Last week I was inspired by the focus of Urban Arena Europe (UAE) to consider Social Justice and Sustainability in the cities of Europe.

As an Urban Arena Europe Fellow, I had expected to meet in person at a Barcelona conference on June 4 and 5, 2020 to review the research that had identified the 10 Urban Injustices that had been summarized in a pre-circulated Booklet on the drivers of injustice (see Table 1 below).

In this age of Coronavirus, instead of the face-to-face meeting, UAE members convened online, with the able guidance of Panagiota Kotsila and the Barcelona team. Duncan Crowley got us comfortable thinking about ourselves as a Community of Practice with a well-illustrated PowerPoint overview of the many resources that Urban Arena has organized (downloadable here) .

On June 4, our Day 1, over 60 attendees from close to 20 cities were organized into 10 inquiries – each with a focus on one of the Injustices (see Table 1).

As we discovered in our individual groups, whatever topic we considered, was likely connected to many (if not most) of the other topics. For instance,  Access to Urban Sustainability Infrastructure connected to Material and Livelihood Inequalities through circumstances like the conflicts caused by gentrification changing the very neighbourhoods where mobility options for public transit had originally been built to improve urban access for low income families who could no longer afford to live there.

On June 5, our Day 2 we broke into a different collection of groups to examine 5 strategies that are impacting cities as they struggle to reconcile the options for increasing sustainability, such as re-naturing cities, while at the same time as enabling the emergence of urban food systems.

Table 2: Urban Arena Social In/Justice Themes Day 2

Renaturing cities – nature based solutions 
Gentrification, city branding and counter policies 
Local food, sustainable food, urban food systems
Ecofeminist approaches to urban sustainability 
Social and climate justice in city politics 

Over both days, we explored the many paradoxes that have arisen because cities have pursued sustainable infrastructure and energy systems but have often failed to recognize how those systems would result in unintended consequences. In many ways the pursuit of sustainability has harmed people through social injustices that impact their health (e.g. through air/water/soil pollution of transport systems), their livelihoods (e.g. disconnecting people from access to work), and their regeneration (e.g. separating people from enjoyment of Nature.)

How Could Integral City Reframe Causes and Consequences?

After this rich exploration with a dedicated and well-informed Community of Practice I was curious to see how Integral City frameworks could bring some meta-analysis and synthesis to our work. I found four possible points of insight.

1.First, I noted that these Injustice impacts attack the very substance of wellbeing in a healthy city as a complex adaptive living system: they undermine peoples’ survival, connections to the environment and regeneration.

2. Secondly, I observed that when we use several key maps from Integral City, we can notice patterns that could prevent some of these inequalities, remedy solutions for the injustices and restore aliveness to the cities.

The first pattern I noticed from an analysis of Table 1 is that the first five Injustices relate to what Integral City calls “Placemaking”. They focus on the external qualities of objective behaviors and interobjective infrastructures of the city (right hand quadrants in Figure 1.)  The second five Injustices relate to what we call “Placecaring” – and relate to the subjective consciousness and intersubjective cultures of the city (the left-hand quadrants in Figure 1).

Figure 1: Placemaking & Placecaring

In discussion at the closing Webinar, these right vs left tensions, were described as Technology and Communitarianism. And it was agreed that a healthy city needs to balance both in relation to each other, the geographic/climatic environment and the convergence of many cultures that our cities now hold.

3. Thirdly I noticed that the dilemmas in our cities span multiple scales. From Individual to Group to Place (City/Ecoregion) to Planet. For the most part the injustices in cities that we discussed showed that one of these scales was out of alignment with its relationship to the other scales. Thus, when we focus on just external sustainability for the City, we overlook the impacts on People as well as how the whole Planet suffers.

As a result of this observation, I ask us to consider, “What would happen if we double-checked our proposals for sustainability strategies, by using the Master Code of Care?”  In making decisions using this Code we could include Care for all 4 scales at the same time (see Figure 2):

  • Care for People as individuals and collectives
  • Care for Place
  • And Care for Planet.

Figure 2: Master Code of Care

4. Finally, when we zoom down from the Planet scale to Europe as a continent of eco-regions that contains a multitude of cities along its river systems, applying the Master Code of Care would invite in all the 4 Voices of the City (see Figure 3): citizens, civic managers, business/innovators, civil society) (and other cities in its eco-region – thus engaging everyone impacted by sustainability decisions in an encounter that is designed to be socially just from the start.

Figure 3: 4 Voices of the City

Thus, Integral City frameworks could enable us to integrate the differing perspectives of the city – balancing Placemaking with Placecaring; aligning with the Master Code of Care the 4 scales of living fractal systems; and engaging the 4+1 Voices of the City/Eco-Region to design social justice into sustainability approaches that respect the core tenets of our cities as complex adaptive living systems.


Hamilton, M. (2020). Urban Hub 20: Accelerating City Change in a VUCA World. Integral Mentors.

Hamilton, M. (2019). Integral City: Meshworking Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive. Amaranth Press: Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Hamilton, M. (2019). Integral City Inquiry and Action: Designing Impact for the Human Hive. Amaranth Press: Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Hamilton, M. (2018). Integral City 3.7: Reframing Complex Challenges for Gaias Human Hives. Amaranth Press: Minneapolis, Minnesota.