I’ve been watching the series on New York produced by Ric Burns (released through PBS but available as a DVD). It is an impressive revelation of the city’s 400 years of history. Last week I watched the episode exploring the massive infrastructure creations of Robert Moses including his hundred of miles of turnpikes that decimated New York neighbourhoods even as they provided transportation corridors extraordinaire.
Justazposed against the politically powerful (and unassailable and unaccountable) Moses was the spunky, self-educated activist Jane Jacobs. Jane stood her ground against Moses and refused to allow him to bifurcate Greenwich Village with a thruway.
Using Integral City lenses, I was struck with how both of these people were contributing to the meshworking of New York. Moses was the quintessential builder of hierarchical structures. Jacobs was the quintessential self-organizing systems enabler.
On their own they each added capacities to the city. Competing with each other they clashed, and it was Jacobs day to win and demonstrate the power of self-organizing systems to defeat ever streamlining structures.
I have been thinking about brain mylenation and how the work of Moses and Jacobs represents the way the brain builds synaptic highways. To reinforce the brain pathways, the brain sheaths the axons with mylin — this is like Moses creating the highways across the face of New York. Meanwhile the synaptic connections are creating self-organizing connections that allow infinite creativity and generativity to emerge — like Jacobs insisted occurred in the life of neighbourhoods.
If Jacobs and Moses had lived long enough they might have discovered brain meshworking — as I describe in my book in Chapter 10. A meshwork builds on both the capacities of structural hierarchies to “lock in” learning so that energy can be saved — as well as the creative, self-organizing synaptic connections to ensure new options are always available.
Now that we can see that a city is more like a meshwork than either a hierarchy or self-organizing system, we can create the conditions so that the intelligences of individuals, groups, networks and communities combine to emerge a dynamic, responsive, reslient, meshwork.