How do you prepare for a book launch of the Russian translation of
Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive? Dmitry Baranov, Publisher of the Russian Translation and Founder of iPraktik asked for an interview. And special thanks to Victor Shiryaev for the translation – which Dmitry then published in Russian in the Theory and Practise Blog here. (Note: the automatic online English translation of the Russian doesn’t quite capture the original – so I share it with you below).
Dmitry Baranov, Founder iPraktik, Moscow
Dimitry: 1. Dear Marilyn, could you please share with us what happens nowadays in the city development sphere?
MH: What is happening in city development depends on where the city is located – both what country and also what is the eco-region or the habitat of the city.
Every city in the world faces 5 great threats: Climate, Water, Energy, Food, Finance. Each city has to respond differently to them depending on what are the life conditions that are going on there? What is the state of the economy, the environment, the culture and the structures/systems of the city.
So in Perth Australia there is a great interest in ecologically sensitive development. They are concerned about their water supply. The same goes for desert cities in most places of the world – from Phoenix Arizona to Arab cities. Chicago and Vancouver both want to be the greenest cities in the world – so they are building structures with green roofs. The leading architects like Bill McDonough, Richard Register, Mark DeKay are designing their buildings to be “smart” to respond to local climate and environmental conditions. They have projects in China, Egypt and the USA. Charles Landry and Richard Florida have both been trying to understand how culture plays a major role in making cities smarter. The engineers from the Big Data movement want to collect data to make cities smarter – so traffic flows and communications inform everything from cars to smart phones. The Mayors of cities in the developing world are interested in economic prosperity and how to solve the basic challenges of maintaining and improving infrastructure that is aging, and falling apart and needs to be replaced.
Dmitry: 2. The most noticeable trend in Russia is this regard has to do with city space improvement and infrastructure – mostly in design, transportation issues, human involvement. In Europe the biggest trend was green orientation towards ecology of living. So what happens now on the leading edge of city development in the world?
MH: I have pointed to what cities are spending time, energy and money on – they must create the conditions for Resilience in the face of the Big 5 Threats. But in order to do so they must invest in human creativity and development. Cities have been treated as though they are just bricks and mortar – but in fact they are really living systems of the human species – the “human hive” as I call it. As a species we need to make sure our human hives are as resilient for humans as the beehive has been for honey bees. And we need to take a lesson from the honey bees and their problems with colony collapse disorder. We need to ask ourselves what will prevent collapse of human hives and what will make them most resilient as living systems? That means we need to work on what makes us distinctive as a species – and that is our consciousness and cultures – the inner lives of cities is what will strengthen the outer life of the city.
Dmitry: 3. There is a famous example from Moscow: city activists from the School of Urban Studies began improvement of one of the city’s yards and got into conflict not with the government or bureaucracy structures, but with the inhabitants of that yard. Those were very disappointed with the results of the urbanists’ endeavors, saw complete lack of taste in the innovative modern design of the children’s playground, and even accused the activists in corruption and price fixing. What is the point here?
MH: This is an interesting story with many facets related to what I might call the 4 Voices of the City.
In order for a city to thrive, it needs to be treated as a “whole” as a living system, made up of many “wholes” or “holons”. Each person is a holon, and all the ways we associate in collectives or groups are what we call “social holons”. Think of our families, teams, organizations or in this case a community or neighbourhood – they are all social holons – wholes – with 4 voices: Citizens, Civic Managers, Civil Society and Business/Developers. All the voices need to be present and contribute to workable solutions to city problems or opportunities. If only one or 2 voices dominate, then the other Voices resist or undermine or confront or refuse solutions that do not include them.
So in this example I see that a group of outside “experts” – with good intentions by the sounds of it – came together as City Activists (Civil Society Voices) and brought in Modern Designers (Developer/Business voices) to solve a problem that the Bureaucrats (Civic Managers) ignored or didn’t give high priority to. The Inhabitants (Citizen Voices) don’t seem to have been consulted. The “solution” was “parachuted” into their neighbourhood and they didn’t like it. Perhaps their accusations of corruption and price-fixing were true or not true – but it is a way to accuse the Voices with Good Intentions (Activists-Civil Society and Designers – Developers) of not including them in the process.
The point of this story – is that all 4 voices need to be present for creating solutions that serve the whole. That is how the honeybees and all other living systems have figured out how to thrive
(for 100 million years). We are a young species still trying to figure this out. We need to keep learning from our mistakes and try to live in our cities so we make decisions that serve the wellbeing of all the holons – and the only way to do that is to keep the whole in mind.
Dimitry: 4. It is quite obvious that in polarity to the urban activism is urban nihilism. Do you know any examples in world’s practice where a positive solution to such nihilism was found?
MH: Urban nihilism – do you mean active undermining of urban wellbeing? Of existential angst? Of inner and outer attacks on the success of the city?
We know from an emerging science of cities, that cities actually outlast organizations and even the countries they “belong” to. So if you look back in history many if not most cities go through stages of destruction – think of Rome burning, or London losing 50% of its inhabitants from the plague, or Lebanon destroying “Venice of the Middle East” or Detroit going bankrupt or all the cities suffering from terrorist attacks from Moscow to New York or cities destroyed by war. Each of these city destructions are different examples of the growing pains of the human species. They are symptoms of nihilism caused by dissonance in the city systems – generally because of “growing pains” in the human species located there. If the cities survive these attacks from within it is because cities are ecologies of people (social holons) at different stages of development. Nihilism can be outgrown – but it needs the wisdom of those people who can think beyond the short-term pain/angst of the nihilists themselves – and gather the resources within those who want to survive – and reinvent the city for a higher purpose than nihilism wants to destroy.
Dmitry: 5. Marilyn, what is an integral city?
An Integral City
is a way of looking at the city as a whole – as a living system – with its 4 Voices, a trajectory of values, a living system with evolutionary spirit.
Dmitry: Can this concept become reality in any region of the world with any kind of population and government?
MH: The approach to looking at a city as a living system can emerge at any time. But how the population and government embrace it and adapt it to cultures and infrastructures and systems depends on the developmental levels of complexity of those people.
Dmitry: Or is it a certain stage with gradual ascent towards that stage?
I think of an Integral City as embracing all stages of complexity
. As a living system it is an ecology that contains and embraces a nest of human systems from individuals to families, organizations, communities, sectors, etc. all at once. That is why it is so complex. So it is not about ascending to a particular stage but how all those stages co-exist together.
Dmitry: 6. A question about globalization. A known problem for Russia’s regions is federal-size networks forcing out and replacing local small businesses. Is it a normal process, after which there is some kind of a new step, or do we have to try and influence this process somehow?
The imposition of governments that do not respect eco-regions is a world-wide dilemma. I see 4 stages in the development of human systems – including cites – that go from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric to kosmocentric
. From a worldcentric and kosmocentric perspective the only way that city alignments will make sense over the long run is how they are in service to the wellbeing of their eco-regions and the earth as a whole. So the tensions between current forms of government is another example of our growing pains as a species – the symptoms of species teenagehood
Dmitry: 7. Finally, what are you planning to talk about during your presentation in Moscow on May, 16th?
MH: I have written Eugene Pustoshkin an article on City Trigger Points as Country Tipping Points – so considering how cities of the 21st century must become worldcentric – and how this is causing all our countries great problems as the nations “don’t get it”. I plan to talk about how the basic reframing of a city to look at it as the “human hive” can help us discover gateways that help us work together for the wellbeing of the city and the wellbeing of the planet.