Center for Spiritual Inquiry and Integral Education

R. Michael Fisher
My Top 5 Pick: Integral Urbanists
by R. Michael Fisher - Saturday, September 6, 2014, 08:01 AM

This post is a short overview of some really interesting people, critical thinkers, theorists (all academics in North America), and hands-on folks that are "integral" in some way, though they may or may not identify themselves as "integralists," it's my contention they are. They are (not exclusively) at the leading-edge of thought, values and worldviews in regard to community and urban development. I see them as important players in building the foundations for the dawning of an Integral Age, as the contentious integral philosopher Ken Wilber, and others, have called it. (1) The top 5, I pick for our future (at least in my circle of connections with them in some way) are: Leonie Sandercock, Marilyn Hamilton, Ian Wight, Nan Ellin and Craig Anz. I'll say a little bit about their work below and I have a fantasy they will investigate each other's work (if they haven't already). I see some meshworking potentials, and of course, I desire if appropriate in some way, to be part of that meshworking in future projects. These thinkers integrate but transcend the limitations of Modernism, Postmodernism and extend their work into a Post-Postmodern era or what is also called Integral.

As I have been continuing to get involved (since April, 2014) in the notion of integral approaches to a Creative Commons and Creative Economy in in Carbondale and the Southern Region of IL, I have had to be both pragmatic in meeting people where they are at and what the local conditions are--and, ideally theoretical as well, so as to give the practical work that larger over-arching theoretical and philosophical frame it needs. It's the way I work as an integralist. On the ideal integral view (e.g., Wilber's Integral Theory for an Integral Age), I am reading various urban planners and architects with interests in influencing design generally, for a sane, healthy and sustainable future city, region and global system.

I started studying their work back in the late 1970s and now and then since, especially when I was in graduate school and wanted to look at the role of fear in architecture and design as well as how we build communities and cities. It became clear that fear-based means and motivations aren't the best and tend to lead to more fear in cities. Although I am a total amateur in these fields, my big influences in environmental design and architectural philosophies came from Val Geist (2) whom I took a life-changing course with in 1977-78, and Ian McHarg, Christopher Alexander, R. Buckminster Fuller and a few others. When I moved to Carbondale in 1998 it so happened we (Barbara and I) moved into a rental, unbenownst to us, just 1/2 a block from the late R. Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome house (now a Historical Heritage building). He taught at S. Illinois University Carbondale for awhile. The spirit of design, architecture, urban planning and future thinking was in the air, and I started reading his work again and saw he was really quite an integral thinker, as the five people I'm going to mention briefly below.

Before mentioning the top 5, it is worth saying that Wilber's view is both optimistic and sobering about the Integral Age (and Cultural Creatives as a group of leading-edge thinkers), he makes his point in a short article "An Integral Age at the Leading Edge": "Let us begin this overview by first noting what appears to be a rather dismal fact: today we hear a lot about Cultural Creatives and the new and exciting rise of an Integral Culture—a holistic, balanced, inclusive, caring culture that moves beyond the traditional and the modern and into a postmodern transformation.  But, in fact, significant psychological evidence indicates that in today’s world, less than 2% of the population is at anything that could be called an “integral” wave of awareness (where “integral” means something like Gebser’s integral-aperspectival, Loevinger’s autonomous and integrated stages, Spiral Dynamics’ yellow and turquoise memes, Wade’s authentic, Arlin’s postformal, the centauric self and mature vision-logic, etc.)."

I met Nan Ellin (Salt Lake) online in the late 1990s as I recall, after reading her edited book Architcture of Fear, and we correspond now and then, with a collaboration project at the Museum of Fearology where she submitted material on the "architecture of love." I'm now reading her book Integral Urbanism (2006) which is really powerful in implications, and she even mentions Ken Wilber and Integral Theory and Spiral Dynamics (Don Beck etc.) in her intro. although she says she didn't read their work at the time she wrote Integral Urbanism. A masters student wrote a thesis on her work comparing it to Wilber's Integral Theory and concluded her work is "second-tier" for the most part and in synch with much of Wilber's work, which I agree to a point, and there are places where it is not. I still think her contribution is integral and very important to dialogues and collaborations ahead with integralists.

I met Marilyn Hamilton (Vancouver) and her work at Integral City website (see also her book by that name), as one of my teachers of Spiral Dynamics integral (with Don Beck) training. She is very knowledgeable of Wilber's theory and other integral theorists and puts it into practice. Another colleague of Marilyn's and someone I have presented with at the Integral Theory Conference in 2010, is urban planner Ian Wight (Winnipeg) who also is very knowledgeable of Wilber's and Beck's work.

I met Leonie Sandercock (Vancouver) during my dissertation years over a decade ago at UBC, and her work on cosmopolis, see her book Towards Cosmopolis as a great view that is quite integral, in the same kinds of ways as Nan Ellin's work, even though she doesn't cite Wilber or other integral theorists.

I met most recently Craig Anz (Carbondale) at the Creative Economy Conference in Carbondale this past spring, and we are communicating back and forth on what might transpire in our local area utilizing his own work and others. I am just beginning to read his dissertation. He has read some Wilber, and uses holons as well as other philosophical concepts in his thinking and work. I look forward to bringing forward the integral combinations in practical application for community and economic development in S. Illinois region.

Sorry I have to keep this so short... but it's a start, of getting these brilliant and important minds on the same page... and may they and others benefit from the awareness of each other. I will write up a more substantial comparative analysis of their work at some point too. Stay tuned.


End Notes

1. Wilber says the eminent structural-functionalist sociologist Jeffrey Alexander has claimed this label in his eras of methodology classification for the social sciences (p. 431). See Wilber, K. (2010). Afterword: The dawn of an Integral Age. In S. Esbjorn-Hargens (Ed.), Integral Theory in action: Applied, theoretical, and constructive perspectives on the AQAL model (pp. 431-33). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

2. Geist, V. (1978). Life strategies, human evolution, environmental design: Toward a biological theory of health. NY: Springer-Verlag.