is made up of many other whole, identifiable systems: citizens, families, organizations, neighbourhoods, etc.  The city survives just as these systems survive, has a relationship with its environment as these systems do, and regenerates as these systems do.  The relationship between the city system and its systems are always in relationship with each other, which creates the conditions for our evolving intelligence.  The back-and-forth between cities and citizens, for example, fuels the development of all wholes.

that need nourishment

Cities and citizens alike need to be nourished to thrive.  Inquiry intelligence allows us to unlock the potential of cities by simply noticing and appreciating what works in cities and working to get more of it.  Inquiry also gives us the opportunity to imagine what we need that is well beyond “fixing”.  A “fix” keeps us where we are, but curiosity about what naturally needs to come next, and the inquiry into that, is hugely nourishing.  Asking and exploring questions endlessly nourishes our cities.

Then connections we make in cities, and the quality and quantity of those connections, also nourish the city.  This is meshing intelligence, our capacity to make catalytic connections within and between whole systems.  These relationships are self-organizing and hierarchical at the same time.  The health of both nourish the city.

allows us to navigate toward

Our navigating intelligence allows us to inhabit two behaviours – aiming for a destination and the activity of discerning if on course to that destination.  This intelligence is all about feedback loops, and the creation of feedback loops that allow us to see whether our actions are helping or harming our journey to where we wish to go.  This intelligence is increasingly asking us to know where we wish to go and what “getting there” would look like.

cities that serve citizens well, and citizens that serve cities well.

In a very general way, this phrase is what we are aiming for.  It is a superordinate goal.  As all of the intelligences weave together, and as we spend time contemplating what a city that serves its citizens well looks and feels like, or how citizens that serve the city well would show up, we will begin to identify what this relationship is really about.  Ultimately, this relationship is emerging and it will continue to emerge as the relationship between citizens and cities shifts and adjusts over time.

A parting thought for today

As we organize ourselves in cities, it is clear that how we “plan” is no longer a simple linear activity.  It is one way to organize ourselves, but it does not encompass the complexity of the ways we organize ourselves.  My writing to come will focus on this simple model to live the intelligences and make the relationship between citizens and cities more whole:

Organizing our cities requires a clear sense of destination to which we navigate.  We are on a journey to make our way to this destination, yet the truth is we do not know what the destination really is.  It is both clear where we are going and unclear.  We have a sense of direction, yet we recognize that where we will end up has yet to emerge.  Our destination, our journey and the emergent quality of our travels are all because of the 12 evolutionary intelligences, and supported by them.   It’s a big trip we are on.

 My next post will explore the practices and protocols that allow evolutionary intelligence – and our cities – to thrive.  In the meantime, here is a quick and tidy set of links to the 12 evolutionary intelligences:

    1. Ecosphere intelligence – locating places
    2. Emerging intelligence – seeing wholeness
    3. Integral intelligence part 1 and part 2 – charting patterns
    4. Living intelligence – living and dying
    5. Inner intelligence – conscious capacity
    6. Outer intelligence – embodying right action
    7. Building intelligence – creating structures that flex and flow
    8. Story intelligence – culture of feeding each other
    9. Inquiry intelligence – releasing potential
    10. Meshing intelligence – enabling order and creativity
    11. Navigating intelligence – directional dashboards
    12. Evolving intelligences – imagining the future


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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.

Evolving intelligence

Over the last few weeks I have been exploring the city’s  12 evolutionary intelligences as articulated by author Marilyn Hamilton (Integral City – click here for her web sitehere for her book).   This is the last of the 12 intelligences – evolving intelligence.  (In my next post, I will recap the 12 and summarize them.)

Hamilton asks this essential question: How can we live in cities intelligently?  To answer this question, I propose two more:

  1. How do citizens create the city?
  2. How do cities create citizens?
There is a back-and-forth relationship between these two elements.  Cities and citizens co-evolve together.  As one shifts and changes, so does the other.  The whole city system and all the systems that make up the city are constantly adjusting, readjusting to the changing conditions surrounding them.  Our physical environment is changing, our biology is changing, our psychology is changing, our culture is changing.  Our very consciousness is changing.  Citizens and cities are co-evolving.
Cities, as a are citizens, are not steady-state.  Cities are forever responding to many changing conditions.  Here is Hamilton’s logic about evolving intelligence for cities [1]:
  1. Seeing the city as a whole system of whole systems reveals an emergent, evolving system.
  2. Seeing systems reveals interconnections and non-linearity.
  3. Non-linearity helps us live with, prepare for and anticipate the unexpected.
  4. Having muscles for the unexpected creates resilience.
  5. Resilience means greater adaptability.
  6. Greater adaptability means greater survivability.
  7. Greater survivability means more joy, expansion, creativity, potential.
The very relationship between our species and the habitat we build for ourselves serves our evolution.  Understanding this is allows our intelligence to evolve.  Understanding our relationship with our habitat – both given to us and created by us – allows us to thrive.
My next post will distill the 12 evolutionary intelligences into bite-size pieces.





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[1] Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 261

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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.