The ‘City’ and the ‘city’


In a recent Facebook exchange, a rural friend noted that an article I shared referred only to city government. Why couldn’t the emerging principles for an innovative city apply also to rural areas too? She reminded me that I work with two distinct meanings for the word “city”. Here’s how I use them.

The “City”, with a capital ‘C’, is the municipal corporation. It is our city government that fulfils the role of civic governance, looking after the things we collectively have an interest in, such as the city’s physical infrastructure, social and cultural programs, and support for economic development. The City, as we know it, collects resources (taxes) from property owners and provides us services in return. This role of civic manager is different from three other roles in the city: the citizens, the business community and community society. (For more on these four roles, visit my post on Marilyn Hamilton’s four integral city voices).

4 quadrants - city lego playmobil

The “City” is the upper right quadrant, with a focus on the needs of the “city”, with a small ‘c’, which is the whole thing, the economic, social and physical habitat we make for ourselves. Here’s a metaphor I use to make the distinction: the City is the brain, the city is the body. They are not the same thing.

Here’s another distinction. While the City is defined by a boundary, its jurisdiction, the city has no such boundary. Yes, we can discern the difference between urban areas and rural areas, but it isn’t about what is or is not the other. They come together; they are intertwined, inextricably in relationship. The city does not exist without the rural, and the rural does not (mostly) exist without the city. The energy the city needs comes mostly from rural areas (food, fuel, for example), and rural residents are in constant relationship with cities. The exchanges are numerous: economic, technological, educational, cultural and health. There are very few people who have no connection to a city.

Cities are the result of human effort, not simply urban human effort. Cities belong to all of us. Those who live in them and those who do not.

So back to my friend’s Facebook query. The article was by Sacromento Mayor Kevin Johnson, naming three emerging roles for City government: open source leadership, City government as the ultimate service provider, and to be the hubs of innovation for the ‘Next’ economy. For Mayor Johnson, cities 3.0 are driving the revitalization of the nation. There is, however, no reason why any level or size of local government could benefit from his insight. His message is for small cities and large cities. Small municipal governments or large municipal governments. For all the parts of a city and its region, for no city stands alone.

Mayor Johnson’s real message though, is for Cities to rethink how they engage with the other three voices of the city. There’s no need to wait for other orders of government to get involved. Just get things going on the ground.

And guess what – that’s where you are.


My invitation to you, whether you live in the city or a rural area:

  1. Notice the interconnections, everywhere, between the city and its region. Where do you fit into this web?
  2. Notice the boundaries between the City/rural relationship. Where are the boundaries helpful, not helpful, to the city and its region as a whole?



Appreciating the patterns in people


The people in the room are the pattern

the voices, perspectives together

we are the same

with busy heads

we choose

to listen

life will be ok

we do need each other

we do need perspectives

to discern

to appreciate

to hear it out

to think through, checking reality

to think through what it will take

to survive

threat by threat

experience by experience

difference by difference

reinforcing appreciation

and flow forward


each doing one thing deeply

to work on it all


_____ _____ _____


A poem caught as participants noticed what they learned after a day of Collaborating in Complexity – Navigating the Systems of Community, my advanced training session delivered with Marilyn Hamilton, at FCM’ Sustainable Communities Conference in Charlottetown, February 11, 2014.

Who can we be?


Who can we be?


What is separate need not be,

For the Divine is personal.

There’s enough love, and enough room

For all of it. A falling away

Of illusions because there’s no going back.

With profound creativity, we palpably,

Steadfastly, safely, prepare for transition

To another life, another work, gestating.

Who can we be if I let go

Of what I think we should be?*

Who can I be if I let go

Of what I think I should be?


* A question of Chris Corrigan’s that has been alive in me for a while…

_____ _____ _____

This poem is a harvest from this afternoon’s checkin with my Integral City colleagues.

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

_____ _____ _____


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



Integral city breath


I’m just home from attending the Integral Theory Conference – Connecting the Integral Kosmopolitan in San Francisco, taking some time to settle in at home. I just came across this poem I caught at the end of the session I held with Marilyn Hamilton, the first mini-prototype of an Integral City Learning Lhabitat.

Here’s what particpants had to say at the conclusion of our session:

183 - integral city breath poem

Thanks to all our participants! You played well 🙂


_____ _____ _____

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:

_____ _____ _____

Flexibility rules


I heard this a few times last week: citizens do not want every neighbourhood to be the same; developers do not want every neighbourhood to be the same; city hall employees do not want every neighbourhood to be thesame.  Seems everyone thinks that is what we have, and the finger pointing for the reasons why is dramatic.

Recall the four Integral City voices, each with their distinct perspectives and roles as we organize our cities: civic managers, civic builders and developers, citizens and civil society.  The civic managers run our public institutions: city hall, schools, health services, etc.  The civic builders and developers physically build our cities.  Both of these voices make explicit what we need as citizens: they put our intelligence in action by creating organizations that deliver programs, services and physical structures, all of which is to serve citizens.  Civil society is the cultural voice of the city.

Each voice plays a valid role in how we organize ourselves.  All four are needed.  While each voice has myriad perspectives within it, I hear a smattering of citizens, developers and city hall employees all say the same thing: rules have a place, but the wrong rules stifle our ability to create the neighbourhoods we want.

Remember Spiral Dynamics?  Our value systems, emanating from each of us, our organizations, our neighbourhoods, our cities, nations and planet, are forever in flux in response to our changing life conditions.  It seems there is alignment of values among some portions of the Integral City voices in a call for a recalibration of the ‘rules’ that shape our neighbourhoods, a recalibration of the BLUE vMeme.

Let me be clear – not everyone sees or desires this alignment, but that does not make it less relevant.  There are citizens looking for ways to make existing neighbourhoods more interesting and they find that City Hall’s rules get in the way.  Developers and builders are looking or ways to build new neighbourhoods, or build new homes in existing neighbourhoods, that respond to the desires of citizens.  There are folks working in civil society that wish to better serve the city, and they struggle with this.  There are even City Hall employees that are looking for flexibility.  Do all these folks share the same intention?  We don’t know if they do.

This is the essential work for us in cities if we wish to create cities that serve us well: to clearly see what is we wish to achieve, our destination.  When we know what we wish to achieve, then we will know what rules are necessary.

Rules articulate standards and practices necessary to achieve an outcome.  Rules only make sense with a purpose in mind.  The growing demand for a change in rules indicates a need to declare a new destination.  The contrast appears to be a change from rules for certainty to rules for support.

What we want from rules says a lot about us.  This is the clash I see in my city: the need for rules to prescribe our future vs. the need for rules to support our emerging, unknown future.

At last week’s workshop with The Natural Step Canada, Awesome Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable City, the Integral City voices together articulated neighbourhoods for which there is no recipe.  There are no rules that will give us, with certainty, what we are aiming for.

Rules are needed, however.  They play a critical role in guiding what we create, flexing with the changing conditions.

Flexibility rules.

Are the rules in your world aligned with that they aim to do?


_____ ______ ______

This post forms part of Chapter 4 – An Uneasy Journey, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities.

Nest City is organized into three parts, each with a collection of chapters.  Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.  Click here for an overview of Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence, chapters 4-7.



A warrior for healthy cities


Is everyone unhappy with how we organize our cities?  Citizens don’t like what city hall does.  Developers and builders don’t like what city hall does.  Civic advocacy groups don’t like what city hall does. I recently worked with a group of city employees who have been battered and bruised by colleagues in city hall, politicians, civil society, developers and builders, and citizens.  City hall isn’t happy either; every effort they make doesn’t seem to be right and they can’t see a way through to get it right.  They are miserable.  Everyone sounds miserable.

I am hungry for something other than fighting city hall.

I am hungry for civic practices that allow us to see what is working, so we can have more of what works.

I am hungry for civic practices that allow us to see what does not working and grapple with solutions in ways that leave everyone’s dignity in tact.

I am hungry for civil society that serves cities.

I am hungry for civic managers that serve cities.

I am hungry for civic builders and developers that serve cities

I am hungry for citizens that serve cities.

_____    _____

This is my quest: to see what it takes for a city to serve everyone and everything in and around cities well.

_____   _____

All aspects of a city need to be healthy for the city to be healthy.  We need to be healthy for our cities to be healthy.  If our cities don’t serve us well, it is up to us to make it better.  Each of us.  While some of us have more influence over others to make cities that work for us, no one has enough influence to make what they want happen.  Uncertainty is embedded in our cities.  How we react to the uncertainty is key; we can fight or we can choose to figure out how to figure it out.

The route we choose creates the conditions for more of what we put our attention: we can have more fighting, or we can figure it out.

City hall isn’t healthy when they constantly hear what’s wrong.  Developers and builders don’t build great cities when we don’t ask them to.  Civil society doesn’t succeed in keeping us honest to our ideals when we are not open to hearing them.  Citizens – at any scale – are not their best when defensively in trenches, sabotaging their best potential.

My fight is of a strange nature.  I do not ‘fight’ in a physical way, of course, but also not in mental or emotional ways.  I am a warrior of a different kind.

I create the conditions where the various perspectives of the city come out to play, integrating themselves, with give and take, for the purpose of creating a nourishing habitat for the beings that live in and around cities.  This will evoke a different sort of warrior in our cities: one who has the calm poise needed to welcome the feedback our world is giving us, who listens to it, who takes wise action.  Where cities become warriors for well-being themselves.




Lingering September practices

September was a busy month, full of life and excitement.  Now a week into October at a totally different speed, I notice some new practices in response to the life conditions of September that I choose to continue.

  1. I visit the river every day.  Every weekday in September we had contractors on hand to put a new roof on our home.  I work at home, and before I get to work I have a routine of some physical practice and journaling. The contractors’ noise was too much, so I walked over to the river valley for a beautiful view and a bench.  (See Writing from the red chair.)  The contractors are gone, but I still head out in the morning for some time alone with me, the river and the city.
  2. I write at night.  Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in September I was working as Interviewer and Harvester at the Integral City 2.0 Conference.  We hosted 36 sessions (three each day, twelve days) and interviewed over 60 visionaries. I played the role of interviewer, and when not interviewing, supported the host and interviewer by catching audience questions and crafting questions for break-out groups’ exploration.  At the end of each day, I wrote a ‘harvest’, my meaning of the day for immediate publication on our web site.  This schedule meant for some very late nights during the week.  I am finding now that I am inclined to write for a couple of hours each evening.  I am not totally exhausted in the morning because this somehow fuels me.
  3. I stop to breathe. In the middle of September’s craziness, I took some time to pause and deepen one of the ways I gather with people: circle.  I attended Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea’s Circle Practicum.  One of the most meaningful learnings for me from this experience is the importance of pausing for breath.  Ring the bell, take a breath, then ring the bell again.  This is useful when feeling frenetic, or when something profound has occurred, when there is a transition of some kind, etc.  We even came up with a way to articulate this by text in the digital world: *~*  I am no longer sitting in circle for several days in a row, but I circle up with myself and I choose to notice when I need to stop and breath.  Sometimes I even use a bell.
  4. I pay attention to my energy. There is a lot of synchronicity in my life right now around personal energy.  At the Circle Practicum, and several times throughout the Integral City 2.0 Conference the word ‘energy’ and practices around knowing and cultivating personal energy surfaced. I recognize that I have been intrigued by this for a while, but not yet able to explore this in my personal development.  I sense a whole new area of learning here for me.  One of the gifts of September is curiosity about where my energy is, where I choose to put it and how it moves throughout my body. I am also curious about how energy behaves between and among people.  I choose now to pay attention to the subtleties of my body and being.

Each of these new practices are in response to my life conditions of last month, yet I have chosen to stick with them even though the reasons for them are gone.  In some way, each of these are responding to today’s life conditions too.

There is a virtuous circle at work within me, allowing me to see myself well, and see when life conditions change and when I need to shift in response.  Regardless of what form my habits take, they serve what Marilyn Hamilton and I call the master rule:

  • look after self
  • look after others
  • look after this place


_____ _____ _____

This post forms part of Chapter 4 – An Uneasy Journey, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities.

Nest City is organized into three parts, each with a collection of chapters.  Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.  Click here for an overview of Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence, chapters 4-7.

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. 



Laser beam precision

I received the gift of laser beam precision last week.  I needed a clone and had to make do with just me.  So I told myself I needed laser beam precision and I gave it to myself.

Here’s what I told myself as I headed into a fury of big tasks, all of which needed my full attention:

  1. Settle into the work.
  2. Pour self into the work.
  3. Love the work.
  4. Make meaning of the work.
  5. Share what I see in the work.

I delivered.  These little thoughts helped me create a habitat for myself and the work I needed to do. Stopping regularly to write in my little red notebook added focus as well. For Integral City 2.0 eLab participants, you will find my writing about integral intelligence, cultural/storytelling intelligence and building/structural intelligence for cities on the Harvest pages. It was a great week.

And two nights I was able to get up from my desk before midnight.  That is also success.