Are you “seeking inspiration about the untapped potential of city dynamics”? If so the Canadian Journal of Urban Research  (Winter 2010) observes that the book Integral City “opens up a gallery of visionary futures”. 

While the CJUR book reviewer has some reservations about using the Integral model as a viable framework for viewing the city (see Endnote below), she concedes that Integral City makes a proposition that lets readers “think about problems holistically; consider many dimensions and many scales simultaneously; and be aware of interactions”.

Three recent and rigorous research studies give indications that the very use of the integral theory is indeed discovering new evidence for the value of approaching the city from a holistic, multi-dimensional and multi-scalar emergent systems view.  The studies reveal new ways of looking at how Leaders and Policy Makers can be more effective and resourceful in the City.  

Each of the studies has been previously referenced in the blog:

Values Mapping and Integral Vital Signs Monitoring the City of Abbotsford (2010, Hamilton)

Neuroimaging Research Confirms Values Preferences Are Visible in Brain Patterns (2011, Caspers, Helm, Lucas, Stephan, Fisher, Amunts, Zilles))

Conscious Leadership in Action (2011, Barrett Brown)

What is intriguing and affirming of the value of using integral frameworks is to see how these studies, taken together reveal patterns that exist in the Individual and Collective consciousness and culture of the city. Applying quadrants, levels and individual aspects of the theory, the three studies can be viewed this way:

Upper Left (UL) and Upper Right (UR) Quadrants:  Barrett Brown’s study of leaders in sustainability organizations applies the dimension of levels of conscious capacity to examine how leaders at more complex levels of thinking (UL) act (UR)  in progressively more complex ways, in relation to the collective systems they lead .

Upper Right (UR) Quadrant: Caspers et al reveal in their study that values preferences can be imaged on fMRI scans. The brain (UR), in fact, handles decision making (UL) differently when it uses a “balancing and weighing” collectivist strategy than when it applies an individualistic “fight or flight” strategy.

Lower Left (LL) and Lower Right Quadrants: Hamilton found that different cultures (LL) expressed personal values (UL) differently based on first language spoken. She also found that collective preferences for city change (LR) varied by culture (LL) and age (UR).

These studies (each of which uses and/or tests integral theory as a framework for methodological design and/or interpretation)  are revealing why the integral paradigm with its worldcentric and kosmocentric worldviews reveals more of what Leaders and Policy Makers, Managers and Citizens, Civil Society and Developers and Governments and Environmentalists need, to see in the city in its dynamic and complex life.  Integral City lenses are a major improvement on the less comprehensive urban theories derived from modern and post-modern thinking.


The review essay (by Sharon Ackerman) critiques the book as being influenced by “New Age spiritual guru Ken Wilber’s … integral theory of consciousness”. This is an unfortunate framing of Wilber’s Integral philosophical and psychological paradigm, which he has spent decades differentiating from associations and limitations with any connection to post-modern New Ageism. In fact a quick perusal of Wikipedia’s entry on “New Age” refers to Wilber’s critique of New Age as suffering from what he ” termed the pre/trans fallacy.

[90] According to Wilber, human developmental psychology moves from the pre-personal, through the personal, then to the transpersonal (spiritually advanced or enlightened) level.[91] He regards 80 percent of New Age spirituality as pre-rational (pre-conventional) and as relying primarily on mythic-magical thinking; this contrasts with a post-rational (including and transcending rational) genuinely world-centric consciousness.”

Urban theory, like other discourses, has emerged through the stages of modernism (which gave us much of the reductionistic urban planning frameworks, largely focused on the right hand quadrants of the Integral model, still being applied today) and post-modernism (which tries to address historic approaches and cultural sensitivities in the left hand quadrants of the Integral model, that  modernism ignored).  Neither approach is sufficiently complex to integrate the realities of today’s cities with multi-cultural populations and infrastructure scales that defy modern and post-modern solutions. What integral theory brings to the table is a recognition that all four quadrants are necessary to embrace the complexity of the city; that the left hand quadrants of consciousness and culture are equally important (and even determine) the right hand quadrants of behaviours and structural systems; and that levels of complexity transcend and include bio-psycho-cultural-social developments in an evolutionary trajectory.

About the Author:

HI I am the Founder of Integral City Meshworks Inc. and Chief Blogger. Working with cities and eco-regions, I ‘meshwork’ or weave people, purpose, priorities, profits, programs and processes to align contexts, grow capacity and develop strategies for sustainability and resilience in the Integral City. You can read more details about me here

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