Thriving Cities Lexicon

Thriving Cities employs many words and terms that are highly specific to the project. Our lexicon exists as a clarifying resource.


THrīv/ verb
Thriving shifts thinking from conventional deficit perspectives to an asset orientation, empowering leaders and citizens to see beyond common problems to collective possibilities. This starts by securing a basic threshold of material security and civic empowerment, which then underwrites deeper prospects for both the good life and the public good. In this way, thriving rests equally upon the fullest realization of internal capacities as on having the necessary external circumstances in which those capacities can become realized. Thriving means both doing and faring well.


kuh m-plek-si-tee/ noun
Through the idiom of thriving we begin to comprehend a dimension of “organized complexity” that has largely been left unacknowledged and unspecified to date. Thriving cities are, accordingly, best understood as a problem of “organized normative complexity.” Seen in this way, cities are the aggregated, but constantly evolving arguments of residents over the nature of the good life and good community. Cities are thus never just resource environments that either constrain or empower residents to pursue personal well-being. Cities, crucially, are also home to multiple, and sometimes overlapping communities and networks that can either foster or inhibit the exercise of practical wisdom, civic virtue, and social solidarity—all of which are essential to the possibility of a thriving commonweal.


kom-uh n-weel/ noun
Though not commonly used today, commonweal is a word that dates back to the 14th century. Like the word common good, commonweal conveys and privileges the public good—a concept that has unfortunately fallen out of fashion. At the core of Thriving Cities is a commitment to promote the common good of all, a commitment that is needed more than ever in an age of rampant individualism, consumerism, and cynicism. We hope by using an archaic word like commonweal, we can begin to refashion the necessary language for a res publica.

Human Ecology
ih-kol-uh-jee/ noun
Human Ecology refers to the web of institutional and individual interconnections that ground our identities, guide our collective and individual action, and shape our life purposes in a given historical, social, and moral context. Human ecology stresses the fact that cities are neither collections of autonomous individuals or discrete problem areas, each hermetically sealed from one another (like poverty or affordable housing); nor do cities behave like mechanical systems that can be managed and controlled by rational experts from on high. Akin to Jane’s Jacob’s notion of “organized complexity,” a human ecology approach sees cities as complex, asymmetric, and dynamic social systems that both empower and constrain the ways of life and life chances of their residents. The concept of human ecology encourages us to think about the shape, character, and normative purposes of actual places and people in culturally and historically interactive terms.

Community Endowment

en-dou-muh nt/ noun
In order to make sense of the human ecology of a city and provide tools to empower communities to use their distinctive history, resources, and culture to lead to greater thriving, we deploy a six-endowment framework. These are the True, the Good, the Beautiful, the Just and Well-Ordered, the Prosperous, and the Sustainable. An endowment is a realm of human activity that generates socially determined value and ends. The generative value produced within an endowment is realized by and through existing resources comprised of cultural practices and vocations, perceptions and ideas, and institutions. The health and wellbeing of an endowment is largely determined by the city’s context: history, culture, geography, leadership, and political economy. Finally, endowments interact dynamically with one another, creating both virtuous cycles when robust and healthy, and vicious cycles when depleted and weak.