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Montreal, CA
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    What are Emergent Cities?
    Project: Polytopia
    Originally published on the Emergent Cities blog.

    OVER THE PAST FEW MONTHS I've been following quite closely the musings of a number of people who are sharing inspired thinking about the intersection of social capital, entrepreneurship, knowledge, innovation, money, and finance.

    There are, for instance:

    Ideas — big ideas — are flying fast and furious, and I'm starting to get the sense that they're set to begin to gel together over the coming year.

    Most of these people are now aware of one another and adeptly making use of microblogging — talking AND listening — to become acquainted with one another and building mutual trust and knowledge. They are first-rate knowledge network weavers.

    Network weaving is critical, I believe, because if something groundbreaking is to emerge of all these interactions, it will first have been nurtured within the protected environment of community - just like innovations start out as fragile prototypes in the lab before getting robust and making it big in the real world.

    So what might that groundbreaking thing be? I'll tell you what it looks like from where I stand.

    I think we're about to see the emergence of a new way of conducting innovation that operates quasi-independently of the current money system.

    In other words, where conventional thinking tells us that investing money in research and development is the way to get innovation, we're putting together a means of innovating whose chief requirements are things like time, imagination, knowledge, initiative and trust, with money moving from primary to secondary concern.

    What I see emerging is a set of tools and customs — cognitive infrastructure, when you think about it — that will give us the necessary scaffolding to grow a multitude of virtual "cities". These cities will bring together people with shared values and orientations towards the future, and who are in a position to collaborate to bring something new into the world. They are part and parcel of the burgeoning Relationship Economy.

    No current-day structure really corresponds to this kind of "city". Is it a school? Is it a business? Is it a bank? A venture capital fund? An economy? Is it a lab? An incubator? Is it a creative space? Is it a living space? A community? A network?

    It is all of those at the same time.

    Joining the right emergent city provides a creative person with affordances to:

    • Share her ideas and goals;

    • Get oriented in the network of members;

    • Enter relationships with people who need what she wants to create;

    • Become known (gain "currency") and build reputation and trust relationships;

    • Get support in the form of knowledge and perhaps time;

    • Find partners who share her intent;

    • Develop the skills she needs;

    • Mentor others who are on a similar path;

    • Feel a sense of belonging;

    • Disengage, if she's not getting what she needs.

    Every emergent city is different from the others. Some are hidden and closed, some are visible and wide open, others are somewhere in the middle. When you scratch the surface, each is ultimately defined by some kind of organizing principle: its "social DNA" - a set of agreements, perhaps an ethic or even an aesthetic that you have to abide by to be a participant.

    Some of them even have reprogrammable DNA, which lets them adapt to changing circumstances.

    Although some emergent cities may be physical, most of them are virtual and not tied to a particular location. This lends them a very important property that physical cities don't have - you can easily inhabit several at the same time.

    Just like individual people, cities have reputations; emergent cities too. There's a fractality to it. There are roads, bridges between cities; they interact with one another. Currency/reputation in one might help get you somewhere in another.

    Some offer such a favorable environment for creatives that they act as 'strange attractors' for talent, driving a virtuous circle of growth and innovation.

    If this all sounds abstract and metaphorical, it's because it is. But I know a few of you have been down this path in your imagination and I hope these jottings resonate with your own visions. I want to use this new blog to keep track of the most promising ideas and real-world examples that I encounter relating to these new (and at the same time, very old!) pieces of social infrastructure.

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         Fri, Feb 18, 2011  Permanent link
    Doesn't sound too abstract or metaphorical to me, it sounds perfectly clear really!

    Kind of like how hollywood became an entertainment capital or how this town in romania became a center of online fraud except without the inherent physical limitation of freedom of mobility which may have contributed to giving those places awful qualities.