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Cities are massively redefining their functions

When we look at the development and evolution of cities we can observe an era of intense changes. While the organic growth of urban centers has historically been motivated by defense against external aggression, trade and later industrial activities, nowadays cities develop around quality of life and services. For a long time city management was conditioned by urban growth factors, building infrastructures and facilitation business dynamics. This determined the look and feel of the places, often at the expense of pollution, traffic based collapsed infrastructures, waste development, criminality, ghettos, etc. They were the playing ground of financial lobbiest, industrial giants, logistic trade lables, real estate developers and speculants, and underground activities of drug dealers, financial criminals, etc. Expensive bureaucracy, police and other measure developed to manage this dark side of city explotation.

Brave leadership nowadays is producing a massive turnaround that is motivated by a new era in which awareness of certain key responsibilities have penetrated all layers of society. Things that were held for impossible a few decades ago are now florishing in certain municipalities as a modern age example of sustainable progress. We are still living in between the two realities but the new one, the healthy, participatory, environmental friendly one, is manifesting itself with great determination and growth. Gradually urban environments can become Sustainocracies.

Jean-Paul Close

Some examples on social media:

Barcelona car free superblocks

The city with the highest car density is transforming into a green pearl along the mediterrean sea. Since the 80´s we have seen a huge transformation of this once ugly, highly polluted, industrial harbour city into a genuine urban oases of livability and quality of life.

Paris redefining the Champs Elysees

An historical location known for its traffic chaos in Paris is now being redesigned to host art, nature, recreation and health. The introduction is in French but it shows the steps that the mega city is taking to make it a livable and dynamic environment. Not quite a sustainocracy yet but a few steps closer.

City Micro Farming

Increasingly food is being produced in the cities, close to and involving the consuming people. Our own FRE2SH program is inspiring people accross the world to initiate such processes.

7 principes for building cities (Peter Calthorpe)

We at Sustainocracy tend to agree with many the views of Peter Calthorpe on city design. The only difference is that we place them specifically into a human values centered context. We introduce the participation society around our five core natural human values as a shared responsibility. This makes a city more than a set of infrastructures. It brings a city alive with an identity, authenticity and interactive citizenship, 4 x WIN entrepreneurship and facilitating governance. The city becomes a self sustaining eco-system that has a rich and dynamic inner life and a symbiotic relationship with its surroundings.

The words that trigger city development now are “participation”, “shared responsibilities” and our “core natural values”, such as health and safety, with a much broader meaning of each of these two words then what we were used to. Developing our basic needs in community based districts is key and only briefly mentioned in this video. But still the video is a good basis that can be enhanced with Sustainocratic tables and development clusters.

Re-building Resilient Food System

On June 23rd at 16.00 CET we kick off a series of 10 months of online interaction, videos, inspiration and more about the importance of the development of regional food self sufficiency and resilience.

We will look at different techniques in the area of food system´s transformation. We will engage experts, share insights and try to collect best practices that we share as our global FRE2SH food community. You can register here for free for the online kickoff SAFARI talk on June 23rd at 16.00 CET.

The series is offered together with our global partners: Food Design Nation by Dr. Francesca Zampollo.

Have a look at my short personal intro:

11 years of AiREAS, part 2, the transformation

In part 1 we explained how the start of our AiREAS community in 2011 attracted the element of (financial) self interest of the participating institutions and people.

  • Business wanted to sell their expertise and products. Addressing their polluting manufacturing methods and logistic deliveries was another issue.
  • Science was looking for the financing of (PhD) research projects. Showing us the results of other research, directly related or even exactly the same, was avoided.
  • The city was looking for applied innovation and avoidance of limiting factors for growth. Taking measures for improving air quality and health was up against the diversity of political interests.
  • Citizens were known to complain a lot. But when asked to take responsibility together their absence was mindblowing. 

The issue of health was an interesting means for all, not a primary goal (yet). This is of no surprise. The mainstream societal ethics was about the solidarity with the financial system. Health was generally dealt with as a remedial issue, often by other institutions than the ones that contributed to the unhealthy problem. Establishing AiREAS as a non financially driven entity could even be considered contextually illegal. Nevertheless we together decided to go ahead anyway.

So health and air quality was primarily an issue of the founders of AiREAS, local entrepreneurial citizens who brought in their own motives. At human level all institutional people involved engaged positively with this health thinking, but at institutional level the objectives of these organisations were leading for them as employees. This lead to the common saying in AiREAS:

Self interest is your best motivator as a participant in AiREAS. Feel free to represent it to the full in the AiREAS community as long as it contributes to the common mission and goal of air quality and health.

This lead to very interesting confusion among the partners. A product supplier for instance would normally expect to finish a relationship with a customer when sending the invoice and getting paid. In the case of AiREAS the relationship only started when the products were delivered, installed and made available for use. The products themselves were not important, their expeted functional results were, placed within the context of the health and air quality objectives. In a five year partnership arrangement this would mean a long period of feedback to the supplier with possible needs for product adjustments and readjustment of services.

The same was for all the partners. They had to get used to this health and air quality overall umbrella for their AiREAS engagement. Angry citizens were asked to think of their own contribution to air pollution in their daily lives, not just fingerpointing at others. Scientist were asked to bring in the existing expertise prior to getting their research contracts. The local government realized that if they participate in measuring air quality, there is also an expectation to do something with the data and insights.

Gradually each of the participants started to transform as an organization and become more and more proactive in the field of health and air quality development.

Some even developed an attitude of: now that we can do it ourselves, why do we need AiREAS? This led again to confusion, especially for them. AiREAS started to work with other regions in order to avoid having to deal with these commitment fluctuations. In the end most would return to the multiple level engagement dynamics of AiREAS, simply because health and a healthy region cannot be developed by any single institution itself. It needs to be done together. But this is a learning process. After all, we all we come from a world full of self centered silos, individualistic interests and self determination. This resulted in the following AiREAS rule….

Whatever one can do by oneself, one does by oneself. Whatever is too complex, we do together.

This rule had a double purpose. The first to avoid abuse of making cheap use of others for things that really belong to oneself. The other to stick to real and exciting complexity levels of execution of challenging projects together. Gradually participating members of the community started to understand the additional value of working together in AiREAS.

We called the concept: One plus one is much more than two!

It developed the identity and authenticity of each of the partners in the relationship with the others in order to optimally start valuing each other and incorporating each in a common higher goal and purpose. The specific added value, that only appears when both (or more) work together, is unique and magically effective. It really enhances the position of all involved. In AiREAS competition among the partners does not exist. Each engages based on their own unique contributive value.

Another issue that required the learning process of all partners involved was the fact that AiREAS was a dynamic ecosystem, not a controled fixed structure. One participates, suggests or joins processes and celebrates end results, but no one controls anyone or others. Many cooperative clusters can emerge, all at the same time, under the flag of AiREAS. One participates, or not. It is always an open invitation and a contributive choice.

The first AiREAS project was the design, implementation and use of a fine maze, city air quality measurement system focused on citizen´s exposure to air pollution. End 2013 the installations took place and for the first time we made Visible the Invisible, for all that participated. We could suddenly see the effects of Newyear fireworks, the impact of bbq-ing during a windstill summer evening, etc. With this measurement system as a backbone and reference, more projects were proposed and defined together.

Other municipalities started to engage and with it also other partners. AiREAS grew as an ecosystem in which everyone can find their own space and engagement. By doing so every new participant started to mark their presence as a valuable additional resource. They also needed to go through the learning process of developing cocreation instead of their traditional trade attitude.

Together we had developed an enormous amount of knowhow. But there was still one thing missing: Genuine changes in societal functioning.

Everyone involved in AiREAS had undergone transformative changes in their commitment, functioning and even their organizational reason to be. The participating institutions became examples of structures moving from a traditional 1 x WIN to a multiple WIN positioning. Their old focus on financial results or cost coverage had transformed into the desire to make impactful positive footprints in society. Also the executive management culture was changing. Multiple WIN thinking wishes to make a difference. And together this could be done.

But the most difficult was still to come. The extention of all changes into the operational reality of society.