Easy. For the first time in human history, more humans live in urban environments than not, and this demographic trend will only increase dramatically in coming decades. This means that both the challenges to and opportunities for human thriving are principally urban in character.
What is thriving?
Not so easy. This question is surely one of humankind’s most enduring and vexing existential concerns. At its most basic: thriving is about realizing our fullest potential as individuals and communities. This starting point has immediate practical implications:
First, thriving should not be confused with other popular concepts like material prosperity, physical health, environmental sustainability, social equity, or subjective happiness. It is at once more comprehensive and more integrating than any one of these important dimensions of human life. Like the proverbial story of the blind men and the elephant, we all too commonly reduce thriving to one of its component, but more limited parts.
Second, thriving is our prism and evaluative framework that helps us understand the web of human symbols, norms, goods, laws, habits, rituals, practices, and institutions that shape modern cities.
Third, thriving can never simply be an isolated individual achievement, though it requires personal effort and virtue. From cradle to grave, we rely upon countless others—people and institutions—in order to flourish. Thriving is impossible outside relationships of interdependence.
Fourth, reaching our fullest potential requires us to pay attention to the ends of living and not just the means. This fact unavoidably attunes us to the deep human need not only for social connection and dependence, but for meaning and purpose. Thriving foregrounds what we believe constitutes the nature of the good community and the life well-lived.
Finally, for these reasons we do not operate with a “Platonic” ideal of thriving—a universal ideal against which we make our critical judgments. Rather, we proceed in a “Socratic” manner in which we find the truth about thriving emerging over time out of the manifold actions, experiences, and deliberations of people in particular cultural contexts.
Who is Thriving Cities?
We are a group of unconventional urbanists, coming from many backgrounds and places, who believe that thriving will not be found through the usual strategies and tactics involving technology, money, and policy alone, but rather by situating these critical mechanisms in the context of history, culture, geography, and power. In short, we aim to fill a gap in urban thinking and practice summed up by the question: “What do the humanities have to say to the urban practitioner?” Out of this perspective, we are creating a conceptual paradigm for urban assessment and a toolkit for putting that paradigm into action. We believe working for the thriving of our communities is not only an empirical science, but also a moral, civic, and political art.
Do we really need another metric?
No and yes. The marketplace of community assessment is crowded and noisy. We have more information at our disposal than ever before clamoring for our attention. The most immediate challenge is to know which of the existing data to use and what new metrics might yet be needed. The deeper, and more difficult, challenge is to understand the limits and proper uses of measurement in the first place. What is needed today is a coherent framework for discerning among the proliferating lists of metrics and indicators and for putting them into a context for wise civic action. Thriving Cities exists to meet this need.
Who is this for?
Everyone. Thriving Cities is for all of the stakeholders working on and for the common good of their cities. However, it is especially committed to finding ways to bridge the many deep and abiding differences that characterize most urban communities today. Where much conventional urbanism focuses on issues of structural complexity—traffic, housing, poverty, jobs, etc.—our unconventional urbanism aspires to engage one of the thorniest urban challenges of all: the problem of pluralism. The Thriving Cities framework and toolkit are intended to create opportunities for fostering “unusual coalitions” of citizens across religious, racial, and ideological divisions. This, we believe, is essential for forging any genuine and lasting possibility for thriving in our cities.