Integral intelligence for the city – part 2

In my last post, Integral intelligence for the city – part 1, I outlined two maps that help us see cities as whole, integrated systems: the nested holarchy of city systems and Spiral Dynamics integral.   The two remaining maps complete the collection of maps presented by Marilyn Hamilton in Integral City (click here for the book and here for the website).

The two maps I present today are the integral map and the scalar, fractal relationship map.

1.  The integral map

The basics of this intelligence have been applied in the Nest City blog in my post entitled  City – a dance of voice and values. The map here is very simple: four quadrants that help us notice within our selves and any scale of human system the individual and collective, and the internal and external.

Figure A - Wilber's Four Quadrants (illustrated by Brandy Agerbeck)

As a map, it helps us track this territoity.  It isn’t the territory itself, but a frame for us to explore the territory we are experiencing, or not. Marilyn Hamilton applies this lens expressly to the city:

  1. Upper Left (individual, internal, subjective, intangible) – appreciates the beauty of life and the city, particularly in living systems.  This is the psychological well-being of the city.
  2. Upper Right (individual, external, objective, tangible) – appreciates the truth of life: the actions that support our material survival in the city.  From this perspective we determine the energy flow in the city for life: water, food, waste, shelter, clothing. Our attention here gives us a quality built environment. This is the biological well-being of the city.
  3. Lower Right (collective, external, interobjective, tangible) – appreciates the the truth that emerges from the material systems generated by the Upper Right.  From here the artifact of the city emerges for us to live in collectively – our combined habitat.  This is the social well-being of the city.
  4. Lower Left (collective, internal, intersubjective, intengible)-  appreciates the Goodness in life.  From this perspective we see the moral qualities of our collective choices.  We weave this voice into the stories of everyday life.  We see this view in our formal laws.  This is the cultural-well-being of the city.
For more on Hamilton’s view of this work, please explore her book, Integral City – click here for the book and here for the website.
The lens of the integral map is crucial to seeing the whole city as a system of citizens, city managers, city builders and civil society.  Any contemplation of a city without all four of these integral voices is not complete.  In our work to create cities as habitats in which we thrive, this is a crucial part of integral intelligence.

2.  The scalar, fractal relationships of human systems

I have not written about this map in an explicit fashion so far, but the spirit of this map is within Next City.  Two images I have shared here are fractal: our work and habitat, and the city dynamic.

Figure B - Work in Habitat (at any scale)
Figure C - The City Dynamic (at any scale)

(For further description of work and habitat, visit this post: The development of cities is a survival skill.  For further description of the city dynamic, visit this post: Dynamically steering cities to the future.

By fractal, I mean that regardless of the scale, the pattern is the same.  The image and concept of our work evolving in response to our habitat, social and physical, is one that holds for individuals, families, neighbourhoods, cities and so on.  We don’t come up with new ways of doing things but for in response to some kind of challenge that we face.  This pattern is in place regardless of scale of human system.

The other important consideration when using this map, is that each individual whole that makes up a larger system (think nested holarchy of city systems in my last post) is each in response to her/his/its own set of life conditions, making a soup of values and responses to changing conditions.  Understanding these dynamics are critical to understand as we upgrade our work to ensure cities are habitats for citizens to thrive.


The pattern

We build habitats for ourselves at many scales.  We build habitats for self, for family, for our neighbourhood, our organizations, our whole cities, regions, nations, continents and even our planet.  We have even begun building habitats for ourselves when we spend time in outer space.  The scale at which we do this work is expanding, yet it is only as good as the health of the wholes that make up the whole.  The well-being of selves, families, neighbourhoods, organizations, cities, etc., determine the well-being of the larger wholes.  Our work, as people keen on creating cities that serve citizens, is always at many scales, and in many directions (think quadrants) at once.

Marilyn Hamilton – An Integral City “is dynamic, adaptive, and responsive to its internal and external life conditions.  An Integral City acts much like a complex adaptive human system that concentrates habitat for humans like a beehive does for bees or an anthill does for ants.”[1] 

My next post will explore ecosphere intelligence – our ability to locate cities in appropriate locations.


[1]   Marilyn Hamilton, Integral City, p. 52




The Itch


My son was asking me last week about what to do about mosquito bites.He was wondering if there was a way to make them stop itching.Ironically, the only way to make a bite stop itching, is to NOT scratch it.For some reason, if you scratch it, it makes it more itchy.

So there is a choice to make, we decided.Leave it alone, as hard as it may be, and it will go away.Stratch it and expect it to get more and more itchy.

The questions I left our conversation with:

  • When would I/WE leave an itch alone?
  • What will I/WE find if I/WE scratch the itch on purpose?

I have been writing here forwhile, as well as in unpublished places. And I am writing to simply scratch and itch with the intention that it WILL get more itchy.It seems to be working.The more I contemplate questions about how I engage with others, and about how WE engage with each other, I can see more and more clearly (and simultaneously less clearly) that I have a growing itch about how humans relate with each other in response to the challenges our communities we face.

I scratch as a means to explore and learn.

City By Design

Edmonton's children: Where they live, where they learn (Share Edmonton)The Edmonton Journal’s Sarah O’Donnell and Edmonton programmer Mack Male, have painted a picture for Edmonton residents and decision makers about how our city is growing, especially in light of recent Edmonton Public Schools decisions to close inner city schools.

The article and mapping show us where young families are living, and by implication where schools are needed based on the numbers of children nearby. Using this logic, it makes perfect sense to close schools where there are fewer children.  Need is based on numbers of children, no more no less.  Families move to the suburbs and school trustees follow the families. It’s that simple.

Or is it?  This conversation seems to make several assumptions.  I offer several below to test if they are the assumptions we are using, and /or if we wish to consciously create a new set of assumptions.  They drive how we build and adjust the city we live in, the city we are designing while living in it.

Assumption 1:  Growth just happens. Growth happens where we choose to make it happen.  Cities choose where growth will happen and has a legislative framework to guide growth.  Ultimately, the decision makers are City Council.  There are, however, many other decision makers that influence how and where we build: home buyers, developers and builders, school boards, health providers, realtors, etc.  We spend a lot of time and energy designing and building infrastructure to accommodate us living in this place together, and it is not haphazard. It takes years (and decades) to plan for Anthony Henday, LRT routes, water and wastewater systems, electricity, gas and our extensive roadway system.  We build all of this in the public eye.  None of it “just happens.”

Assumption 2:  We have unlimited funds for infrastructure now and in the future. We expand our city without contemplating the full costs of doing so.  We let school buildings close.  We let vacant land remain vacant when servicing infrastructure is near by.  We let land, and all the utilities serving that land, remain underutilized.  If we are not able to maintain our current infrastructure well now, how do we expect to do so in the future?  City Hall, for example, faces huge capital and operating budget challenges, yet we continue to spread ourselves thin.  We behave as if we have unlimited revenue now and in the future.  Are our pockets (as taxpayers) that full?

Assumption 3:  We need a lot of space from our neighbours. It seems that having oodles of space – in our yards and homes – drives Edmonton’s design.  Why are we afraid of being close to other people?  Or sharing park space instead of large private yards?  What is behind this?  What makes neighbours bad, especially if there are a lot of them?  Perhaps the devil is not in the density, but in the design of how we build the buildings and the space around them.  What if we built exciting spaces and ensured the services were on hand – like schools, LRT – to create viable neighbourhoods.  Viable from a social, environmental and fiscal perspective.  We have yet to really pay for all this space we are enjoying.

Assumption 4:  School boards don’t build cities – City Hall does. Schools have an absolutely critical role to play in physically building cities – look at the schools and green spaces everywhere.  They also play a key role in supporting the well-being of neighbourhoods. Schools are critical formal and informal gathering places that help make a neighbourhood healthy.  A school board’s decisions are critical.  They are not isolated from everyone else’s actions.  Our city builders include school systems (secondary and postsecondary), health systems, energy and water systems, city hall, and our builders and developers.  No one entity or initiative works completely in isolation – they all have a piece of the neighbourhood puzzle.

What if we switched those assumptions for the following principles in decision making at many scales (from citizen up to a large city network of organizations):

  1. Use current infrastructure before building new
  2. Create and design for exciting spaces where people want to spend time
  3. Bring nature to the people and people to nature
  4. Create and support a transportation system that moves people and goods efficiently (rather than the most cars/trucks efficiently)
  5. Integrate the interests and dreams of citizens, community organizations, our city institutions and our city builders
  6. Consider the cumulative costs of our city design choices – actively seek feedback on our choices

I suspect that these principles seem innocuous, but they are not when we  have the feedback systems in place to truly understand if our actions are in line with our goals.  The City of Edmonton, in creating and providing open source data, is providing a critical feedback loop for Edmontonians to understand how the city we are creating works.  There are exciting conversations ahead in Edmonton’s future.

Our collective actions -as  citizens, community organizations, school systems, business owners, city government, health providers, developers, builders, realtors, home buyers, etc.  – create our city.   Is it the one we want?

I wonder if the evidence shows that we are getting what we want, or if we are getting what “just happens.” ttp://