Twentieth-century urban and technological development events represent immense power. Yet, whether they are judged superficial, highly significant, or isolated and irrelevant, all share the common ground of small self-interest groups nested into their environments with various needs, interests, and concerns. Diversity is good for density.
The city makers and builders might control great wealth for scanning vast expansion opportunities. On the other hand, the makers could implement simple actions such as confronting crime abuses with more sophistication than a neighborhood watch. The deep and complex range of these events are measures of the urban place and experience. They are like the frequencies used to describe the technology of communication. Whether the event source is the long reach of a real estate investment trust or a modest urban infill project, the impact, whether top-down or up from the bottom, is less relevant than the diversity of methods applied by these actors and thereafter the regulators of events in response.
Envision a set of human occurrences in single-family homes on half an acre, tree-filled lots and compare that activity to what might occur in rows of multiple-story apartment buildings resting on commercial service and retail establishments, a school, and a couple of train stations.
Accounts of the action contained in urban spaces allow us to define unique spheres of influence. For example, a market analyst or urban demographer might apply the gravity model (wiki) to examine the economics of the actions and events within these places. Still, the actual forces involved are not dissimilar to that between the earth, our moon, and the solar system in which we are contained. The wonder of the billions of small moments involved in this system is that now it is possible to imagine taking stock of all of them, and there are many examples.
The so-called “smart-city” already lives in the imaginative eyes of those who are now trying to build them, and they might call upon an IBM data system called “Watson” to examine options, and so on. The need to build “a safe camp” or ‘a good city’ or “a flourishing earth” is a process that succeeds best when the action is community-motivated and understood as such. Individual self-interest behaviors are well known, and extraordinary work on interpersonal communication and behavior continues to advance. This makes the main problem very clear, but it is no longer a camp or a city. It is the earth. It is not something we can build like a camp or a city, or is it?
Nearly eight billion people form the earth community. Comparatively, small groups know the spatial implication of this. Yet, while each is capable of great accomplishment, they prove to be painfully ineffective in solving ‘whole earth’ problems. Yet, we also know the most successful responses to changing conditions, both social and natural, are buried in these small actions.
What are the connective tissues that would make a whole earth strategy workable?
In our minds-eye, a few practical examples in three segments are crawling into view that might become whole earth networks aimed at human dignity. The armature for building this vision is built on the grid, the second segment deals with the nature of consumption within the grid, and the third examines the urban brand or vision so formed.
The Infinite Grid
Alongside the expected order of the urban grid stands its shadow. Grids demonstrate an infinite matrix, a system for moving forever outward over the landscape. But, equally, the complexity of the movement developed for the use of all grids brings forth the novelty essential to what Alfred North Whitehead describes as the “what else” question.
We require knowing what is possible now. Science and engineering disciplines inject the grid with service components like mass transportation, steel construction, and the elevator. The grid provides unlimited electric power within all spaces, and with it, the presumption of certainty such as living is about thinking up new ways to live. The unique human capacity for campfire innovation is effective and responds to challenge well. Then suddenly, the urban question changed from how can we “make cities better” to “can we stop cities” and we all know why.
From basic urban reform to anti-sprawl, today’s global conditions are born of grid technologies that have begun to threaten life and community, but it still holds the novelty we seek. The same way the stars were once seen as sparks from the fire, the city’s vision as unending expansion will also change. Yet, we face one single great problem. Will the unlimited potential of the sphere bring balance and containment to the infinite grid?
Materialism is associated with human well-being toward the negative. It tends to reduce positive-social behavior on interpersonal levels. We also see materialism as a major contributor to ecologically destructive actions defined globally as “overshoots” and “footprints.” Worsening educational and social outcomes occur when focusing on the supremacy of personal preference and pleasure over other values. Finally, excessive materialistic behavior is associated with unmanageable debt, often linked to a broader range of pathologies. While these are negative outcomes, the economic arguments dismiss these criticisms as unfortunate behavior while denying the cancerous downside of growth. Containment will require a new kind of intelligent abundance.
The economic growth of nations and the foundation of most revenue schemes depend greatly on the two forms of physical consumption. The overall economic condition is clear; it will drive spending to high levels by encouraging the purchase of “materials,” but that includes all required to provide or buy an “experience,” and therein lays the novelty we seek. As spending shifts away from physical products toward acquiring personal experience, it offers a unique step toward sustainability. It could build a society with the capacity to recognize the power of introspection and limits.
The Creative Asset
Cities have a brand heritage often leveraged as history along with a set of cool stories that firmly establish their urban product. One of the most important or useful of these narrative brands is the ability to cross-cultural borders with food, social norms, sensibilities, clothing, patterns, color, and experiences you might not acquire otherwise. However, when ‘professional urbanists’ seek to change an existing condition thought of as bad to something good, they have not successfully targeted their target audiences for the lack of one ability — to shift perspective.
Narrowing the professional focus to a single project or program is a step toward failure unless it can be consistently, if now relentlessly infused, with a new view up from the bottom, or from alongside, the top, or via a simple pan inward across the entire creative landscape. The capacity for superlative focus in response to a violent storm or fire is well known. It is a power to be tapped in new ways as its purpose is to force an element of lateral “death and life” Jacobian creativity in every action (after Jane Jacobs, 1969).
For another example, the creative application of an oblique strategy is one of the best ways to shift views and see new opportunities. Please take a moment to explore. Then, post it in the comment section below if it works—a personal reference via BBC podcast here (30 minutes).
The oblique strategy phrase that started the three indulgent and digressive paragraphs below was: “Make a “blank” valuable by putting it in an exquisite frame.”
Due to the above reference to Jane Jacobs, I will put a regional development policy idea aimed at increasing non-auto access to places in an exquisite frame. As a result, various multi-use districts would gain advanced levels of market strength given three new frames of regional urban development policy.
- First, I saw employment growth in these beautiful business clusters created by land-use policies that discouraged job dispersion. Then the potential for these sleek competitive regional economy trains emerged. They were blue.
- These trains controlled the direction, if not the physical quality of development or the stability of growth, but each cluster and the train riders had enormous power.
- Next, a portrait of the funding agents for quality urban form found my frame. My blue transit system (rail, light rail, and bus) connected combinations of government services, knowledge-based employers, and major universities and medical centers, including “entertainment-based” cultural institutions with finely targeted retail offerings.
The “branding” idea of strong, dense centers connected to other strong, dense centers is an elegant picture. The next frame captured traditional agricultural areas, watershed protection zones, and other natural resource functions, including older auto-oriented retail centers and other large warehouse and distribution centers reliant on trucking. These outliers (currently dominating my landscape) will gain the opportunity to be financially supported to defend an expanding natural environment through stewardship. Equally, the dense core structure offers an environment where the toxins of human activity are contained and eliminated with zero-waste policies, but I digress.
Summary: Choose How Your World Works
That little “oblique” exercise above is a method to take a personal experience (my education, training, career) and think about how the world should work. The concept works equally well in the organizational development of small groups, especially when there is a breakdown.
This brief essay on frequency and diversity is a simple example of individual thought and ideas. It needs to fit somewhere like a thought bubble among other people to conclude this way.
Government should pay for the essential stuff like keeping the nation on a permanent war footing or to help corporations and great big banks cover losses, oh, and spying lots of spying to protect old lines in the sand. But, then again, maybe it (that would be we) should pay for health and environmental protection, affordable housing and public transportation, and lots of education and training.
I know the former is a well-known path to economic distrust and collapse and the other, an intentional step away from madness toward human dignity. Yet, paradoxically, the former policies may be drawn by “rampart survivalists” as the way it has always been and requires us to circle the wagons. The latter may want to “occupy” new economic priorities by causing a re-energized, democratically digitized, public networking process. Both are “small group” formations – the former is a small group of large organizations and the other a large group of small organizations. The thing on offer in this example is to launch a quest for balance instead of power.
The former can be overly defined as the one or two-percent groups with great financial power, global corporate structures, and a managed “public good” regime on the balance sheet. The latter is composed of lots of small groups with chaotic, tentative goodness rules because they are working on new theories of financial power and economic change. One is informed by a small group press and media that the few need and read to solve information problems. The latter works to solve the integration problems of small groups, and they read about ways to build new education process networks. These two forces are at work to change the other. With both in play, something exciting might happen in the region of balance.
Examine the following examples of that large group of small organizations struggling to find new ways to build their small individual stories into a larger and globally efficacious narrative.
- The Movement Generation: Justice and Ecology Project. Connect people to their personal and community ecosystems. To create a way forward, this value is held as the guiding all others. This force identifies and eliminates all elements that contribute to ecological collapse and, in doing so, design and implements a biomimetic future. This alternative is known as the new intentional pathway.
Science and Technology
- Ask Nature challenges everyone to reexamine every aspect of how we use nature to make stuff, think and store ideas, and manage waste. It will produce a massive catalog of nature’s solutions to human design challenges.
Consumption and Well Being
- The Good Guide (now dead or dying) wanted to provide people with safe, healthy, green, & ethical product reviews based on scientific ratings of some 250,000 products. The idea remains important, but it will take more the effort made by University of California-Berkeley professor Dara O’Rourke,
Education and Training
- Kahn Academy is a non-profit educational organization created in 2006 by educator Salman Khan to provide “a free, world-class education for anyone.”
Participants are asked to expand this list in the comment section below to help develop new main headings, indexing, and groups. The main criteria being the information, and in some cases, the services provided are free. Voluntary donations may be requested.
Climate change events and displacement impacts threaten water, land, and food security. These security questions link directly to culture as defined by race and spirituality, wealth and poverty, and so on. A thousand questions rise to decide whether or not a proposed practice such as treating carbon dioxide as a regulated pollutant or whether a financing scheme such as “cap and trade” fits into how your world works when it comes to the cost of food, energy, water, transportation, and housing for people.
Whether it is the “company store” or cooperative alternative, the question will remain clear. Is there an equitable transition made by this decision that increases human dignity opportunities and reduces the potential for ecological disruption and catastrophic resolution?
“If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against. The struggle between “for” and “against” is the mind’s worst disease.”Sent-ts’an, c. 700 C.E.
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