Flourishing Cities: Toward an Ecological Governance

Peter JonesCivil media, Sustainable Systems, Transformation Design

We held a participatory design workshop at Urban Ecologies 2015 (June 19) to test-run a process with the Flourishing Cities canvas, a system map for citizen co-design for planning future governance commitments and preferred future outcomes The Flourishing Cities framework adapts a design tool from the Flourishing Business Model, a planning system for constructing strongly sustainable business models. The design tool in both cases is a visual organizer for engaging stakeholders in co-creating values-centred operational guidance, in the Cities case, adapted for civil society engagement with urban planners and local governments.  This is based on research work developed from OCADU sLab Strongly Sustainable Business Model group as applied to the flourishing of cities and settlements.

As suggested by the “strongly sustainable” terminology, the normative commitment of the planning system is toward a fullY-integrated social system of an organization with its inclusive societal contexts, human participants, and the natural ecosystem.

A significant design challenge of our time is anticipating the relationships of multiple environmental and social problems as a complex system of nonlinear effects.  Consider how climate change debates stay mired in the unproductive positions of critique or techno-utopian solutionism. Climate change offers us the perfect example of a long-term complex problem system. We are largely arguing about symptoms and how to treat them, as the root causes (if not formal causes) of climate change are in trade, economic investment, and industrial subsidies from generations ago. As we face the consequent effects on human migration, energy, transportation, and urban planning, we remain largely unable to influence the politics of global capital. So even if Canada elects a more climate-friendly government after the disastrous Harper regime, South Asia and China’s development and climate impacts remain untouchable and arguably worse than our last 100 years of aggressive growth.

However, we cannot model or think about nonlinear and atemporal relationships very well, especially in deliberative groups and decision making processes. We need not only better engagement and dialogue processes for citizen deliberative problem solving, we require relevant tools. We are aiming to design a framework from the common language of business model tools, adapted for city and community decision making models.

This proposed visual model enables a participatory mapping of propositions, values, and preferences that might yield significantly better group decisions for sociocultural and ecological development and governance in any planning engagement. The frame for Flourishing is drawn from John Ehrenfeld’s decade of research and promotion of “sustainability as the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on Earth forever.”

The Flourishing Cities canvas is an experiment in creative engagement for constructing strong sustainability models for city and regional urban governance.

The presentation deck for the workshop (available in PDF).


The workshop in action. This was our first, and I (with the Strategic Innovation Lab) would be happy to develop custom Flourishing City workshops for planners or stakeholder groups. Contact me or join the SSMBG on LinkedIn if you’re interested in this developing area.