Fort McMurray, City of Energy is city of the year 2016. Surviving the worst natural disaster in Canadian history, the city of Fort McMurray endured a fire which engulfed its structures, but not its cultures, acts of super-human persistence, nor its extraordinary human kindness. 88,000 people were safely evacuated from a fire started on May 2, 2016 and not declared under control until July 4, 2016.


While 2015 recognized Paris, City of Light as the city of the year, for its resilience in the face of human-initiated terror, threats and intimidation, 2016 is the year to recognize how Fort McMurray survived in the face of the uncontrollable power of nature unleashed on human settlement. In these 2016 circumstances the fierceness of the human spirit burned stronger that the inferno, enabling the safe evacuation of not only the whole city population, but multiple subsequent evacuations of nearby towns as they too found themselves in the pathway of flames.

From an Integral City perspective, what stands out clearly from the many stories of survival is how the 4 Voices of the City all worked together to keep each other alive, not just individually but collectively. The Fire Chief saved the homes of other neighbourhoods, even as his own home was incinerated. Citizens made sure not only that homes were vacated but that transportation was available for families to make the perilous journey out of the city. In many cases, even pets were saved and accommodated in emergency shelters. Civic Managers from multiple levels of government coordinated their efforts for optimal emergency response. The big energy corporations offered their site accommodations, airplanes and expertise to fight the fires and/or provide emergency responders. Civil Society stepped into the abyss immediately to collect and coordinate the massive relief effort that came from every corner of Canada and beyond.

In Fort McMurray 2016, living the Master Code became a way of life (taking care of self, others, place and planet simultaneously).

By stint of good management and strategic deployment of resources from city, region, multiple provinces and nations, the core infrastructure of Fort McMurray was largely saved. The scattering of Fort McMurray’s population to the four corners of Canada, reflected the heritages of the thousands of workers who had become the backbone of the energy industry centred in the city and serving a world hungry for its resources. (The fire halted a quarter of Canada’s oil production equal to 1 million barrels per day, costing Alberta alone $70 million per day.)

Ironically the Fort McMurray fire disaster, has attracted to the city its fair share of criticism as poster-child for climate-change disaster scenarios. Before the fire, the city and the tar-sands eco-region in which it sits were vilified as exemplars of non-renewable energy sources of the worst kind. Fort McMurray and the tar-sands were flashpoints for the world’s least responsible use of carbon-based fuel. They were easy targets, because the accusators tended to be players on the main stages of cities located great distances away, gulping down excesses of carbon-based energy, resisting the initiation of emissions controls or ignoring the implications of ever-expanding eco-footprints.

But now Fort McMurray can proudly represent the indomitability of the human spirit that can motivate actions for survival, connect with the environment and reinvent its own raison d’etre. For less than six months after the fire was brought under control (and even while underground fires continue to smoulder during the winter), Fort McMurray is rebuilding. All the schools are open again. Citizen-workers are returning to reconnect with a city they loved, rekindle old relationships and find new employment.

It is fair to say that before, during and after the great fire, the city of Fort McMurray was put to the test of demonstrating that survival, sustainability and resilience depend on exercising all 12 Intelligences of the Human Hive.

One intelligence remains for Fort McMurray to consider amplifying – namely Evolutionary Intelligence. For as the City of Energy, perhaps one of Fort McMurray’s greatest opportunities now, is to reinvent itself as the city who demonstrates core principles of the Natural Step.

As a sustainable Fort McMurray, our City of the Year 2016, an opportunity exists to create the perfect re-positioning for itself as the city with an energy-based economy and way of life where nature is not subject to systematically increasing …

  1. … concentrations of substances from the earth’s crust (i.e. educating and using fossil CO2 only in ways that are balanced with earth’s ability to recycle it and preventing the accumulation of substances of heavy metals),
  2. … concentrations of substances produced and/or accumulated by society (such as tailing ponds or chemicals used for oil and gas extraction),
  3. … degradation by physical means (such as deforestation, soil contamination or destruction of groundwater),
  4. … in society, structural obstacles to people’s health, influence, competence, impartiality and meaning.

Fort McMurray is Integral City of the Year 2016 for the fire in its city spirit that enabled it to survive. We hope that the same fire becomes a spark that reinvents the city as an integrally sustainable city for the future.


For a full story of the Fort McMurray Wildfire see Wikipedia.

For Westjet’s Surprise Christmas Gift to Fort McMurray (spoiler alert – miracles involved!)

See also Paris – City of the Year 2015.