Transportation Crossroads in the City

Lessons from history abound to warn us that the shift involved in moving from one worldview, or system of intelligibility, to another, is unlikely to be smooth or easy.  (Brian and Mary Nattrass, Integral Leadership Review – January- February 2015)

Urban Metabolism http://sustainablecommunities.environment.ucla.edu/2011/07/energy-baselines-the-urban-metabolism-of-los-angeles-county/

Urban Metabolism http://sustainablecommunities.environment.ucla.edu/2011/07/energy-baselines-the-urban-metabolism-of-los-angeles-county/

Today in thinking about our Evolutionary Crossroads in the city I want to consider the function of transportation within the human hive. Our old paradigm for transportation is a mechanical one. Our great modern transportation systems grew out of the Industrial Revolution – which produced the great age of steam; the combustion engine; the pumping, refining and distribution of fossil fuels; the industrial car factory; and the globalized transportation of goods. Even our standardized system of time keeping and time zones grew out of the need for mechanical alignment across transportation systems and efficiency in moving goods from one geography to another across land, sea and air. Our language of functional transportation systems rings with the metaphors of machines, engines, rails, cogs, wheels, pistons, and speed.

On a more negative note, as cities have multiplied and populations increased, our language now also reflects the realities of transportation systems that have become toxic to the very urban systems they were designed to serve: pollution, gridlock, traffic fatalities, CO2 emissions, performance failures, unsafe at any speed, infrastructure deterioration. It is a language pocked by indicators of rigidity and corrosion.

So ubiquitous is the old story of transportation’s mechanical prowess, we hardly notice the irrationality of the solutions that have been attempted in order to reclaim former standards or redress mechanical failures. Widening highways (which Jane Jacobs predicted long ago would only exacerbate the very problems they were intended to solve). Safety belts and airbags for surviving accidents (thanks to the post-modern activism of Ralph Nader). Requiring restricted driving on alternate days (to reduce pollution in Mexico City – which increased the numbers of cars on the road). Creating high rise roof top heliports to transport business executives from one part of the gridlocked city to another (as in Sao Paulo).

But every one of these mitigating strategies bespeaks a criticism of the Old Story of the mechanical transportation city in the system. And as such, we must be grateful that this stage of evolution – to protect and defend the Old Story – emerged with vigour and even political power. Every well intended solution (with its cascade of unintended consequences) marks the road to a New Story that hasn’t yet emerged but whose seeds of potential are being sown.

When I first published Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive it told such a new story about the city as an integrated, complex living, evolutionary human system, that the story seemed foreign to most modern ears (and alien to traditional ears). The story was built on new Integral Maps of the City revealing its inner relationships as well as its outer ecologies; a Meshwork of Intelligences that were both individual and collective, enabling the emergence of new structures and infrastructures; and a reframe of the most complex adaptive human system yet created, as the Human Hive. The Map, The Mesh and the Human Hive was such a new story that even today with post-modern stories about Smart Cities, Resilient Cities and Ecocities, it is still an Integral vision that the world is only slowly waking up to.

Integral City :Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive

Integral City :Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive

But, with every passing year, we endure the failure of the mechanical metaphors and realities embedded in the design of the modern city, where mechanical failure is giving us serious pause that the Old Story does not serve us well in cities. Thanks to leaders like Jaime Lerner (architect and former mayor) of Curitiba, Brazil, we have heard a re-frame of the relationship between cities and transportation. Lerner proposed that he would build the city for people and not cars.

That simple shift in intention opened a crack in the old paradigm for transportation in the city. It challenged the priority and the purpose of transportation – and even cities themselves. The act of putting people first allowed us to rethink the interconnection of all things that cities – and their transportation systems enable.

This act of turning a core assumption about how cities work on its ear, reveals the role that organizational leaders can play as the Old Story shifts into a phase that is justifiably critical of the Old Story. The Nattrasses suggest that transportation (and other organizational) leaders can take specific actions during this Critical Stage that will help transform the Story.  They say Leaders in this core Critical Phase can:

  • Courageously enter and stand in territory that is uncertain and unpredictable and no matter how disorienting;
  • Conscientiously and boldly examine the fault lines that challenge even one’s own basic assumptions and beliefs;
  • Create and facilitate sense-making conversations with others in the industry and the city to discern which elements of the narrative about unsustainable mechanical/transportation systems are relevant and what they mean to the human systems in which the leader acts;
  • Co-create the terms and forms that will help others understand the meaning and irrelevance of the old story and communicate those through compelling narrative accounts.

If Lerner’s new story marks a shift from Old Story to New Story for Transportation, it has also been quickened by scientific innovation that has opened up the transportation field to new energy sources (solar, wind, water); new energy delivery systems (e.g. Bombardier wireless recharging grids); new modes of cradle-to-cradle manufacture; new methods of financing and ownership ( Uber app); new interlocking multi-modal systems (e.g. NL bike/tram/train).

Last week, I heard an even more definitive indicator that the Critical Stage of the city transportation story was shifting into the Transformation Stage, when Jeffrey Tumlin spoke of “transportation as health”. A global expert in sustainable transportation planning, he was sharing this life-giving insight in my own small city of Abbotsford. When the new story is actually invited into and entertained in small cities as well as large, that seems another strong indicator that the story is changing. Tumlin’s radical approach to measuring transportation success through population health statistics, almost made me stand up and yell “bravo”!!!

He went on to cite another statistic that affirmed an observation I had been noticing in city life; namely, that driving rates continue to decline for the first time in history. It appears that – since 2005 Millennials and Boomers have reduced their purchase of cars. These populations are either choosing never to own a car or to give up their cars – in favour of the most healthy transportation option – walking – or for public transportation.

When I first imagined the Integral City as a Human Hive, my view of transportation was embedded in the story of a living system. Now I hear the language that supports that metaphor – namely that transportation is about metabolism – the flow of resources that energize and give life to all human systems in the city.

I am encouraged not only by Tumlin’s characterization of “transportation as health” but by the Nattrass recommendations about what leaders and organizations can do to make that final shift of the Old Story of unsustainable mechanical transportation into the New Story of healthy metabolic resource flow. The Nattrasses say:

“Ultimately there is nothing mysterious about how to get into action using new assumptions and concepts.  This ability is a hallmark of our species and part of our adaptive toolbox.  We have found that most organizations choose similar areas to enact

[the new story of] sustainability.  These are generally activities related to:

  1. How they use resources and materials,
  2. How they produce, or cause to be produced, waste and emissions,
  3. How they design, develop and specify product,
  4. How they manufacture or source product,
  5. How they treat people or require that sub-contractors treat people,
  6. How they distribute, transport, and deliver products, and
  7. How they give back to communities and to global society.”

It seems obvious that as transportation has been both the instigator of massive change in the city since the industrial revolution, which introduced the benefits of mechanical infrastructures, it will also be instrumental in enabling new metabolisms that nourish energy for cities that are built for people and not cars.

I am just grateful that Brian and Mary Nattrass have charted the natural change from Old Story to New Story through phases that first criticize the Old Story, then Transform the Old Story into a New Story. Through these continuous and progressive retellings, leaders create the audience for a whole New Story and the citizens for a whole new city. Leaders in transportation are now starting to help one another through the “mindfields” of psychological and emotional pushbacks that naturally arise and are involving their industry peers in creating a new narrative for new times.

For the Integral City the Evolutionary Transportation Crossroads lies at the juncture of the Map, the Mesh and the Human Hive.


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

Jacobs, J. (1992). The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Vintage Books.

Nattrass, B., & Nattrass, M. (2015). How ARE We To Go On Together? Our Evolutionary Crossroads. Integral Leadership Review January-February(Canada Issue). Retrieved from http://integralleadershipreview.com/12795-215-go-together-evolutionary-crossroads/


This blog is one of a series that explores the relevance and application of ideas to the Integral City, in the articles published in the Integral Leadership Review – Canada Issue, 2015, curated and Guest Edited by Marilyn Hamilton.

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/


  1. Rev. Alia Aurami March 15, 2015 at 5:54 am - Reply

    Well, I’m standing up and cheering here now: “HOOOORAAY!!! For this re-thinking, and new map, with both a kick and an encouragement, to set forth on the road (pun intended) to new transportation systems.

    “through phases that first criticize the Old Story, then Transform the Old Story into a New Story. ”

    I’m eager to read what they say!

    I’m mindful that socially, “stories” change by constant re-telling, in which each re-iteration introduces small changes, some of which then persist, for various reasons. There really isn’t any “criticism of the old story” in the sequence, but then again the storyteller often notices what works with the audience, or doesn’t, and the “doesn’t” is an implicit criticism, pointing to an incentive to modify.

    Very “evolutionary,” like DNA mutations, and things not working out well in particular life/environment conditions.

    So it seems to me that if there are small changes, there won’t be a lot of pushback. ?? Then again, perhaps we no longer can afford the time for small changes. And big changes are possible when people are ready. As a city-dweller, hey, I’m ready !!!!!

    So thanks for prompting some thinking about these matters!! Especially wonderful is the list of things we can DO as well as new ways of seeing, new metaphors.

    I LOVE the reframing of transportation as movement of resources, because to me that transcends the cars/people/trucks/trains fault-lines causing harmful friction !!!!!

  2. Rev. Alia Aurami March 15, 2015 at 3:13 pm - Reply

    I hadn’t intended to think further on this topic, Marilyn, but more thoughts popped into my head, so am sharing those in case useful. Around the “people not cars” idea. Last I noticed, most cars were driven by people, by their choice, for their purposes. (Dogs and robots are still a tiny minority of car drivers. 🙂

    So “people not cars” translates to “some people, not others.” Not exactly a formula for harmony within a city.

    As you indicated, Marilyn, “people not cars” IS a breaking out of The Old Story, and in that way it is a step forward. Also, it CAN lead to educating people around differing ways to get from Point A to Point B, or even different ways to avoid trips entirely. So it can lead to people making different, and possibly more Human-Hive-healthful choices than 1 person 1 car driving around.

    However, “people not cars” might be a jump from the frying pan into the fire, as suggested above. Part of that might be because it is not the most useful analysis of what the problem really is.

    The problem might really be, cars that pollute. And/or the problem might really be, poor traffic laws. And/or the problem might really be, traffic laws are not actually enforced.

    It seems to me that Integral City thinking offers more intelligent and more health-promoting ways of analyzing the situation, to identify the REAL systems operating to create a problematical situation. By “identify the REAL systems” I mean to come up with which categories of systems would be most useful to use in analyzing a problem so that solutions can be identified which don’t simply create further, unforeseen, unintended problems.

    In other words, I don’t think “people” and “cars” are the best categories of systems to look at, in this situation. I think Integral City thinking offers categories of systems that would be far more useful — but more than that, offers a different way of thinking about city problems/challenges.

    So it seems to me that part of living in/as the New Story is actually being wise enough to be looking around for new ways of looking at what are deemed problems, not jumping quickly into some other Story.

    Hope that makes sense, return comments from anyone, invited.

  3. Marilyn Hamilton March 15, 2015 at 10:01 pm - Reply

    Hi Alia
    Thanks for your 2 energy-ful comments on the Transportation Crossroads blog. In your first comment you clearly appreciate that stories that build a bridge from the Old Story to the New Story have great value. It moves us away from an either/or framing to ” and, and, and, and, and” – in other words a whole spectrum of stories.

    And that leads me to your second comment – the “people not cars” option. This was about Planning a city. Jaime Lerner actually built one of the most effective rapid transit systems in the world in Curitiba, Brazil, using “bus trains” – that have been copied many places because of their relatively low cost.

    But he wasn’t looking at the either/or equation – people versus cars. Instead he was using a design principle. He changed “What are cities designed for? i.e. cars in most modern cities” into “WHO are cities designed for? i.e. PEOPLE”.

    I’d say that relates to the Integral City Intelligences of Inquiry, Navigating – and solutions that Meshwork the structures and self-organizing capacities.

    IMO the same city design approach applies in Seattle, London or Mumbai – WHO we design cities for (including your finessing of more-privileged people versus less-privileged people) makes a fundamental difference to the wellbeing of the city.

  4. Rev. Alia Aurami March 16, 2015 at 12:22 am - Reply

    Thank you for the clarifications, Marilyn. I see the bigger picture now. Wonderful !!

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