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City development is a complex ethical issue

Recently I was asked to participate in the Power to the City debat

Recently I was asked to participate in the Power to the City debat

Modern city development is a confrontation with ethics
City development is a human path along ethical breakthroughs and value driven leadership, based on wellness and harmony. Some cities in the world take the lead (eg New York, Eindhoven). Many others show horrible signs of decadence, speculation and chaos.

Ethics guides our evolution

Leaps in Ethics guides our evolution

Using the complexity model (organization versus ethics, TO DO versus TO BE) in relation to the impressive explosive expansion of cities we can see that the city environment has become the utmost melting pot of speculative decadence and an ethical leadership challenge without precedence.

Just have a look at the evolution of London from 1800 till now:

The expansion leap of the city is especially spectacular from 1950 onwards. It is fully in line with the mathematical exponential function of doubling over a fixed time 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 etc) as explained so magnificently by Dr. Bartlett in 2002 and so neglected by the general people out of unawareness or complexity while manipulated by self interest of banks and governments. Where does ethics come in when a doubling time of just 30 years requires millions of homes to be built and financed? When all this spectacular affluence of people needs food to eat, energy in their homes, products, services and medical care to overcome their accidents and illnesses? Where is it when all the above has been economized in controlling hands of politicians, bureaucrats, banks and competitive business enterprises that only have growth on their mind of power and control? What happens when all this needs to be connected with infrastructures of roads, logistics and waste management? Where does one place priorities?

For decades the choice was obvious. Attending “Growth” had priority number 1 and was complicated enough to manage and interesting enough for greed and apathy to develop hand in hand.

Consequence driven governance
When you are a city government between 1950 and 2000 you tend to see this evolution as a big, growing pile of costs to be dealt with in 4 year democratic blocks. The city financing comes mainly from taxation (soil, real estate, consumption patterns) often with the burden of a national government in between as political and bureaucratic extra. The political focus easily becomes related to income through taxes, city services, lobbies and expense priorities, and in many cases even very personal interests of enrichment, power and manipulation. The evolution of the city tends to be chaotic and based on urgency to solve growth pains rather than moral planning. In this short video we see someconsequences of chaotic growth:

Big infrastructural needs and survival initiatives of ordinary people mingle. This short video is just as clear. Just wonder where the kids play…

The total lack of ethics results in unprecedented levels of pollution, sickness and ghetto forming, even in modern cities of the western world. The distance between rich and poor grows including decadence at both extreems. Secondary consequences, such as air and water pollution, criminality, sustainability issues in humanitarian and ecological ethics, etc. are unfortunate burdens that did not immediately fit into the expansion model of working with political or economic priorities of growth. All this is crazy if we realize that placing all 7 billion human beings sholder to sholder in rows “bud to belly”, the entire world population would fit into the smallest province of the Netherlands (Utrecht). And many know how small the Netherlands is already.

Impressive truth

Impressive truth

If all people together occupy so little space why are we such a huge, destructive footprint on our planet Earth? That’s because we use our time, space, creativity and interaction wrongly.

Ready for change
The cities have grown so big, complex, problematic and vulnerable from management point of view that a new way of dealing with its household and community interaction is needed. The old bureaucratic model of tax versus expenses does not cover the needs anymore. Nor does the model of consumer economics that make people in cities extremely vulnerable for financial speculation, destruction of values, illnesses, etc. Cities tend to run into severe debt while responsibility piles up without apparent solutions in the old model.

The Sweed Hans Rosling made an interesting TED speech about the statistical growth of our global populations and the evolution of wellness versus poverty using his usual creative presentation techniques:

Rosling addresses the paradox of ethical need of child survival to stop the exponential expansion of the human population. He refers also to the moral need to bring together wellness by taking responsibility together. His logic makes sense even though the complexity of harmonic interaction with our environment with involvement of all structures of society was only briefly referred to.

As mentioned there are very powerful speculative forces at work that have always gone beyond governance control, facilitated by politics from the economic interest point view. Take for instance the tremendous food requirement for such large city populations (70% of all people in the world are consumers through money dependence in cities and they do not contribute to their food productivity) has stimulated the same speculants that corrupted the real estate market to do the same in the other commodities markets.

These people (real estate, food whole sale, politicians, banks) only care for the financial benefit and there are no laws against their malicious practice. Behind all these manipulative figures we find millions of real people suffering and dying, but this does not bother them. They often determine the rules of the game, the countries laws and public pressure out of self interest. The tension between such contrasting challenges and world views is a confrontation with our moral evolution. The ethical breakthrough tends to come through three means:

  1. When the masses stand up against their dictators. The Arabic spring was an example as a response to raising food prices. The Mexican youth movement in response to the student massacre by corrupt politicians and drug cartels, is yet another. 100’s of such hotspots can now be found in the world. And it spreads through social media and brave bottom up leadership.
  2. When crisis, catastrofes or depression give room for change. In many places fragmented power distribution makes executives aware that they cannot stop the public movement of change. The open up for dialoge and exchange their position of power to block for their authority facilitated change and gain admiration for that.
  3. When ethical leadership takes over from financial management. New value systems appear. They develop in parallel with old obsolete formal structures. They are not transactional but based on value creation and sharing. New organisational complexities arise that eventually take over from the old ones including the new level of ethics in their structure. Sustainocracy is a working example that invites executives from the old world to take responsibility also in the new one and bridge the transformation in a peaceful way.

Complex transformation
No matter what the outcome is per city the transformation processen are enormous because everything that evolved for centuries and especially the last few decades is being challenged to change. Many cities experience this as yet another cost but in Eindhoven we see it as a modern multidisciplinary value creation process, an emerging economy based on spirituality (the natural force of purpose driven living connectivity) and creativity (true 21st century entrepreneurship) that is more powerful than the old speculative one.

FRE2SH (city self sufficiency) in action

FRE2SH (city self sufficiency) in action

The biggest difficulty is to transform a working city of cement and cars into a biodiversity of health, safety and productive interaction. We do not start from scratch but transform our past into sustainable progress. This will always go accompanied with tearing down old structures and developing new ones. Precedent appear allover the world but decadence and greed still rules. When ethics reaches the levels of global governance the human world will enter its next evolutionary phase. The 3 level of ethics, the one of harmony with ourselves and our environment.

 

Visions start circulating

Visions start developping

The transformation of government is visualized in this summing up:

Different types of government

Transforming from one governance to the other needs others to become participatory too.

Jean-Paul Close (Founder of STIR’s City of Tomorrow)

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