“Sure, you can interview me, but my work is not really related to the city.”  That was a response I heard over and over again as I invited Thought Leaders, Designers and Practitioners to share their wisdom in the Integral City 2.0 Online Conference (IC2OC) last year  (Hamilton & Sanders, (2012a, 2012b). I was continuously astonished that these visionaries did not see how their work contributed to our understanding of the city.


Perhaps this is the first stage of developing a meta-view of any subject? The meta-analyst brings together previously disparate parts of a system that has not seen itself from a metaview? At first this is merely a tentative proposition that the parts belong together as a whole. And as the meta-analyst does this, they make object not only what might have been previously subject (in which they were fused with the focus of contemplation), but they bring together many system-objects and point out the interconnections that reveal the wholeness of a supra-system.

When I consider this in terms of the trajectory of learning, this is perfectly logical. We must become first self-aware, then self-manage, self-learn/lead/teach. The next big jump is to follow the same path to become other-aware (manage, learn/lead/teach). Then the  next two leaps are to follow the same path for contexts and then systems (Dawson-Tunik, 2005; Dawson, 2007; M. Hamilton, 2008, p. 103).

So seeing the city as a context for all scales of human systems is a journey that involves a distinct cycle of learning within ever-expanding scales of context.

The city is the most complex human system yet created, because it contains all the individual, group, organizational and systems scales co-existing in it simultaneously (Hamilton, (2012a, 2012b, 2012c). Wilber (2013) in his recent exploration of Integral Semiotics reveals just how granular it is possible to parse every scale of our human systems using an integral calculus. Furthermore, he gives us the pointing out instructions to notice the subject and object relationships that exist for individuals and collectives (and between individuals and collectives). Thus, philosophically we can consider the word “city” as artifact and as a referent of our gaze; the (UR) signifier that we can sense; the (UL) signified that we can understand; the (LR) syntax or system of systems that is the holding vessel for all complex adaptive life in the city; and the (LL) semantic or meaning-making framework that enables all quadrants and all lines of all holons in the city to relate to one another. This Integral Semiotics offers a new (and sufficiently complex) matrix for thinking about the city. With AQAL lenses it is clear that the city is not just bricks and mortar laid out on a grid system (LR), but is a living social holon, where the exchanges of energy, information and matter occur as a system of highly complex interconnections, and interrelationships.

Perhaps it is the very vitality of these interconnections that blinds us to our relationship to the city as a whole? For the most part we don’t sense, think or feel that we actually contribute to the life of a greater whole (the city) or that our intentions can influence the greater whole (the city) that contributes to our life? In the first instance we are blind to our role and in the second instance we take for granted the flow of life systems the city delivers to us.

I have written elsewhere about the four voices in the four quadrants of the City: UL Cityzens, LL Civil Society, UR City Managers and LL Business/Systems. (And recently we offered a Learning Lhabitat at the Integral Theory Conference 2013 for participants to discover the qualities of these four voices (Marilyn Hamilton & Sanders, 2013a, 2013b)

Most often we characterize Cityzens to be the silent, blind and disengaged persons of the city, while the other three Voices have more influence on the whole city.

But where do we find a city who has created the “habitat” of wellbeing that explicitly recognizes the goals, roles and souls of the city – so that all four voices can be optimized at all scales in their four potentials??

This question is a clarion call to integral practitioners from all disciplines, sectors and professions. Because this blind spot to thinking about the city as a human system to which we should be in service is the sweet spot to becoming sustainable at all scales on the planet.

In the human drive to improve our wellbeing, we have developed capacities to expand the potential of individuals, leaders, families, teams, organizations and even sectors. But as noted by the IC2OC speakers (and reported at the International Society of Systems Science Conference 2013 (Marilyn Hamilton, 2013) , we, who now live predominantly in cities, face grave threats to all the assumptions on which we have based our lives as city-zens. Terry Patten (Patten, 2013) talks passionately about the potential we all have to “enact an integral revolution” to face the urgencies of these challenges and explores an “emergent form of ragged truth-telling and inquiry”. He reminds his readers that Earth is our only home, and calls us to be “magnets” willing to face the great threats that face us and emerge “new possibilities [that] our continued evolution seems to depend upon … [and do] the work of opening and surrendering into a way of being that by its nature becomes better and better in responding” to the challenges of our time.

Our thrust to globalize marketplaces and streamline supply chains has produced commercial powerhouses like Wal-Mart, Nike, Samsung and Toyota. We have quantified the threats to global sustainability with meta-research at the global level (Adger, Aggarwal, Argawala, Alcamo, & et al, 2007; Rockström, Steffen, Noone, & et al, 2009 ) and even set up associations of cities from the C40 to UNHabitat to the emerging City Protocol Society. These organizations have signed on to the idea that Gaia must be considered as a whole system that requires our respect as a living system on which we are totally dependent.

But what city of the world has stepped forward with the processes to imagine itself as a living system that the city as a whole must nurture, just like we nurture the wellbeing of our mind/bodies and our cultural/social organizations?  What city sees itself as a valuable living system of systems, and at the same time sees that it is a sub-system – like a reflective organ of the planet (Lovelock, 2009) – with an obligation to nurture all other cities as part of the supra system that is a Planet of Cities and in the process nurture living systems in all the eco-regions of the planet that support the supra system of cities?

And this is where integrally informed Thought Leaders, Designers/Policy Makers and Practitioners have major roles to play. If you consider that you are an integrally informed person, then ask yourself, when you will create a context for your service to be in service to the life of the city? When will you “enact an integral revolution” (Patten, 2013) as a commitment to facing the global crisis through the vehicle of our cities?

During the IC2OC we asked this question of integral pioneers working in:

  • Leadership
  • Organizational Development & Feedback Systems
  • Cultural Change
  • Structural and Systems Design
  • Sustainability & Resilience Research
  • Spiritual Guidance and Evolution

Many of our speakers simply admitted that they had not thought of their work in the context of the city. They had not realized the NGO, business or spiritual community they served, in turn served the vital living social holon of the city – for which their constituency, client-base and congregation play a life-giving role. They had not thought their role as Leader could create new contexts for business, families, educational institutions, health systems or governance systems to discover we all share a superordinate goal: the wellbeing of the city.

The city as the key to multi-scale sustainability right up to and including global sustainability is staring us in the face. It is a blind spot that every integrally informed person can turn into a sweet spot of strategic adaptive practice. Ken Wilber gives us a thousand points of light where we can light up every intersection in the matrix of the city (Wilber, 2013). Accepting the challenges laid out by Patten, Wilber, Lovelock (and a growing army of others) AND translating action into the context of the city, gives us a re-frame that can move us from merely Yellow flex/flow individualists to a holistically Turquoise collective, in service to the Planet and its supra-system of Cities.

At the What Next Conference in December 2012, Roger Walsh suggested five practical ways we can serve as integrally informed practitioners. Recently I have blogged his suggestions into direct application for Integral City service:

1. Step 1 is to offer an Integral Analysis of the situation and/or city. This may involve a completely private analysis that helps you move to each of the next steps. It challenges the analyst to observe with all five senses and to use the four Integral City maps to notice what there is to notice.

2. Step 2 is to use the analysis from Step 1 to identify the assumptions that are in operation. An example of this kind of analysis is to notice what voice(s) your city inquiries are coming from – the Cityzen? Civil Society? City Management? Business? What is important to these voices? What worldviews are they expressing?

3.  Step 3 is to provide (integrally informed) information that can help make better sense of the city. You can help identify: What values are important around here? What is working? What is not working? What could work better? And then your challenge is to facilitate the theming and relationships amongst the answers.

4. Step 4 invites you to subtly shift the perspective of the voices. An appreciative question can often enable a re-frame of the view of a situation from ME-centric to WE-centric. For example, to shift the perspective of environmentalists vs. business owners we might want to listen to the stories people share in response to this question: “Tell me about a time when you were positively impacted by a business in your neighborhood?” When stories are shared, perspectives start to expand as more partial frames are brought in, to complete a wider, more whole picture.

5. Step 5 opens the space, to offer a vision of possibilities. This step occurs when you have earned enough credibility through walking through the other four steps, that you can create the conditions for all the voices of the city to speak to a desired future. A desired future with support from as many stakeholders as possible gains the momentum that arises from shared beliefs.

Following the 5 Steps enables everyone in the city – even the visionaries I interviewed –  to realize their evolutionary “practivism” … and become part of the integral sweet spot in service to evolving the Human Hive as Gaia’s Reflective Organ.


Adger, N., Aggarwal, P., Argawala, S., Alcamo, J., & etal. (2007). Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Summary for Policy Makers. Retrieved from http://www.ipcc.ch/.

Dawson-Tunik, T. L., Commons, M. L., Wilson, M., & Fischer, K. W. (2005). The shape of development. The European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 2(2), 163-196.

Dawson, T. (2007). Testing Transformation: Transformation Testing. Retrieved from http://devtestservice.com. doi:413.303.1484

Hamilton, M. (2008). Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive. Gabriola Island BC: New Society Publishers.

Hamilton, M. (2012a). City Day: Why Don’t  We Celebrate the Most Complex Human System? Integral Post, (September 4, 2012). Retrieved from http://integrallife.com/integral-post/city-day-why-don%E2%80%99t-we-celebrate-most-complex-human-system

Hamilton, M. (2012b). Integral City Systems of Survival: Why Not Just Privatize the Government? Integral Post, (November 20, 2012). Retrieved from http://integrallife.com/integral-post/integral-city-systems-survival

Hamilton, M. (2012c). Leadership to the Power of 8: Leading Self to Supra System (Full Article with examples). Integral Leadership Review, 2012(October).

Hamilton, M. (2013). Meta Security in the Human Hive: Integrally Aligning Sustainability Responses to Trajecectory of Evolutionary Threats. Paper presented at the International Society Systems Science 2013.

Hamilton, M., & Sanders, B. (2012a). Appendix A – 36 Interviews. In M. Hamilton & B. Sanders (Eds.), Integral City 2.0 Online Conference (Vol. 2 of 4),  Available from http://www.scribd.com/doc/123005653/Integral-City-2-0-Online-Conference-2012-Appendices-A-Radically-Optimistic-Inquiry-into-Operating-System-2-0-36-Interviews

Hamilton, M., & Sanders, B. (2012b). Integral City 2.0 Online Conference: A Radically Optimistic Inquiry Into Operating System 2.0. In M. Hamilton & B. Sanders (Eds.), Conference Proceedings (Vol. 1 of 4),  Available from http://www.scribd.com/doc/120713339/Integral-City-2-0-Online-Conference-2012-A-Radically-Optimistic-Inquiry-into-Operating-System-2-0

Hamilton, M., & Sanders, B. (2013a). City-Zen-tricity: A Fractal Non-Local Leap Toward Kosmocentricity Taken With Integral Kosmopolitans on an Evolutionary Mission. Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, in press. Retrieved from https://foundation.metaintegral.org/jitp/blog/current-issue-integral-business-vol-9-no-3

Hamilton, M., & Sanders, B. (2013b). City-Zen-tricity: A Fractal Non-Local Leap Toward Kosmocentricity Taken With Integral Kosmopolitans on an Evolutionary Mission. Paper presented at the Integral Theory Conference 2013. Retrieved from https://metaintegral.org/sites/default/files/Brochure_final.pdf

Lovelock, J. (2009). The Vanishing Face of Gaia. New York: Harmony Books.

Patten, T. (2013). Enacting An Integral Revolution: How Can We Have Truly Radical Conversations in a Time of Global Crisis? Paper presented at the Integral Theory Conference 2013. Retrieved from https://metaintegral.org/sites/default/files/Brochure_final.pdf

Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., & etal. (2009 ). Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity. art32. Retrieved from http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss2/art32

Wilber, K. (2013). Integral Semiotics Sex Karma Creativity (Vol. 2013): Integral Institute.