“Sure, you can interview me, but my work is not really related to the city.” That was a response I heard over and over again as I invited Thought Leaders, Designers and Practitioners to share their wisdom in the Integral City 2.0 Online Conference (IC2OC) last year (Hamilton & Sanders, (2012a, 2012b). I was continuously astonished that these visionaries did not see how their work contributed to our understanding of the city.
Perhaps this is the first stage of developing a meta-view of any subject? The meta-analyst brings together previously disparate parts of a system that has not seen itself from a metaview? At first this is merely a tentative proposition that the parts belong together as a whole. And as the meta-analyst does this, they make object not only what might have been previously subject (in which they were fused with the focus of contemplation), but they bring together many system-objects and point out the interconnections that reveal the wholeness of a supra-system.
When I consider this in terms of the trajectory of learning, this is perfectly logical. We must become first self-aware, then self-manage, self-learn/lead/teach. The next big jump is to follow the same path to become other-aware (manage, learn/lead/teach). Then the next two leaps are to follow the same path for contexts and then systems (Dawson-Tunik, 2005; Dawson, 2007; M. Hamilton, 2008, p. 103).
So seeing the city as a context for all scales of human systems is a journey that involves a distinct cycle of learning within ever-expanding scales of context.
The city is the most complex human system yet created, because it contains all the individual, group, organizational and systems scales co-existing in it simultaneously (Hamilton, (2012a, 2012b, 2012c). Wilber (2013) in his recent exploration of Integral Semiotics reveals just how granular it is possible to parse every scale of our human systems using an integral calculus. Furthermore, he gives us the pointing out instructions to notice the subject and object relationships that exist for individuals and collectives (and between individuals and collectives). Thus, philosophically we can consider the word “city” as artifact and as a referent of our gaze; the (UR) signifier that we can sense; the (UL) signified that we can understand; the (LR) syntax or system of systems that is the holding vessel for all complex adaptive life in the city; and the (LL) semantic or meaning-making framework that enables all quadrants and all lines of all holons in the city to relate to one another. This Integral Semiotics offers a new (and sufficiently complex) matrix for thinking about the city. With AQAL lenses it is clear that the city is not just bricks and mortar laid out on a grid system (LR), but is a living social holon, where the exchanges of energy, information and matter occur as a system of highly complex interconnections, and interrelationships.
Perhaps it is the very vitality of these interconnections that blinds us to our relationship to the city as a whole? For the most part we don’t sense, think or feel that we actually contribute to the life of a greater whole (the city) or that our intentions can influence the greater whole (the city) that contributes to our life? In the first instance we are blind to our role and in the second instance we take for granted the flow of life systems the city delivers to us.
I have written elsewhere about the four voices in the four quadrants of the City: UL Cityzens, LL Civil Society, UR City Managers and LL Business/Systems. (And recently we offered a Learning Lhabitat at the Integral Theory Conference 2013 for participants to discover the qualities of these four voices (Marilyn Hamilton & Sanders, 2013a, 2013b)
Most often we characterize Cityzens to be the silent, blind and disengaged persons of the city, while the other three Voices have more influence on the whole city.
But where do we find a city who has created the “habitat” of wellbeing that explicitly recognizes the goals, roles and souls of the city – so that all four voices can be optimized at all scales in their four potentials??
This question is a clarion call to integral practitioners from all disciplines, sectors and professions. Because this blind spot to thinking about the city as a human system to which we should be in service is the sweet spot to becoming sustainable at all scales on the planet.
In the human drive to improve our wellbeing, we have developed capacities to expand the potential of individuals, leaders, families, teams, organizations and even sectors. But as noted by the IC2OC speakers (and reported at the International Society of Systems Science Conference 2013 (Marilyn Hamilton, 2013) , we, who now live predominantly in cities, face grave threats to all the assumptions on which we have based our lives as city-zens. Terry Patten (Patten, 2013) talks passionately about the potential we all have to “enact an integral revolution” to face the urgencies of these challenges and explores an “emergent form of ragged truth-telling and inquiry”. He reminds his readers that Earth is our only home, and calls us to be “magnets” willing to face the great threats that face us and emerge “new possibilities