Phew – it’s hard work being part of our cities’ feedback system

Just over two weeks ago I wrote about my decision to slowly release my book, Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, as a blog.  Part of that decision was to post a piece of the book Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday each week, starting Tuesday May 1, 2012.  I have done it for two weeks.  Phew.

Even though I have material written, it has taken a lot of time and focus to turn what I have into a blog post that is remotely cogent and meaningful. It has been useful to condense my thinking.  Most helpful is the insight not to name the post until I am just about done – at that point I seem to find the point of the post.

As I keep doing this, I am mindful that I need to craft accurate invitations to readers.  I aim to pay particular attention to:

  1. A compelling title.  It might be all a readers sees in an RSS feed.  It will also be part of an attractive collection of posts as they become more numerous.  The title itself can be insightful.
  2. A compelling first sentence.  This appears on LinkedIn and facebook, for example.  It must draw readers in.
  3. A compelling personal update.  The title can be used, or slightly modified, for a Twitter/LinkedIn/facebook update.  The words themselves are what will compel a follower to retweet or forward my update and link.
  4. A post that provides links to others’ work.  As I explore, it is important for me to notice, for myself and others, the work on which I am building.  This models how economic life works.
  5. Writing what is wanting to emerge from me. I trust that each of us has a passion that is worth following.
  6. Being part of our cities’ feedback system.  As a writer, my work is, in part, to reflect on cities and how we organize ourselves.  I share what I see.
I have to confess I am looking forward to a break from blogging for a couple days.  But I know I will be itching to post again on Monday.  The pressure is welcome.

Be a part of feedback loops in your city

We only know how well our city is doing when we have feedback loops, giving us data on our city’s performance.  I have been exploring to date the relationship between our economic life – and our ability to create diverse, new work – and our city habitat.  The only way to fully comprehend the relationship between our work and the cities we build (our habitat) is through feedback systems.

A couple of simple feedback loops have popped up in my city of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada this week about the city we are building.  The topics: a growth coordination strategy and design guidelines for our new neighbourhoods.

The City of Edmonton released this week a draft Growth Coordination Strategy, highlighting the  necessary steps to coordinate the city’s population growth to ensure environmental, social and fiscal sustainability.  This is an effort to consider more information as we make decisions about how to build our city.   The local news media have covered this story, providing feedback to the wider population: Edmonton Journal, Metro News,  Even City Councilor Don Iveson has information for constituents on his web site.  Little bits and pieces were on the radio this morning, and a bit on twitter under the #yeg hashtag.  It’s emerging as a public conversation about what we are building, who pays for it and what it costs.

In the meantime, Edmonton is developing design guidelines for Edmonton’s new neighbourhoods.  The City is asking the public what they think are the building blocks of great new neighbourhoods.  At the beginning of this project, the City is offering a way for the public to reflect on the city we are building.  Everyone can see the collection of photos people are posting on flickr or pinterest.  Everyone can see the twitter feed using the hashtag #yegDNN.  There is even a blog for the project.  Most importantly, citizens are discussing in IdeaShare the city we are building and what they want from it.  (Here is a link for more information on this project.)

The work of creating Edmonton to day did not rely only on planners and engineers.  Politicians make critical decisions about infrastructure.  Business owners and leaders make decisions about where to locate their business.  Builders and land developers choose what to build.  Citizens make decisions every day that impact the physical shape a city takes, and certainly the spirit of a city.  NGOs also make key decisions that affect how a city takes its shape.  So how do a couple of reports in City Hall serve the role of feedback loops?

City Hall prepares reports, which is one form of feedback. It also creates opportunities for citizens to discuss and reflect on our city.  Even if you don’t read the document, the media coverage is helping us collectively reflect on what we build, where we build it, why we build it and what it costs. If you are a citizen of Edmonton, I invite you to take a look at the Growth Coordination Strategy.  More importantly, they will be asking for citizen feedback.

In the case of the design guidelines for new neighbourhoods, the IdeaShare is a fantastic way for citizens to see what we collectively think about the city we are building for ourselves.  If you are looking for ideas, you might want to check out Edmonton’s promising practices that have been documented.  There is no report yet for this project, but you have an opportunity to help it take its shape.  More importantly, you can reflect and be part of shaping our city habitat here in Edmonton.

In future posts, I will be articulating more intense feedback loops.  In the meantime, look for ways to provide and be a feedback loop.  Be a part of the city’s feedback system.  That work will certainly create city habitats that serve us well.