As a radical optimist called to consider the purpose and value of the city, I have usually found the whole approach to sustainable development somewhat limiting (see previous article).

The assumption which most inspires me about the city is one I learned from James Lovelock, author of the Gaia hypothesis.  Despite all the shortcomings that plague humanity and which  we in turn visit upon our mother planet, Gaia, Lovelock suggests we are evolving as Gaia’s Reflective Organ.

I build upon that thesis and contend that in fact it is our cities that have the potential to become Gaia’s Reflective Organ. As individuals we are the cells of the organ. Our organizations act like organelles in that organ.

As I am currently writing Book 3 in the Integral City series I have been contemplating how GRO is linked to living systems. I always go back to the definition of a living system that Capra (a physicist) offered to provide a foundation for thinking about this. A living systems must demonstrates three basic capacities – to survive, connect with its environment and regenerate.

Evolution biologist, Elisabet Sahtouris has been most helpful in unpacking those three  processes into 15 Principles of Living Systems.

Sahtouris Principles show how our living system is perpetually self-organizing as it cycles through the 3 basic processes. And those Principles practised often enough, in turn become habits. At the scale of the city, those habits become Integral City’s 12 Intelligences (outlined in Book 1). They in turn translate into the succinct Integral City Master Code.

Thus, the opportunity of living to our full potential as humans who can evolve for Gaia not just one but many Reflective Organs, demands that we keep evolving our experience of aliveness in the context of our human hive habitats.

Architect, Christopher Alexander proposed that we are all able to sense when something is more alive in comparison to something else. His deep appreciation of aliveness applied to creating the artefacts (especially architecture in cities) that beautify our lives through embracing the following qualities:


Levels of scale

Strong centers


Alternating repetition

Positive space

Good shape

Local symmetries

Deep interlock and ambiguity





The void

Simplicity and inner calm

(Integral Theory focusing on the Big 3 would further suggest that if our acts of creativity bring aliveness and Beauty into our habitats, then the corollary qualities of Goodness and Truth will emerge as well.)

One of the frames for considering how we emerge aliveness expressed as Beauty, Goodness and Truth, came from Clare Graves and the Beck/Cowan Spiral Dynamics integral model.  SDi shows that the values of aliveness are progressively transcended and included as we mature through levels of complex development. We can see that aliveness embraces the progression of:

  1. Surviving
  2. Belonging
  3. Expressing
  4. Respecting
  5. Generating
  6. Accepting
  7. Flowing
  8. “Planeting”

Through these stages (so far realized in our evolutionary history to some degree) we can see aliveness developing and evolving.

These days we measure the livability, or the quality of life, or the sustainability index of our cities. But perhaps we are setting our measures for vitality too low?

Could it be that the success of the designs of our habitats should be tracked against a measure of how much they enable us to feel FULLY ALIVE? Is that the criteria that will give us the momentum to become Gaia’s Reflective Organs (and Organ system)?

If that were the case then we might adapt Integral City’s 5 maps to track the dynamics of aliveness. A new visit to the 2013 blogs (see links to 5 Maps below) that explored those 5 maps reveals a wealth of indicators (derived from the living systems qualities of Pattern Dynamics) for tracking the evolution of the reflective capacity in Gaia’s Reflective Organs. As such they offer measures of inner depth and verticality that seem to be missing in the SDG’s. And I don’t think we will accomplish the SDG’s without them.

Integral City’s 5 Maps

Map 1: The Four Quadrant Eight Level Map of Realit– this relates to PD Polarity Patterns

Map 2: The Nested Holarchy of City Systems – this relates to PD Creativity Patterns

Map 3: The Scalar Fractal Relationship of Micro-Meso-Macro Human Systems – this relates to PD Exchange Patterns

Map 4: The Complex Adaptive Structures of Change – this relates to PD Structure Patterns

Map 5: Spirituality in the Human Hive – this relates to PD Source Patterns