Megacities soulless sprawl or shining future? WEF 2013

In the fall of 2006 I attended the C.G. Jung Institute of New York’s weeklong workshop in the heart of New York City. Walking between my hotel and the conference center gave me a very vivid impression of being immersed in a tremendous mass of humanity. Then one night as the Sun was setting, I walked the few blocks to the Empire State Building and for the first time took the elevator to the top and looked out. I had the same impressionistic feeling as when I first stepped up and looked through the main gate of the Taj Mahal in India – awe-inspiring wonder. However, the wonder of looking out at New York City was a wonder of dynamism – the flows of traffic was as far as the eye could see! In a workshop session we had discussed the evolutionary importance of the megalopolis and now, as I looked out on the city, I realized how important the many systems are in sustaining any city.

When the World Economic Forum 2013 opened yesterday (1.23-27.2013), I decided to enter and surf around the site to see what attracted my attention – there is so much! After a few minutes, I landed on Megacities: soulless sprawl or shining future? By Carl Björkman and stopped to first watch the video and then to read the paper. As I watched the short animated video I was struck by the idea presented. Geoffrey West narrates the clip and states,

“all our problems, global warming, pollution, crime, etc. are generated by urbanization and to address them a systems approach is required. Each separate problem is a complex adaptive system that are all interrelated and as such we need to think in systemic terms – in order to see that flu is somehow is tied to the markets and the length of roads we have. Data on cities is predictable and follows mathematical rules – how much Aids, police, and crime a city has can be predicated across the globe to within 85% accuracy. With a quantitative scientific framework maybe we can deal with the horror of unintended consequences.” West ends with stating human values will also have to be factored into the equation.”

I find Bjorkman/West’s argument about urbanization and the megalopolis compelling, especially the idea of interconnectivity and using systems theory to “maybe” comprehend the phenomena. However, their “maybe” hesitation may stem from their reliance on the western mathematical scientific model to analyze, predict, and solve problems of 21st Century Globalization. After all, it was this very thinking that got us into our current mess, and now we are told it will get us out. It is interesting that human values are factored into their mathematics, it seems, as an afterthought, when it should be the starting point – in Erich Fromm’s words “to have or to be” is a key human value issue for planetary survival.

A few days ago I watched Jeffrey Mishlove’s interview with Michael Talbot on the Holographic Universe, which suggests that if we view the megalopolis as holographic, we have a way of thinking about the interconnectivity Bjorkaman/West present. Talbot explains that there are two levels of perception, the concrete 3-D image that we see and a deeper level that is a ‘blur of energy’ that comprise the image and is interconnected with all other energy bundles. Western thinking tends to focus on separateness of each individual and somewhat like a fish in the fish bowl, does not see the water.

Hearing Talbot mention the fish bowl analogy, immediately reminded me of Pinky defending globalization, where she suggests it is the “invisible hand of privilege defined by the power of money driven by a consumer-mind-set of self-assured 1st Worlders congratulating themselves about inventing and mastering a system that they see as fair and efficient. It is ironic how this privileged stuff ends up being basically invisible to these 1st Worlders, who reap the most benefits from these relationships. There is no incentive to examine any of this, least of all economics and business departments that teach the theory and practice of global capitalism.” Pinky’s concludes that in affect we are like fish swimming around in the fish bowl of global corporate capitalism not able or willing to see it for what it is.

Defending Globalization

Finally, Peter Senge: on Systems Thinking in Action, returns us to the first topic studied last week – the learning organization, with its central component – systems thinking. Senge takes up one of Bjorkman/West’s points, that the health care issue facing everyone is depended on the systems we have created. The health care issue today are physical, mental, and emotional – a question we will be addressing is “Are we living in a sane society?” Senge presents an example of systems thinking in education, with the idea that students are being encouraged to create their educational systems and then manage it. This is a process underway in Bus 439 and as Steve Jobs suggests, thinking differently is required when challenged with something new. This is  another component of Senge’s learning organization, our mental models that will be explored.

Systems Thinking in Action

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