Welcoming outsiders

At a conference welcome reception last fall in Canada, I stepped in to join a conversation in progress. The room was full of people I did not know, so I chose a group where there was one person I had met a few hours ago, and three others new to me. I did not interject and interrupt and overstep the unwritten rules for a new arrival; I waited for a sign that I would be welcome. The person I knew, gave me a quick nod and (appropriately) continued to speak in the conversation already underway. The others did not look at me, not even a glance. I thought to myself, “my, this is strange, to not acknowledge the arrival of a newcomer to a conversation at a welcome reception.” I discerned that it was not a private conversation and made the decision to not insert myself further and conduct a little experiment: how long would they continue to not acknowledge, let alone welcome, the presence of a newcomer?

I stood and listened, observing. I waited about 10 minutes then moved away to release the experiment. I allowed time for the conversation to shift and adjust, change its focus, find those moments of transition to bring in the newcomer. They did not do it. For 10 minutes they chose to not acknowledge the presence of a newcomer, let alone welcome and weave in the newcomer.

How long would they continue to not acknowledge, let alone welcome, the presence of a newcomer?

At a separate gathering last fall, I found myself in a conundrum: to participate—or not—in a North American Indigenous ceremony in Europe. I chose to not participate and begin to explore why it did not sit well with me (what I figured out can be found in this post: Colonial blind spot).

At this gathering we were not in the shape of a traditional conference, rather in the shape of listening, a circle, so I spoke what I was struggling with: that the use of an Indigenous ceremony by Europeans without the acknowledgement of the European colonial involvement in the attempted cultural genocide of North American Indigenous peoples did not sit well with me. A few others spoke of other forms of discomfort with the ceremony and somehow, despite being people good at listening and hearing and discerning, we did not know how to handle the uneasiness in our midst. The discomfort did not have a place to land and we who felt and spoke it were left sitting with our unease without the felt awareness or support of the wider community. We were left outside.

The discomfort did not have a place to land and we who felt it and spoke it were left sitting with our unease without the felt awareness or support of the wider community. We were left outside. 

Two yellow backpacks 

As I made my way through these two experiences, two women sporting yellow backpacks arrived to help me make meaning of them. Both are extreme explorers of the world, comfortable in their own skin and being their own self even it they don’t quite fit the ‘norm’. They both arrived when I needed them.

Yellow backpack #1 is Willemijn, who whisked me off to The Hague after the gathering in Europe. With a handful of compatriots, the Netherlands was revealed to me in the most beautiful fashion: by bicycle, by train, by bus and tram, by car; with guided tours of their favourite things; by sharing family and favourite food; and with time for me to explore on my own. Willemijn opened her home and her life to me, adjusted her schedule to fit me in. We got to know each other and appreciate each other. We had time to simply be with each other and talk about many things we found we shared in common. She coordinated the communication with her compatriots to help us find time together too. What she mostly did was share herself and it was beautiful and generous.

Yellow backpack #2 is Celine, who co-hosted a session with me at the traditional conference. We resisted the conference inertia and took our space in the conference to make room for participants to explore their own expertise. Afterwards, we decided to share a meal and found ourselves in an intense conversation about deep personal matters. After having revealed a bit of ourselves to each other with our conference session, we found in each other an instant trust and safety from having revealed. We both tuned in to there being more for us to explore with each other and we both said yes. It started with an unusual conference session where we were allowed to speak to each other. We were able to notice an interpersonal connection and then act on it. (Noticing interpersonal connections is not encouraged at traditional conferences by design, despite intention otherwise.) What she mostly did was share herself and it was beautiful and generous.

I met Willemijn first and had been feeling like she was a guardian angel sent to tend my hurting soul. We didn’t even talk about what was hurting; we enjoyed each other’s company and it was perfect. When I met Celine two months later, I first noticed her yellow backpack, just like Willemijn’s, and how they contain the essentials needed for the day, to serve its porter well. (It always amazes me what comes out of a backpack!) I also noticed how the cheery yellow backpack reflects the spirit of these two souls who make their way through the world with a happy confidence in doing things a bit differently than the norm. The backpacks are a bit dirty because they are well used; these are gals with practical life experience, around 30 years old, charting their unconventional paths with confidence.

What made me look more closely at the yellow backpacks and these two gals was the depth of conversation in which we easily found ourselves. 

What made me look more closely at the yellow backpacks and these two gals was the depth of conversations in which we easily found ourselves. Their openness to drop in and be honest and real about themselves and with another, was spectacular. As I listened to Celine, I could not stop thinking of Willemijn and her yellow backpack. I knew I had more to notice here when I heard Celine say that she is learning to play the cello – just like Willemijn. There just can’t be that many awesome yellow backback-sporting cello-learning 30-something-year-olds in the world, can there?

At 48 and recently single, these two yellow backpacks are a reminder of what I already knew:

  • I love that my life path is a bit unconventional
  • My body feels great when I wear a backpack
  • There are messages in the symbols of the wilderness of the human experience
  • There is more going on in a conversation than what we say, or the shape/form the conversation takes
  • Good conversation matters

Find and meet

Conference design has an energy that keeps the experts and participants separate from each other and, most importantly, keeps the participants separate from each other. Unconsciously and consciously, this is by design:

Whether there is one expert at the front of the room, or a panel, the effect is the same: expert and participants. Furthermore, in this format the participants are not expected or allowed to talk to each other. In an environment like this participants (and speakers too) might see each other across the room, session after session, but rarely speak to each other, and if they do it is more rarely substantial. We speak with those we know, lightly with those we do not know, and often not at all to those we do not know.

A loaded program of presenters and people sitting to listen to those presenters allows minimal community – the people in the room share a similar interest and do not talk to each other. The energetic emphasis on the design is on expert content, not creating the conditions for people to magically find each other. At this particular conference there was great emphasis on conversation in between conference sessions, and there is a significant limitation to where those conversations will go because they have little to build on from the conference itself – interpersonal connections are not cultivated. We keep our distance because we only, perhaps, see each other when we choose similar sessions, but we don’t ‘find’ each other. We don’t ‘meet’ each other. Even over coffee, we keep our distance.

We keep our distance because we only, perhaps, see each other when we choose different sessions, but we don’t ‘find’ each other. We don’t ‘meet’ each other. 

What I mean by ‘find’ and ‘meet’ is this: we share ourselves beyond a simple shared interest; we share stories and struggles and tap in to our collective wisdom; we give our ourselves and receive in return. It may be two of us or twelve or two hundred. But to do this, we have to let go of the sage on the stage—the expert outside of us—and trust the expertise within and among us as a community. When we don’t trust our own expertise we block our ability to access our own expertise.

Enable natural hierarchy 

When people find themselves in the same place at the same time a community of shared interest becomes visible, and because of this we can feel a sense of community, particularly when we are felling isolated. The mere existence of ‘people like me’ brings elation. There is more to community than this when we choose to consciously weave ourselves together, which amplifies our sense of community. And if that community sits in a circle, that shape itself is not enough if the field of relationships between us is not sufficiently nurtured.

If a community sits in a circle, that shape itself is not enough if the field of relationship between us is not sufficiently nurtured. 

Circle is form of meeting where leadership is shared and a diversity of perspectives is welcomed and accommodated. This is also an environment in which ideas in conflict can be difficult to handle if power imbalances are not acknowledged.

If a circle is flat, with no hierarchy or resistance to hierarchy, there is no room to acknowledge power imbalances—and diversity of life experience. A flat circle resists conflict because it wants to consider itself peaceful and welcoming no matter what, even if the opposite is the case. A flat circle, despite its claim to welcome diversity, remains shallow in experience, meaningful only for those on the inside. There isn’t room for those with an ‘outsider’ point of view.

A not-so-flat circle acknowledges the subtle and explicit hierarchies that naturally occur in human systems and explores them.

A not-so-flat circle acknowledges the subtle and explicit hierarchies that naturally occur in human systems and explores them. In doing so, conflict can be held, explored and resolved. This is a circle that endeavours to hear itself and the power dynamics within, and this accommodates more diversity.

Acknowledging the natural occurrence of hierarchy is enabling, both from the structural support it provides, but also as a topic of conversation that allows us to see ourselves better. When we allow ourselves to talk about power, real and perceived, we see our relationships far more clearly. When we don’t, we block ourselves from creating community beyond the sharing of a common interest.

Community means belonging 

We feel community when we feel we belong. We can share a family bloodline, or share geography, in a neighbourhood or city. We can feel community in an organization of any size. We can feel community in social media as we find people with shared interests across the planet. This experience can be meaningful and superficial at the same time (this is often just the right thing!), or it can be meaningful and involve being deeply held as we make our way through the challenges of life as individuals and as communities. As we find ourselves increasingly challenged with the pace of change and conflict in our world, being deeply held and having the capacity to hold and examine conflict is essential. We need to do a better job of finding and meeting each other.

As we find ourselves increasingly challenged with the pace of change and conflict in our world, being deeply held and having the capacity to hold and examine conflict is essential. We need to do a better job of finding and meeting each other.

The conference participants shared an interest in building community sustainability and the standard conference design fostered surface belonging. Community resilience is fostered when a range of ways of being in relationship are activated in the community, ways that reach below the surface of a shared interest.

The circle gathering participants shared a way of meeting (in circle) that fosters conversation in ways that reach below the surface. In this case, when community struggles with noticing and acknowledging power imbalances, it resists the diversity needed to enable resilience.

A resistance to welcoming and accommodating non-expert or outsider perspectives was present in both gatherings in explicit and subtle ways. It manifested as a resistance to talk to each other and invite the outsider in. In both cases, there was a yellow backpack in the room, sitting there, waiting to be unpacked, waiting for its mysterious contents to be revealed and examined. And for the people who gather round to invent their way forward in the mutuality of community.

In your experience, what enables community to welcome and explore the outsider? 

ps – so far, I am resisting the urge to acquire a yellow backpack as I already have too many backpacks…

Recent and related posts

  • The unspoken – a poem on the question of what to do when you find yourself holding the unspoken.
  • Colonial blind spot – People of European lineage – if we are not accepting our story of attempted cultural genocide, we are causing harm. We are propagating the bliss of ignorance.
  • Care out in the open – Care needs to be out in the open or it isn’t happening. To care out in the open means I am willing to be changed by what I hear.
  • Harm happens, intended or not – A welcoming city examines how it defends itself from change, how it maintains the status quo by denying that others are harmed.
  • A welcoming city has transportation choices – All people, regardless of their chosen mode of transportation, exhibit care and look out for each other. That’s how it works: accommodation.

Civic practice for the city

Everything a city does – or does not do – is a result of our actions as citizens, community organizations, the business community and our public institutions. How each of us show up in the city affects how the city serves us, individually and collectively. (Remember the difference between the corporate ‘City’ government and the ‘city‘ habitat we build for ourselves.)

Back in September, in village in the city, I connected the work of Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea on the purpose of a village to the purpose of the city. The result was another a twist on what a city does for its citizens (a reminder of city purposes).

To show up well, in any of the roles we play in the city, we need to be conscious of our civic practice. After our basic survival needs are met, we engage in story and this feeds everything in the city, at every scale. Imagine the village again, where we share stories to ensure our collective survival. Our stories are also full of passion and they feed pride and identity. We will even battle and fight when our stories are threatened. In a village, we are called to be clear about our agreements with each other, and hold ourselves accountable to each other, to be fair and just. As a village develops, we are also compelled to take action on what needs to be done, and be creative and entrepreneurial, allowing our drive to thrive to fuel us.  Eventually, we are able to see and learn and benefit from everyone’s contributions and gifts. The village becomes a place where we learn to live with conflicting truths and uncertainties, allowing us to live the ‘village’ everywhere. It is a place where we can integrate feeling and knowing, and simply be in awe of how the world works.

The Spiral reveals that there are layers of civic practice:

  1. Once our survival needs are met, we …
  2. Connect with each other through our stories. We belong to each other.
  3. Allow our stories to fuel our passion, feed our identity and pride as individuals and as a group.
  4. Seek clarity in our agreements with each other, and hold ourselves accountable, to be fair and just.
  5. Take action on what needs action, allowing our drive to be creative to serve us as opportunities arise.
  6. Look after each other, our diverse needs, and chase our diverse desires.
  7. Explore what’s necessary, natural and next, learning anywhere, everywhere with anyone.
  8. Integrate feeling and knowing, with radical optimism.

For the graphically inclined, here’s how they the layers of civic practice show up on the Spiral:

Civic practice spiral


How do you nurture your civic practice? How do you ensure you show up well for your city? 



Village in the city


The purpose of a village is also the purpose of a city. For Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, a village does many things at once: protects and looks after its inhabitants; feeds them and ensures the goods and services needed are on hand; supports the varied work of villagers so they can participate in community commerce; educates and initiates; governs with a social structure of shared mores; builds webs of identity and relationships; and grows the spirit of the place with traditions of meaning.

Baldwin, Linnea, what is a village and what does it do
Source – Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, What is a village and what does it do?

A village is doing many things at once, each of which connects to the story, the heart, of a place. The story is what connects and binds us to each other and is a foundation on which we build our cities.

In any human system, there is a progression of values, and our intelligence, that we experience that form our stories as individuals and any scale of collective (family, organization, village, city). I took at look at how these levels of values show up in the city. We begin with our full attention on our survival, and once that is looked after, our attention expands to focus on: collective survival; economic and military power; authority and moral codes; prosperity and entrepreneurship; diversity of knowledge; then systemic flow and global life force. (For more details on these levels of values, please explore my primer on Spiral Dynamics integral. For their application to the city, start with Is the unplanned city unplanned – part 4.)

As I look at Baldwin and Linnea’s model, I can see several layers of the Spiral. The village looks after the basic survival needs of villagers. It will step in and protect if need be. It has rules and protocols. It recognizes that it is a place where learning takes place. It recognizes that at the heart of the village is story, the glue that binds us. Here’s what happens if I look at the purpose of the city with “villageness” in mind:

What does a city do? 

  1. Meet basic needs of citizens
  2. Nurture shared sense of belonging, for collective survival 
  3. Cultivate pride and identity / protect city from danger
  4. Provide necessary structure to meet citizens’ needs (physical, economic, social)
  5. Create the conditions for property, development and growth
  6. Create the conditions for expanding knowledge, receiving and giving knowledge
  7. Learn to flex and flow with uncertainty and conflicting truths
  8. Serve as Gaia’s reflective organ

A city, just as a village, does many things at once. Not every citizen is doing each of these things all at the same time, but collectively, as our attention shifts to meet the demands of each moment, the city shifts too. The graphic at the top of this post is purposely purple, for the notion of village is firmly rooted in the early stages of human evolution, when we are grappling for collective survival, and where myths, mystery and story were our tools to understand the world.

Cultivating the village in the city is not about going back in time, but rather a way to cultivate a new story to tell ourselves about our cities and our roles in them as citizens. When we do, it will reshape all the layers we have created above the story.



purpose of village-city on spiral



City evolution inside and outside


‘Think about it. We are like water, aren’t we? We can be fluid, flexible when we have to be. But strong and destructive too.’ And something else, I think to myself. Like water, we mostly follow the path of least resistance.
Wally Lamb, We Are Water


As humanity evolves, so too do the social structures we create to organize ourselves.  In last week’s post, Do it all, all at once, I revealed a series of social structures that illustrate how humanity has organized itself over time. To fully engage the city system, we need to work in all of these structures.

In Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer notice that we first organized communities around place. From this, they articulate four levels of organizing economic structures that correspond with their four structures from last week:

  1. Organizing around centralized power: the state (one sector; centralized state)
  2. Organizing around competition: state plus market (two sectors; decentralized markets)
  3. Organizing around special interest groups: state plus market plus NGOs (three sectors; conflicting relationships)
  4. Organizing around the commons (three sectors; co-creative relationships)

I added two additional structures to Scharmer and Kaufer’s work, and this is how I describe  their modes of organizing, to tease out our evolutionary thread further:

  1. Organizing for flex and flow: the state, the market, NGOs, the field (co-generative relationships for/with the whole)
  2. Organizing for the field: the planet and the field (cosmic, holonic awareness)


This evolutionary movement can be seen in the history of St. John’s, the most eastern point of land in North America. In what appears to be an unplanned city is the story of a settlement’s life conditions over time (Is an unplanned city unplanned Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). The life conditions dictated the purpose of the settlement, what it was organized for and ultimately its shape. The life conditions dictated how they organized: a calm harbour that didn’t freeze; a geographic location in proximity to Europe; fresh water and materials to build shelter; a strategic economic resource in the cod stocks; a strategic military location along shipping routes; the port authority, court house, government house and custom house added order; the prosperity of today’s entrepreneurship pushes the boundaries of moral codes; and today’s social and technology media are changing what we know and how we know it.

Spiral of purposes - 8.005
Spiral of city purposes – what we organize for

The overriding purpose of a city – wherever it is in its development – is to integrate the needs of its people, with its context, to create a habitat in which people survive and thrive. More specific purposes of a city can be varied and be many things at once. We organize to meet all of those those purposes. That is why when engaging with city systems, we must do it all, all at once.

In the midst of all the purposes, at every scale, there are transitions underway. In individuals, in groups, in organizations, in cities, in nations, in our species, Scharmer and Kaufer offer a window into what happens when the transition from one purpose/mode of organizing to another occurs:

“… whenever an economic paradigm is unable to provide useful answers to a period’s biggest challenges, society will enter a transitional period in which, sooner or later, it replaces the existing logic and operating system with an updated and better one. What, then, is the driving force for moving an economy or a society from one operating system to another? We believe that there are two primary ones: exterior challenges (the push factor) and the development of consciousness (the pull factor).” 

As life conditions change around us, we are compelled to respond. As the world becomes more complex, we are compelled to develop our consciousness to be more complex as well. The pattern in St. John’s is a pattern in us all.


What pulls us along in our evolutionary journey is a dance between the world around us and the world within us.

We are like water.

Perhaps the valley in which we flow is the world around us. At times we flow freely and unhindered, smoothly.  At other times we fall. In some instances we run through narrow passages, carving our own path over time. Other times we hit the rapids with great fanfare, noise and confusion. We are influenced by the wind, the earth, the sun and the moon.

We push and are pushed back.

We are pushed by our cities and we push back.

But how does what we think about our world and our cities change when we realize that we have made them? Our city habitats, and all of the organizing we do within and around them, are made by us. By becoming more conscious of this relationship, we can trigger a new operating system for our cities – and make the move to Scharmer and Kaufer’s fourth structure – where we co-create in the commons.

How does the city make us more conscious of ourselves?

What does the city pull out of us? 

_____ _____ _____

Some friends and I started a book club to explore Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer (Theory U) and Katrin Kaufer’s new book. This is a post I created while figuring out why this book didn’t go far enough for me.

Here are some earlier posts:

Need to know a bit more about how all this works? Here are 7 principles that frame the emerging spiral, and 6 conditions for evolutionary expansion. And some other stuff:

  1. Beck, Don Edward and Cowan, Christopher C., Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford (2006), particularly pages 52-56.
  2. Hamilton, Marilyn, Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive, New Society Publishers Inc., Gabriola Island (2008)
  3. Scharmer, Otto and Katrin Kaufer, Leading From the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc., San Franciso (2013)
  4. Sanders, Beth, “From the High Water Mark to the Back of the Fish Flakes: The Evolutionary Purpose of Cities,” Vol 51, No. 4, p 26-31, Plan Canada.  Print publication of the Canadian Institute of Planners.


Do it all, all at once


Do it all, all at once, as appropriate.

That is what is necessary to engage a whole system.

Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer, in their work Leading from the Emerging Future, describe four levels of social structures that have emerged as humanity grows and develops. The first three are very familiar to us: (1) where power is centralized at the top, (2) where power is decentralized at the top, and (3) where power becomes relational and networked.

Structure 1
Scharmer and Kaufer’s Structure 1.0
Structure 2
Scharmer and Kaufer’s Structure 2.0
Structure 3
Scharmer and Kaufer’s Structure 3.0

(For readers familiar with the Spiral of values I have previously explored (here’s a primer), Scharmer and Kaufer’s first structure is RED/BLUE, the second BLUE/ORANGE, and the third ORANGE. The fourth, below, is GREEN, with a hint of YELLOW.)

According Scharmer and Kaufer, the fourth structure we are growing into locates power in the social field. They see this clearly, and they see how to create habitats that will allow us to access new knowledge and intelligence that is not accessible with the previous structures.

Structure 4
Scharmer and Kaufer’s Structure 4.0


As the structures have evolved, our levels of listening evolve, along with transformations in our levels of awareness and how we coordinate ourselves. It is a journey that is facilitated by infrastructures to help us tap into our creativity, infrastructures to co-initiate, co-sense, co-inspire, to prototype and  co-evolve.

The journey they articulate is one where the locus of leadership shifts from ego (me-in-we) to eco (we-in-me). They name the journey we are making from self to Self, from me to we. The most important thing they name are the characteristics of habitats that support and sustain learning. The places we make and shape to nourish and foster the transformation under way matter.

Scharmer and Kaufer stop short of saying something important: all structures have value. 

And this leads me to a fifth structure of my own that reflects a leap past the first four to a structure that expects and accepts all structures that Scharmer and Kaufer have identified. We have evolved from structure to structure as they have described. They note that each earlier structure exists in the structures that follow, they leave the reader with a sense that as we advance, we leave the earlier structures behind; they are somehow lesser, no longer appropriate. Their work is incomplete.

My fifth structure, drawing on Spiral Dynamics, is a big leap past structures 1 to 4, because 1+2+3+4=10.  It looks like this.

Structure 5 or 10
How I imagine Structure 5.0 (or 10?)

This fifth structure is characterized by a flex and flow of all four of Scharmer and Kaufer’s structures (in Spiral-speak, this is YELLOW). As conditions dictate, all the earlier structures are appropriate. When there is an emergency and fire-fighters are called to action, structure 1 is perfect. When there is no emergency, structure 2 may be appropriate. The fire chief and his personnel retain their hierarchical expectations and organize themselves to make sure the resources are in place for the next emergency; their power is decentralized. Even further behind the scenes, fire department personnel (can) work collaboratively in a network of city builders to make sure that the design of new neighbourhoods meets the needs of citizens and various other needs that need to be met in our city habitats. Their “turf” gets mixed in with that of many other stakeholders in structure 3.

Structure 4 is appropriate when the context allows the players to sit back and contemplate what they are doing and why. It might be a strategic planning session at the fire hall that involves a diverse range of expertise and experience to make wise choices. From structure 5, we see that the time and place varies for each approach, that they all happen, naturally. Where Scharmer and Kaufer characterize structure 4 as eco-in-me, I characterize structure 5 as all-in-me.

Drawing again on Spiral Dynamics, I sense a sixth structure (TURQUOISE), yet again more complex, that encompasses the expanse of systems of systems at work in life. This structure again builds upon the previous structures, taking into account the field in which all systems work, at every scale.

 Structure 5 or 15


There is a pattern at work in these social structures and within us. What has our attention is expanding. How we organize ourselves is transforming. Here is a summary of these structures. The first 4 belong to Scharmer and Kaufer, the remaining two mine, drawing on the lineage of Spiral Dynamics:

  1. State-centric – hierarchy and control – traditional awareness
  2. Free market – markets and competition – ego-system awareness (ego-in-me)
  3. Social market – networks and negotiation – stakeholder awareness (we-in-me)
  4. Co-creative – seeing and acting from the whole  – eco-system awareness (eco-in-me)
  5. Co-generative – embodiment of the whole – flexibility/spontaneity  awareness (all-in-me)
  6. Holonic experience of being –  expansive planetary connections – global cosmic awareness (Gaia-in-me)

To engage the systems in which we live and work, it is not sufficient to engage only the most recent structure. They all need attention because they all need to be healthy and they all have valuable contributions to make to the system as a whole. We must do it all, all at once, as  conditions require. They are all necessary, in the right time and place.

What social structure are you growing into?


______ ______ ______

Need to know a bit more about how all this works? Here are 7 principles that frame the emerging spiral, and 6 conditions for evolutionary expansion.

Some friends and I started a book club to explore Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer (Theory U) and Katrin Kaufer’s new book. This is another piece, on Chapter 8. Here’s what came from my exploration of earlier chapters:

_____ _____ _____

Be a conscious citizen


A few years ago, a friend told me that the world is run by those who show up. I’ve wondered since, are cities run by those who show up?

Cities are made by citizens, so all of us who live in and interact with cities have already shown up. Each one of us, as we build or buy homes, choose apartments, and  work to make our communities better places, are making our city. We have all shown up and the evidence that we have show up is simple: we have made cities and we are in an ongoing relationship with cities as we remake them.

The city is a dance of voices and values, where we all have a hand in the creation and recreation of our cities. Civic politicians and developers, along with professional engineers and city planners physically make much of our cities. Civil society makes sure we are organizing ourselves well, and to the standards we expect. As citizens, we work to make our places better.

The real question is whether we are making our cities consciously. 

As we unconsciously engage with our city, we make contributions we are not aware of, both negative and positive. By choosing to live in or interact with a city, we have a hand in running it because we are there. We have shown up, but more often than not we participate unconsciously.  We shape cities, unaware of how our choices shape the city. When we feel we don’t have a say in what happens, it is because we don’t choose to be in relationship with the city. Our choice, at every turn, is how to engage and contribute.

There is showing up and then there is showing up.

Cities are consciously run by those who consciously show up. More than just being in the city in body and mind, there are citizens who throw their heart and soul into their city life.

Conscious citizens put their true self out into the world. They choose to pursue their passion in their work, organize for it, invite and receive feedback.  In doing so, they reshape our cities, allowing our cities to serve us better. The risk to do the work they love is worth it, because it serves their – and our – evolutionary purpose.

Just as I can be with people and not really be there, I can be in my city and not really serve it. The choice is mine. The choice is ours.

What kinds of work make you feel like you are really showing up?


_____ _____ _____

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:

_____ _____ _____


Emergence defined


In my last post, I declared a goal: to have a supportive relationship with 40,000 people about cities and our relationship with them. I have crossed a threshold to think this goal, let alone say it out loud and communicate it to the many of you who are reading my blog, following me on twitter, LinkedIn and facebook.

This goal makes me feel distinctly uncomfortable, so I recognize it as my own version of a threshold of a new age.  This goal requires me to reach out very far, much farther than my internal filters say is appropriate. I am a ‘good Canadian’, who doesn’t toot her own horn. Yet the opportunity before me, using social media, is profound. It is a new age, where I can connect with people across the planet. The people who see cities as I do are not concentrated in one spot – we are all over, and there is so much to learn from each other’s experiences. Because of this new age, I can find my tribe across the planet, build relationships with them and seek out ways to support each other in our work. This, I actively wish to pursue: making connections and see what comes.

What will our work be? That will emerge…

Peggy Holman provides a simple definition of emergence in her book, Engaging Emergence: order arising out of chaos. The result is new levels of patterns as we make sense of the world. On the Nest City Blog, there are many posts that speak to this – simply search for posts with the tag “Spiral Dynamics integral.”  Our value systems have evolved – emerged – in response to our life conditions. We make sense out of the chaos we see, then find more chaos, followed by more order. As a reminder, here is the Spiral as we have looked at it here:

Spiral of purposes - 8.005

Each level on the Spiral is a new order of complexity (complexity is increasing with movement upwards). As Holman puts it: “Emergent order arises when a novel, more complex system forms (p. 18).” There is a transition from one order to the next, and in this transition there is a threshold.

Each level of emergence is a new world that we see with fresh eyes. It works differently, it organizes itself differently and it values different things for different purposes. To see the new world, we must cross a threshold:

Without warning, thresholds can open directly before our feet. These thresholds are also the shorelines of new worlds.   (John O’Donohue)  

The passage to a shoreline of a new world, from the sea, can be rough or calm. Whether a straightforward or dramatic manoeuvre, it is a transition from what we know into a world we do not know. It is daunting and thrilling at the same time to make the voyage through thresholds into the unknown and the uncertain.

As cities and citizens we come upon thresholds. What is their role in our own emergence?


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Sources / Further reading

Peggy Holman, Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity

John O’Donohue, Bless the Space Between Us

Don Edward Beck and Christopher C. Cowan, Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change 

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This post forms part of Chapter 6 – Emerging Thresholds, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Click here for an overview of Chapters 4-7 (Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence). Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.

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City’s destination is our evolving purposes


At the beginning of December 2012, I began exploring the role of purpose and destination as we organize our cities with this question: is our destination alive or adrift?  In Focus, learn and choose, I share a personal reflection on the role of purpose as I was struggling with the increased darkness as we approach the winter solstice; when things are feeling adrift, I sense a higher purpose that connects me to my work.

As a species, our work shapes what we emerge into yet the very purpose of evolution is evolving. What is constant, however, is our quest for survival and improvement; humans, and the settlements we create, share this quest. I came across 100 urban trends that highlight the emerging destination of our cities. While this list of highlights are not definitive, they do elucidate a trajectory in our cities’ development. They demonstrate that there is direction in destination.

Just as I may feel adrift in my personal work, so too can our cities. Teasing out the direction in which we wish to go is as important as a specific destination. These are two different scales of purpose, perhaps, where destination is specific and in the short term, while direction is more difficult to latch onto an essential element in our quest to improve. Understanding what constitutes improvement points us in a direction. And as we move in a direction, the purposes that show up as specific destinations along the way evolve.

As the purpose of evolution is evolving, so to are the purposes of our cities. I see a nest of purposes for the city (Figure A) that manifest at various scales, from the self, to family/clan, group/tribe, neighbourhood/organization, city, and eco-region (Figure B).

Figure A: Nest of city purposes
Figure B: Hamilton’s nested hierarchy of city systems

Each scale of individuals and collectives, are reaching, as interested and able, into expanded purposes (Figure C). A range of purposes are alive at every scale, from the individual to the city, to the planet and universe; even purposes we can not yet contemplate and imagine. Each purpose is in response to context and circumstances and are therefore always in flux. As life conditions change, we are pulled down the Spiral to ensure survival, and we are pulled up the Spiral as we aim to improve.

Figure C: Spiral of purposes

This all takes place as a dance between our individual and collective lives, and especially in the co-creative dance where we built our physical, social and economic habitats together: the city.

A city’s destination is to serve the evolution of our evolving purposes.

What purposes are alive in you? In your city?

What purposes are you and your city expanding into?


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This post forms part of Chapter 5 – Destination Alive or Adrift, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Click here for an overview of Chapters 4-7 (Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence). Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.

The Spiral is based on the work of Clare Graves, Don Beck and Christopher Cowan: Spiral Dynamics.



Scales of purposes


The purposes I pursue are informed by what I value. The purposes we pursue are informed by what we value. Purpose and value drives both my decisions and those of the larger wholes of which I am a part.

I am a whole system myself, and I find myself within the larger whole of my family. My family is a system within the larger system of our neighbourhood. My neighbourhood is a system inside the larger system of the city of Edmonton and its region. Edmonton is a system within the larger system of Canada, and Canada a nation of the world. Each system is whole and is also a part of larger wholes. Each system has its respective purpose and set of values, which may be aligned or disparate, but they each are live with purpose.

Figure A: Hamilton’s nested city systems

Each scale will have a purpose that reflects its life conditions. (See Figure B to see the Spiral; here is a primer on Spiral Dynamics.) While I value prosperity and creative entrepreneurship today (with the time I have to write), I recognize that the school and police systems in Edmonton are operating out of authority and moral codes today because of two teens who threatened, online, to hurt many people. Their actions have been taken seriously and they have been charged. Organizations across Edmonton are diving in to make financial contributions to the Edmonton Food Bank to ensure families have enough food this Christmas. They are guided by moral codes to serve folks in survival mode.

And as we gather for upcoming winter festivities, whatever religion, we are engaging in long-held practices that bring communities together to bond for collective survival of culture. Others in my city are working on open data systems that help the city see itself, so we are able to explore more fully the diversity of knowledge at our disposal. Others yet see ways to make all of the above be healthy and vibrant, so we have a city that serves citizens well.

Figure B: Spiral of purposes

A variety of purposes are alive at every scale, from the individual to the city to the planet and the Universe. Each scale of individuals and collectives, are reaching, as interested and able, into expanded purposes.

What purposes are alive in you? In your city?

What purposes are you and your city expanding into?


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This post forms part of Chapter 5 – Destination Alive or Adrift, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Click here for an overview of Chapters 4-7 (Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence). Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.

The Spiral is based on the work of Clare Graves, Don Beck and Christopher Cowan: Spiral Dynamics.




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?


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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.