This is a guest blog by,

Govert Van Ginkel, Graduate of Integral City Beyond Smart and Beyond Resilient Courses

I was asked in the Integral City online community, “What Energizes You About a City You Have Visited?”

I think what I appreciate most about a city is when it has a heart. A city with a heart can draw people together and be a source of joy. A city without it can be depressing for those who live there.

So, to me that is the interesting question: When does a city have a heart and how do we nourish it in such a way that it creates well-being?

I think I’d like to take the term ‘city’ into a wider perspective as it helps to identify elements that make a heart tick. Maybe even elements we then can use when we think about creating a bigger heart or stimulating the heart of a city.

When I think of a city in terms of community, then all sizes can be included, as long as there is a sense of community and that is probably the first element of a city with a heart.

All who live in that city have a sense of community, a sense of belonging that is greater than just belonging to their next of kin or just their neighbors or the street they live in. Like a shared identity.

And it is this sense of belonging that also creates a natural way for participation to happen. Yes, certain things become organized and get a certain structure because that makes the most sense for what people are doing together, but there is also a certain fluidity to it that excludes none and intends to include anyone interested.

I think I have seen this best in a school, based on the principles of Restorative Practices. It is a community in a small city, and it has different classes belonging to the same school, with age differences and different topics they are working on and yet all contained in this one identity of their school.

What impressed me most when I visited was their sense of pride in being part of this. I never went to a school myself where I felt proud or where other students felt proud of their school and their achievements together and had a sense of belonging, but this school I visited quite clearly had. It was so strong, that it created a longing in me, a wish that I would have been part of a school like that.

So, here’s another element identified with the heart: the pride to be and the attraction it has to others that are outside of it. I have never quite seen this pride in cities of thousands in the same way with the same intensity as in smaller cities. Maybe it changes with the number of people in the city? I know, in general, people in Amsterdam and Rotterdam have a certain pride of being in that city and it is often connected to or expressed through their favorite soccer club. But that often comes out in competition with others.

A city with a heart, like that school I mentioned, does not need that because it takes pride in its being. Maybe it can be compared with a person with healthy self-esteem. There is no need for competition when one has a healthy sense of self-worth and takes pride in one’s being.

Thinking of that, maybe the lack of it is also a root cause for the kind of competition we see in our society and as a result the missing sense of belonging. When everyone is part of the competition, with who do you have a sense of belonging, unless it is to be temporarily united in the common goal to defeat others?

To continue exploring the city with a heart, I think it is also seen in how it attracts others. I know old cities here in the Netherlands and we say it is ‘gezellig’ to go there. We don’t even go there to shop but to enjoy the cozy kind of atmosphere that you may have when you are in a nice place with friends while having a very nice dinner. People come away saying they had a good time together and they want to repeat it.

Newer cities built later lacked that heart and were called ‘sleeper towns’ You go there after your work because you have to live somewhere. It just doesn’t make it sound like much of a choice and I guess it isn’t. You go there to sleep but for fun, you go somewhere else. So, fun is another element of identifying a heart. Fun can be translated as “vibrant” I think? Things are happening and people feel motivated to organize these ‘fun’ things and contribute. 

I think another part of the heart is seen in how people care for each other. Is there an interest in each others’ well-being and what do people do when extra care is needed? Do they spontaneously chip in?


I think that when we start to organize in charities we are in danger of institutionalizing poverty. We intend well but are not addressing the question of how come we need a charity and what does this mean in terms of how well we are taking care of each other?


How could individual goals be more important than the well-being of “us – or our goals” as a community? In a city with a heart, these questions have been answered in a way that guarantees individual freedom as well as a commitment by all to take care of each other.

Maybe the experience of being part of an ongoing dialogue is the lifeblood of a city? The sharing of ideas not only brings development and growth but also is necessary to deal with the continuous change people in a community go through. When people find it easy to talk with each other the issues become less threatening.

In a city with a heart, the relationships people have with each other come first. Without good relationships, there is no sense of community. But when people do have this sense of community and care about each other, they also tend to find better ways to deal with change because they understand that the needs of the community and the individual are at the core of what brought them together. Talking together and sharing sustains the community, the experience of being appreciated in the community and the sense of belonging and well-being.

That sums up how the essences and qualities of a city with heart energize and attract me.