Scred Civics: Seven Generation Cities

Editor’s Note:

Shareable is partnering with Tufts University on this special eight-session series hosted by professor Julian Agyeman (Co-chair of Shareable’s Board) and Cities@Tufts. Initially designed for Tufts students, faculty, and alumni, the colloquium has been opened up to the public with the support of Shareable and The Kresge Foundation.

Register to participate in future Cities@Tufts events here.

Below is the transcript from the second session “Sacred Civics: What would it mean to build seven generation cities?” with Dr. Jayne Engle. Learn more about her work with the Cities for People initiative by visiting

Listen and subscribe to “Cities@Tufts Lectures” podcast with the app of your choice:

Watch the Video


Cities@Tufts Introduction

Julian Agyeman: Hello and welcome to the Cities@Tufts colloquium, along with our sharing partners, Shareable and the Kresge Foundation. I’m Professor Julian Agyeman and together with my research assistant, Meghan Tenhoff and Perri Sheinbaum, we organize the Cities@Tufts as a cross disciplinary academic initiative, which recognizes Tufts University as a leader in urban studies, urban planning and sustainability issues. And today we are delighted to welcome Jayne Engle to be our second colloquium speaker of 2021.

Jayne’s work for over 25 years in participatory city planning, urban revitalization and economic and real estate development in North America and Europe. She’s passionate about bridging innovative local action on the ground with policy and systems change. She she’s worked on this agency structure bridging in rolls in GROUNDWORK UK, in the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation in California and at the Montreal Urban Ecology Center. Currently, Jayne is head of the Cities For People program at the McConnell Foundation in Montreal. She’s got a Ph.D. in Urban Planning, Policy and Design from McGill University, where she’s currently an adjunct professor as well. Her talk today is “Sacred Civics: What would it mean to build 7th Generation cities?” Jayne, a zoom-tastic welcome to the Cities@Tufts Colloquium. As usual, please, microphone’s off and send any questions to Jane through the chat. Thank you.

Sacred Civics Lecture

Jayne Engle: Wonderful. Thank you so much for that introduction, Julian. And just as I’m going to share my screen, I just have to give one word of correction from the introduction. It’s actually Oakland Planning and Development Corporation in Pittsburgh, not in California. It’s the Oakland district of Pittsburgh. Well, hello, everyone. Bonjour, tout le monde, merci d’être ici parmi nous. Thank you so much for being here for this talk. It’s on “Sacred Civics,” and we’ll explore what it could mean to build 7th Generation Cities. So I bring greetings to you from Montreal, which doesn’t look exactly like this right now. It’s rather white and snowy, but this is what it looks like in the summertime. I’d like to acknowledge that we’re on land here of the Mohawk people on an island traditionally known as Tiohtià:ke in Mohawk language. And the Mohawk peoples have been caretakers of these lands and waters here for thousands of years. And I’d like to acknowledge as well that I was born on Susquehannock territory which is now known as Pennsylvania as well. I welcome all of you from the communities wherever you’re located.

So first, a word about positionality. What I’ll share here brings together and builds on the work of many others. Some of it’s informing a collaborative book project with co editors Julian Agyeman and Tanya Chung-Tiam-Fook and myself. I take personal responsibility, of course, for what I say today, and my views are not necessarily those of any others or the organization where I work. So you can see a little bit about me from this two dimensional screen. But I’d like to acknowledge that I am and all of us are multitudes with multilayered identities, many of which aren’t seen. So a few words about the McConnell Foundation. It’s a philanthropic foundation where I lead a portfolio of city initiatives from Cities for People, Civic-Indigenous 7.0, Participatory Canada and the Emergence Room, and we’re a co-founder of Future Cities Canada.

So McConnell has helped to build a culture of social innovation over the past decade. And we focus our grant partnerships on transition to a net zero equitable economy, community wellbeing and indigenous reconciliation. So speaking of reconciliation, for those of you who may not know, there was a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the horrific legacy of the Indian residential school system in Canada. And it was a deep listening process over several years where survivors and descendants shared their stories and experiences and it recognized that a cultural genocide on indigenous peoples had been committed. And I wanted to share that personally, truth and reconciliation has become one of the most important journeys in my own life. I’m learning a great deal. I’m making mistakes. It’s also changing how I see the world and how I carry out my work in cities. And this journey is part of what led to thinking about “Sacred Civics,” and 7th Generation cities, which I’ll turn to now.

So why “Sacred Civics?” A few motivations that drove this thinking among many of us in the last few years. So first is a recognition that reconciliation is not manifest in our cities and now’s the time for it. We have to recalibrate our ambitions in this moment for transformation to a level that we’ve rarely dreamed of. So and that means reconciliation with people and land and the radical imagination that needs to go with that. A second driver, in my journey is a city planner in the US, Canada, places around the world, I’ve seen that the logics, drivers, economies of city building are far from what they need to be foundationally to actually create equitable and regenerative cities. So most of what we do are incremental fixes and not structural change. The old deep logics and legacies of oppression and extraction are really built into our systems. And a third driver is this: and that was big tech entering the city building business. So Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs was the largest ambition yet of big tech to create a whole city neighborhood. The proposal, as many of you will know, was highly contested. It was eventually withdrawn last spring. There are so many issues the project raised, very important issues, nuanced, important, but about civic democracy and tech and the future of cities and so on that are so critical for us to address.

And at that time, there were a few of us wore a different perspective in this work called Legitimacities. The one on the left quietly came out the same week as the big Sidewalk Toronto volume. But our point was how important it is to democratize and build trust in civic relationships, including through publicly governed, accountable experimentation and so on. And then the issue 1.Q for quayside includes ideas for future fit regulatory and governance regimes, which are also critical, of course. At the same time, that same summer of 2019, a group of civic innovators and activists came together, those on the left, and they invited about one hundred of us to write short essays with ideas about the future of cities. And I wrote some ideas about what the Sidewalk experience really evoked in my own consciousness. It got me thinking what truly is at stake in our city building and how essential it is to value and revere what is sacred in people, in nature, and cities and what are the implications of that. So in this piece, I argued that we’re missing a sense of the spiritual in city building and a “Sacred Civics” would recognize that cities have a soul, the collective of all beings, past, present and future that inhabit the place and the spirit of the place herself. The land, the nature, the materials that she’s in relationship with. And the sacred civics would see cities as systems and webs of relationships. It would invite cultivating everyday spirituality in the realm of the city, a seeking for wholeness, connectedness, balance, healing and practicing reconciliation not only between people, but also with the earth.

So “Sacred Civics” includes the spiritual dimension in reimagining patterns of how we live, how we govern ourselves, determine and distribute wealth, inhabit and design cities, construct relationships with others and with nature. These can’t be just technocratic endeavors. This is, by the way, a medicine wheel in number of indigenous traditions. So a note about language. I recognize that spiritual, or sacred, first of all, it’s not about religion, per say, but rather a sense of shared purpose and meaning, a sense of connection between people and with nature as in biophilia. And those translate to a shared sense of how to live together in shared space of cities.

I want to recognize as well that sacred can be a dangerous word. It can be used or appropriated in ways that lead to shutting down dialogue. As Professor John Borrows says, the sacred when it comes into the human community is about deliberation, listening to one another, conjunctions, conjugating life in a way that helps us to open to the possibility of human form and human behavior. So “Sacred Civics” invites us to question why cities exist and to deconstruct assumptions about how we build them.

So what are foundations for flourishing future building? We’re currently seeing multiple failures in our systems and our institutions. So it’s not surprising given that the logic that is dominant in our economies is to accelerate extraction of nature, monetize it with inexpensive labor, and fuel unsustainable material consumption. So that model can’t be the answer to drive us collectively to a flourishing future. What I want to argue is that there are four essential accountabilities that we need to build into governments, institutions and systems to be fit for the future that we need to create. So the first one is accountability to future generations. I only learned recently that the origins of democracy enshrined accountability to future generations. Imagine that. So the commitment fell away over the past several hundred years. And now, as you know, we’re often handcuffed by really the hegemony of short-termism of political election cycles. Even though we have incredible elected officials in so many cases, especially at the city level, if we’re not accountable to generations not yet born, we’ll not have the long-termism and policy funding and investment decisions that we need for the future. So this requires things like civic assemblies with representation of future peoples and so on.

Second is accountability to the earth. So, most constitutions and legal systems acknowledge rights of persons and corporations, but not inherent rights of nature. Indigenous governments are an exception. Healthy, regenerative relationship with nature is considered a sacred responsibility of people. So being in relationship with earth, accountable to healthy ecosystems is essential to stop biodiversity loss and also stop exceeding other planetary boundaries. Third, accountability to the designed world is really about reimagining our relationships with what we make. So human made objects, buildings, products, plastics, electronics, addressing product lifecycle, building an economy that is circular is critical. And then accountability to all people. So currently our government’s answer to a subset of people. In liberal democracies, that’s to voters and interest groups. And so others like children and migrant workers, often people in prison have little to no say. And so also we need to be accountable for extraction and externalities outside national borders. So we know there are obscene inequalities within and between countries that need to be acknowledged and acted upon through solidarity, local and global solidarity, if we’re to heal and move forward as a species.

So how do we translate these accountabilities to the city level? Well, one thing is, it begs redefining infrastructure. So a good deal of urban infrastructure is not really fit for purpose. It’s incredibly difficult to break patterns of the dominant paradigm, even when it’s destructive. So, what are the social, ecological, digital, institutional infrastructures that we need for this age? And let’s not think of social infrastructure as the soft, fluffy stuff that doesn’t really matter. It’s actually critical. So not just housing and care, but also systems that build bridging social capital, community resilience and trust so needed in a highly polarized context. The social infrastructure has to create the webs of interconnection that help us to see ourselves in the other, see that our collective fates are intertwined.

And next generation infrastructure requires major investment as well in nature-based solutions. Urban forest, rewilding, permeable street cover and so on. And these need to be much more than one off projects and experiments, they really need intensive investment and structuring, such as around societal missions. The work of Mariana Mazzucato speaks to these societal missions. By the way, this book is not yet available in Canada or the US, but it will be in March. I’m really looking forward to it. So personally, I’m dreaming of the next iteration of this mission work to focus on cities. With the extraordinary leadership that we have in so many mayors across the world and groups like the Global Parliament of Mayors, C40 Cities, Bloomberg Mayors Challenge, Global Resilient Cities Network and others, it’s likely to be cities who lead the way.

So now that we’re on a mission, let’s talk about assumptions that we need to bust. And I’m going to share three and these are intentionally provocative. So the first one is ownership. In many cultures, the right to private land ownership is sacrosanct. In the world we need to create, should this be the case or should land be self sovereign? How might we rethink property and land rights and what collective ownership and stewardship models of property goods companies could we create or scale? And we also need to ask who owns the city? Because if the answer should be that all of us do, how can we reconceive ownership? This is a piece here, Micro-Treaties with the Earth by Jonathan Lapalme and Marie-Sophie Banville of Dark Matter Labs that explores beautifully some of these questions.

So, second one is the role of corporations. So what should be the role of corporations in today’s world? Should we expect shareholder interest to give way to public interest and common good? What about data and digital rights? Who should own steward data? Who should get to use which data? For which purposes? Should we actually expect our smartphones to be good for us, for our children, for democracy? How could we actually invent institutions in parallel with these technologies that would strengthen democracy and build civic legitimacy?

The third assumption to bust or at least reconsider is sovereignties. So we need to question sovereignty in jurisdictions. This is a map of indigenous nations of what’s called Turtle Island that helps to jar many of our typical mental models of non-overlapping political boundaries. There’s a great deal of dissonance between sovereignty and solidarity. Vaccines are an example. So nation states’ actions tend to be based on a set of interests that can be counter to vaccine equity from a global perspective, and that has significant and longer term implications, even if it’s rational from a short term national perspective. At the city level, jurisdiction issues are so often impediments to positive change, as so many of you know. For example, cities often lack jurisdiction about policy and investment decisions for critical infrastructure that has tremendous effects for their residents, not to mention future generations. So we need not to assume that forever fixed are our sovereignties and jurisdictions. And this is where we can really learn from something in Anishinaabe language where the word of law is a verb. In that tradition, we law together and all people are considered legal practitioners with responsibilities to continually law together. So what would it mean to manifest that?

And what about natural assets? Should rivers, forests, other comments have sovereignty and what would that look like? So what are appropriate sovereignties, jurisdictions to build a future of equality for all on a healthy planet? We need to think about social contracts at a different scale of jurisdiction and for higher purposes. One idea, maybe cities could crowdsource their own constitutions as Mexico City did a while back under the leadership of the lab in that city of Gabriella Gómez-Mont. So moving forward our currently bounded political systems will need to give way to an ethic of global solidarity. And this new report from the United Nations Development Program, it’s their Human Development Index. For the first time ever in December, 2020, went to the next level by measuring planetary implications of nations. So it’s a great step toward recognizing that there is enormous ecological and social debt that high consumption countries owe to low consumption countries.

OK, so third section, how can societies transform? It’s hard to imagine that anyone looks at the state of everything that’s happening in the world and thinks, well, this is all right, isn’t it? We know we’ve evolved in ways that don’t work, but how can we deeply and collectively change? I’d suggest that there are at least three key dimensions to change, I’ll just mention briefly: value, commons, and wisdom. So value, what’s the economy for? Should its purpose be to extract value from nature and people as quickly as possible or ought it to be to support human flourishing for all on a healthy planet? If the latter, what are the implications for the economy? And in cities, what are the implications for our economic geographies? What would a well-being economy look like at the city level? That means changing our understanding about value, what it is, how it’s created, extracted, distributed. It also means adding a notion of sacred values to the equation. So think health, nature, equality, trust, participation, honor, justice, the right to voice, the right to difference, the right to human flourishing. At the bottom here, a number of examples that point the way towards how we might think about value and investing in value that matters differently.

Second is the Commons. What if the city were understood as a shared resource for the good of all now and future generations? How could we better share and care for civic assets and commons like air, land, water, civic infrastructure, data? How could we law together at the city level to bring out what is noble in people? How should we organize and govern ourselves for this great ecological, social, economic transition? And are there commons-based governance models that could provide a hybrid arrangement of state, market, civil society that could help strengthen local democracy? Commons based organizing often involves participatory ecosystems and movements at local and regional scales. There’s a lot of pioneering work by many people, notably here, Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione have written about “Ostrom in the City,” so taking Elinor Ostrom’s pioneering work on institutional design and applying that to the city. Sheila will be here in a couple of weeks. I’ll let her speak to that, of course. And Michel Bauwens and many others have also written about the commons, including the urban commons, and point the way to some very interesting new economic models for us at the city level.

And wisdom. So how could we expand notions of intelligence to be more pluralistic and recognize multiple cultural and indigenous knowledge systems and evolve collective intelligence to collective wisdom? Because wisdom adds layers of meaning and spirituality and intuition and emotionality to cognition. And place-based wisdom recognizes relationships with land and spirit of place inherent in the nature and history of the setting. So for the most part, I know, at least for me, wisdom and spirituality have not been core in most of our city planning, training, or discourses. I’d like to acknowledge here just the amazing Octavia Butler. She wrote afro-futurist novels incorporating spiritualism and painting portraits, 30 years or so ago, of a US ravaged by climate change and income inequality and greedy politicians who appeal to racists building walls around the wealthy. She saw how problems 30 years ago would grow into fully fledged disasters of today. We need that kind of wisdom to see what is coming. I call it “wise foresight” that goes much deeper than our economic and spatial modeling and conventional foresight practices. It requires collective imagination and cathedral thinking, meaning that we have to lay foundations even though we don’t yet know how to build the ceiling.

So how would we bring wisdom and cathedral thinking to city making? I’d argue by building 7th Generation Cities. So 7th Generation Cities means practicing wisdom collectively, paying attention to spirituality in our craft — and it’s something that our particular profession has rarely done in many of the city building professions rarely do that. So importantly, building 7th Generation Cities also means transcending current city making paradigms. Can cities themselves develop capabilities for transcendence in the way that human beings can? How could we evolve a collective consciousness and commitment to aims that are higher than ourselves, to what’s called a sacred narrative by E.O. Wilson, a sense of larger purpose. A sacred narrative would call us to our better selves. And I really like in this book by John Borrows, “Law’s Indigenous Ethics,” he applies the seven grandmother/grandfather, teachings of truth, bravery, humility, honesty, respect, love and wisdom into law. So imagine embedding such principles in our governance, our laws and the civic realm to help us cultivate collective wisdom.

So, the final section is on civic manifestations. So what could seven generations look like? How can we imagine them? What could they look like? Well, Wakanda was one thing that really helped us to imagine and to question how what we value is reflected in how we build cities. So, this is just one set of responses. There are many others. But the important question we want to hold and address is, are we building the physical, digital, social infrastructure so that children in seven generations will thrive in equitable and regenerative cities? So, we imagine a “Sacred Civics: manifesting in dimensions of space, time, agency and togetherness, and I’ll give just some preliminary thoughts and examples to get the discussion going.

So, the site is to the city what the cell is to the body. Each land parcel merits care not just for its highest and best use, but for its sacred value contribution. So a “Sacred Civics” lens would very quickly bring up practical questions. So how to recognize rights of nature in our accounting system? How can we put urban forests and aquifers and other ecosystem assets on the balance sheets of cities? These would help to strengthen long term resilience. And I want to talk about a couple of spatial urban frameworks that have gained particular attention in the past year and the 15 Minute City in the One Minute city I want to name specifically so and then add some layering to those.

So first, the 15 Minute City, famously the mayor of Paris, Mayor Anne Hidalgo ran her campaign on a platform of the 15 Minute City. It would give all residents access to key services and amenities within a 15 minute walk or bike ride of their home. And an interesting complement to that is the one minute city developed by Dan Hill at Vinnova, and many others, primarily in Sweden, but it’s quickly gaining traction elsewhere. It focuses on the immediate streetscape outside one’s home, exploring models to co-design, care for, maintain the street collectively. And it’s about shifting systems and cultures, about mobility, biodiversity, play, neighborhood life. And one more example that I’d like to share is the vision for a street level retrofit, it’s called a Green Block, and this is in New York City’s Flatiron District, it’s by WATG Architects. So take those examples, 15 Minute City, One Minute City, Green Block, and imagine that we layer on top of those aspirations, a 7th Generation city and a “Sacred Civic” lens that took into account the four accountabilities discussed, questioning assumptions so that we can address the obstacles that would arise, the spiritual dimension of people, a commitment to regenerative relationship with the land, and also the new metrics for gauging community value creation, such as collective governance, other kinds of shared ownership mechanisms.

So, retrofitting our cities, streets, neighborhoods, it has immense potential. But even more so, I would argue if we embed a spiritual dimension. And I’d like to highlight the work of four people who are all part of our “Sacred Civics” collaborative project that provide us some inspiration. So first is Tanya Chung-Tiam-Fook. So she calls on us to recognize that cities are built from our relationships to land, people, place and how those relationships and their underlying values evolve over time. Indigenous reimagining of cities that are regenerative, co-created and interconnected would explore ways of place-keeping and also nature inspired innovation that requires us to look at what humanizes us, what restores our vital connections to the spirit of place, the caretaking actions that requires and the ecosystems that give cities life and nourish communities.

Julian and Kofi Boone, they speak of the concept of black commons, which recognizes that black people own less of the US than they did a hundred years ago, and propose ways to help reverse that trend. So it’s based on a shared economic, cultural and digital resources as well as land. Ginger Gosnell-Myers, who’s at the city of Vancouver, and Simon Fraser University, she’s an indigenous urban planner and part of a growing movement to reflect indigenous culture and history in cities. The work is about co-creating cities, urban identity that connect everyone through indigenous knowledge to the land they share. As Ginger says, this is what respectful and meaningful reconciliation can be. So 7th Generations Cities would manifest past, present, and future embedding wisdom of ancestors, nourishment of people who live now, but also rights of future generations. And regulating for 7th Generations Cities would require that we were answerable today as ancestors of the future. So this would strengthen our capacity to think long term, to raise expectations, to reveal imaginaries of future possibilities, and also to write new narratives about what cities could be.

So how do we create actually the conditions and capabilities for that and democratize that? What kinds of platforms would bring life and public and social imagination that we need? So, I want to share here. This is a fun example. It’s an exhibit that invited designers to imagine the city of Montreal in 2067. So ideas included things as ambitious as a consciousness park within the St. Lawrence River, creation of a massive marsh along the river that would filter the city’s wastewater, planting orchards and also vegetable gardens over highway in another part. This one’s about removing all cars from an entire borough of the city and a poetic rewilding of a refinery, a whole entire section of the city. So these are wonderful and they spark imagination. But I dare say that we need to go even further and be more bold and imaginative because we also need to design now the kinds of enabling policy regulation, social and political norms that would make this kind of reality possible.

So, in this last part, I’d just like to give a couple of examples of the kinds of work that could strengthen agency and togetherness for 7th Generation Cities. So by agency, I mean the power of all people to create society. What social and civic infrastructure is needed for that? So it needs connections between people and nature, it means improving health outcomes, providing shared learning, practical activities of all kinds. So think about libraries, public squares, civic commons. We can build social infrastructure that’s great for everyday community resilience and radical inclusion as well as times of crisis. So these are a couple of approaches. The first one is Reimagining the Civic Commons, a wonderful initiative in the US, which is now in ten cities. Interestingly, the last five came on board during covid in this past year. These cities are seeing outcomes with respect to civic engagement, socioeconomic mixing, environmental sustainability and value creation. The second one is in Toronto. This is a university park and it would create a whole new park that extends all the way from the center of the city to the river. Our partner Evergreen is part of that. The third is a model from the UK that many of you will know. We’re currently prototyping that model in Canada in three cities, and it’s manifesting in Halifax as what’s called Every One Every Day: Kjipuktuk.

So, these participatory city and related initiatives are about creating systems and social infrastructure to deeply transition how we live and work together at the neighborhood level. It’s a radically inclusive approach. It invites the creativity of everyone and provides the systems and supports for people to make, grow, learn, build, create all sorts of friendships, cooperatives, collaborative businesses and so on. So in Halifax, teams are currently prototyping in a beautiful way and they’re centering indigenous reconciliation. So you can learn more about the website And this is an example not just of the site, but of the newspaper they created with all of the activities which will be happening in March. And a couple of these will also be online and accessible to all, in case you’d like to learn more.

And this is part of centering reconciliation in the city in a way that is inclusive of everyone. So this vision is what the leaders, the indigenous leaders of the Friendship Centre are bringing — this is their new proposed Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre. They’re proposing that the Every One Every Day: Kjipuktuk model be central to that again so that reconciliation is centered and everyone in the city and region are welcome and are part of that. So it’s terribly exciting. And I wanted to add that quote from Elder Debbie Eisan, of the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre. So a few months ago, we had a really difficult decision in Nova Scotia, for those of you who hadn’t followed it, it’s been an incredibly difficult year in so many ways. There was a horrific massacre in the past year. There’s been horrible violence. Including against Mi’kmaq fishers, and our question was, is this the right time to advance this work in Kjipuktuk, in Halifax? And Elder Debbie said, without a pause. “This is absolutely the right time for this project. We need to move forward with beauty, respect and love.”

So, I want to close now in the next couple of minutes and just call on us as people alive today to recognize that we face a reckoning. We’ve had such an extractive — we’ve had unhealthy relationships with nature and so many of our peoples have been structurally oppressed for hundreds of years and more. And today during covid, there’s immense suffering and that’s obscenely unevenly. So let’s recognize all that. Let’s be honest and do all that we can to make our cities and societies and civilization better. So there aren’t any single solutions. There’s no single narrative. The challenges are immense. As they say in Haiti, “we face mountains, beyond mountains, more mountains.” So this is a call for us to be mountain climbers and carriers together into the future. Let’s cultivate the strength, the wisdom, the imagination, the courage to build cities that are worthy of us all, of our ancestors and of future ancestors for seven generations and more. And I’d like to close with a quote from an Indigenous artist, Catherine Tàmmaro of the Wyandot Small Turtle Clan Faithkeeper tradition. Catherine said this: “It’s a long road heading toward that new and better world for all beings. Do we even dare to dream city-civics can be built on a foundational understanding of Sacred Natural Law? We must hold on tight to raise that vision of re-worlding in the newly born Sacred Civics movement. Thank you for that, Catherine, and thanks to you all.

Sacred Civics Discussion

Julian Agyeman: Well, Jayne, thank you so much. If only you could see the chats, people wanting to actually go away, get the recording and sit and watch it again, because you just delivered us with so much to think about. And so I’m going to jump straight into the chat here and let’s take a question from Lawson Hunter. Lawson says, When I explained to city councilors about thinking in seven generations, I get blank looks, how do we resolve the next election cycle laser focus of most city councilors and urban planners.

Jayne Engle: That’s one of the big questions, isn’t it, because we have to do that and we also have to recognize and respect the short term demands and the immediate tragedy and suffering that there is in front of us and that cities are dealing with. So I would say the response is actually not to take them only to seven generations, but it’s actually both. It’s not one or the other. We have to deal with crises now, but it’s essential that we do so responsibly and that we do so holding responsibility to people now, to all people now and in this perspective. And it requires a lot of consciousness raising, right? I mean, all of us are learning. All of us are becoming hopefully more aware of the significance of this. It isn’t easy, but the good thing is, as a last point, there are examples. So a wonderful thing about cities is that cities are incredibly innovative in quite different ways. So you can take examples of cities. You can go to the city of Edmonton, the city of Edmonton has an incredible policy that centers indigenous reconciliation in what the city does. So take an example like that and apply and adapt it to the city where you are. Look at the city of Pittsburgh with all kinds of fantastic work, including, that I understand Pittsburgh is one of the largest cities that has its own rights of nature statute. Let’s look at examples like that and see how we can apply and adopt them and how they can be helpful not only for the long term, but also for short term needs.

Julian Agyeman: Great, thanks, Jayne. Lisa Simon asks you to speak to the effective ways of accessing resident visions and knowledge in ways that are not just one shot conversations that are deeper and more authentic.

Jayne Engle: Oh man. That’s so good and it’s so important. Thank you for the question. So one of the chapters actually in this book project is about democratizing imagination for the future and about something called “participatory futures” or “participatory futuring.” And I think these kinds of practices will have to become more and more frequent. They can’t be things that are one off, that people happen to go to a meeting if they have the time and the privilege to be able to do so. They actually need to be built in to how we live together. It’s one of the reasons I’m so drawn to so much work, whether it’s civic commons or participatory city or the cities of service, all kinds of engagement efforts like that which already exist and are about people coming together not just for talk, but to actually work and be shoulder to shoulder when we can be shoulder to shoulder, of course, when it’s safe to bee. Doing that, but also always embedding in that a strong future orientation and an imaginative orientation. So I think it’s really important to hold both and to not see thinking about the future as a luxury, because it actually has to be all of us and it has to be now.

Julian Agyeman: Thanks Jayne. Mimi Sheller asks — or says wonderful ideas, Jayne. My question, isn’t there a contradiction between deep time of seven generations and the quick fix mentality of 15 Minute or One Minute cities? How can that kind of speed acknowledge the sacred? What’s the play here?

Jayne Engle: Yeah, I love that question. Thank you. And first of all, I don’t really think of 15 Minute Cities or One Minute Cities about being short-termism. They’re actually more about how we think of our everyday environments and how we engage. So the One Minute City is actually about what is the milieu de vie right outside where we live. So what is our immediate neighborhood like where we live? And the 15 Minute City is, can I walk or bike or other similar non-vehicular travel within 15 minutes of where I live? Can I meet all my needs, have access to services and amenities? It’s not a short term perspective because building that would require a long term infrastructure build. My argument was that I think those ideas are brilliant and important and I think that actually they could be even stronger if they layer in a “Sacred Civics” dimension, a seven generation and a spiritual dimension, recognize that in people, but also recognize our obligations to each other, to nature, to the future was what I would argue would be embedded in those to actually make them better and more compelling.

Julian Agyeman: And a question from Daniel Hill, who says, It feels to me the issue is not a lack of ideas or oppression, but fundamentally the financial system of incentives that are overly short term and not linked to the right outcomes. How does this financial system change happen when currently governments are looking to promote and support the status quo, for example, through zero interest rates,

Jayne Engle: Yeah, such a good question. And how I would answer that is by saying that what we see right now, if we look, is we can actually see visions and little parts of different worlds springing up all over the place. So Well-Being Economy Alliance is a great example of a movement, a multi-sectoral movement and multiple countries that are addressing exactly what was in the question. There are all kinds of other paradigms that address that, and that would question the dominant norms. However, they’re not big enough yet. They’re not substantial enough. And we still operate on the logics of what is the dominant paradigm of our economic system, of capital markets, of the logics of investing. And so far that isn’t changing very much. There are glimpses of it here and there. We see statements here and there that give hope. But so far it’s not changing. We know it’s not changing because we know that inequality is increasing and it’s increasing at a higher rate now. I think it requires massive movements of civil society, among other things.

So, it’s important for all of us to engage and also to question. So when it comes to those assumptions, we need to bust those at a personal level, at a neighborhood level, at our city level. We need to make our voices heard and we need to engage in this kind of change because in many ways it will take not only those kinds of social movements, but as the corporate sector, capital markets and others are seeing, increasingly it’s becoming more visible. What the risk is, what the risk is of climate, what the risk is of inequality and so many other things. Markets in some ways are starting to respond. Is it enough? Not nearly. Not nearly. So our governments also have to get better. They have to get much more responsible about how they regulate companies, about what their civic responsibility is to people now and for the future. But no, I don’t have the answers, but let’s do more together.

Julian Agyeman: You know, I would invoke your brilliant concepts of cathedral thinking. You know, we don’t know whether this is necessarily going to go, but we need to start laying the foundations. It’s the idea of a journey rather than necessarily a destination. I’m going to Javier Guillot to ask this question in person because I’m not quite sure how to approach it. Javier, I can see that. Are you able to ask your question to Jayne?

Javier Guillot: Yes, indeed. Jayne, thank you so much for that. Good to see you again. What is your view on creating the boundaries of cities? So the question, the assumption of sovereignty connects with your thinking in terms of regions or bioregions, where does the city end or the rural start, you know? Looking forward to your insights on that.

Jayne Engle: Yeah, totally. Javier, I think we started to discuss that just a little bit. Javier I had a discussion together, a duet together on some of these topics. But that’s such an important one. And we have to take it much further. And actually, I think it’s a critical one and central to all of this discussion, including some of the last questions that were raised. Because if we think about our cities as embedded in bioregions and we think about “one planet living” within bioregions and that we need to live within the natural systems, about sourcing our food, about all of these things, it will also help to raise consciousness of people and politicians and so on. So I think that’s actually critical.

Now, what does that mean in terms of boundaries and political boundaries and sovereignties and jurisdiction? I think that these things really are going to need to change and they’re going to need to be negotiated. And I’m curious if people have excellent examples for it, because where there are excellent examples, we need to really shine the light on those. And of course, it’s different from one nation to another, but it’s actually quite critical. Well, I shouldn’t say this because I don’t remember it exactly, one of the Bloomberg Mayors Challenges a couple of years ago, one of the winners was a city — and I’m trying to remember if it was Sao Paulo, I think so. But someone else can correct me if I’m wrong. But it was specifically — it was actually a Smart City Challenge, but it was about the relationships between the city and farmers and other producers in the hinterlands. And I thought that that was brilliant. There actually has to be a whole lot more of that because we have to recognize the interconnections. So, I think those boundaries are going to need to be renegotiated and jurisdictions to be understood differently.

Julian Agyeman: I think it could be Belo Horizonte in Brazil, actually, Belo Horizonte, as many of know, is world famous for its food security policy and secretariat, and they really adopted to the very porous boundaries policy in allowing poor rural farmers access to markets within the city of three or four million people. So, yeah, I mean, great question Javier. And I think this porosity and blurring of urban, suburban rural is taking place. And, you know, if you want more on that, go to York University’s Center for Suburbanisms, the work of Roger Kiel is something key. Jayne, I’m going to take moderator privilege here. Covid, does it take us closer or further, quicker or slower towards the 7th Generation the city?

Jayne Engle: Well, yeah, on the one hand, well, I’ll start with the suffering first. The suffering is immense. And when I talk to mayors or city managers or even hear and understand what people are going through and what is happening in the streets and in our cities, for people who were already marginalized, it is absolutely horrific. And so it’s very hard, given the crisis, given the inhumanity, it’s so hard to be thinking, to be imagining long term because people are suffering big time. So from that point of view, we’re putting out fires. We’re helping people to survive massive hardship. And at the same time holding that, we also see that people have opened up and they actually have taken hold of the opportunity to see the city and to live differently. You know, to bike and walk much more than they were previously, which is one thing, but also to begin to imagine more specifically other kinds of futures.

So, I think it does open up. And as people are now becoming more aware in a larger population of the threats of climate and ecological crises and so on, and these cascading crises we have. Right, because we actually have multiple and cascading crises. I think there is growing recognition and greater consciousness of the need for transformative change. So I think people will be more open to that. And again, the important thing is to link those. So transformative change has to be about changing things in ways that meet immediate needs of people who are suffering. And that’s the critical aspect. They shouldn’t be seen as one or the other. We have to change culturally in order to change socially and infrastructurally.

Julian Agyeman: Great, and one final question from MJ Bull, how can we counter western science and western culture’s rejection of the ways of knowing?

Jayne Engle: Yeah, well, it’s not all western science which rejects that. And I think it’s increasingly understood as more nuanced than that. In many cultures we talk about two-eyed seeing, maybe it’s not just two eyes, maybe it’s other kinds. But seeing — the things that I’ve said today, some of them were intentionally provocative. But also, it’s not meant to say that we throw away our modern technologies. We throw away our western science. Not at all. Let’s hold that. Let’s understand that. And let’s also consider other kinds of knowledge systems, because clearly, you know, as I said, we’re not in a place where things are going great in the world, right? We all know that. So, you know, looking at things honestly, how they are, I think helps to challenge the existing dominant paradigms. We failed in many ways with our existing paradigm. So it’s time to open up. It’s time to see in other ways.

Julian Agyeman: Well, Jayne, if you could read the chat, inspiring, people love your work. Let’s keep doing it. As Jayne mentioned, myself, Tanya, and Jayne are working on a book on “Sacred Civics” — it’s such an exciting project. For those of you in my Sharing Cities class, which meets in 30 minutes. Jayne will be zooming in in a few week’s time. Always a pleasure, Jayne. Next week, we have Greg Watson talking about organizing for food sovereignty in Boston, a personal history. So be sure to register for that. Thanks, everybody. See you next week. Jayne, a special thanks to Paul.

Tom Llewellyn: We hope you enjoyed this week’s lecture. Learn more about Dr. Jayne Engle and her work with the Cities for People initiative by visiting Our next lecture will be delivered tomorrow, Wednesday, February 17th, and features Greg Watson, the director of policy and systems design at the Schumacher Center for New Economics. Register for free tickets by visiting And don’t worry if you can’t make it live, we’ll air the recording on this podcast next week. You’re also invited to join Shareable on Tuesday, February 23rd for “How to go even more local after covid-19,” a free event focused on local living in the future of local economies. Following the global pandemic. Shareable’s Executive Director Neal Gorenflo will kick things off by briefly sharing lessons from a just-concluded year-long life experiment in local living. This will be the starting point for a roundtable discussion with Stacy Mitchell, Executive Director of Institute for Local Self-reliance, futurist José Ramos, Director of Action Foresight, and audience members like You.

Cities@Tufts Lectures is produced by Tufts University and, with support from the Kresge Foundation. Lectures and moderated by Professor Julian Agyeman, and organized in partnership with research assistants Meghan Tenhoff and Perri Sheinbaum. Light Without Dark by Cultivate Beets is our theme song. Robert Raymond is our audio editor Elizabeth Carr manages Communications and editorial with support from Neil Gorenflo. Joslyn Beile handles operations and the series is produced and hosted by me, Tom Lewellyn. We’re so grateful for all the support we’ve received on social media after releasing our first episode last week. If you feel like other people should have access to knowledge like this, please share the show with someone else, hit subscribe, and leave a rating or review wherever you get your podcasts. The success of the show is dependent on your participation. No pressure.

That’s it for this week’s show. Here’s a final thought:

Jayne Engle: So Sacred Civics invites us to question why cities exist and to deconstruct assumptions about how we build them.