Sustaining, Improving, Evolving, Propagating Integral Cities

This is Part 2 of a 2-part interview by Alain Gauthier with Marilyn Hamilton, Founder of Integral City Meshworks.

  • AG: In what ways has the Integral City work become self-sustaining, self-improving, self-evolving and self-propagating?

MH: I would say the work has become self-sustaining because it seems to have captured the many but partial truths that characterize the city. The Integral City Framework has translated into some simple tools (like the 5 maps); the Master Code (caring for self/others/place/planet at all scales); the 4+1 Voices; and the evolutionary Spirit that has been affirmed as we have explored the invisible energies of the city.

In the beginning, I realized how different the Integral City paradigm was for the city than the Traditional view of the city (bricks and mortar of built city). But I didn’t realize that it was a much more comprehensive view of the city than the most popular “advanced” perspectives – namely, the Smart City (arising from technology) and the Resilient City (reflecting environmental/systems concerns).

The Integral City rests on a worldview that assumes Consciousness (the subjective experience of City) is a first cause and Source of life, evolution and awareness – including cities. It also considers Culture (the intersubjective  experience of the City) is the collective intelligence that emerges from shared narratives (including visions, values, beliefs) that co-create the stories of the City.

I have called Consciousness and Culture the Placecaring realms of city reality – in Integral terms the left-hand quadrants. They co-evolve along with the Placemaking realms of biology/technology/systems-structures in the right-hand quadrants.

I propose that the marriage and co-generation of Placecaring and Placemaking can be naturally self-improving and self-evolving at the city scale – if the conditions of the Master Code are nurtured (to care for self/others/place/planet). Cities can be at any stage along that journey, and it is important to understand where that is so that they can be supported to take their next natural step.

When I start to work with a city, I am always listening for the energy of the people who want to change. That guides me to start working with them where they are at, and they will learn their way forward from there. I am especially interested that they invite the 4 Voices of the city to dialogue together so they can gain the perspectives of Citizens, Civic Managers, Business and Civil Society (which is the easiest way to invite in the 4 Quadrants of the Integral framework to listen to one another). This approach becomes self-propogating if the group continues to ask “Who else should be here in this conversation?” and they set out to learn about the basic dimensions of their city in a systematic way (e.g. economy, culture, health, education, environment, community) that gradually builds up a series of maps of the city.

This assesment of Abbotsford BC, Durant OK (and in 2018 Findhorn Scotland), plus Beth’s longterm work with the 4 Voices of Edmonton, all revealed how sustainability became part of the ethos of the 4 Voices participating in the conversations and change efforts.

  • AG: What key ‘city capacities’ have been developed/improved?

MH: The key city capacities that I assess when I first look at a city are based on the 5 sets of intelligences that I identified in my first book Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive. These are now arranged into what I call a GPS that allows anyone to look at the city and see to what extent it is operating with intelligences for:

  • Contexting (assessing the life conditions of the city that are impacting it externally and internally).
  • Individual Development (internal and external)
  • Collective Development  (internal and external)
  • Strategic Development 
  • Evolutionary Direction.

I have an assessment tool that uses a 4-point scale based on observable evidence. This enables discussion, strategic planning and goal setting – but within an emergent, holistic framework that can respond to life conditions and feedback loops.

Many cities have strategic plans, but few have gained an understanding for the need to integrate the development of individual and collective capacities (which would mean the city is working intentionally with the education, health, police, fire, city hall, justice systems) along with the contextual opportunities and restraints that they face. And even fewer have a sense of the power that can emerge from engaging the Spiritual dimension through their faith communities.

This assessment was used in Durant to compare how change emerged between 2013-2017. Also in Abbotsford I conducted Values Assessments in 2002 and 2010, clearly showing changes in capacity (that included downshifts as well as upshifts).

  • AG: Are there accounts publicly available of integral cities (particularly in North America) who have done the work for several years?

MH: Integral Cities are still emerging – it is such a new paradigm, most cities don’t recognize the progress they are making (or could make).

Much of the research I have done and/or other city planners is summarized and documented with reports on the Integral City website here.

Some of the comments I could make on these highlights are these:

  • When I first started this work in the late 1990’s the Province of British Columbia created a BC Healthy Communities network. It was actually designed with an explicitly integral model. Over the years they have influenced most of the key cities in BC (who may not realize the design principles that were being used).
  • I have gained many of the ideas working in the BC city I lived in for 25 years (Abbotsford).
  • I have also influenced the application of these ideas in the City of Vancouver Social Services Department (again this became implicit for practical reasons).
  • I have supervised or consulted on a number of Master’s/PhD Theses  applying these principles in different cities and spoken at a number of Canadian Professional Planners Association conferences.
  • My colleague, Beth Sanders, City Planner has done major project work in Edmonton Alberta and other local Alberta cities.
  • In Durant Oklahoma, I worked for 4 years with their Imagine Durant Team explicitly using the Integral City approach to help them develop a unified Vision and the Strategies to implement it. They are successfully continuing to unfold that work.

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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