Living System Principles for Integral City Innovation Ecosystems

Dr. Elisabet Sahtouris, evolution biologist, has long been an inspiration to me and the framing of Integral City Intelligences, Voices, Inquiry and Action in Book 2 and Book 1.

One of our initial mutual attractions was how we share a metaphor about living systems from 2 different but related perspectives. Elisabet describes the living cell using the metaphor of a city, and I describe a city with the metaphor of a living cell.

In both cases, we are drawing on our understanding and appreciation of living systems and the principles that they use to function. As I prepare for several presentations and workshops in the months ahead, I have returned to Elisabet’s Principles to renew my recommendations for designing an Integral City as an innovation ecosystem. Let’s walk through those Principles and see how they would translate into strategic intentions and activities. In reviewing these Principles of life at the microscopic level of the cell, we look for the similar pattern at the macroscopic scale of the city as a living system (keeping in mind how the 4+1 Voices of the City cooperate and collaborate to bring the City to life).

Principle 1: Self-creation (autopoiesis) means that a city would need to create a habitat for people that respected the wisdom and resources of its people in relationship to the ecological, geological and biological life conditions of its location and climate.

Principle 2: Complexity (diversity of parts) means that a city would optimize the functioning of its parts by appreciating and supporting the diversity of its 4 Voices – so that citizens (Producers), business/inventors (Diversity Generators), civic managers (Resource Allocators) and civil society (Integrators) can work differently together to achieve a shared Vision.

Principle 3: Embeddedness in larger holons and dependence on them (holarchy) means that a city would be a model of sustainability and resilience as it recognized that it was part of the larger system of human and other living systems contained in the eco-region, nation, continent and planet.

Principle 4: Self-reflexivity (autognosis, self-knowledge) requires the city as a systems of systems, along with its collective groups (organizations, associations, neighbourhoods, teams, families) and individuals are enabled and encouraged to be lifelong learners. This type and attitude to learning starts with the practise of mutual trust and respect. It depends on regular reflective dialogue, feedback and working towards life-giving projects for all.

Principle 5: Self-regulation/maintenance (autonomics) balancing efficiency and resilience is the city-wide practise of managing resources, goals, plans and decisions so the economy is healthy and everyone experiences wellbeing. Self-regulation is a form of practical governance that engages all 4 Voices of the city.

Principle 6: Response-ability to internal and external stress or change requires the 4 Voices of the city to share information openly and take decisions related to resolving their internal tensions and also to pay attention to the 5th Voice of the City represented by other cities in the eco-region. Responding to stresses in a healthy way enables resilience and response-able change.

Principle 7: Input/output of matter, energy and information with other holons means that the city creates an innovation eco-system that recognizes all 4 Voices (and cities in other eco-regions) and their institutions (especially infrastructures, manufacturers, food producers, schools/universities, business, innovation labs and health systems) are aligned into a circular economy that supports equitable access to matter, energy and information for all.

Principle 8: Transformation of matter, energy and information; no non-recyclable waste means sharing and tracking the matter, energy and information flows (governed by Principle 7) so that all output from one holon or function is input for another holon or function and no waste results. This is tracked by an integrated sustainability plan that tracks the vital signs of life for all holons/functions.

Principle 9: Communications among all parts requires that cities create information systems that connect all Voices/Stakeholders with technology to optimize and inform decisions for/with/as the 4 Voices of the city (and state, region, nation, world).

Principle 10: Empowerment, full employment of all component parts tasks the city with creating education and training from K-U to create the conditions for full employment, that coordinates students, interns, business and government and supports the economy’s innovation ecosystem.

Principle 11: Coordination of parts and functions calls for cities to design and practise governance that is fair, transparent, accountable and accessible so people feel safe, caring and can relate to each other easily and often in the coordination of their living, working, play and learning.

Principle 12: Balance of interests negotiated among parts, whole and embedding holarchy requires that the city and its organizations (serving all 4 Voices) balance efficient management of all functions so they are mutually supportive and resourced for resilience to change (meaning parts serve whole, and whole serves parts and together they serve the holarchy of human systems in the city).

Principle 13: Reciprocity of parts in mutual contribution and assistance asks the city to design and align its sub-systems and functions so that they are mutually supportive and able to assist each other when stressed and/or celebrate with one another when goals are achieved.

Principle 14: Conservation of what works well is a basic survival strategy for all human systems in the city – to retain and support that which is life-giving as foundational for adapting to changing life conditions, sustainability, resilience and regeneration.

Principle 15: Innovation, creative change of what does not work well is a corollary to Principle 14 – it is important for cities as innovation ecosystems to identify what is not working, to cease or change the practise and replace it with improvements that work better and/or optimally.

In this blog series examining Sahtouris’ Principles of Livings Systems, we:

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 http://integralcity.com/about/about-the-founder/

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