If you want to improve the carrying capacity of a city, then increase its caring capacity.


That was the experience of the city of Leon, Mexico when its Citizens’ Observatory set out to connect many stakeholders from across the city with the intention of learning how “WE” could work better together to improve economic, environmental and social conditions.

In the process of doing so, this Civil Society organization discovered a surprising inspiration right at the heart of the outer and inner heart of the city.

This story strongly underlines the importance of Civil Society in playing an integrator role in the Integral City. Faith-based and spiritual organizations (like churches, synagogues, mosques, temples) have a critical opportunity, at this time, to redefine themselves as this voice of integration for the Integral City. However, secular organizations, like Citizens’ Obervatories are also key players who can align and weave together a collective “heart wave” intelligence from the cacophony of separate voices of the city.

In Leon, the Citizens’ Observatory set out to make a difference that would create commitment and courage to withstand the growing threat of Mexico’s notorious drug cartels, support the shift of the city’s traditional economy (from leather manufacturing to more diversified industry) and give their youth opportunities and hope for future thriving.

The membership of the Citizen’s Observatory included city leaders with strategic business experience, who volunteered their time and expertise. They worked with the universities, student interns and many of Leon’s Civil Society organizations, to build bridges amongst the education, health, business and social services sectors. Through the leadership of Roberto Bonillo, Founder of Novarumm (with his expertise and capacity for Integral Thinking), the Citizens’ Observatory started to undertake research about city values, stages of change, and publish the results to gather momentum for making change.

They learned from global experts like Spiral Dynamics Integral Founder, Dr. Don BeckIceland’s Values Cartographer, Dr. Bjarni Jonsson and Integral City Meshworker, Dr. Marilyn Hamilton (your humble blogger J).

The Citizens’ Observatory sponsored a 2 day discovery exploration of Leon’s potential, inviting me to facilitate the tour through the lenses of Integral City.  We co-designed the main focus of this event to update new data on the city’s values prior to the event and report on it during the full day workshop on the 2nd Day. However, in order “to land” in the city on Day 1, I requested to meet the diverse stakeholders of the Citizen’s Observatory, and then take a tour of the physical city.

With the inspired assistance of local historians, writers, journalists, tourism operators and artists, we boarded a small bus that followed an itinerary around the city. We travelled from the lofty views of the Monterrey Institute of Technology, to working class neighbourhoods with unpaved streets but strong pride, wending our way across unincorporated “housing squats”, and everywhere seeing in operation, Leon’s sophisticated, practical and well-used bicycle lanes (the longest network in Latin America) which allows city residents to have low-cost and accessible mobility.

To finish our tour we ended up by the railway tracks, where indigenous peoples from many traditional territories had set up camp. I didn’t know what to expect. Many “Leonites”  on the tour did not know of the existence of this city “hood”. But what we quickly learned as soon as we got off the bus, was that this was a healthy, thriving village within the city. Peoples with many different indigenous languages had organized themselves to find teachers, build a school for their children, build a church, support each other’s indigenous artisan skills (especially basket weaving) and create colourful, imaginative dwellings from cast-off materials.

The vibrancy of this “shanty town” was contagious. The residents had their own version of Civil Society and organized us into an hour’s talking/learning circle within their tiny open air church. And while we had come to see what we could offer, it was the indigenous people who proudly gifted us with their baskets and weaving.

It was obvious that these people were key players in Leon – but no one knew they were there. Before we left their village they had inspired us to invite them to the next day’s workshop. What happened next could never have been predicted.

More than a dozen of the villagers turned up at the workshop with families and children in tow and baskets for sale. The Citizen’s Observatory assigned translation ‘buddies” to sit at their tables so they could participate in the workshop (being delivered in English and Spanish).

When the workshop small groups came to report out at the end of the day, this vibrant culture proved to be no shy wall flowers – but took the lead in setting goals for improving the future not only for themselves, but for the whole of Leon. They revealed the inner heart of caring in Leon and took it to the outer heart of caring, symbolized by the lion statue over the gate to the city.

So this short story of Leon, exemplifies the power of Civil Society not only to integrate the 4 Voices of the City (1), but to enable caring connections that make a difference. With the kind of initiative and wisdom shown in Leon, Civil Society can amplify the rhythm of the city’s heartbeat through cultural gatherings, caring and compassion.

And this brings us back to the impact that growing caring capacity can have on a city’s carrying capacity. We are rapidly learning through the science of complexity that cities improve the carrying capacity of human settlements (using resources from the eco-footprint more efficiently – measured through dimensions like kilometers of road networks, the level of average income and the number of patents issued).  This almost seems logical if you consider that living systems naturally tend to be energy efficient.

However a more surprising discovery is that cities acquire these efficiencies of “carrying capacity” at the same time as – and as Leon illustrates – because of the scale of social interaction.

Science writer Emily Badger, quoting Santa Fe Institute’s Luis Bettencourt captures this beautifully:

At their most fundamental, cities are not really agglomerations of people; they’re agglomerations of connections between people. All of their other properties … derive from this fact.

This affirms a precept long emphasized by Margaret Wheatley: If you want to improve

the health of a system, connect it to more of itself.

Thus we can see that Civil Society can play a powerful role in the wellbeing of the city. It has the potential to attract, amplify and integrate all 4 Voices of the City into a powerful WE, so collectively they can learn from one another, strengthen bridges between people connections and bring alive the Caring Heartbeat of the City.

Postscript: Since these activities in Leon, the Citizens’ Observatory has met obstacles to its intentions from changes in the political domain and other social sources (as the whole country of Mexico is undergoing economic shifts). But it should be noted, this is not unusual in the course of living systems – to experience a convergence of intention where progress is made, followed a divergence or distraction of energies. However, once the rhythm of Leon’s heartbeat has resonated as strongly as it did, the memory of that heart wave of caring compassion still lives in its system – ready to be tapped when the next wave of convergence can build on this resident level of caring capacity to generate even more vibrant levels of wellbeing. Sometimes it takes an outsider like me/WE to hold the hope long enough for that to happen. That is another role for Civil Society to perform for each other between cities.


(1)     4 Voices of the City: Citizens, Civil Society, Civic Managers, Business

An old African tale relates how to take care of the wellbeing of elephants. ((1) As told to me by Dr. Don Beck). It seems a herd of elephants became very sick.


The villagers consulted with the big city veterinarian who came to diagnose the ailment. But he could do nothing. Then the villagers consulted with a global pharmaceutical expert. He came and was also stumped. Next the villagers asked their local shaman to perform traditional rituals. But the health of the elephants only got worse. Finally in desperation, the villagers went to a wise elder. The elder visited the elephants and he looked at their enclosure. Then he toured the elephants’ usual natural territory. And he could see that the grasslands and the trees and the whole environment was withering and dying from lack of care. The wise elder said to the villagers, “There is nothing the matter with your elephants, that taking care of their natural homeland will not cure. Go out and take care of the habitat of these elephants and the elephants will take care of themselves.” The villagers listened and followed his instructions. In no time, the habitat was thriving and the elephants took care of themselves and became well.

The Civic Managers of Ekurhuleni, South Africa set out to create a plan for Ekurhuleni 2055. The City Planner engaged professional planner Shahid Solomon they set out to imagine the future, using lenses informed by Integral City.

The City looked into the future of all the key capitals that would contributed to its wellbeing – economic, social, natural and infrastructural capital. Further impacts from global experts were researched relating to workforce, technology, energy and financing.  Lying at the heart of this strategy were the rights and values of people as expressed in its governance system.

The Global Development Strategy Team brought together geo-spatial-cultural-social overviews of the city from key time periods. This revealed the waves of development that had enabled Ekurhuleni to grow from inception in 1905 to the current day. Then with the research in hand, future projections were made based on the mega-trends from the global habitat and the more local trends from the regional habitat. This gave the Civic Managers some probability scenarios for the future decades of 2020, 2030 and 2050+.

With the future scenarios plotted out, the Civic Managers then took their research to the citizens, civil society and businesses of Ekurhuleni to obtain feedback on the most desirable future outcomes.  This then allowed them to back cast activities that needed to start today in order to achieve the desired future outcomes.

Thus the Civic Managers, working as internal and external teams in Ekurhuleni, set out the conditions for nurturing the health of the habitat of the city. They offered their expert resources to explore and define wellbeing of the city in terms of both internal and external habitat. Now Civic Managers can guide and facilitate the other 3 Voices of the City to work together to create and maintain the health of the city as the habitat that nourishes all of them.


(1)     This story was learned from Dr. Don Beck who has travelled with his Spiral Dynamics integral expertise,  to South Africa 64 times in service to the wellbeing of the country

(2)     4 Voices of the City: Citizens, Civil Society, Civic Managers, Business

What happens when business leaders expand their skills in service to thriving that is greater than just the success of one organization? The Integral Community hopes and dreams that leaders will transfer their leadership skills into their organization and impact the success of their employees. In turn the improvement of leadership skills throughout the organization should impact how business departments operate successfully. In turn, both internal and external stakeholders enjoy the benefits of greater effectiveness, more efficiency and authentic caring. And when they work together within a sector and even across sectors, everyone in the city can be set on a road to success and thriving. This grows opportunity in a virtuous circle.

Business Voice Catalyses 4 Voices of  Durant

Business Voice Catalyses 4 Voices of Durant

The five segments of the stakeholder model [employees, customers, partners, communities and stakeholders] are interdependent and equally influential over one another, and as such shape the business ideals of our organization. (Quotation from First United Bank website.)

This is what happens when leaders, organization and employees notice that their city needs to join hands to improve the wellbeing of the whole system using a multi-stakeholder approach they have learned builds success in their organizations have implemented. In Durant Oklahoma, it turns out that two business leaders set out to find a way to apply the integral principles of leadership and organization development to other stakeholders in the city. Greg Massey of First United Bank and Gary Baton of the Choctaw Nation, working together. inquired how could they  make a difference that will make a difference at the scale of the city of Durant?

Following a suggestion from their organizational development consultant and coach, (Stagen) they invited in Integral City Meshworks for a discovery tour of the city. The 2-day tour brought together the 4 Voices of the city (1) into several dialogues that inquired:

  • What works well around here?
  • What is not working so well around here?
  • What do we envision for the future of our city?

By the end of the tour the business leaders had demonstrated that bringing together the 4 Voices of the city coalesces authority, power and influence in service to a cause greater than any one of them could accomplish alone – namely the wellbeing of the whole city. Greg and Gary, as conscious business leaders have started to pay forward the core lessons of their own leadership and organization development, acting as catalysts for collaboration across the sectors, voices and values of the city. Now they are broadening the involvement of other businesses and organizations in the city in order to prepare for a visioning process that will embrace all 4 Voices of Durant.

This is a powerful role for the Voice of Business to initiate and support in any city – aligning the whole city system to co-develop a strategy for future development that involves all 4 Voices in the city.


(1)     4 Voices of the City: Citizens, Civil Society, Civic Managers, Business

The story of the Imagine Abbotsford Dialogues was well documented in the three years that this city visioning process unfolded (by the local community paper publishing nine special sections for each of the dialogues).

Imagine Abbotsford Cover story

This story could be told through any of the 4 voices. Civil Society partners sponsored the project (Abbotsford Community Foundation, Community Futures, United Way of the Fraser Valley). Businesses financed gatherings and supplies (Envision Credit Union, Complete Eye Care). Civic Managers offered meeting space (The Reach Art Gallery and Museum; Library). But it was Citizens who offered volunteer time to serve on the core committee, come forward as Thought Leaders, facilitate at Public Meetings and make sure that Policy Makers found the time to attend dialogue circles. It was estimated that volunteers worked a remarkable total of 3000 hours over 3 years – providing a value of approximately $300,000 to $450,000 to what became the City Sustainability Master Plan.

The importance of the role of the Citizen Voice in Imagine Abbotsford became evident from Year 1 to Year 3, when 33,000 households in the city received nine reports written by volunteer researchers, analysts and editors and published by the community newspaper. The vision that gradually emerged through these stories was amplified by the massive feedback loop of the newspaper distribution that constantly invited other citizens to join the dialogues.

In Year 1 we explored the themes of Economy/Environment.

Imagine Abbotsford Economy & Environment

In Year 2 we explored the themes of Culture/Learning.

Imagine Abbotsford Culture & Learning

In Year 3 we explored the Health/Community

Imagine Abbotsford Health & Community

In all years, citizens could participate as Thought Leaders, Public and/or Policy Makers. This insured a wide diversity of perspectives and a constantly widening embrace of participants.

The polish and passion of the storytellers, in the first year, provoked local activists to accuse the volunteer committee of being a new political party! Citizen know-how and compassion were further tested when several activists tried to crash the first Policy Maker Dialogue Circle. To participate in any city-building process, Citizens (whether they be Thought Leaders, Policy Makers or the Public) first need to know that protocols for engagement would mean that it was safe to speak, without threat or attack. Agreement was not necessary, but mutual trust and respect was a pre-requisite of conversing together.

In fact, Imagine Abbotsford volunteer committee set as a secondary objective, the modeling and teaching of Successful Dialogue to as many Abbotsford voices as possible. At every meeting their agendas included the principles and every attendee received a business-size card with the principles to use and share in other gatherings.

Successful Dialogue Circles

Thus, not surprisingly, the volunteers maintained the safety of the circle by re-booking the event and inviting the activists to bring their voices to the next year’s Thought Leader dialogues. In this way the Citizens ensured that different voices were included and conflict became generative and not divisive.

As volunteers, the Citizens were also members of the other Voices of the city – some serving on Civil Society staffs and boards; others as Business employees; and several had links to Civic Manager organizations (like the University, Health Authority, Ministries of Health and Environment). Thus they reported in many directions, on activities both formally and informally, influencing the all four Voices of the city.

After the ninth and last dialogue of Imagine Abbotsford, in Year 3, the volunteer committee’s report summarized a vision that identified a clear picture of strategies that would contribute to healthy Place Making and Place Caring for the next 30 years.  The Imagine Abbotsford core committee then formally brought this message to City Hall – first through three committees, composed largely of Citizen Voices who advised City Hall staff and elected officials:  the Economic Development Committee; Environment/Sustainability Committee; and the Social Services Committee. Only after different Citizen volunteer presenters gained the endorsement of all of these committees, did the Imagine Abbotsford Core Committee formally present to a meeting of City Councilors.

What happened next was at first unsettling: the report was accepted and not much was heard for over a year. Then the city activated a process to develop the Sustainable City Master Plan – and its first step was to accept the 30-year Vision of the city that had emerged from the Imagine Abbotsford process.

The skills, bonds and relationships of the Imagine Abbotsford core team, have since become woven into the fabric of the City’s wellbeing in many ways – from the Welcoming and Inclusive Community Project that changed a headline from “Abbotsford is Murder Capital of Canada” to “Abbotsford Receives Student Character Award”; to defeating an unpopular Water Referendum; to ongoing citizen participation in city wellbeing.

Thus this story of the Citizen Voice is that it can be an effective fulcrum that liberates differences that make a difference (both short term and long term), citizen responsibility and citizen engagement in the wellbeing of their city.

Ultimately the Citizen Voice is necessary to release the power of the Master Code. Because it lies at the heart of being able to take care of ourselves … so that we can take care of others, and together we can take care of our place and our planet.

As more cities start to experiment with an Integral City paradigm, a collection of case studies is asking to be written. Four cities in four different countries, disclose the power of engaging with the 4 Voices of the City, but each with a different inaugurating voice.

4 Voices 4 Cities 4 Countries

4 Voices 4 Cities 4 Countries

Abbotsford, BC, Canada is the city where I have worked the longest in catalyzing Integral City principles. Why? Because I live here and have had the first and longest provocation to look at this city so close at hand. In fact, by now, I have many stories to tell about Abbotsford. Some of them have already been documented: The Maple Leaf Meme Project; Imagine Abbotsford; Welcoming and Inclusive Communities. In this series, I will re-tell the story of Imagine Abbotsford through the lens of the Voice of the Citizen.

Ekurhuleni, South Africa invited me to work on their futures-focused project to discover a practical vision for the city in 2050, from which they could backcast strategies to realize it from today forward. Their incentive came from the Voice of the City Manager.

Leon, Mexico brought me to their industrial city to support a multi-stakeholder initiative to strengthen their cultural and social fabric. Their energy came from the Voice of Civil Society.

Durant, Oklahoma is working towards a new vision of the future that builds on traditional values and leverages new economic opportunities through tourism. Their intention comes from two organizations who share a strong Voice of Business.

The following blogs will tell these stories and show how any of the 4 Voices can be a fulcrum point for nurturing the qualities of an Integral City.

Like community musical impresarios, Beth Sanders and Dnyanesh Deshpande are innovators in composing, scoring and conducting an Integral City 2.0 planning process for mature neighbourhood planning. In 2013 this civic meshworker (Beth) and city planner (Dnyanesh) guided the 4 Voices of Strathcona County, Alberta, through a planning process that inspired  uncommon participation, intelligent engagement and sustainable futures.

Strathcona 4 Voices Participatory Circle

Strathcona 4 Voices Participatory Circle

I would like to recognize their accomplishment and explain why it enacts a significant performance occasion for Integral City 2.0.


Firstly the Planning Maestros (PM) took a meta-design approach to creating an expertly informed self-organizing process. Like composing a 3 movement symphony, they designed the project in 3 phases each of which related to a core Integral City Strategic Intelligence: Asking Questions (Inquiry Intelligence); Coming Up With a Strategy (Navigation Intelligence); Implementing a Strategy (Meshworking Intelligence).

With this meta-design in place, they were able to use many Integral City Intelligences as they  applied Integral City Practical Steps to clearly provide the context for environmental performance analysis (Eco Intelligence);  situate the Purpose for the Mature Neighbourhood Study  (Structural Intelligence); summarize the Assumptions behind the people, priorities and place (Storytelling Intelligence); and explain the comprehensive Consultation Framework of the first phase of the project (Integral Intelligence).

They set out “to listen to the community, to seek their input regarding issues and opportunities … [referring to available data] using a variety of methods to catch a wide range of perspectives”.  To do so they adapted the core Integral City design tool of the 4 Voices to create a Stakeholder Wheel. This gave them the organizing relationship of  the 4 Voices of  the Strathcona County mature neighbourhood and guided the sequence of their engagements, the choice of engagement methods and demonstrated the inter-relationships of data findings and analysis (see Figure 1).

Stakeholder Wheel

Stakeholder Wheel

Public Engagement

To do their work, the PM called on the 4 Voices of the community:

  • Citizen/Residents
  • Civic Manager/Local Government
  • Civil Society/NGO’s & Service Providers
  • Civic Developers/ Development, Builders and Business Community

The Stakeholder Wheel acted like a choir master’s “pitch pipe” to provide a powerful reference frame to organize engagement processes and sessions with each of the stakeholder groups separately. Like scoring the sections of a symphonic work, appropriate options for engagement were offered to optimize the quality and volume of voices (e.g. Social Media and Survey for Citizens; World Café for Civic Manager; Interviews for Civil Society; one on one sessions with Developers; and a Circle Gathering and Open House for the Combined Voices). The Stakeholder Wheel helped to situate when and where to bring in experts not to present relevant expertise like arrogant soloists, but as melodic sparks that highlighted collective expression. The Wheel gave logic to the sequence of the rehearsal and performance timelines, analysis of themes and finally to bring all stakeholders together into a participatory gathering where all voices were not merely assembled, but re-engaged like a multi-part choir, at another level of complexity.

This Planning Maestros created conditions (like spontaneous “call and respond” choruses) where mutual, trust and respect were built into the ground rules of engagement so each stakeholder group could express their perspective(s),  while the other groups could actively listen, improvise and even generatively challenge.

I think the design of this mature neighbourhood planning process was powerful and comprehensive because it allowed for conflict to be voiced without hijacking the process. It also tracked individual voices (used as quotations in the report to illustrate findings from each group) and offered elegant ways to track collective values and tensions, improvements and concerns and summarize and present data in many valuable tables (in the final public performance at the Open House and in the signature composition that has become their Public Report).


In the Strathcona County project from a planning perspective Integral City Principles (based on Living and Evolutionary System Intelligences) were used to embrace the complexities of land use planning, mature neighbourhood values and geo-spatial information. This Integral City planning process was based on a whole systems engagement of the neighbourhood. The key notes of sustainability lie at the heart of the  process because it essentially enacted the core melody of the Integral City Master Code:  Care for Self, Care for Others and Care for Place. This resulted in a strong memorable chorus (like recitative) for developing a sustainable strategy for Place Making that is also People Caring.

Using the Stakeholder Wheel as motif, the Integral City Planning Maestros created an attractive and extremely well organized online downloadable pdf report. This makes it accessible by all stakeholders who participated and easy to follow (like a song sheet) by all other city stakeholders and external consultants. Furthermore the alignment of the process can be easily referenced during the next stages of drafting the Strategy for Mature Neighbourhoods and  later when implementing it.

Report & Table of Contents

Report & Table of Contents

This dynamic Integral City Planning duo, Beth and Dnynanesh , created the conditions for future sustainable development through nurturing the relationships, stories, data research and recommendations from each group and all groups who participated in this experience. Because their team created  a coherent rehearsal hall for learning to optimize the qualities within each Stakeholder Group and  then discover the power of their combined voices across the entire set of Stakeholder  Groups, they enabled  the community to gain meta perspectives on itself that were not previously available to it.


It is noteworthy that our PM’s were able to context the entire process of social and cultural awareness with environmental sensitivity and economic realities by engaging a balance of Thought Leaders, Policy Makers and the Public from each Stakeholder Group. Like a full community choir, their final integrated process resonated with expectations and invitations for others to join in the next natural steps of the mature neighbourhood strategy.

Our Planning Maestros have demonstrated how to create the conditions for future learning process(es) to widen the community orchestra of engagement. And what is more, they did this as 2nd generation Integral City Meshworkers – innovating with the 4 Voice-Stakeholder Wheel, Integral City Principles, the Master Code and Intelligences. Their example inspires the whole Integral City Community of  Practice, with a keynote performance that serves a whole planet of emerging Integral Cities.

Brava Beth! ! Bravo Dnyanesh! ! Your way of  “planning” takes us beyond “singing for the community”, and even beyond “singing with the community” to “singing as the community”. That difference lies at the core of the Integral City planning process. Your “planning-as-the-community-performance” deserves a standing ovation!  And I happily recognize you with the first Integral City Meshworkers of the Year award.

Integral City Meshworkers of the Year: 2013

Integral City Meshworkers of the Year: 2013

Here is the Integral City 2013 Meta Blog. It connects Integral City Practitioners, Catalysts and Meshworkers to the Planet, Principles, Prosperity, Practise and Potentials that energized us in 2013.

Integral City International Faces

  1. 15 Years of Integral City – A Brief History of the Basics (Meeting of the Minds Conference – Toronto, ON)

  2. Systems Thinking for Cities (Waterlution, Toronto, ON, Canada)

  3. Principles for Planet of Cities (Leon, Mexico; Durant ,OK, USA)

    1. Recapitulating 7 Sets of Principles for Planet of Integral Cities

    2. ABC’s

  4. 5 Maps for Integral City – Patterns that Decode the Human Hive (Vancouver, BC, Canada, PatternDynamics™)

  5. 4 Elements for Prosperity in the Human Hive (Centre for Human Emergence, Amsterdam, NL; HUB Oakland, CA)

  6. 5 Practical Steps for Applying Integral City Theory (Integral Spiritual Experience Webcast, CA)

  7. 4 Voices in the Human Hive

    1. Learning Lhabitat (IntegralTheoryConference 2013 San Francisco CA)

    2. How to Occupy Cityzen Voice (ITC 2013 San Francisco)

    3. How to Occupy Civil Society Voice (ITC 2013 San Francisco)

    4. How to Occupy Civic Manager Voice (ITC 2013 San Francisco)

    5. How to Occupy Voice of Business (ITC 2013 San Francisco)

  8. 6 + Opportunities to Act in the Human Hive

    1. Start Small and Get Things Going

    2. Energize Elections (Mission, BC,Canada)

    3. Regenerate People, Generations, Genders

      1. Regenerativity is for All Classes (Sonoma State University, CA, USA)

      2. Regeneration Through 4 Generations (Sonoma State University, CA, USA)

      3. Regendrification (Sonoma State University, CA, USA)

    4. R’Evolutionize Spiritual Communities in the Human Hive (Nanaimo, BC, Canada)

  9. Measure Success in the Human Hive

    1. Integral Vital Signs Monitors (Meeting of the Minds Conference – Toronto, ON, Canada)

  10. Meta-Security in the Human Hive (International Society for the Systems Sciences 2013 Conference, Haiphong, Vietnam)

  11. Conclusion: Integral City as Sustainability Sweet Spot ( Integral Living Room event, Boulder, CO, USA)

 Note: Italics indicate Conference and/or location where Field Practise occurred.

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