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Citizen Participation and the Sustainable City:

A Case Study of Durham, North Carolina

Paula M. Childers

Submitted in partial fulfillment of

The requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts from Prescott College
in Environmental Studies

December 2007

___________________ ___________________ __________________

Darcy Riddell, MA Gail Hochachka, MA James Pittman, MSc
Graduate Advisor Second Reader Third Reader

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Date Date Date

Copyright © 2007 by Paula M. Childers

Some Rights Reserved.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.
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Table of Contents

Abstract 4
1. Introduction: A Scary Place Called Home 5
2. Durham and the RTP Region: Diversity, Development, and Perception 11
3. Integral Sustainability and Participatory Society 27
4. Planning For Sustainability: People and Place-Making (A Literature Review) 52
5. Emplaced Research: Seeing Out From Inside (An Exploration of Methodologies) 64
6. The Results: Durham As Seen By Durhamites 74
7. Analysis: Sustainability Or…? 91
8. Postscript: A Personal Note on Things Integral 102
Bibliography 106
Appendix A: Documents and Correspondence of the Research Interview Process 122


What does it mean to be a sustainable city? Working from an application of the Integral Sustainability
model to systems of urban planning, this paper argues that citizen participation in urban planning and
governance is an important but often overlooked aspect of creating a sustainable city. Citizen
participation in the city of Durham, NC is researched through open interview dialogues with community
leaders, and the resulting case study is presented illustrating the synergistic interaction between people,
place, and systems of governance. Discussion explores how that interaction influences the sustainability
of Durham, and posits some possible areas of change to enhance future sustainability of the urban

1. Introduction: A Scary Place Called Home

“Durhamites have something special--a thriving black middle class, a refreshing ethnic
amalgam, creativity that seems to come from the water like fluoride. And yet they seem to
want to keep it to themselves by complaining about development and allowing
themselves to become a bull's-eye for an insidious kind of misconception. As a result,
Raleigh gladly accepts new tenants that should have been Durham's, welcomes the cash
flow through its restaurants and shopping centers that props its economy, watches new
middle-class families move into houses that aren't cheaper in neighborhoods that aren't
nicer. These are the people who are advocates, who write the checks for their children's
fund-raisers, who get involved in the community. These are the people who drive 15
miles an hour all the way to work every morning in RTP while Durhamites go 65 the other
way. People don't need to be told twice that Durham is where the "texture" is; they read
between the lines when a Realtor says, "Well, they're trying really hard with their
schools," and Durham is damned by faint praise….”
-- Jeff Stern, Durham: The Making of an Image.
Independent Weekly, May 24, 2006.

When we moved to Durham, NC ten years ago, I knew almost nothing about this small Southern city,
other than it being the location of Duke University – and supposedly a place where lots of lesbians lived.
Additionally, we quickly discovered that real estate prices were much lower in Durham than in neighboring
Chapel Hill, where my partner and I first began looking for a house to purchase. At the time, those factors
were enough for us to choose Durham as our new home, but I am aware that many other people use
enormously different criteria to choose their place of residence – and many others have no real choice at
all. Over the years I’ve now lived here, I’ve heard many different perspectives on Durham, and formed a
few beliefs of my own, but not until just recently did I begin to question whether Durham was as equitable
and sustainable as I believe it is (or can be), or whether it is indeed, as many others seem to think, a city
on a slow downward slide into unceasing crime and poverty.

As an outgrowth of joining the Durham City-County Open Space and Trails Commission in 2005, I’ve
become deeply involved in the systems and procedures of city governance; as a result, I’ve begun to see
these varying visions of Durham interacting concretely, in daily decisions of economics, city policies on
crime and housing, and especially in decisions about development and land use priorities. As neighboring
urban areas have become increasingly defined by sprawl and gentrification, Durham seems to be
something of a holdout, whether by choice or from the effect of “bad reputation” (Stern, 2006) steering
development elsewhere. As someone concerned not only with environmental issues but also issues of
social justice and community, I was intrigued to consider what this might mean for Durham in the long
term. Would we be destined to always be the “black sheep” of the region, poor, struggling, crime-ridden
and disrespected? Or could it be possible that we, in fact, would come out better in the end by not
participating in this sort of unsustainable development? Are we, in fact, more capable of becoming a truly
sustainable city than those cities around us that have been recently enriched – on paper – by

Recently, the emerging global issues of peak oil and climate change have impressed on me the need for
American cities to begin engaging deeply with principles and practices of sustainability. Economic and
social policies dependent on traditional concepts of perpetual growth will rapidly become unworkable in a
globalized world system of declining fossil fuel availability, increasing energy costs, and climatological
instability. The need to develop responses and plan for sustainability rather than growth has been
recognized around the world, as shown by such examples as the “Transition Towns” project in the United
Kingdom (Brangwyn and Hopkins, 2007) and the Sierra Club’s “Cool Cities Initiative” (Brand and Bell,
2006) in the US.

Durham’s government has clearly signaled its awareness of these interconnected issues through its
participation as a Sierra Club “Cool City,” (“Cool Cities…”, 2007) Mayor Bell’s signing of the U.S.
Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement (United States Conference…, 2007), the creation of
a citywide Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan (City of Durham, 2007a), and the recent opening of a full-
time Sustainability Manager position on city/county staff (City of Durham, 2007c). However, with the
possible exception of the Sustainability Manager, these are primarily paper proclamations, with little
power to dictate change outside the government infrastructure. It has become clear to me that to really
move the city in the direction of sustainability in a post-peak, new-climate world, much more will need to
happen, beyond the scope of formal government alone.

The more I thought about this problem of building the future sustainability of Durham, the more clearly an
important dichotomy emerged at the root of my inquiry: that of the tension between traditional growth-
centric definitions of what makes a good, liveable city, and more holistic and dynamic concepts of urban
sustainability, inclusive not only of economics and ecology but also society and the individual. Any city,
Durham included, has literally thousands of human-made physical systems in operation every day. These
range from the large, obvious ones like the transportation network, waste management, and emergency
systems (police, fire, EMS), to the systems components of bureaucracy, such as taxation, building
permits and inspections, issuance of special use permits for things like incinerators, and the rezoning
process. Yet any and all of these systems interacts on some level not only with the surrounding
ecosystems of the area, but also with all the human social and cultural systems each citizen is engaged
with personally.

As I began exploring this in application to Durham, I realized that many of the indicators popularly used to
describe the health or quality of cities, such as number of new houses built, business growth, crimes per
capita, or population increase per year, would not necessarily have the same meaning when looked at
from the perspective of planning for whole-systems sustainability. And it is the everyday acts of planning
and civic governance that are extraordinarily important to the building of a sustainable city, as it is through
those processes that a city makes plans to guide its future development, provides tax breaks or other
incentives to create that development, and allocates the funds used for maintenance and upkeep on all
the publicly-owned spaces that already exist. Thus, in order to truly understand the potential of Durham
from a sustainability perspective, I would need to find new philosophies of urban planning and living, and
new views on the factors, quantitative and qualitative, physical and social, that go into creating
sustainable urban community systems.

This paper is the outcome of that inquiry: a look at Durham’s potential for long-term sustainability,
focusing on the necessity and difficulty of citizen participation in creating that sustainability. It is my
contention that many of the same factors that are seen as negative aspects of Durham by outsiders –
most especially our highly visible and occasionally fractious citizen political participation – are actually
potential strengths in terms of creating a holistically sustainable city. As I will discuss, this concept of
holistic urban sustainability goes beyond traditional factors of sustainability such as ecology and
economics, to include social systems, beliefs, cultural meanings, and the actions, perceptions and
emplaced awareness of the individual citizen. I believe the research presented here demonstrates how
citizen participation has prevented Durham from becoming just another growth-driven sprawl zone, in part
by directing local government attention toward community-wide quality of life, and by helping avoid, and
mitigate, co-optation of government processes by short-term development interests.

In the past, active citizen participation has prevented toxic-emitting industrial development (Strom, 2002),
helped protect large areas of green space and sensitive ecological sites (Eno River Association, 2007),
and resulted in a strong awareness of issues of environmental justice throughout the community (Durham
Peoples Alliance, 2007). Unfortunately, contentious citizen participation has also disrupted day-to-day
management in the educational system (Smith 2005, Lewis 2005), and furthered racial divisions in some
communities (Secret, 2007); yet I contend that the open nature of Durham’s governance has nevertheless
fostered an environment more conducive to future sustainability than that possible in a more closed

When reviewing current planning literature on urban sustainability, I discovered that there are certain
commonly-held concepts of what a "sustainable city" should include, such as physical walkability,
availability of public transportation, “green” systems for managing waste and water, or even a localized
economy for such things as food (Wheeler, 2003, Roseland, 1998, Talen, 2005, Hallsmith, 2003,
Godschalk, 2004). From this perspective, Durham’s recent attention to improving walkability in the urban
core, promoting infill for inner-tier neighborhoods, and achieving mixed-income as well as mixed-use
development, as well as county planners’ emphasis on preservation of farmlands and key ecological
areas, would strongly suggest that Durham is well on the path to sustainability, at least in terms of its
physical systems.

However, I found much less discussion in that planning literature about the "human systems" that underlie
and support (or occasionally reject) these physical systems, such as community volunteerism, religious
beliefs, or cultural and economic diversity factors. I believe it is these social and cultural factors that are
most important to understand when seeking to create a holistically sustainable city, as they define how
people behave in regard to the everyday physical systems that are more obviously interacting with the
environment. Planning decisions are not made in a vacuum, but rather, they reflect the worldviews and
experiences of participants in the system, in proportion to the power of each, whether economic, social, or
cultural. Therefore, for purposes of my analysis, I needed to find a system for visualizing whole-systems
sustainability that took into account as much as possible these human factors and their effects within the
greater urban environment.

Out of the many possible definitions and conceptualizations of sustainability available, for this inquiry I
have chosen to use Integral Sustainability, an evolutionary model for evaluating and conceptualizing
whole-systems sustainability based in Integral theory, as espoused by American philosopher Ken Wilber
in works such as Sex, Ecology Spirituality (1995), and A Theory of Everything (2001). The Integral theory
model offers a quadrant framework known as the AQAL (for “All Quadrants, All Levels” ) model (Wilber,
2001, p.66), inclusive of human cultures, behaviors, physical and social systems, and the individual self,
which can be applied to gain a more holistic understanding of any issue or aspect of reality than that
possible through only one perspective. The Integral framework and the AQAL model are built on a
fundamental awareness that any person or entity has both exterior, observable properties, and interior,
subjective properties, each of which occur both for the individual and for any collective with which the
individual interacts. Thus, an Integrally-informed understanding of any aspect of a person or entity – such
as the sustainability of a city - will take into account all four of these aspects: individual interior beliefs and
awareness, individual exterior behaviors, collective interiors such as cultures, and externally observable
properties of collectives such as the physical systems we construct.

Through this four-fold awareness, Integral Sustainability is highly inclusive of subjective, qualitative
factors such as individual perceptions and social pressures, factors that seem to me to be significant
forces in the urban system of Durham. In the Integral model, sustainability is seen as both a physically-
observable condition of environmental systems, and an interior condition of human development, a model
for understanding sustainability that resonates and interacts throughout all quadrants. In the long term, I
feel that finding ways of addressing Durham’s issues of race and class will be just as urgent as changing
our patterns of energy consumption or transportation – and indeed, all these issues are linked in our
dynamic urban reality. A broadly systemic look at urban processes, when viewed through the lens of
Integral Sustainability, will reveal the potential of participatory governance to further sustainable practices
and worldviews, by more fully integrating interior factors such as culture, social norms, and personal
beliefs that cannot be easily quantified. An Integrally-informed analysis will also highlight some potential
dangers of participation, and help clarify the interaction of personal worldviews with social development
and participatory governance.
Grounding the research for my inquiry in this Integrally-informed conceptualization of sustainability, I
initiated dialogues with a diverse group of Durham’s citizen leaders, to discover their thoughts on the
current state of Durham’s systems of participation in governance, and what changes in these and other
social systems they feel could contribute to make Durham a more inclusive and sustainable city. I then
attempted to emplace the participants’ responses within an Integrally-informed framework, to discover
how their ideas might function in application – specifically, to citizen participation in the planning and
management of the urban lands and open spaces of Durham, an area I see as a major locus of on-the-
ground activity for many of Durham’s sustainability issues, including sprawl, pollution, and social

Although it became clear from these conversations and my subsequent analysis that Durham still has
much to do to fully embrace a participatory system of governance as part of its path towards
sustainability, I believe the dialogues also reveal a strong sense of openness in existing governance, and
cooperation across diverse communities of interest, that serves to reveal a far more insightful and positive
picture of Durham’s future than the limited vision of the naysayers can possibly contain.

And with that, let’s get on down to Durham.

2. Durham: History, Diversity, Development, and Perception

To better understand the city of Durham in general, we must first know something about it; demographics,
economics and history are all part of the picture of Durham today. Some urban theorists have compared a
city to a living organism because of the complexity of its interwoven processes (Jacobs, 1961, p.433,
Johnson, 2006, p.97), and indeed, Durham is a very complex place, with a tumultuous past and a
dynamic present. Any understanding of a city must also take into account the ongoing processes
occurring in it and affecting it, both current and historic. Thus, developing an understanding of the
potential for sustainability in the “Bull City” (so nicknamed for Durham’s famed former export, Bull Durham
tobacco) requires some awareness of interplay of these complex roots.

Additionally, as I will elaborate in later chapters, an Integrally-informed understanding of Durham’s

sustainability potential should accommodate as many of the subjective, interior human factors of the
urban milieu as possible, such as community beliefs, individual perceptions and attitudes, social
relationships, racial, religious or subcultural tensions, and other social and cultural dynamics. I believe the
necessity of including such factors in discussions of future sustainability will become apparent when
knowledge of Durham’s past is combined with an awareness of its present. In particular, perception of
Durham as a racially-integrated city with broad tolerance for many minority groups can be seen as a
factor of some significance to patterns of both historic and recent development in the area, as well as to
possibilities for future change in the sociocultural dynamics that are an essential aspect of sustainability.

Demographically, Durham is a small city, albeit a very diverse one. Per the US Census Bureau (U.S.
Census Bureau, 2000), Durham’s population as of the year 2000 was just under 200,000, comparable to
Rochester, NY and Laredo, TX, ranking 97th of all US cities, and making it the fourth-largest city in North
Carolina, after Charlotte, neighboring Raleigh, and Greensboro. Its physical size is somewhat average for
its population, at a bit less than 95 square miles and a density ratio of 1,976.4 people per square mile.
Census reports indicate Durham’s population is racially diverse, at 43.8% African-American, 45.5%
Caucasian, 3.6% Asian, and 4.7% who reported to the U.S. Census Bureau as “other,” out of which
population over 12% self-identified as ethnic Hispanic or Latino (of any race). In US cities of population
over 100,000, Durham ranks 28th in percentage of African-Americans (Note: All statistics in this
paragraph were taken from U.S. Census Bureau, 2000 report.).

Durham is noted for its long history of African-American-owned businesses and minority political
involvement, including some of the first sit-ins of the Civil Rights movement (DCVB, 2007, Durham Civil
Rights Heritage Project, 2003). Well before the Civil Rights era of the 1960’s, Durham was a major center
for the emerging black middle class (DCVB, 2007) with the nation’s first black-owned insurance company,
NC Mutual Life, and North Carolina Central University, chartered in 1925 as North Carolina College for
Negroes, the nation's first state-supported liberal arts college for African-American students (NCCU,
2007). Although racism and racial segregation was a fact of life in the pre-Civil Rights South, the Durham
black community was one of the strongest and most vibrant in the nation, with many shops, restaurants,
and other businesses catering specifically to blacks, and a thriving cultural and artistic scene (,
2007, Eberle, n.d.). As segregation eased in the 1960’s and 70’s, the economic motivation for maintaining
a separate business infrastructure lessened, but the legacy of black social and economic success in
Durham has remained, with strong African-American institutions still present today (Eberle, n.d.).

Durham is also known as a tolerant, gay-friendly city (Baxter, 2005). The first North Carolina LGBT Pride
parade and gathering was held in Durham in 1981, and after a period in the 90’s in which the annual
event moved around to other cities in the state, it returned to Durham permanently in 2000 (NC Pride,
2006). The Pride gathering is now held annually in September on the East Campus of Duke University, in
close proximity to downtown Durham and the central Ninth Street shopping district, and has typical
attendance of over 3000 people, not including the many watchers that line the streets for the Parade.
Durham also plays host to the North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival; founded in 1995, the
Festival has grown to be the second-largest in the Southeast, regularly drawing 10,000 attendees over
four days (NCGLFF, 2006). Durham was the first major metro area in the state to offer domestic partner
benefits to city employees (Equality NC, 2006), while Duke University has its own campus Center for
LGBT Life, and offers benefits coverage to domestic partners of its employees. Durham also is home to
one of the Southeast’s only lesbian and gay parents’ groups, Triangle Families, an all-volunteer network
of over 500 LGBT families that organizes regular social gatherings and informational meetings throughout
the area (note: I was a co-founder of Triangle Families and continue to volunteer regularly). Triangle
Families also hosted the Southeast’s first-ever LGBT Parenting Conference in Durham in 2006 (an event
of which I was a primary organizer).

Interestingly, although several gay clubs have operated in various locations in previous years, the last
club targeted specifically to gay men closed in the early 00’s, while one formerly lesbian bar has recently
been experimenting with offerings for a mixed clientele (personal communications with NC Pride
organizers, 2006). While a large new club targeting the LGBT community, “Steel Blue,” opened in late
2007 on one of the main highways connecting Durham with Raleigh (“Open for..”, 2007), gay and lesbian
nightlife in Durham seems to be thriving equally well in mixed venues and on theme nights at other clubs.
Nightclubs such as Ringside in downtown happily advertise their diversity: "if you have and open mind
and diversity doesn't scare you, come on in. Black, white, gay, straight, young, old: Ringside's appeal
attracts all types to diverse music and eclectic decor" (Ringside, 2006). I believe this to be a reflection of
just how integrated the gay community of Durham is: there appears to be little need to maintain
separation between “gay” and “straight” events, clubs, or general socializing.

This general penchant for tolerance has not gone unnoticed, either - UTNE Magazine voted Durham one
of “America’s 10 Most Enlightened Towns,” (Walljasper, 1997) and the area consistently scores highly on
Richard Florida’s “Gay-Bohemian Index,” as noted in promotional material from the Durham Convention
and Visitors’ Bureau (DCVB, 2007). Florida, the leading proponent of the “Creative Class” theory of
economic development, has said that “gays and bohemians are leading indicators of a place that has a
‘creative ecosystem’ – a regional habitat which is open to new people and ideas, where people easily
network, connect.” (Florida, 2006) Durham’s government has embraced the creative and culturally
interactive aspects of its community, through support of local arts organizations, monthly downtown Art
Walks (Durham Art Walk, 2007), hosting of several regional arts festivals and the nationally-renowned
summer-long American Dance Festival, and promotion of Durham in city literature as a haven for the arts
(DCVB, 2007).

Also, possibly influenced by the Civil Rights era as well as other community activism in the 1960’s and
70’s, Durham has evolved a significant level of citizen participation in its local governance. Durham’s
central government is a Mayor/Council system, with six Council members elected both by Ward and as
At-Large representatives. Most of the day to day operations of the city are overseen by the City Manager.
The Manager is an employee, not an elected official, and serves at the will of the Council. Department
heads, with the notable exception of the Police Chief, are under the authority of the Manager. Much more
important to this discussion, though, is the series of citizen advisory committees and citizen review boards
that are deeply involved in nearly every aspect of Durham’s governance. Although the Council has final
decision-making power, the citizen boards wield significant political influence, and I have personally
observed Council members referring frequently to information and opinions provided by these entities
throughout the governing process, as I currently serve as a citizen volunteer on the Open Space and
Trails Commission (Durham Open Space and Trails Commission Minutes, 2006 and 2007).

These boards and committees are particularly relevant to any discussion of Durham’s observable
environmental sustainability, as several of them have significant input into land use decisions and the
zoning process. Durham’s primary legal document pertaining to zoning and land use management is the
Comprehensive Plan, first adopted in 1927 (Kuber, 2007) and subsequently revised several times (City of
Durham, 2006). Realizing that the existing 1995 Plan was in need of serious revisions as well as more
concrete applicability for current issues, the City Council in 2005 adopted a new Unified Development
Ordinance (UDO), as an addition to the Plan and an implementation tool for its actualization (City of
Durham, 2005), and also adopted a significant new revision of the Plan itself the following year (City of
Durham, 2006). The UDO deals in much greater specificity with the conduct of development, and
contains a number of provisions for promoting greater attention to environmental effects in the
development process, including guidelines for creating a “conservation subdivision” (City of Durham,
2005, section 6.2.4).

By city and county ordinance, all proposed UDO changes, zoning changes, Comprehensive Plan
changes, and site plans are reviewed by the Durham City/County Open Space and Trails Commission
(DOSTC), for compliance with open space environmental and access requirements such as tree buffers,
trail easements, impermeable surfaces, etc.; the Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC), for
issues of access and connectivity, and the Development Review Board (DRB), a sort of “last stop” for
issues of planning and zoning, all of which are made up of citizen volunteers. These commissions also
make suggestions to City Council (and the county Board of Commissioners) for new ordinances and
revisions to existing ordinances, and directly assist the Planning Department staff in the development of
new long-term plans, such as the East Durham Open Space Plan (City of Durham, 2007d). In most
cases, the only requirements for joining a city commission are to be a city resident and have no
outstanding tax bills (personal correspondence with City Clerk, 2005), and most members are restricted in
how long they can serve continuously. This provides much opportunity for individual citizens to have
significant input into local land use decisions. My involvement with the Open Space and Trails
Commission has provided me with extensive first-hand knowledge of the inner workings of these citizen-
participatory governance processes.

Outside the formal processes of citizen involvement as implemented in these citizen committees and
boards, Durham also has an extensive informal network of neighborhood organizations that can, and
often do, wield significant political influence. One example of this influence can be seen in Durham’s
planning process itself. Due to past organized and vocal neighborhood activism around the proposed
locations of controversial land uses such as cement and asphalt plants (Strom, 2003), the Planning
Department has implemented a citizen notification system for zoning and Comprehensive Plan changes
that goes well beyond the notification requirements legally mandated by the State of North Carolina, as I
discovered during meetings and correspondence with residents of several Durham neighborhoods while
serving on the Open Space and Trails Commission (Durham Open Space and Trails Commission
Minutes, 2006 and 2007).

Any nonprofit organization, neighborhood group, or other entity can request to be added to the City’s
central notification list (City of Durham, 2007a). List members receive postcards and/or letters notifying
them of proposed changes to the overall Comprehensive Plan or UDO. Any registered area neighborhood
association within 1000 feet, and any landowner of record within 600 feet of a property under
consideration for a zoning change will receive a notification letter prior to the opening of the public
comment period on the proposed change (City of Durham, 2005, Section 3.2.3). This written
correspondence contains details as to how to find out more information on the proposed change, as well
as the date and time of any public hearings on it (City of Durham, 2007a). This process is significantly
different from the previous procedure of simply placing a notice in the local newspaper, a method often
used in other regional municipalities, as noted by Planning Department staff during my Orientation as a
new member of the Open Space and Trails Commission.

Only about 38,000 people live in Durham County outside the City limits, despite rapid regional growth and
a number of new suburban/exurban developments, while well over 100,000 acres of the county remains
as forests, farmlands, and lakes (DCVB, 2007). Because the city of Durham is located within a relatively
small county for North Carolina, the density of greater Durham County relative to neighboring Wake and
Orange counties (containing, respectively, Raleigh and Chapel Hill/Carrboro) is significantly higher,
although the areas outside the City boundary are still quite rural in character (DCVB, 2007). This
combination of urban and rural is one the city and county have actively worked to retain, not only through
strict enforcement of an urban growth city service delivery boundary (City of Durham, 2005, Section
4.1.2), but also through outright purchase of highly environmentally-sensitive properties, buying of
conservation easements on hundreds of acres of farmlands and woodlands, and support for other local
and regional non-governmental organizations engaged in similar preservation activities (Durham Open
Space and Trails Commission Minutes, 2006 and 2007).

Additionally, eastern Durham County borders on Falls Lake, an artificial 12,000-acre lake created in 1981
by the US Army Corps of Engineers to control flooding and supply drinking water to growing northern
areas of neighboring Wake County (NC Division of Parks, 2006). The lake is located at the confluence of
the Eno, Little, and Flat Rivers, and is considered the headwaters of the Neuse, as the river is known
below the lake. Much of the land adjacent to the lake was made into a state recreation area, managed by
the NC Division of Parks and Recreation (NC Division of Parks, 2006). Beyond the state recreation area,
the Corps still owns much of the immediate watershed, and a system of requirements and restrictions is in
place for all development activities on both public and private properties in the lake’s greater watershed,
to protect the lake’s water quality. As part of this protection effort, the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative
(UNCWI), a coalition of local and regional conservation organizations, has received Federal and state
support for the acquisition of conservation easements on properties in the Falls Lake watershed, as well
as other conservation outreach and education projects. (UNCWI, 2006)

Notably, a significant portion of the land flooded by the Lake was acquired by the Corps of Engineers via
the use of eminent domain (NC Division of Parks, 2006, DOSTC Minutes, 2006). While this process was
not as contentious or divisive as some of the 1960’s “urban renewal” projects in Durham’s central
neighborhoods (Secret, 2007, Eberle, n.d.), the community disruption and dislocation of many long-time
area residents resulted in a certain undercurrent of distrust in the rural communities of eastern Durham
County toward anything that smacks of government interference in land use, which lingers today in
localized patterns of citizen participation. For example, the Planning Department held several community
meetings in locations throughout eastern Durham in 2006 to gather citizen input for the proposed East
Durham Open Space Plan, yet attendance was never higher than a handful, while similar meetings for
other proposed plans in other areas of the city and/or county are typically well-attended (DOSTC Minutes,
2006, personal correspondence with Planning Department staff, 2006).

One interesting and potentially meaningful demographic contrast is that the per capita yearly income of
Durham county residents is almost $9000 higher than city residents (DCVB, 2007). While the various
local promotional and governmental agencies do not generally address this directly, demographic trends,
along with informal political debates and other subjective indicators, suggest a strong correlation between
Durham’s peripheral development patterns, changes in urban core economic activities, and inner-city
poverty – the “doughnut city” effect, as a physical manifestation of economic changes (Boyle, 1992,
Doughnut Cities, 2004). Planning theorist Rutherford Platt describes this effect as being a reflection of a
“social pathology”:
“The social pathology of inequality in American society is reflected in the spatial
geography of its contemporary cities and metropolitan areas: older core cities and inner-
tier suburbs tend to be in decay, and are typically populated by low income households;
newer communities on the urban fringe tend to be predominantly white and relatively
wealthy - and are more likely to benefit from Federal tax policies and other public
subsidies to sprawl“ (Platt, 2004, p.13).
Durham is certainly an example of this national pattern of inner-city decay. Even in the 1960’s,
development in Durham had already begun moving to the outer fringes of the urban area. As Durham’s
economic base shifted with the decline of tobacco and textile industries and the rise of suburban-based
high-tech research institutions in the 70’s and 80’s, the factories and supporting infrastructure in
downtown Durham and many of the immediately surrounding neighborhoods fell into decrepitude (DCVB,
2007, Old West Durham, 2007), with shuttered mills, empty tobacco warehouses and boarded-up
storefronts becoming common sights in the urban core.

Meanwhile, Research Triangle Park, created in the then-rural southeastern corner of Durham County in
the late 1950’s (Research Triangle Foundation, 2006), has become the region’s primary employment hub
for technology companies and corporate research facilities. This concentration has consequently pulled
much of the resulting regional growth and development toward surrounding areas that provide easy (or
what is currently perceived as easy, i.e. near a freeway) automobile access to the Park - such as Cary,
Raleigh, and southern areas of Durham along Interstate 40 several miles from downtown - and reinforced
emerging regional patterns of sprawl, as well as out-migration from Durham’s urban core. The RTP region
is not unique in this pattern; urban sprawl has outpaced population increase nationwide for some time
now, with average home sizes also increasing (Platt, 2004, p.12). This trend of residential sprawl has also
reinforced the migration of economic activity to the urban fringes, (Platt, 2004, p.14) as evidenced by the
recent greenfield construction of such regional super-centers as Southpoint Mall in far southern Durham.

Interestingly, the Durham Freeway, NC Highway 147, was designed specifically to facilitate traffic
between the newly-opened RTP and downtown Durham (Currin, 2007). Although the intent of the
Federally-supported highway was to bring more of the RTP-associated development to downtown and
other northern and central areas of Durham, the actual construction of the highway in the 1960’s and 70’s
resulted in the destruction of significant portions of Hayti, a historically prominent African-American
business and residential district just south of downtown centered on Fayetteville and Parrish Streets, the
latter of which was once called the “black Wall Street” of America (DCVB, 2007, City of Durham, n.d.,
Eberle, n.d.). While the Hayti area was already experiencing economic issues, the construction of the
Freeway effectively negated any prospect of future recovery for the area in its extant form, while also
destroying several historic landmarks of the Civil Rights Era, such as the White Rock Baptist Church,
where Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on several occasions (Durham Civil Rights Heritage Project, 2003).

Rutherford Platt contends that “the Federal government, through its housing, highway, and tax policies
actively supported, and to a certain extent mandated, a de Facto apartheid nation, with middle class
whites in the new suburbs and the poor and nonwhites relegated to the inner city neighborhoods
abandoned by departing whites” (Platt, 2004, p.19). Durham clearly was a victim of these policies, as
construction of the Freeway also effectively divided the primarily African-American core working-class
neighborhoods and businesses that remained immediately south of the Freeway from many of the more
affluent (and white) neighborhoods to the north (Currin, 2007). The resulting animosity and suspicion in
the African-American community toward large-scale government development initiatives continues to
echo in current City politics and planning, and has possibly contributed to the subsequent rejection of
other proposed economic development projects by Durham voters, such as a 1990 proposal for
redevelopment of the American Tobacco complex (Stern, 2006), a downtown area that stood empty as an
industrial brownfield for many years, but is now being redeveloped mainly by private interests.

In addition to the effects of various national policies that supported the overall rise of suburban land-use
patterns, Durham’s development patterns appear also to have been affected by a socio-economic
phenomenon sometimes termed “white flight” (Bickford, 1997). This phenomenon was observed across
much of the nation in the Civil Rights era, as many upper- and middle-class whites left diverse urban
neighborhoods for what were often de-facto-segregated suburbs and less-integrated county schools.
Academics have debated the causes of the phenomenon for years, with the debate generally focusing on
two hypotheses:
“The ‘pull’ hypothesis […] assumes that there is an intrinsic lure to suburban residence
and that when [suburbanization] occurred in postwar America, […] thousands of
households were ‘pulled’ out from the city centers by the amenities of the suburbs. This
hypothesis explains racial segregation as a function of the extent to which nonwhites
were denied access to the means of suburban home purchase, through discrimination by
government programs and ‘redlining’ by lending institutions and realtors. [...] The ‘push’
hypothesis, implies that […] white urbanites, in response to an increasing [urban]
population of members of undesirable minority groups, chose to migrate outward to
achieve a more homogeneous lifestyle in the suburbs [and thus] the postwar trend toward
suburban development is substantially a result of the large urban influx of ethnic
minorities, largely Southern blacks, who migrated to the cities seeking employment in
wartime factories” (Bickford, 1997).

Although the development of suburbia across America was encouraged by many factors, in the South,
there is clear evidence that racism and the effects of desegregation also played a major role (Bickford,
1997, Cobb, 1993, Kruse, 2005).
“While many have assumed that white flight was little more than a literal movement of
the white population, […] it represented a much more important transformation in the
political ideology of those involved. Because of their confrontation with the civil rights
movement, white southern conservatives were forced to abandon their traditional,
populist, and often starkly racist demagoguery... [However,] those at the local level were
discovering a number of ways in which they could preserve and, indeed, perfect the
realities of racial segregation outside the realm of law and politics. Ultimately, the mass
migration of whites from cities to the suburbs proved to be the most successful
segregationist response to the moral demands of the civil rights movement and the legal
authority of the courts. Although the suburbs were just as segregated as the city--and,
truthfully, often more so--white residents succeeded in convincing the courts, the nation,
and even themselves that this phenomenon represented de facto segregation, something
that stemmed not from the race-conscious actions of residents but instead from less
offensive issues like class stratification and postwar sprawl” (Kruse, 2005, p.2).

Looking only at Durham County, the effects of suburbanization and “white flight” seem to have been
mitigated somewhat for the city of Durham by the relative prosperity and balanced racial demographics of
both the city and county. However, from a larger regional perspective, it could be argued, as reporter Jeff
Stern described in the Independent Weekly, that Durham as a whole (city and county) has been treated
as the rejected minority area for a number of years, while neighboring communities became the happy
hosts of upper- and middle-class majority-white suburban development (Stern, 2006). Neighboring Cary,
for instance, was noted in the 2000 US Census at over 80% Caucasian and only 6% black (U.S. Census
Bureau, 2000), a rather astonishing figure given that only a few miles separate Cary and Durham. By this
perspective, all of Durham could be seen as the “hole” of a large regional “doughnut” metropolis.

As also noted by Stern, perception often matters greatly in terms of patterns of economic development
and growth: “People prefer Raleigh either because they don't know Durham or because they think they
do. As a result, […] Durham's missing the opportunity to bring jobs, bump up spending, generate
corporate philanthropy, increase its bond rating and attract investment.” (Stern, 2006) However, in many
cases, Durham’s citizens have specifically voted against government funding for large development
projects that had the potential to bring significant economic growth to the city. This has confounded many
developers, analysts and researchers; to quote Stern again:
“Some of the best things to come to Durham have been in spite of voters, who seem to
prefer the egalitarian attitude of an historical outpost resistant to the imminent strains of
corporate interest. […] Back in 1936, with Durham endeavoring to build an airport, public
sentiment suddenly turned and voters killed the bond issue. Fast forward half a century,
and the first shot at a new stadium for the Durham Bulls and a parking deck for the
American Tobacco factory complex was voted down in a $11.28 million bond referendum,
and the city almost lost the Bulls to Raleigh. […] The Durham Bulls Athletic Park had to
be funded with certificates of participation--public borrowing at a higher interest rate than
voter-approved bonds.” (2006)

Whether this anti-development propensity emerged from historic tension between the African-American
citizenry of Durham and larger forces of government, or whether it is a sign of other factors, the result has
frequently been that private developers in Durham have often been able to do what government has not -
energize redevelopment of economically-depressed or abandoned areas. The aforementioned American
Tobacco complex (ATC) is one important example: the project, spearheaded by private investors from
Raleigh, has completely redeveloped a former tobacco factory and warehouse complex just south of
downtown that had effectively been abandoned for several years, to create what has become one of the
region’s hottest new locations for business offices, with tenants including medical giant Glaxo and mobile-
tech upstart Motricity. The successful redevelopment of the ATC has spurred an explosion of similar
projects throughout the downtown Durham area, including expansion of the West Village warehouse
condominiums, a project that will add over 800 new residential units to the core downtown area in the
next few years, among many other smaller new businesses and residential projects. To its credit, the city
government has significantly increased funding and promotion for downtown redevelopment in recent
years, and recently completed a large downtown infrastructure revitalization project, with redesigned
traffic patterns, pocket parks, and improved sidewalks.

However, this explosion of downtown development has brought with it a new awareness of previously
existing issues in the city and region, both of physical infrastructure and systems of governance. For
example, the sidewalk reconstruction project downtown was delayed frequently as aging and decayed
water and sewer lines were exposed and occasionally broken, necessitating replacement before work
could continue. Also, and perhaps more importantly for questions of sustainability, there is no commuter
rail available in the greater region, despite years of work by the Triangle Transportation Authority (TTA) to
implement such a system. Multiple governmental agencies have found themselves in constant conflict
over priorities of transportation development, a problem visible in debates over the potential relocation of
the downtown Durham Amtrak station, as well as in perpetual tension between the city and the state
Department of Transportation (NCDOT).

A recent and vivid example of this is the current debate over the widening of Alston Avenue, a major
north-south thoroughfare just east of downtown Durham. NCDOT plans call for Alston to be widened from
its current two lanes to four, with an increased speed limit and turning lanes installed at every major
intersection, in order to facilitate increased usage of the Avenue for funneling traffic from fast-developing
suburban areas of northern Durham to the Alston Avenue interchange with Hwy 147 just south of
downtown. As it so happens, the neighborhood in which this widening is proposed to occur is currently
being redeveloped under a multi-million dollar HOPE VI Federal grant, the master plan for which calls for
the Avenue to be a significant pedestrian route, with constant neighborhood foot traffic and businesses
operating in the historic storefront properties still available along the street. Many of these historic
buildings would be destroyed by the widening project, while pedestrian connectivity would be similarly
obliterated by the presence of a high-speed road eight lanes across at signals. NCDOT has been
significantly unresponsive to concerns repeatedly expressed by the city. The issue is now percolating
upward into the state legislature.

In any case, however, historic facts and discussions cannot by themselves tell the full story of the city, as
they cannot individually capture the human emotions and historic connections bound up in the city’s
identity. Durham is a complex and challenging place, challenged all the more by its physical location
between Raleigh, a city embracing explosive growth, and Chapel Hill, struggling to preserve its small
college-town identity amidst the forces of gentrification. Durham is not solely a college town itself, but it
has a major university, Duke; Durham is not solely a manufacturing town, but it has suffered from the loss
of manufacturing jobs in the American South; Durham has Research Triangle Park and a population
where over 40% have college degrees, but it also has a gang problem and wide income disparities
between its residents.

Durhamites are frequently admonished to “Love Yourself” (as a local bumper sticker proclaims) under a
common belief that somehow it is our own low self-image that has contributed to overall negative
perceptions of Durham (Baxter, 1997, Stern, 2006), yet surveys by the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau
and other local organizations consistently indicate that residents have good opinions of Durham and are
quite happy to live here (DCVB, 2007). Apparently, it is media and business interests from the
surrounding areas that have often chosen to portray Durham negatively, whether unconsciously or
intentionally (Stern, 2006). As noted before, some believe it may be a subtle form of racism, a remnant of
old Southern discrimination on a regional scale:
“...people outside Durham can’t quite swallow what the city has because it’s hard for
them to imagine whites coexisting with successful blacks. […] ‘There are some white folk
who would much prefer to live in gated communities and have their own comfortable little
world,’ [John] Burness [Duke Senior Vice President for Public Affairs] explained….
‘Durham looks less comfortable to those kinds of folks. The very diversity that those of us
who live in Durham find to be a significant plus, some people find to be a negative.’
“(Stern, 2006).
As social theorist and planner Tridib Banerjee notes, “The tendency to live in club-like communities with
common spaces and facilities arises from a fear of strangers, especially those who come from a different
class, culture, ethnicity, or national origin, and not just a concern for personal and property safety”
(Bannerjee, 2001, p.13).

On a regional scale, comparisons of external image become much more than abstract musings about
subconscious racism. Although most government leaders avoid saying so openly, it is clear to those in
the area that the various cities and towns compete constantly for new businesses and residents – and,
until recently, Durham has frequently lost that competition to Raleigh, Cary, and even Chapel Hill. The
town of Cary recently had to place a moratorium on new development for over a year, to allow time for its
infrastructure to catch up with its rapid growth in housing, Raleigh has gone to block-based year-round
schooling to cope with population growth (, and Chapel Hill’s planners constantly battle with
developers seeking to drop ten-story buildings in their quaint historic downtown (Greene, 2006), in order
to maximize their returns from the small areas of developable space left – and yet the heart of downtown
Durham still has block after block of empty storefronts, separated only by tidy but unused vacant lots.

It seems there may be more than racism and fear at work when newcomers opt for a gated single-use
community in Cary over a racially-mixed, compact urban neighborhood in Durham. But, and perhaps
more importantly, Durham’s current loss might in the end be its gain – in terms of having the opportunity
to create a more sustainable and livable community for the future.

3. Integral Sustainability and Participatory Society

In order to understand how these various aspects of Durham relate to the potential sustainability of the
city, we need to have a framework for understanding sustainability. Yet even the term “sustainability” itself
has been used in recent years to reflect a dizzying multiplicity of principles, each one different, and in
some cases, even contradictory. Perhaps the most well-known definition is that of the Brundtland report,
"sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the
ability of future generations to meet their own needs." (UNWCED, 1987, ch.2) However, even the
seeming simplicity of this declaration belies its complexity- who decides what is a need, as opposed to
what is only a desire? How can we possibly know what the needs of the future might include?

In seeking to find a more refined or inclusive model, the problem of definition only worsens. One
Australian sustainability theorist, Will Varey, collected varying descriptions of sustainability as used in
government documents and scientific research, and rapidly compiled over 100 possible definitions, each
one subtly different in emphasis. Some examples from Varey’s compilation:
“67. I have used the word perennial rather than sustainable because I want to imply
more than just holding the line, more than just preventing further degradation. Living
systems are not static; they are continually unfolding into new forms. This means the
consequences of our effects on the biosphere don’t die away, they will continue to
resonate into the indefinite future. If we are to thrive in perpetuity, we and our economic
systems must consciously rejoin the jostling, creative melee that is the adventure of life
on Earth. – Geoff Davies “Economia”
88. “If you get right down to it, sustainability is really the study of the interconnectedness
of all things.” – Barbara Lither” (Varey, 2004).
As Varey found, there are numerous other definitions in use by a huge variety of different organizations
and scholars, including such programs as “The Natural Step,” an organization whose purpose
environmentalist Paul Hawken describes as “to teach and support environmental systems thinking in
corporations, cities, government, unions, and academic institutions through an easily understood dialogue
process rooted in fundamental science” (Hawken, 1995). The Natural Step defines sustainability as
consisting of:
“four scientific principles that lead to a sustainable society. These principles, also known
as "conditions" that must be met in order to have a sustainable society, are as follows: In
a sustainable society, nature is NOT subject to systematically increasing: 1.
concentrations of substances extracted from the earth’s crust; 2. concentrations of
substances produced by society; 3. degradation by physical means; and in that society,
4. people are not subject to conditions that systematically undermine their capacity to
meet their needs” (The Natural Step, 2003).

When considering the complexity of urban development issues such as those facing Durham, it seems
clear that any working model for urban sustainability must be broadly inclusive, and incorporate not only
ecology and economics, but also community, culture, and individual consciousness. Yet, with such a
variety of definitions of sustainability available, it seems almost impossible to select only one as the
framework for our discussion. In discerning the points of emphasis in each definition, we can see how
some definitions may be more useful than others in different situations, or when working on different
issues. A logical, systemic description such as the Natural Step model described above may be of great
value as a foundation for modeling changes in structured city processes such as waste management, but
might be less useful in relating meaningful motivators for participating in community change to an after-
school program for troubled youth. These concepts may all be useful, but how can we accommodate
them all, or even find a context for making a selection?

Out of these many possible conceptualizations of sustainability, such as that of the Brundtland report or
“the Natural Step,” Integral Sustainability may offer an answer to this dilemma of richness. Integral
Sustainability is an evolutionary model for evaluating and conceptualizing whole-systems sustainability,
inclusive of self, society, and the environment, based on Integral theory as primarily espoused by
American philosopher Ken Wilber in works such as Sex Ecology Spirituality (1995) and A Theory of
Everything (2001), and elaborated by recent theorists such as Sean Esbjorn-Hargens, Michael
Zimmerman, and Barrett Brown. Integral Sustainability is a model for sustainability which includes
qualitative and quantitative understanding, individual and collective behaviors and beliefs, and the inner
awareness of the individual acting within the global environment. Perhaps more importantly, though, the
Integral Sustainability model can also serve as a meta-model, informing our use of other models, and
allowing us to emplace them into a more comprehensive – “Integral” – vision.

When I began to look for models and tools for understanding and building sustainability, I gravitated to
Wilber's Integral framework, as Wilber's "All Quadrants, All Levels” [AQAL] model (2001, p.66) appeared
to support the inclusion of as broad a scope of the philosophies and systems of environmentalist
discourse as possible. I was intrigued by the potential of Wilber's Integral models for creating a structure
of common discourse that could bridge cultural and political divisions, and contribute to positive change at
high levels. I felt that using an integrally-framed perspective would create the sort of open framework that
could allow scientific, intellectual and common-sense approaches to coexist. While I still believe this is
possible, I am also aware of certain criticisms of Wilber’s theories and applications thereof that have
emerged, that may be relevant to understanding and working with Integral Sustainability models.

In the past, Wilber’s primary exposure to the academic community has come not from formal papers in
peer-reviewed journals, but rather through his popular books and from a number of articles primarily
published online, either by his book publisher, Shambhala, or by the Integral Institute or one of its
offshoots. The Integral Institute, or “I-I,” is a membership-supported nonprofit organization created in 2002
by Ken Wilber (“Announcing the...”, 2002) with financial backing from some supportive individual donors.
Founded as a venue for dialogue and scholarship on Integral theories in general, the I-I for several years
offered seminars on various aspects of Integral thought and practices, although these have recently been
discontinued. Per the I-I website (Integral Institute, 2007) I-I partners with John F. Kennedy University to
offer a Master of Arts in Integral Theory, and supports similar programs at the Fielding Graduate Institute.
I-I also publishes the AQAL Journal of Integral Theory and Practice (AQAL, 2007), a peer-reviewed
journal focused entirely on Integral concepts, and until recently served as the umbrella website for a
diverse offering of online content, including Integral Naked (audio and video of interviews, seminars, and
other Integrally-focused content, and members-only message boards), and the Integral Spiritual Center.
Integral Naked, along with other I-I multimedia content, seminar hosting and Integral training, recently
transitioned to a new for-profit company, Integral Life, leaving the I-I to function as more of an intellectual
center of Integral thought (Integral Institute, 2007). In brief, there is a great deal of material on Wilber’s
Integral theory available through these channels.

However, in looking outside the I-I and its immediate network, I could find very little mention of Wilber or
Integral Theory in mainstream scholarly journals or publications. At first, I dismissed the lack of a body of
comprehensive criticism in mainstream academia to the relative newness of Wilber’s Integral model, but I
subsequently found a number of assertions from within the Integral community (and from Wilber himself)
that Wilber was being ignored and dismissed intentionally by mainstream intellectuals and academics,
presumably out of contempt for his incorporation of spirituality as an aspect of his theoretical system.
However, over time I have come to believe that a significant reason Wilber has been so ignored is that he
does not appear to respond meaningfully to criticism within the normal standards of academic discourse.

Over the last few years, many individuals have offered varying critiques of Wilber’s writings, with more
than a few of them espousing their appreciation for the core of his Integral theory while attempting to
critique some minor aspect of application or research; Frank Visser’s Integral World website
(IntegralWorld, n.d.) offers multiple examples of this form of critique, and serves as a sort of independent
core archive and clearinghouse for Wilber critics and scholars. Some of these critics have offered more
comprehensive critiques, with at least one writer, Jeff Meyerhoff, claiming to have found significant and
fundamental flaws in a primary component used to build the core model of Wilber’s theoretical system,
the “orienting generalizations” concept (Meyerhoff, 2006). Wilber’s response has often been to ignore or
even outright attack these critics, while refusing to respond to their criticisms within generally-accepted
academic standards of intellectual rigor or substance (Bauwens, 2006, Falk, 2007, Visser, 2006).

Refreshingly, a number of thinkers are offering up Integrally-framed papers and case studies for criticism
and debate through channels independent of I-I and/or Wilber, as several significant peer-reviewed
publications have emerged to offer a much broader opportunity for academically rigorous discourse, such
as the ARINA Integral Review and the Integral Leadership Review. Scholars that have been working with
similar ideas for many years on alternate paths from Wilber are engaging with Wilberian Integralists to
develop a robust and diverse theory that is open to criticism, and far more inclusive of the varied
community of thinkers and activists attracted by the possibilities of Integral “in action.” It is in this vein of
open inquiry that I have attempted to position this thesis.

In this writing, I have consciously chosen to steer away from as much of the theoretical debate as
possible, in favor of extracting from Wilberian Integral ideas only what I feel to be the more practical tools.
I have also tried to discern wherever meaningful between integral theory as a body of philosophical
knowledge being debated, refined, and explicated by a number of scholars and practical activists around
the world, and the Integral models as specifically explicated by Ken Wilber and members of the Integral
Institute. It is my hope that those who read this work will be able to look past the debates within the still-
evolving world of Integral theory to extract value and meaning from the effort I have undertaken. There
are many aspects of Integral theory that are well outside both my realm of expertise and the scope of this
paper, and which I have therefore declined to comment upon. However, what I have seen of integral
theories in application leads me to believe that there is value to be had from Integral ideas whether or not
the intellectual debates have been settled, and as a caring, involved individual, I feel there’s no time to
waste: we need those good, inclusive ideas now, to help us with real problems in real communities.

Correspondingly, there does appear to be a growing interest in the practical application of Integral theory
in a variety of fields, which will undoubtedly result in many changes and refinements to Integral theories
as they are tested in the crucible of everyday life. Barrett Brown, one of the primary current theorists of
Integral Sustainability, has said that:
“Integral Sustainable Development practitioners recognize that the more dimensions of
reality a [sustainability] initiative takes into account, the greater chance it has of becoming
a long-term, sustainable solution. For example: a solution based on economic analysis
alone is less sustainable than one that incorporates economic, ecological, and social
understandings; this, in turn, is less viable than a solution that also includes
psychological, cultural, and religious perspectives. Thus, Integral Sustainable
Development practitioners are guided by the simple commitment to include as much
knowledge about reality as possible, in the most sophisticated and pragmatic way
available” (Brown, 2005a, p3).
It is with this emphasis on pragmatism that I intend to approach the application of Integral Sustainability to

The Integral theoretical model is predicated on the concept that any entity – a human being, a forest, a
corporation, a city, a state - has both qualities of individuality or “self-ness,” and qualities of self-in-relation
to others in the larger world around it, i.e. the collective (Wilber, 2000, p188). This interplay of the
individual and the collective occurs both in the external, physical reality that is the domain of what we call
“objective” observation, and also in the internal, subjective reflections of the individual (and of any
collective of which it is a part). In the Integral model, this interplay is expressed as a four-quadrant
(Brown, 2005a, Fig.1, p.11)

This basic understanding becomes much more complex when the next major aspect of Integral theory is
added: an evolutionary development model of lines (or paths) and levels. The Integral system is
fundamentally dynamic – it presumes that the entire universe and every entity within it is constantly
changing and evolving.

Building on complimentary patterns of development and evolutionary shifts from numerous philosophers,
developmental psychologists, social theorists, and traditional scientists, Wilber and other Integral theorists
have mapped out a system in which there are multiple corresponding “levels” of development that
resonate through all four quadrants of existence. Much like the personal development levels of Abraham
Maslow’s well-known “Hierarchy of Needs,” these Integral levels of development are not expressive of a
value structure: one level is not better than another simply because it is “higher” or further along an
entity’s developmental path. Rather, the lower a level, the more fundamental to the future development of
the entity it is – and the higher, the more inclusive – integrative - of previous development.
(Wilber, 2003, p.14)

Each level has distinctly differing characteristics, many of which can be seen to emerge in direct response
to the limitations, deficiencies or incongruities of the previous level, to “fill in the holes,” much like Thomas
Kuhn’s concept of a paradigm shift in science. When this shift from one level to the next occurs in a
healthy form, nothing of the previous level is lost, but rather it is included – it becomes a foundational
aspect of the next level – as it is transcended. It is possible to transition from one level to the next without
a fully healthy inclusion of the previous level, through repression of some non-integrated aspects.
However, such a repression is fundamentally dysfunctional in the long term; an unstable or incomplete
foundation prevents further progress. Because the higher you go, the more you include, the higher levels
are also more complex; sadly, this also means they offer more opportunity for something to go wrong, for
a repressed aspect from a lower level to become a weak point or pathology.

Let’s look at Maslow’s Hierarchy for a moment, as both an example of ”include / transcend” and as a line
or path of individual development. Maslow theorized that all people pass through similar stages of
personal development, marked by the fulfillment of certain common needs, those being physiological
needs, safety, love (or belonging), esteem, and self-actualization (Maslow, 1943, pp.372-383). Tufts
University student J. Finkelstein created the following diagram of Maslow’s Hierarchy for the Wikipedia
(Finkelstein, 2006)

The lower any aspect of life is on the hierarchy’s pyramid, the more essential it is for the overall health of
the individual, mental and physical; the higher on the pyramid, the more indicative of functional and
healthy personal growth. For each individual, this hierarchy of development may be experienced as a
linear function of aging, as in, physiological and safety needs as a baby, the need for belonging as a
teenager, and self-actualization as an adult; or it may be experienced as a series of progressions and
regressions, such as experiencing a crisis of esteem and belonging in a divorce, or loss of personal
safety and physiological needs through becoming homeless or as a result of a natural disaster or war
(Maslow, 1943, p.379). In the same way, improper integration of a lower level can delay, disrupt or
prevent further development, such as when past experiences with a dysfunctional or even abusive family
cause personal pathologies that would need to be dealt with before an individual could achieve healthy

In any case, the essential aspect to take away is that the higher aspects depend on the healthy presence
of the lower aspects for their existence, while also potentially moving beyond them to invoke a new,
transcendent concept. From this integrative understanding, the hierarchy can be emplaced in the Integral
four-quadrant model as a line of evolutionary development in the upper left quadrant, the “individual
interior.” Other lines of development would similarly be thought to exist throughout all four quadrants;
Wilber and others have described potential progressions for a number of these, including lines of
collective cultural and social development which I feel are of worth to discuss further in application to our
general question of Durham’s sustainability.

As sustainability planner Stephen Wheeler notes, sustainability is part of “an emerging ecological
worldview that weaves together recent developments in physics, ecology, and psychology along with core
elements of many of the world’s great spiritual traditions (which support the importance of ethical action
within an interdependent world)” (p.31). However, the keyword in that is emerging; as a society, we are
still in transition from previously-dominant worldviews that have shaped our current thinking for much of
recent history. Wheeler conceptualizes these worldviews in transition as modernist, postmodernist, and

Modernist worldview Ecological worldview

Universal values Pluralistic values Acknowledges pluralism but also a

Values based on modern based on cultural and shared core value set based on
science cognitive traditions common problems

Atomistic (break
problems into parts; Acknowledges
Cognitive Emphasizes interrelationships,
view world as pluralistic ways of
Approach networks, systems
collection of knowing
individual elements)

Newtonian physics; Twentieth-century

Core Ecological science; chaos theory;
neoclassical physics (relativity,
Influences systems theory
economics uncertainty principle)

Reinforces Undermines Emphasizes flexible and evolving

centralized political centralized political relationships between different
authority authority political institutions

Table excerpted from Box 2.3, Wheeler, 2003, p.30

These worldviews closely correspond to the system of sociocultural developmental levels on the values
line described by Integral theory. Derived from the combination of several models, primarily that of Prof.
Clare Graves now known as “Spiral Dynamics,” Wilber and fellow theorist Don Beck propose that,
regardless of experiential or historic differences, the developmental pathways of both individual and
cultural values pass through a series of similar stages/levels, known as “value memes,” or “vMemes”. The
system uses color codes to refer to each vMeme level, as in the following chart:
(Beck, 1999. Fig. 2)

I propose that what Wheeler termed an “ecological worldview” would correspond to the Yellow vMeme,
the “postmodernist” to Green, and the “Modernist” to Orange. If we recall the understanding that, in the
Integral model, each level transcends and includes the level before it, and those below are foundational to
the emergence and success of those above, then we can begin to follow the patterns of emergence for
each. Here I quote at length from Don Beck, as he describes some qualities of each values level and the
process of its emergence from its precursor:
“…In RED, we see high crime rates, we see all kinds of rage and rebellion, but we may
also see wonderful spurts of creativity, heroic acts, and the ability to break from tradition
and chart a whole new pathway. […] In BLUE there is a search for a transcendent
purpose, a recognition of the importance of order and meaning, a universe controlled by
a single higher power. Society could no longer function with the constant presence of
RED, with its war-like, gang-like, warlord-like entities, so we have to grow up, to solve the
problems created by RED success. […] In the BLUE system, people gladly accept
authoritarianism and self-sacrifice for the common good. […] as BLUE moves away from
having to contain the violence in RED, it goes on its life cycle toward its own healthier
version, taking the form of more institutionalized systems, in which righteousness,
discipline, accountability, stability, perseverance, and order prevail. […]

ORANGE is about advancement, improvement, and progress [and] the birth of the
scientific method. [Orange brings] a growing belief in optimism, in changeability—a belief
that we can indeed shape our future, that we are the stewards of the universe and
therefore have dominion over it. We can carve out a good life for ourselves. […] The
creativity and ability to engineer that are inherent [in ORANGE] can [for example] be used
to clean up the environment. GREEN is communitarian, egalitarian, and consensual. The
focus shifts from personal achievement to group- and community-oriented goals and
objectives— we are all one human family. GREEN begins by making peace with
ourselves and then expands to looking at the dissonance and conflicts in society and
wanting to make peace there, too, addressing the economic gaps and inequities created
by ORANGE, and also by BLUE and by RED, to bring peace and brotherhood so we can
all share equally. “
– Beck , 2002

As evidenced in Don Beck’s discussion, the most common application of the Spiral Dynamics system is
generally in terms of collective values lines of political and economic systems, as in the following chart.

(Beck, 2000, Fig. 2)

However, it is important to realize that, at any given time, individuals and groups within a political entity
such as a nation or a city may each be acting from differing developmental levels. Not everyone will be
“coming from” the same level, and in fact, people may operate at different levels for different lines, or
developmental aspects, of their personal environment. For example, an individual may hold an orange
philosophy in terms of business matters, but center his home life in structured blue, or any infinite number
of other combinations (Hargens, 2004, and Brown, 2005a and 2005b). A “whole picture” would
necessitate attention across all these multiple lines and quadrants of existence.

Similarly, some community segments in a city may desire governance that supports egalitarian green
concepts through affirmative action, while another segment may be comprised of economically-
disenfranchised gang members functioning mostly at red, a violent and chaotic situation that will require
attention to blue order and structure as well as green social inclusion or orange economics to mitigate.
Importantly, many integral theorists believe that individuals must be functioning across most aspects of
their personal development from a worldview on a level at or above the orange or “worldcentric,” before
they are capable of conceptualizing or acting upon issues of sustainability.
“At the egocentric level [corresponding to a red vMeme], people are primarily concerned
with how a policy will benefit them. At the sociocentric level [blue vMeme], people begin
to consider how a policy might benefit the groups with which they identify, e.g. their
family, organization, industry, or country. At the worldcentric level, people start to
consider how a policy will benefit not only their own country, but people in other
countries, future generations, and other species. The idea of sustainable development
generally stems from a worldcentric perspective that intrinsically values other cultures
and species. Unfortunately, advocates of sustainable development often mistakenly
assume that all people share that worldcentric perspective. In fact, a worldcentric
perspective can only be achieved through a long process of personal development”
(Riedy, n.d., p.9).

This highlights an interesting dilemma for the urban sustainability practitioner – if a significant proportion
of the community has not yet achieved this level of understanding, then the practitioner must find ways of
translating sustainability principles into concepts and behaviors that do align with their existing

Beck and Wilber note a significant shift when the Yellow level of development is reached, in which an
ability to understand and work across all levels, rather than only from the current level, begins to emerge.
“The first six memes are characterized by […a] tendency to think that one’s view is a
better view than others. At Yellow, the seventh meme, a radical shift begins to occur and
the individual recognizes the importance of all preceding value sets, within oneself and
others. At Yellow, each wave is understood to be an essential component, albeit limited,
of the entire Spiral of consciousness. [Yellow] values are marked by an increased
capacity to understand both vertical (developmental) and horizontal (quadratic)
dimensions in a systemic fashion” (Hargens, 2004).

This aspect of the Spiral Dynamics model is strongly relevant to discussions of citizen leaders and their
effectiveness in change-creation for sustainability. The cultivation of community leaders who are already
evolving into a yellow-meme worldview would greatly enhance the prospects of effectively translating
values of sustainability across the community. As Barrett Brown puts it, “if we can learn to work with the
values that people hold and translate what needs to be done so that it resonates with those core values,
then we may go much further and faster toward sustainability. This is fundamentally a process of truly
honoring people for who they are—not trying to force a change in values upon them—yet simultaneously
explaining shared goals (like sustainable development) in ways that are meaningful to them” (2005b,
p.11). Leaders who are able to comprehend and successfully work to translate across multiple levels of
value development, especially in conjunction with an all-quadrants awareness, will have a strong
advantage over those who function primarily from within a single perspective.

The quadrant/levels developmental model thus provides us with a framework for understanding the
interplay of individual and society, the built environment and the dynamic human systems operating within
it. Each of the quadrants represents a necessary aspect of reality, a realm of knowledge about the world
that affects and is affected by each other quadrant, in a dynamic co-evolution of change through all the
levels of the spiral. It is in this interplay that we can start to see the application of the Integral model to the
creation of a sustainable city. Or, as Integral Sustainability theorist Barrett Brown puts it, "for individuals,
there is no behavior without the interior motivation that drives it; for collectives, there is no system without
the interior culture that supports it. Therefore, if individual behavior and society’s systems in the exterior
world need to change for [sustainability] to arise, the greatest leverage for changing these behaviors and
systems may lie in the interior world—in motivations and cultures" (Brown, 2005b, p.3). Our actions and
constructions are co-evolutionary with our worldviews, and vice-versa; change in any one can act as a
pulling factor on the rest. Thus, the ability to comprehend and leverage change across multiple lines and
levels of development in the community has significant potential for fostering sustainability in that

Yet, this awareness often appears lacking. Many existing sustainability initiatives concentrate their efforts
primarily on altering physical institutions and systems, while others attempt to effect change in specific
behaviors or social norms (right-hand quadrants). Rarely do we find initiatives working successfully
across all four quadrants, yet implicit with the notion of co-evolution is an awareness that change in any
one quadrant in more likely to be successful when coupled with change in the others. For example, many
urban sustainability initiatives are focused on changing objective measurements of human behaviors
(UR); an example might include an advertising campaign to increase pounds of aluminum recycled, or
public transportation ridership. However, cultural factors (LL) that might be preventing those changes are
rarely investigated with any depth. If we can learn to more fully incorporate awareness of the left-hand
quadrants into the perspective of the functioning Systems, (LR), it becomes possible to see the
relationship between quantitative and qualitative factors - the observable systemic manifestations of the
underlying cultural systems.

Patterns of change emerge from networks of interactions, such as the relational intersection of belief
systems with the functional systems they have “invoked” in the outer world. A belief in the inherent
superiority of the capitalist system, for example, might color one’s response to media calls for government
interference in markets to mitigate pollution. As Barrett Brown said, “The more that is known about the
influences of consciousness, behavior, culture, and systems on sustainable development, the more
effectively programs can be designed and implemented.” (Brown, 2005a, p.15) Integral Sustainability
provides a framework to help a sustainability practitioner visualize these relationships and actualize
change across multiple quadrants in practice. In the diagram below, Barrett Brown demonstrates one
method of visualizing how aspects arising from three of the quadrants might affect behavior as observed
in the fourth (UR) quadrant:
(Brown, 2006b, Fig 26)

But how might this look in large-scale application? For that, let’s go a bit deeper, by applying an integrally-
informed perspective to specific physical systems (LR) methods of understanding and analyzing urban
sustainability – systems theory, in particular, complex adaptive systems concepts, and chaos theory.
Integral theory can be applied to extend and expand upon a concept based in one quadrant, to describe
and inform its interconnection with concepts from the other quadrants. Systems theory lends itself
strongly to this sort of Integral extension, as it already emerges from a dynamic model of connection
grounded in the Lower Right, but, from an Integral perspective, it is not seen to adequately address
interiority/subjectivity, human values, or consciousness, in part due to its emphasis on the observable,
behavioral dimensions of systems. To quote from Ken Wilber (italics are his):
“It’s true that both the Lower Right and the Lower Left are dealing with “systems” in the
broad sense, because the entire lower half [of the quadrant model] is the communal or
collective. But the Lower Left describes that system from within, from the interior. It
describes the consciousness, the values, the worldviews, the ethics, the collective
identities. But the Lower Right describes the system in purely objective and exterior
terms, from without. It doesn’t want to know how collective values are intersubjectively
shared in mutual understanding. Rather, it wants to know how their objective correlates
functionally fit in the overall social system. […] So in systems theory you will find nothing
about ethical standards, intersubjective values, moral dispositions, mutual understanding,
truthfulness, sincerity, depth, integrity, aesthetics, interpretation, hermeneutics, beauty,
art, the sublime. Open any systems theory text and you will find none of that even
mentioned. All you will find are the objective and exterior correlates of all of that. […] In
other words, functional fit.” (1996, pp.115-117)
From this perspective, a practitioner of Integral Sustainability might use Integral models to inform their
understanding of the cross-quadrant interactions between Lower Left and Lower Right, especially those
aspects of collective interiors that are most likely to effect change in the functional fit of the systems most
directly tied to physical, environmental sustainability.

First, though, some basic background on these theories: Any physical system requires inputs of energy
and information to self-perpetuate (Gleick, 1987). Linear systems will respond to changes in their
environment in a smooth and predictable manner, while nonlinear systems may respond linearly or at
times with a “dramatic structural or behavioral change” (Kiel and Elliot, 1996, p.5), an occurrence known
as a bifurcation. “Resilience” represents the ability of a system to absorb and accommodate rapid change
in its environmental conditions (Waldrop, 1992), while “emergence” refers to the “ability to [self-] organize
and … move from one kind of order to another higher level of order” (Hamdi, 2004, p.xvii), an event that
typically would occur at a temporal point of bifurcation. One way to think of this is in terms of “slack” in a
system (Gribble, 2001) - a complex nonlinear system with too much unanticipated change beyond its
resilience, or “slack capacity,” could, when reaching a point of bifurcation, collapse to a less complex
system (with greater resilience), or could evoke an emergent new order that has more capacity to cope
with the change (Gleick, 1987, Gribble, 2001, Johnson, 2001).

Looking from the exterior of our social system, a systems theorist might see consumption (in the
economic sense, of consumerism) as both an energy input into the economic system, and an information
flow. Certainly, the observable patterns of our consumption reflect information about power, education,
social norms, and other aspects of social value networks, while also embodying the actual energy flows
that keep the economy running. A city not only participates in the globalised economic system, but also
has its own local economic system, as well. A local system of consumption without much activity (such as
that seen in a depressed city like Detroit), or with limited diversity of activity (such as that observed in a
community dependent primarily on one factory, or on tourism), will not be resilient; there’s no slack to
adjust into. Yet even diverse, active economies can be vulnerable to extreme changes or sudden chaotic
events – recently described by economist Nicholas Taleb as “black swans” - the most obvious economic
example being stock market crashes (Taleb, 2006).

However, coupling a systems view of certain social systems with an integrally-informed awareness of the
interplay across quadrants, an understanding emerges that personal relationships and community cultural
interactions (the dynamics of the left-hand quadrants) often serve as the deeply-embedded network flow
that can create and maintain whole-systems resilience in times of chaos. Unfortunately, though, those
same collective interactions can also reinforce unsustainable or destructive collective activities such as
gang membership. One question to keep in mind when looking at interacting social systems like those
found in a city is – which types of (Lower Left) relationships do you have? Certainly, if we want to build a
sustainable city, we want to build those cross-quadrant interactions that will reinforce sustainable
behaviors, and weaken those that do not. Building sustainability requires developing the ability of a
community to change rapidly from one state of physical existence to another, and also building the types
of human connections we have that create and support that resilience and adaptability.
In addition, the concept of an attractor in chaos theory can also be informed and extended by Integral
theory, to offer new insight into the exterior expression of interiors. Chaos theory describes the concept of
an attractor as an underlying pattern of order in a nonlinear system (Kiel and Elliot, 1996, p.6). While
these theories of behaviors of nonlinear systems were primarily developed in mathematics and scientific
research (Gleick, 1987), exploration into social sciences applications (Kiel and Elliot, 1996) has begun to
offer social sciences researchers a wealth of new possibility for description and evaluation. Integral
theories can also expand this opportunity, by providing an awareness of how the externally-observable
expressions of social systems explored with chaos theory interrelate to beliefs, cultures, and the

Based on this awareness, I postulate that cities are the physical embodiments of a social attractor, and
that the form of the social attractor is dynamically influenced by the energies of both the physical and the
cultural conditions around it, which in turn are affected by the individual beliefs and perceptions of the
citizens. As organizational consultant Meg Wheatley noted, these “…attractors reveal the order that is
inherent in certain kinds of chaotic systems. You can't see that order until you are able to watch the
system evolve.” (Wheatley, in Flower, 1993) And, that same attractor could, at pivotal times of potential
bifurcation, be “tipped” off equilibrium by emergent behavior in a key subsystem or individual – a potent
example of the infamous “butterfly effect” (Gleick 1987, Waldrop 1992, Johnson 2001, Gladwell 2000).
Physical and environmental conditions can reflect and uphold the existing attractor (e.g. government
subsidies for fossil fuels support a car-centric social value system that is physically embodied and
enabled by suburbs and freeways); or they can become the inputs that push the system to nonequilibrium
(e.g. a lack of cheap gas destabilizes the economic grounding of a social system embodied in distantly-
separated infrastructure).

Integral theory can serve as both a model of interaction with multiple urban-located systems, and a theory
for predicting future interactions and emergence. From this perspective, sustainability can be seen as a
form, or, to use Integral terminology, a level, of social attractor, a sort of embodied collective worldview.
Looking with an Integrally-informed systems perspective might help an urban sustainability practitioner
discover whether the sociocultural bonds in the community are the sort that disseminate and promote
democratic cooperative change, or are rooted in other patterns that could “tip” the exterior systems
toward a much less desirable outcome. Influencing what level of attractor an urban social system in chaos
coalesces around can be understood as a goal of those working for sustainability: how to create the
resilient human, cultural networks of sustainable order that can become the core of a new social attractor.

Community participation is one key aspect of long term sustainability and adaptability in the urban
system, as participatory networked communities can be seen as more highly-resilient social models.
People in a community with strong social and communicative networks in times of change can adapt as a
collective whole, with increased capacity through synergic communication. Specialized nodes –i.e.
individuals with specialized knowledge or talents – can act as a part of a whole, rather than only in
isolation. However, even in communities with these sorts of social and communicative networks – and
especially in those with strong social ties - individualism becomes absolutely necessary for emergent
thinking. Someone has to be willing to be the first to step outside the box, the person with the new model,
the neighborhood Galileo or Edison. This sort of individual initiative may be a major contribution of the
Orange vMeme to a more integrated and holistic society. Yet that individual can still ultimately affect very
little without relationship. It is the individual in-relation that creates the actual emergent behavior of the
“social whole;” through the coalescence of small behavioral changes, a tipping point may be reached, and
a significant shift can occur.

The physical patterns of a city, although reflective of the society, will always have an emergence lag – a
period of time between when a concept emerges and when it becomes embodied in physical form.
Infrastructure takes time and money to alter, not to mention it may take the occurrence of a social tipping
point before any particular physical manifestation of a new worldview can succeed. Or at least, the social
tipping point has to be nearby, about to happen. If people don’t think the neighborhood is safe, a sidewalk
café won’t survive, but if a few other businesses go in first and the environmental conditions change a
little bit, then the underlying desire in the community for social gathering points will be able to coalesce
around such a location, and it will have a much higher chance of succeeding.

One of the most important aspects of Integral sustainability is its incorporation of the community and the
individual into its models. As discussed previously, many current conceptualizations of sustainability focus
on changes to physical, legal, or governmental systems, yet an Integral theorist might say that externally-
imposed changes to these systems will not be likely to succeed if the society that has created and
interacts with the system as it exists does not yet support the change. “An individual will act in
accordance with sustainability principles when he or she feels internally committed to doing so. Likewise,
a community will be driven to create economic, political, educational, and social systems founded in
[sustainable development] principles when enough individuals in that community are internally driven to
doing so” (Brown, 2005b, p3). I think of this as being like dieting: it’s much less motivating to be told to
lose weight than to decide to do it yourself, and it’s much easier to lose weight if you have a group of
fellow dieters for mutual support. I believe the same is true of sustainability efforts: imposing
requirements, no matter how well-intended, just doesn’t have the same motivating force as change that
emerges from the community itself.

Previously normative sustainable management practices would seek to minimize environmental and
economic impacts, while maximizing environmental preservation and public usability. This is also the
domain of traditional planning and management, with its strong dependence on quantitative
measurements, hierarchical governance structures, experts, and "balance sheet" management methods.
None of these factors can be left out, but they do not of themselves show the whole picture. Integrally-
informed sustainable planning and land management would take into account both ecological and social
patterns of change, as well as cultural expression and individual perception, by creating spaces of
communicative activity in which all these aspects of the urban reality interact holistically and flexibly over

In order to achieve this, our physical, legal, and governmental systems need to develop techniques for
generating social and cultural behaviors that reinforce themselves, i.e. provide feedback, in favor of
sustainability. An Integrally-informed perspective illuminates that these exterior behaviors are informed,
supported and altered by interior beliefs and perceptions, so one method of achieving reinforcement is to
engage across quadrants, to appeal to aesthetics, community beliefs, and collective identities. The notion
of visible feedback contributing to changes in individual behaviors (Holmes, 2006) is fairly well known –
for instance, drivers of cars with real-time MPG displays often unconsciously adjust their driving habits to
get better mileage – but has been little explored in relation to larger social systems rather than individual
occurrences. Attention needs to go to the smaller, everyday systems of governance and management, as
well: building in not only use-flexibility for a place itself but also participatory management for it, will result
in more flexibility – more resilience - for coping with changes in the greater social, economic, and physical
systems surrounding and interacting with that place. For example, Adopt-a-park programs serve as
beginning step toward participatory localized park management; the immediate feedback of a
neighborhood seeing their park flourish would not only build their investment in its future and everyday
care, but would also make it more likely that the neighborhood would contribute time and effort to
restoring the park after a flood or other catastrophic change - their interior perceptions support their

Integrally-informed sustainability planning would seek to cultivate a healthy interior-quadrant sense of

meaning in our society by creating spaces and uses that "celebrate the beauty of natural order, [...] place
[citizens] into healthy relationship with natural systems (or their idea of nature), and […] situate human
activity in bioregional place" (DeKay and Guzowski, 2006, p.3). I see this as akin to the art of
"placemaking," as described by the Project for Public Spaces (Kent, 2006). Creating positive and
meaning-full cultural associations with sustainable practices is a powerful technique to perpetuate those
practices. A place loved by the community around it will be a place cared for by that same community,
while a place unloved will quickly deteriorate.

There is a strong need for creating individual engagement if we are to perpetuate these kinds of
sustainable collective behaviors, especially if the behaviors desired are significantly different from existing
norms. Humans always function within a cultural system of meaning – we need to feel as though we have
a necessary reason for our primary actions, or at least, a sense of belonging in the doing of them.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is again informative here, and correlates strongly with Integral
developmental ideas: if you are “missing” something vital from lower in the hierarchy (safety, for
example), you will likely not be able to progress to the higher levels. Applied systemically, this leads to
multiple governance needs: a park likely will need to “feel safe” to the individuals using it before it can
serve as a community gathering space, for example, while a neighborhood volunteer will need to feel
respected and honored for their contribution if they are to maintain their desire to continue volunteering in
governance processes.

However, current urban governance and planning systems often overlook this sort of holistic relationship
of people to place, as it is not easily quantifiable. Citizens, though, will know a "good place" when they
see it - they will "vote with their feet" if it isn't viable (Kent, 2006, Kukay, 2004). To go even further,
another aspect of truly holistic place-making has been described as the creation of "centering places
conducive to self-aware transformation, in which we can become most authentically who we are" (DeKay
and Guzowski, 2006). What are these types of places? Certainly, you will be much less likely to feel
inspired by or connected to a place if you feel threatened or fearful in it, a concept expressed more
concretely in such seminal planning writings as Oscar Newman’s 1972 book “Defensible Space, Crime
Prevention Through Urban Design,” one of the first to discuss the sociocultural failures of physical design
in places such as the Pruitt-Igoe public housing project.

Also, traditional “natural” spaces don’t inspire everyone -some people find their inspiration in constructed
forms or directed/structured uses, creative play, or spaces that offer the opportunity for unstructured
personal interaction. All of these subjective aspects of place and space are profoundly important to the
success of any urban land use plan, yet they are also the aspects that are least likely to be measurable or
even predictable without inclusion of the people who will be using – or NOT using – the space.
Participation in land use planning and governance across the range of community experience is thus
essential if we are to be able to begin taking into account these subjective, interior aspects of place and
place-making for sustainability.

The next step is to look beyond the spaces themselves and their immediate management, to the larger
systems of Durham that are performing the various aspects of management and the ideologies, beliefs,
needs, and structures in turn underlying them. We can see from the Integral Sustainability framework that
not nearly every “question” relating to the management of urban spaces can be answered through a
purely quantitative analysis. The very nature of creating a sustainable city would appear to require
addressing at least some aspects of the interior quadrants in order to succeed. As we’ve seen, citizen
participation in planning and governance could act as a sort of “access point” to incorporating interior,
subjective awareness into discussions of land use and planning. Yet this brings us to another question:
how can we best incorporate participation into our existing systems of planning? To understand this, we
need to first look more deeply at urban planning itself, and the interrelationship of historic theories of
planning to community worldviews.

4. Planning For Sustainability: People and Place-Making

Planning is, at its most basic, a set of tools and procedures for realizing a social ideal in the physical
environment. In all its myriad forms and guises, the process of planning necessarily reflects the
worldviews and experiences of its participants, integrating the iterative reflection of historic changes in
social ideals, which have in turn been influenced by previous changes in the physical environment.
Planning reflects worldviews, and worldviews evolve and emerge; Integral theory provides a model of
social worldviews and potential patterns of their evolutions. I believe that, as a new sustainability-focused
worldview emerges, it will be those systems of planning that have best accommodated participatory
involvement that will be better able to adapt and accommodate. To understand how planning might occur
in a sustainable city, it is useful to explore the historic evolution of planning and its relationship with
normative social ideals of the times. These ideals are representative of many of the important worldviews
that are still active in our society today, and therefore, taken from an Integral perspective, certain
associated foundational aspects of planning may be absolutely necessary to understand and perhaps
retain, to create a holistic, participatory model for urban sustainability.

There are signs of change in the planning community, as postmodernist planning concepts first described
in the 1960’s have begun to make their way into the standard practices of urban planners. Traditional
planning arose with the Industrial Revolution as a reflection of the dominant worldviews of the time, with
different schools of planning reflecting different aspects of the rationalist, linear, human-centric (orange
vMeme) ideal; similarly, the late-twentieth-century emergence of a more subjective worldview in turn
begat new concepts of urban organization and development. Jane Jacobs (1961) was one of the first to
describe a decentralized, dynamic style of planning that reflected new scientific understandings of
systems behaviors. Strongly contrasted to traditionalist planning, postmodernist planning methodology
can be seen within this Integral system as a reflection of green vMeme thinking, and also as a necessary
precursor of participatory planning and governance methods. However, if we accept that many American
cities are still working from planning models rooted in modernist ideologies (Talen, 2002), it is important to
understand the historic development of those modernist models.

For thousands of years, cities simply grew organically, with occasional exceptions for the grand ego-
driven schemes of kings, Caesars, and the like. For example, the core form of many European towns, a
densely packed mixed-use center (or multiple distinct centers of similar configuration), is a direct remnant
of pre-industrial urbanization, a natural emergent pattern that owed little to structured idealism but much
to practicality and self-organization. Prior to the advent of mechanized transportation and industrial
production economies, cities were somewhat self-limiting, as the primary modes of creating and
transporting essential goods and services could only scale so far. Industrialization tipped that balance,
and led to explosive urban growth throughout Europe and America. Certainly, visionaries were planning
ideal cities for many years before industrialization; however, it was not until the late 19th and early 20th
Century that “planned” cities as we know them today, with zoning regulations and departments of
planning, began to emerge, in no small part as an outgrowth of industrial Modernist philosophies on the
role and place of rational man in the world (Talen, 2002).

As the Industrial Revolution moved across Europe, in its wake came a belief that mankind could, and
should, act to control the urban environment through scientific methods, in the service of creating rational
progressive change. “In the modernist planning project, reality that can be controlled and perfected is
assumed. The world is viewed as malleable, and it is malleable because its internal logic can be
uncovered and subsequently manipulated. […] Planning would liberate through enlightenment.
Knowledge and reason would free people from fatalism and ideologies, allowing the logic intrinsic to an
industrial society to be uncovered” (Beauregard, p.112). The application of this intrinsic logic was
supposed to lead to the spread of general prosperity as rationality overcame the tenuous divisions of
culture and ideology.

The exploding industrialized cities of the 19th century were seen as “frightening and unnatural
phenomena” (Fishman p.25), filled with chaos and filth. Utopian planners such as Ebenezer Howard and
Le Corbusier were “fearful that the metropolis would attract and then consume all the healthful forces in
society,” as “precious resources, material and human [were] squandered in the urban disorder” (Fishman,
p.26). They were not opposed to urbanism, however; they simply felt that economic growth had outpaced
the proper rationalist controls. Their model cities were thus designed to invoke the “ideal form” of
industrial society, a rational order that would be the pinnacle of Enlightened human progress. The urban
utopias they envisioned, such as Howard’s “Garden City,” or Le Corbusier’s grand metropolis, were
expressions of specific views of the Modernist human ideal, yet although these utopias were each
envisioned in response to the existing grittiness of industrial cities, they rarely if ever also elaborated the
path of functional change that might lead from one to the other; they were designed as isolated
dreamscapes of rational perfection, little connected to the complexities of urban reality.

Meanwhile, the craft of planning itself was emerging as a discipline that purported to solve specific,
localized problems with scientifically-applied “utilitarian understanding” (Beauregard, p.112). As city
planners toiled to design and implement solutions for the myriad issues of their existing cities, their
solutions often emerged from the same “master narrative” as the Utopians. As one planning historian put
it, planners worked to serve “the needs of society – as society’s rulers defined them,” (Fishman, p.28)
namely, the creation of order and efficiency in the provision of services, once again leading to the
idealized city, wherein economic growth was to have erased class distinctions (Beauregard, p.113) and
created a “conflict-free” society.

Unfortunately, as New Urbanist planner Emily Talen notes, ““Order is often equated with extreme forms of
control, inharmonious with more modest, individual human activities and needs. It was Le Corbusier’s
excessive obsession with order that spawned a whole generation of ‘redevelopment’ schemes, wreaking
havoc [on many cities]” (Talen, 2002, p.304). Durham’s experiences with urban renewal certainly would
exemplify this disharmony. In operation, planning was supposed to serve as a “value-neutral, rational
process of problem identification, goal definition, analysis, implementation, and evaluation,” (Klosterman,
p.94) in which planners themselves served as detached, expert agents of the common social good – yet
rarely was the outcome ground-truthed against that ideal. Unfortunately, the codification of urban planning
into a specialized profession theoretically grounded in objective, scientific knowledge began all too often
to divide the act of planning from the results of planning, and perhaps more importantly, from the people
onto whom such plans were imposed. The “inherently political and ethical nature of planning practice”
became obscured, as well as the “organizational, social, and psychological realities” (Klosterman, p.94).

Two of the most well-known names in urban planning theory are united by their embodiment of this
division, and their position at a pivotal point in the historic development of urban planning: Robert Moses
and Jane Jacobs. Moses is known for his leadership of many large-scale urban redevelopment projects in
New York City in the 1960’s, while Jacobs became known for her opposition to one of those same
schemes in Greenwich Village, and her subsequent revisioning of traditional planning philosophy to
include social influences and other “human factors,” as elaborated in her seminal book “The Death and
Life of Great American Cities.” Moses exemplified the post-war techno-modernist “visionary” planner,
while Jacobs represented the first emergence of what might now be described as postmodernist planning
– decentralized, dynamic, and systems-aware.

This new approach to planning took its roots from the emerging systems sciences, as well as postmodern
social theories of diversity and relativism. Instead of focusing on linear progress, static form and a
theoretically-idealized design endpoint, these new planners began to explore urban design as a system in
constant flow. Jacobs called cities “problems in organized complexity, like the life sciences,” and noted
that “although the interrelations of their many factors are complex, there is nothing accidental or irrational
about the ways in which these factors affect each other” (1961, pp.433-434). This was a reverse of
previous ideologies of planning, in that the function of systems were discerned from the bottom up,
through observation of the existing patterns, rather than implemented from the top-down around a theory,
like undertaking a laboratory experiment. A new importance was placed on the individual and the specific.

This attention to the “unaverage,” as Jacobs put it, dovetailed with the emerging sociocultural awareness
of diversity of the 1960’s. However, as emergence theorist Stephen Johnson noted, Jacobs’ observations
on the function of cities were far more than the “political theater” they were so often invoked within (2005,
p.94). The cultural change necessary for planners to fully understand Jacobs’ concepts were not yet
sufficiently actualized. The result, unfortunately, was that many attempts to combine a postmodern
awareness of diversity and systemic interconnection with older structures of planning often simply
resulted in a fragmented and dysfunctional environment (Talen, 2002) in which lip service to inclusion
disguised deeper issues of failed outcomes.
One example of this often found lingering within most current planning approaches is the notion of
specifics, of documented forms and structures codified into law and applied without regard to situation, or
with some presumption of legislated “equality” tacked on to meet the letter (if not the spirit) of community
demands. In many cities, this can most clearly be seen in the zoning codes. As Emily Talen put it,
“Planning is supposed to be about the future visions and long-term aspirations of a community. Zoning,
on the other hand, is narrowly focused and piecemeal, dealing directly with immediate building issues that
cannot adequately reflect on long-term community goals. […] …this institutionalized division between
zoning and planning… has had very negative effects. It has meant, for one thing, that American cities lack
an appropriate definition of space, resulting in an American spatial pattern that is disorganized and often
illegible. The narrow application of zoning codes, resulting in some of the worst sprawl and most explicit
social segregation, has reached legendary status” (Talen, 2002, p.302). Here, where the daily decisions
are made, is where we can see how an ideal alone is insufficient without further change in the social (in
this case, governance) and physical systems in which that ideal must be realized.

Interestingly, it may be that Integrally-informed sustainable planning could help resolve this through the
literal integration of previous urban forms and these systems of emergence, along with modernist rational
knowledge and postmodernist attention to diversity. As planners Detrick and Ellis put it, “Traditional
patterns in the neighborhoods, towns, and cities have endured through centuries of social change for very
good reasons - they correspond with the scale of human beings and our sensory perception of the city,
and in by the collective time tested principles for making great places. […] residents of older industrial
inner city communities have forged their own visions of the future, and often they explicitly prefer new
housing that respects their neighborhoods’ historic characters“ (Detrick & Ellis, 2004, p.439). This
awareness of the validity of an emergent, non-structured approach grounded within the community, when
combined with expert knowledge like wastewater management and traffic flow, can help planners to act
more as facilitators of sustainable realization, rather than gatekeepers of right and wrong.

An Integrally-informed facilitation of community involvement does seem to be a needed and worthwhile

function. For one thing, not all citizen participation is necessarily desirable from the viewpoint of trying to
build sustainable communities. Certainly, not everyone in a community is going to want to make
necessary changes, and sometimes no amount of framing an issue to reach their vMeme worldview will
evoke that desire or even elicit cooperation. Integral theorists gain awareness of this through an
understanding that each person has a different and unique worldview, and may not be functioning at the
same value meme as others. As New Urbanist architect Andres Duany put it, “There’s a contradiction
between the public process as currently constituted and the intentions of smart growth... the public
process, if you run it honestly, comes out against smart growth” (Zimmerman, 2001, p.13). I contend this
is because many of the currently normative methods for operating public processes on land use issues
offer little opportunity for integrally-framed dialogue or facilitation.

If you attempt to use a consensus-based method, you run dual risks, of a single participant (individual or
group) derailing progress by ‘veto,’ or, and perhaps more importantly, of the majority – or any more
powerful participant - attempting to pressure or subvert the minority into a false consensus (Peterson, 2005, Weber, 2003). However, if public involvement can be constructed so as to create
opportunities for equitable and open communication, then I believe an approach more like the consensus-
based offers the best prospect for positive change. The guidance of such a process by leaders skilled in
cross-boundary communication and aware of the broader needs of the community is the ideal – an
integrally informed participatory process, inclusive of multiple viewpoints but focused on actualizing
positive change rather than bogging down in process or increasing division and fractious debate.

Similarly, an Integrally-informed planning methodology itself would necessarily be inclusive of positive

aspects from the prior forms of planning we have engaged, offering a vision of form and method that not
only included all those prior methods but was clearly beyond and different from them, as well. While I do
not intend for this paper to be a full declaration of that method, I think it worthwhile to speculate as to
some potential aspects of it, such as the concept of “place-making,” the act of envisioning place as a
dynamic concept to be continually made and re-made by the inhabitants in relationship. As planning
theorist Paul Knox describes,
“Sense of place is always socially constructed, but in ordinary places—physical settings
that do not have important landmarks or major symbolic structures—the social
construction of place is especially important….. Places are constructed by their
inhabitants from a subjective point of view, while simultaneously they are constructed and
seen as an external ‘other’ by outsiders. …. Place is both a centre of meaning and the
external context of people’s actions. A fundamental element in the social construction of
place is the existential imperative for people to define themselves in relation to the
material world….. People’s ‘creation’ of space provides them with roots—their homes and
localities becoming biographies of that creation” (Knox, 2005, p.1).
Durham, in particular, has both benefited and suffered from this construction of meaning; understanding
the social forces, internal and external, acting in this ongoing construction of meaning is imperative for the
sustainability-minded planner to have success here in the Bull City.

Hearkening back to Jacobs, it can now be seen that much of what she observed as urban form and
pattern might be better described as emergent communicative social networks. “There’s nothing about
the physical existence of sidewalks that matters… What matters is that they are the primary conduit for a
flow of information between city residents” (Johnson, 2001, p.94). This sort of informally emergent social
(and cultural) capital is part of what social theorist Richard Florida describes as the reason creative
people create more when around a dense enough cluster of other creative people. There’s a sort of
opportunity of presence that occurs when diverse individuals are able to mix informally in communicative
spaces on a daily basis.

This social interaction has been termed intersubjectivity; to again quote Paul Knox:
There is an important dialectical relationship between social structures and the everyday
practices of the ‘insiders’ of subjectively constructed spaces and places. We live both in
and through places. Place, then, both text and context, a setting for social interaction
that, among other things, structures the daily routines of economic and social life;
structures people’s life paths (providing them with both opportunities and constraints);
provides an arena in which everyday, ‘common-sense’ knowledge and experience is
gathered; provides a site for processes of socialization and social reproduction; and
provides an arena for contesting social norms. [….] People’s experience of everyday
routines in familiar settings leads reflexively to a pool of shared meanings. People become
familiar with one another’s vocabulary, speech patterns, dress codes, gestures and humor,
and with shared experiences of the physical environment such as streets, markets and
parks. Often this carries over into people’s attitudes and feelings about themselves and
their locality and to the symbolism they attach to that place [….] [This is known as]
intersubjectivity: shared meanings that are derived from the lived experience of everyday
practice. …. Successful urban places—from both the insiders’ perspective and an
outsider’s perspective—not only have the lineaments of good urban form but also an
underlying dynamic of activity—routine encounters and shared experiences that make for
intersubjectivity” (Knox, 2005, p.2).

These shared cultural meanings correspond to the lower left quadrant of Integral theory, the collective
interior; the dynamic of intersubjectivity in public space contributes to the cultural meaning-making that
supports or suppresses shared values. It has been suggested by political theorists that this development
of social cohesion through interaction in the physical public sphere is also an essential foundation of civic
engagement (Banerjee, 2001, p.10). Much as Jacobs described the phenomenon of “eyes on the street”
as the foundation of crime prevention (Jacobs, 1961), the unconscious reification of identities that occurs
in open, participatory public spaces can serve to encourage a feeling of interconnectedness and mutual
responsibility, which in turn contributes to the perpetuation of civil society.

As community activist Gwendolyn Hallsmith notes.

“There is a strong linkage between improving social networks and community
improvements on many levels. Crime studies in the United States have demonstrated, for
example, that it is possible to predict the level of crime in a neighborhood by merely
quantifying the social interactions of its residents. Improved social networks tend to
reinforce a sense of community, which in turn improves the level of social well-being. This
in turn builds trust- a critical component for any level of power sharing within a
community” (Hallsmith 2003 pp.43-44).
Therefore, an important part of building citizen engagement for the creation of a sustainable city would be
the encouragement of and engagement with the everyday informal social networks of the city’s
neighborhoods. As Jacobs was aware, this isn’t a top-down process; social connections cannot be
dictated by City Hall.

Certainly planners are becoming more aware that the physical forms of built neighborhoods can help to
foster these everyday social interactions. New Urbanist planners, for example, strive to create mixed-use
developments with walkable retail and business districts near to or even mingled with residences (Talen,
2002 and 2005). However, physical form alone isn’t enough (Banerjee, 2001), as can be seen from the
failure of many New Urbanist planned developments to generate the kind of truly diverse community
necessary for an active public life (Fainstein, 2000, p.184, Martin, n.d., para.16). Even some New
Urbanist designers are conscious of this:
“It is the intermixing of diverse cultures, peoples, and land uses that creates the richness
of urbanity. Urban economists in particular have accepted this idea: that dense, diverse
cities breed innovation, and that the resultant knowledge accumulation and spillover
effects are a vital component of economic growth.” (Duany and Talen, 2002, p.252)
There must be a diversity of population, of values and ideas, and a learned tolerance, such that there is
psychological space in the community for emergence of new ideas and new values - the newly emergent
sustainability worldview must have “growing room.” And as Hallsmith notes,
“Connectedness is one defining principle of any community; to perceive that community
accurately it is important to see it as more than the sum of its parts. You cannot separate
the sidewalks and roads of a community from its children or its values, its recreation from
its businesses, its government from its potholes” (Hallsmith 2003, p.27).
Those working to encourage a transition to a sustainable worldview would likely discover that a well-
functioning social system of everyday connectedness is essential for the transmission, refinement, and
support of that emerging worldview. One very good way to reach into this system and connect is through
contact and conversation with the neighborhood leaders, the citizens that engage every day with their
neighbors and their community organizations.

Getting the citizen leaders involved and invested will allow government to “plug in” to the informal social
networks of the communities. Additionally, citizen participation in a planning process can help create a
sense of empowerment and investment in outcome in the participants and the groups that they represent.
Investment by a diverse group of active participants helps assure that the ideas generated will be acted
upon throughout the community. Fostering involvement of the widest possible spectrum of these
community leaders is therefore one of the clearest pathways to insuring that multiple perspectives and
visions are honored in planning debates.

Since one of the primary concepts of Integral Sustainability is that everyone does it differently (coming
from their personal worldview), it becomes equally important that the city's normative concept of what
participation “should” look like be tempered to allow for multiple pathways for participation. As Hallsmith
“[A]chieving social change is very difficult, so attention must be paid to the change
process, the skills and tools that can be used to mobilize people toward new ways of
seeing the world and behaving in it. The means that are used to pursue change must be
congruent with the vision for the outcomes. The planning process must reflect mutual
respect, whole systems understanding, peaceful resolution of conflict and openness to
new mindsets and paradigms” (Hallsmith 2003 p. 11).
Voting and petitioning, citizen boards, neighborhood representatives, and volunteer organizations all offer
different types of participation, so long as the official systems are sufficiently open and flexible to allow for
this variety of voices to be heard.

No city government can be 100% participatory today – there are simply too many people for direct
democracy to be logistically possible, much less effective. Instead, we find different implementations of
governance, with differing representative structures and levels of participation, in various locales. As
discussed in Chapter 2, Durham has a moderately flexible informal structure of citizen involvement; any
particular individual or group may not have as much official power, but can wield significant influence
within extra-governmental social systems and networks (email lists, community organizations, etc). It is
partially this informal network that I wish to look at more closely, in no small part to discern whether the
individual leaders themselves are acting from a sustainability-conscious worldview, or even an integrally-
functional one. It is not difficult to see where the conflicts and transitions of planning philosophies have
played themselves out in the physical reality of Durham. What is more difficult, however, is to understand
where these pathways have brought us in terms of our social and cultural systems. The patterns of
connection between those individuals with informal power can help in discerning which social attractors
might wield the strongest influence in a city reforming itself on the edge of chaos.

5. Emplaced Research: Seeing Out From Inside

When I began looking at these issues of place and participation from a local perspective, it was clear to
me that I had a very strong personal investment in the long-term outcome - namely, in seeing Durham
become a more livable, sustainable city. Therefore, it seemed almost ridiculous to contemplate attempting
to perform some sort of “objective” research project on any aspect of Durham’s citizen participation or
planning, as I simply couldn’t imagine being able to – or even wanting to – maintain the sort of separation
of researcher and subject(s) required in traditional research. Yet I also felt that researching an important
aspect of what I know, and what I love, would not only be very motivating to me personally, but could also
be of great value for the work of place-making that all of us who volunteer in Durham are doing. I quickly
discovered that I was not alone in my dilemma - these conflicting conceptualizations of research have
long been the subject of academic debate. Is it necessary to create a separation between the researcher
and the research in order for the research to be valid? Or is it possible to conduct valid research from
what an integral theorist might term the “interior” of a social system?

Postmodernist academics in the 1950’s and 60’s were among the first to point out that “objectivity,” in the
social sciences in particular, is at best an arbitrary assumption, as no one can completely remove
themselves from their historic and current social and cultural systems (Stevens, 2002). This awareness of
self as being perpetually self-in-relation is also an important aspect of Integral theory, as discussed
previously. Individuals are never wholly objective (or subjective!) – we have preconceptions, influences,
relationships and values that are always going to affect our behaviors and choices, even if only
marginally. Yet out of this awareness of inherent subjectivity, new concepts of how to conduct meaningful
social research have emerged, including the area now known as “action research.”

One foundational theorist on this was radical educator and activist Paolo Freire, whose “pedagogy of the
oppressed” responded to objectification in education by fostering the development of a new vision of
research as having validity through its involvement of and outcomes in relation to those researched,
rather than from its supposed objectivity (Stevens, 2002). Social theorist Kurt Lewin is credited with being
the first to use the term “action research” to describe research done specifically to facilitate social change
(Greenwood and Levin, 1998). These theories have evolved into a large family of research methods now
known as “action research” or “participatory inquiry,” that ground research firmly in both the participation
of all involved (in other words, there are no subjects of the objective inquirer – we are all subjects, or
participants, together) and in how the act of researching itself contributes to a desired outcome, typically
some aspect of social change (Greenwood and Levin, 1998). The flavor of inquiry known as Participatory
Action Research (PAR) involves “all relevant parties in actively examining together current action (which
they experience as problematic) in order to change and improve it. They do this by critically reflecting on
the historical, political, cultural, economic, geographic and other contexts which make sense of it. …”
(Wadsworth, 1998, Section 5). PAR is framed in intentional contrast to the most common form of
objectivist research, in which experts study a community, but make no attempt to engage community
participation in designing, conducting, or evaluating the research, or to evoke any sort of change from the
results (Whyte 1992, Greenwood and Levin 1998).
With its strong inclusion of subjective interior aspects of the human experience, action research certainly
held part of the answer to my conflict on how to research planning and participation in Durham. However,
my readings soon disclosed that most action research projects are far more participatory than the
research I envisioned for this paper, as they are typically projects initiated by an existing group, or one
that comes together specifically around an idea or issue, and that involve the entire group in both the
design of the research and the actions taken within it and as a result of it (Whyte 1992, Greenwood and
Levin 1998). Additionally, such projects often take many years, and change significantly and dynamically
over their course, a pathway that was simply not available to me for purposes of writing this paper,
regardless of my ongoing involvement in many projects and plans within Durham, or the involvement of
my potential research participants.

However, many aspects of action research were clearly relevant to the design and conduct of my
research, as can be seen from this discussion of a participatory research project:
“Anyone who serves as a participant observer in an organization or community for an
extended period of time discovers that not all informants provide information and ideas of
equal value. We always encounter one or more individuals who are especially
knowledgeable, insightful, and perceptive regarding the dynamics of their organization or
community. We do not simply give such key informants interviews. It is useful to the
researcher and more enjoyable to the key informant if we expand the social process to
discuss with these individuals what we are trying to find out …. Key informants thus
become active participants in the research” (Whyte, 1991, p.9).
Since sustainability is necessarily tied to the specific environment of a place, the emphasis in action
research on developing local knowledge, the “detailed, complex” knowledge that “all humans
have…about their lives, environments, and goals,” (Greenwood and Levin, 1998, p.109) was of particular

Working thus from the theoretical ground of action research, I built and conducted a research project that
blended aspects of open participatory research with traditional quantitative research methods, to generate
an informative, meaningful, and potentially useful outcome while still honoring my own involvement in the
topic being researched, as well as the personal civic involvement of the participants. The project was
assembled knowing that I would need to clearly explicate my own viewpoints as I was aware of them, not
only in the analysis but also to the participants; I would need to conduct the research in a manner that
allowed for the clearest and most complete expressions of personal perspectives on the topic under
consideration from each participant; and I would need to do as much as possible to expose and
compensate for my own preconceptions and “blind spots” by recruiting as diverse a body of participants
as possible, as well as seeking not only trends and commonalities but also unique expressions and
anomalies in the information gathered. I decided the technique that fulfilled the most of these criteria while
still meeting my time constraints would be unstructured dialogue “interviews” with civic leaders throughout

Applying an awareness of action research concepts and methods to the designing and conduct of the
interviews enabled me to better emplace the researcher (me) clearly in the interview dialogue, rather than
attempting detached objectification of my “subjects”. It also allowed me to take into account my own
personal experiences, as well as draw upon the lifelong experiential learning & knowledge of the citizen
participants, and to build personal connections and share information to assist in creating actual change
within the Durham community.

Interestingly, integrally-informed researchers have also begun to develop an “integral research

methodology” that attempts to incorporate multiple research methodologies to obtain a more
comprehensive understanding of the research topic (Brown, 2006a). This is reflective of the blended
methodology which I constructed. As discussed previously, the Integral model proposes that each
quadrant of the integral model is an aspect of knowledge that cannot be understood in isolation; similarly,
Wilber states that each quadrant has its own ways of discerning validity of quadrant-specific knowledge.
Wilber explains that “there are at least eight native (or indigenous) perspectives [as] each quadrant can
be understood from the inside or the outside. […] Each methodology discloses an aspect of reality that
other methods cannot. Therefore, the findings of any one method are not accountable to the terms of the
other methods” (2003). These eight general methodological families include:
-- Phenomenology, which explores direct experience;
-- Structuralism, which explores patterns of direct experience;
-- Autopoesis Theory, which explores self-regulating behavior;
-- Empiricism, which explores measurable behaviors;
-- Social Autopoesis Theory, which explores self-regulating dynamics in systems;
-- System Theory, which explores the functional-fit of parts within a whole;
-- Hermeneutics, which explores mutual understanding; and
-- Cultural Anthropology, which explores patterns of mutual understanding.
(Wilber, 2003, Hargens, 2004, Brown, 2006b)

The interaction of these methodologies can be expressed through the form of validity each exposes, and
the areas that are beyond its capacity to address; a key point is that the truth claims of one methodology
cannot be validly tested with a methodology arising from a different quadrant of knowledge. For example,
a truth-claim generated through empirical research may or may not be seen by a culture as just or morally
“right,” while a cultural belief is not likely to be effectively described by quantitative analysis of brain
function in a lab. The generalized areas of these truth-claims are described in the diagram below, as truth
(UR, the domain of objective, quantitative “3rd-person” observation), functional fit (LR, also quantitatively
observable), justness (LL, wherein the collective “we” engages to define validity), and truthfulness (UL,
where the individual is the determinant of validity).
(Stewart, 2003, Fig.1)

Each of the eight methodological families thus takes a unique and different perspective on the topic at
hand, revealing different aspects of the whole. It is Wilber’s contention that the more an Integral analysis
of any issue or entity takes into account something of all eight methodological perspectives, the more
completely they will be able to understand it. Wilber terms the use of all eight of these methodologies in
an Integrally-framed analysis as “Integral Methodological Pluralism” (Wilber, 2003), and believes this to
be an excellent approach to gaining a truly comprehensive understanding. However, other theorists have
noted that simply holding an awareness of the model, and of which aspects of reality you are describing
and working within from the model in your efforts, can nevertheless be useful in many ways. A third
possibility, which more closely describes my research, is to broadly approach the integral model from the
relative dimensions of I, we, and it(s), crafting research that explores some aspect of each in relation to
the topic at hand. Wilber refers to I, we, and it(s) as “the Big Three,” and notes that, “since both Right
Hand quadrants are objective exteriors or ‘its’” (1996, p.121-122), the exploration of first-, second-and
third-person perspectives can serve as a sort of shortcut to the understanding of any particular thing or

I wish to highlight the distinction between Wilber’s eightfold specifically Integral analysis and the latter
forms of integrally-informed analysis, as I have not attempted in this paper to complete a full Integral
eight-perspective analysis of Durham’s sustainability potential, but rather, I have sought to work from an
integrally-informed perspective to highlight only certain aspects of a sustainable community that I feel
often are given short shrift in discussions of sustainability planning in Durham today. By envisioning my
topic with an awareness of what quadrants of knowledge I am seeking to explore, and what perspectives
and methods of understanding are best suited for that exploration, I sought to craft a multi-methodological
approach that would allow me to find quadrant-specific validity in my results, while integrating the
knowledge gained across multiple quadrants to form a more complete understanding.

In order to explore the relation of subjective, interior-quadrant aspects of citizen participation to systems
of planning and managing the spaces of Durham, I chose to engage in dialogic interviews with citizen
leaders who are already participating in that governance. In order to honor the multiple perspectives of all
quadrants, one approach, as I noted briefly, is to work from the broader methodological scope of I, we,
and it(s), or, in practical application, 1st-person, 2nd-person and 3rd-person perspectives. Thus, I sought
to include specific research methodologies that took these different perspectives on the topic at hand, to
gather and include information from the multiple interconnected domains of reality that define
sustainability and citizen participation in Durham. The methodologies I incorporated into my research
process include:

1st-person perspectives: Opening space for the personal.

Through holding an awareness of and explicitly declaring my own involvement and beliefs on
sustainability, and by choosing to conduct my research through informal dialogues, I opened space for
participants in my research project to express their own inner perspectives on the issue at hand, as well.

2nd-person perspectives: Basing my interviews in participatory inquiry and participant-observation

Most of the actual conduct of my research took its core form from hermeneutics – the attempt to
understand collective cultures, to discern meaning from within. Hermeneutical inquiry “…is considerably
different than that of objective empiricism, which calls for researchers to distance themselves as much as
possible from that which is studied. Hermeneutics contends that the closer one can get to the object of
study (a text, another person’s worldview, the context of a situation, etc.), the greater chance for accurate
understanding and valid interpretation (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998, in Brown, 2006). Hermeneutics shares
much with concepts of action research and participatory inquiry, offering embedded knowledge of the
lower left quadrant. As Ken Wilber said, “[t]he Lower Left approach studies the community by becoming a
participant observer, and attempts to understand it from within. […] [T]he validity criteria in the Lower Left
is mutual understanding (1996, p.117).” As a researcher who is also a citizen volunteer working every day
on community issues alongside my research participants, my research did not truly begin or stop with the
tape recorder, but rather, emerged from and continues to be affected by my interactions with the
participants and our mutual sociocultural milieu. I approached my interview dialogues with this
awareness, and attempted to engage the participants from within a shared perception of ourselves as
citizen volunteers.

3rd-person perspectives: Foundational research into local history, planning theory, and participatory
My review of historic data on the city of Durham, as well as of research and literature from experts in the
fields of urban planning and governance, provided me with a strong foundational knowledge of the
exterior factors and systems that also are necessary for a more comprehensive understanding of
Durham’s potential for sustainability.

I conducted in-depth unstructured dialogical interviews with at least 10 of Durham’s most active citizen
leaders from neighborhood groups; the Durham InterNeighborhood Council; local nonprofits that work
with land issues, social justice, and conservation in Durham; and volunteer members of city/county Open
Space & Trails Commission and the Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee. I chose to approach
individuals via their group affiliations in part because, as I noted previously, any particular individual may
not have much official power, but can wield significant influence within Durham’s extra-governmental
social systems and networks, especially when their participation occurs within the supportive framework
of an organization. The beliefs and ideas of these citizens therefore would have greater potential effect on
the city as a whole; additionally, their awareness of and experience with existing options for citizen
participation stood to be more comprehensive than that of a random, non-participatory citizen.

I looked through several years of archives from various community-focused email listserves and
newsletters (including neighborhood associations, crime watch groups, arts supporters, and others), lists
of current members of citizen governmental advisory boards and commissions whose area of focus
related directly to land use issues, and websites of local conservation, environmental, and social justice
organizations, and from these assembled a list of approximately seventy individuals who showed up
repeatedly as being significantly involved as citizen volunteers with issues of planning, zoning, or
management of open spaces in the city of Durham. Of that seventy, many individuals’ involvement
overlapped, as in multiple members of a single environmental organization’s Board of Directors. In those
cases, rather than contacting all members of a single board, commission, or similar, I selected only one or
two individuals, trying to balance my contact list between those with lengthy volunteer experience and
those who more recently began their participation. I also attempted to avoid weighting the list in favor of
any specific organization or area within the city, by assuring that the list included active individuals from
multiple neighborhoods scattered throughout the city.

My final contact list consisted of thirty-five individuals, split almost evenly between neighborhood-specific
volunteers, members of local non-profit organizations, and members of citizen advisory boards and
commissions. I contacted these individuals, by email, telephone, and in person, to request an interview
with them, at a mutually convenient time and place, on planning and managing the open spaces of
Durham. (A sample contact email is available in Appendix B for reference.) Initial contacts were made
during the first week of February 2007, with additional and follow-up contacts continuing through March
2007. In order to have sufficient time for analysis and review, I set a deadline of March 31 for completing
the interviews. Of the thirty-five individuals I contacted, I received responses from only eighteen people,
seven of whom indicated in their response that, although they were interested in the project, due to other
commitments they would not be able to meet with me during the period of time I had available for
conducting interviews. Only eleven individuals responded with an acceptance.

All of the eleven who responded positively were extremely busy, as well, which made scheduling the
interviews an interesting logistical challenge. Two individuals, a married couple, chose to be interviewed
together while doing home remodeling work; another individual’s interview was conducted at a local
brewpub during an NCAA championship basketball game, which certainly made recording the
conversation challenging. At least two other individuals chose to meet me for a lunchtime interview at or
near their workplace. One individual came to my residence for their interview, as we simply could not find
another convenient meeting point, and I went to the residence of another individual, at their request. I
conducted interviews with the other four individuals at different restaurants and coffee shops around the
city. Although as a token of appreciation I did offer each person a sandwich, coffee, or similar small item
for consumption during their interview, there was no other form of compensation offered for their
participation. Before beginning each interview, I provided the individual with two copies of a standard
Informed Consent Document (a copy of this document is available in Appendix B) describing the research
I was conducting and the terms of their participation. One copy was for them to keep, while one copy was
signed and returned to me prior to initiating the actual interview.

The eleven individuals interviewed collectively represented three different citizen government advisory
boards or commissions, four different non-profit organizations (including groups focused on conservation,
social and economic justice, and transportation), and five different neighborhood associations. Personal
historic experiences of participation ranged from one person who had joined the Board of Directors of a
local conservation organization only four months prior to the interview, to another individual who had a
twenty-five year history of volunteering on numerous citizen boards, commissions, and working groups
throughout the region.

6. The Results: Durham As Seen By Durhamites

Throughout the interviewing process, I was continually surprised and intrigued by the participants.
Though I expected they would be a diverse group due to my efforts to include involved individuals from
throughout the community, I had no idea just how diverse until each dialogue unfolded, after which it
became clear that common threads would be much harder to find than unique perspectives. Although I
did not seek to acquire specific demographic information, as that was outside the scope of my inquiry, it is
worth noting that the eleven participants also represented a broad range of age, class, and occupation,
from retail and blue-collar workers to highly-educated professionals and retired dot-com entrepreneurs,
and also included several self-identified LGBT persons. Six of the eleven were male and five were
female, a reasonably balanced representation of the overall list of potential participants I started the
process with. Significantly, given the overall demographics of Durham, only one of the eleven was
African-American, although this is reflective of the general body of citizen volunteers working on issues of
planning and zoning in Durham, as those volunteers are disproportionately white. I will return to this
anomaly of demographics and its implications for citizen participation later.

Interestingly, only one of the individuals was a native of Durham; all the others indicated during the
interview that they had migrated to Durham as adults. Although not specifically addressed as part of the
interviews, the social aspect of in-migration is certainly relevant to any integrally-framed analysis of
Durham’s prospects for sustainability. The discovery that so many of the participants are not area natives
suggests that there may be a significant underlying motivation toward community involvement that
emerges from the act of choosing a place to live, rather than simply being there by chance or birth. If this
is the case, then it would be useful to have a better understanding of who is choosing to move to Durham
and why they choose Durham specifically, as this information might help predict what they expect, both
from the city and as to how they might participate in its governance.

One particularly interesting piece of demographic data that could contribute to this understanding came to
light in a local blog recently. When looking at Federal Internal Revenue Service data on the top non-North
Carolina US counties from which people migrated to either Wake (Raleigh) or Durham counties, those
who selected Durham over Wake were predominantly from urban areas, while those who selected Wake
were predominantly from suburban or exurban areas. (Davis, 2007) As Durham blogger Kevin Davis
noted on May 24, “We may be one Triangle -- but we appeal to different backgrounds and expectations of
life in vastly different ways. […] Durham does quite well with America's cities -- residents of the Bay Area,
San Diego, Boston, DC, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Houston seem to feel more at home in Durham than
Raleigh. On the other hand, [suburbanites,] upstate New Yorkers and the conservative Tidewater region
of Virginia head home to Wake County” (Davis, 2007). This could be a self-reinforcing trend, in that in-
migrating urbanites might be more likely to advocate for concepts and plans that reflect an urban “feel,”
including greater density and public transportation, which in turn would make Durham even more
appealing to migrating urbanites, and so forth, with the converse true for Wake County and other
surrounding areas.

In conducting the interviews, a number of clear issues and needs were voiced repeatedly, albeit in slightly
different ways, and a few radically different ideas on participation were put forth. As I explore the common
threads and disparities of the interviews here, I will not attempt to quote from each interview for every
aspect discussed, but rather, I will utilize the strongest or most illustrative quotes, and simply note the
additional responses in text.

First, a single clear thread of agreement ran through all the interviews: poverty plays a big role in the
problems of Durham. Although as one person put it, “the ‘race card’ gets played a lot in local politics,”
there seemed to be a clear majority among all the interviewed citizen volunteers that racism is not as
significant an issue as poverty, although most also felt the high levels of poverty in the black community
often lead to confusion and improper association of the two. At least eight of the individuals interviewed
mentioned poverty in some manner, whether in terms of Durham’s need for economic development or
discussion of how class differences, especially for the very poor, matter significantly for individual
participation in various aspects of civil society.

Several of those interviewed ( 3,4,7, and 9) noted that majority-black and majority-white neighborhoods
work together frequently, often through the InterNeighborhood Council, on many issues, including issues
that would not always be thought of as relevant to all the participating neighborhoods. The previously-
mentioned resistance to the proposed widening of Alston Avenue is one such issue. The area around
Alston Avenue that stands to lose most from the project is a poor, majority-black neighborhood, while the
areas to the north, who stand to gain most from the widening, are majority white – yet the strongest
opposition to the project has emerged from those same majority-white neighborhoods. This is not the first
or only example discussed during the interviews; at least three separate major issues were mentioned, by
four different people (Interviews 3,6,7,8), wherein racial divisions were specifically transcended by the
actions taken by various citizen groups.
“With the asphalt fight, it was a very broad coalition of 4 eastern neighborhoods, Eno river
association, black churches, western neighborhoods, NCCU students, a very very broad
coalition, and we were fighting for something that was out of town, so it wasn’t just my
backyard. Like fighting against Eno Drive, it’s on the other side of town, it doesn’t really apply
to west Durham. So we take on issues that are beyond our backyard.” (Interview 7)

In terms of participation, though, the dialogues show that class differences are a much larger influence on
individual behavior. Specifically, a majority of the participants mentioned in one way or another that
assumptions are made in current operations of formal governance as to the life situations of participants,
that often create barriers to participation for dissimilar persons (Interviews 1,2,3,4,6,7,8,10,11). For
instance, several of those interviewed commented that the existing official structures available for citizen
participation on official boards and committees in Durham all seem to presume that participants function
from a traditional middle-class or upper-middle-class lifestyle of Monday thru Friday nine to five
employment, paid leave at the individual’s discretion, and readily available child care and transportation
(Interviews 2,3,6,8). Several people mentioned the scheduling of citizen-input board meetings during the
workday, or at locations or times of day that are not well served by public transportation, as examples
they felt showed a lack of concern from government officials as to the class and lifestyle diversity of
citizen participants (Interviews 1,3,6,8).
“Poverty [is] widespread in communities of color. If your stomach is empty, you’re going to
be more concerned about filling that than about getting bike lanes. Poverty stands in the way
of civic participation. Working schedules stand in the way of civic participation – if all our
meetings are at 9am, that’s not serving anyone who has to work from 9 to 5. There aren’t
easy answers to these things, but are they real barriers? Yes.” (Interview 6)

“I’m not sure if I didn’t sit [on a certain Board], I don’t know who would. [It meets on] Friday
mornings, and sometimes it’s an hour and sometimes its two and a half hours. And that’s not
to mention time spent getting ready. That’s three meetings a month for me. I’m taking my
own time to do this, because I can, but it sometimes costs me, because I can’t give my
clients attention during those times.” (Interview 8)

“It’s hard because the whole system whereby the developer, who has paid lawyers whose
job it is to do this, is fighting against citizens who have other jobs. Automatically, it sets up
citizens to be at a disadvantage. I don’t know what the solution to that is. They have the time
and the money and they’re paid a lot of money to make sure [a] rezoning is going to happen.
Whereas from a citizen perspective, there’s people like me. I mean, I have to take the day off
tomorrow to make sure that stuff happens and I’m lucky that I have a job that allows me to
do that. I’ll get paid for that. I won’t lose income and lots of other stuff and I have a car that
will get me to the meeting. … I think the odds are stacked against the citizens.” (Interview 3)

Others I spoke with were concerned as to the lack of inclusion of Durham’s growing Latino community in
planning and decision-making (Interviews 6,9,10).
“..our [Durham’s] Latino population is growing significantly. You want that voice in your
decisions, but the people sitting [on Boards] are not always conscious of issues in the
immigrant community. We [a citizen Board] found if we meet at city hall, they won’t show up.
You have to move it out into the community for them to show up.” (Interview 6)

“There are tons of barriers. Lots of people in America are screaming “wetbacks go home,”
and so if you go over to talk to the immigrant community, they’re wary. Of course. Wouldn’t
you be? I can appreciate that. It’s gonna take building personal relationships here, and there,
and there, and crossing over slowly.” (Interview 9)
They noted that all the same issues of class were present, with the added complications of language
barriers and a general atmosphere of distrust in government from the community.

Many people mentioned the extreme importance of email, websites, blogs, and other Internet
communications tools to their efforts in the community (Interviews 1,2,3,5,6,7,9,10). Although there was
some concern as to the “digital divide,” most of the participants felt that the ease of use and extraordinary
reach of web-based tools made local communications broader and more effective, and increased citizen
participation across their neighborhoods (Interviews 1,2,5,7,10). Additionally, one person specifically
noted the value of Internet communications allowing smaller groups to get information out quickly, before
mass media gets involved and opportunity for message control is lost (Interview 7).
“TV comes after the newspaper story. If a newspaper story comes out about Duke's central
campus, there's green space involved there, saving the old millhouses, preserving a stream
bottom, then they usually follow the newspapers. TV is easy, they only want to talk to one or
two people, so if they’re talking to you, then they’re not talking to someone at Duke, or if they
do, you get to them first, you set the tone & the story and they (just) get a reaction from
Duke. The timing is very important. That's why the neighborhood listserves are so important,
because if you control the message & the timing, even powerful interests like Duke, who
have whole buildings filled with PR people, are trying to change the message and often not
succeeding.” (Interview 7)

Several participants mentioned the need for citizen leaders to cultivate relationships with the local media
in order to influence political decisions (Interview 2,3,7,8), but, contrastingly, others mentioned the
importance of communicating outside the formal media, especially with members of the government
(Interviews 1,4,5,9,10).
“I’ve been trying to get the interaction – it doesn’t have to be about a certain issue, just hello,
I’m so and so, thanks for what you did with ___, being more casual, and then when you do
send the more formal communication, it hits harder because now they have a personal
connection. You’ve got to have that relationship, so they know who you are. So they aren’t
just like, who is this person? Now I’ve established a more influential relationship. We have a
context.” (Interview 5)

In fact, media contact in general was noted by several participants as a difficult exercise in moderated
communication (1,2,3,6,7,9).
“I don’t think the newspaper will solve anything. It just turns into a war of editorials. I think
you need to become part of the process, the network of who’s involved. A reporter calls, I’m
very careful to stay positive. Otherwise you lose respect, you lose cooperation.” (Interview 7)

At least two participants felt that Durham's lack of a strong “elite/business class” (a currently dominant
industry, for example, as tobacco once was) has left room for more robust citizen involvement than in
other places (Interview 7,8).
“..We have more citizen involvement than any other town in NC, and I think that’s because
we don’t have a strong business class here. We have Winston Salem, Charlotte, which both
have a strong business class, we have Raleigh which has a strong government class,
Greensboro, strong business class. Durham has Duke as its biggest employer, and that
allows neighborhoods to have a stronger voice in Durham. “ (Interview 7)

One participant proposed this particular opening for possible citizen involvement through lack of a
business class has occurred because the local media is not as dominated by a specific economic
viewpoint as in communities where most or all the advertising revenue comes from a single group or
business (Interview 7). However, another person felt that lack of “city fathers” was actually detrimental, as
less financial resources are invested in the city’s development:
“Durham lacks city fathers. A lot of towns have business people who are very wealthy and
influential, and who will underwrite things, and really help things happen. Durham doesn’t.
[…] Our biggest business class of those citizens is out in the Park, but because it is
disjointed from the city itself, plus a lot of them don’t live in Durham, they don’t have that
level of interest.” (Interview 8)

One of the more common complaints about the formal government itself was that there’s a long-standing
tendency in Durham for “Lots of talk but little action.” (Interviews 1,2,3,4,5,8,11) Several people
mentioned seeing lots of money spent on plans that then were simply put away to “gather dust.”
“About a month ago they were having a lot of conversation about downtown planning and it
struck me that obviously these were young people who had come in over the past 8 or 10
years. They all think they know the answer to what to do but they are all reinventing the
wheel of where we have already been. […] Even when new ideas and new movements
come along, what people don’t realize is there are master plans for redeveloping downtown
that have been sitting on the shelf since the first was done in 70-something.” (Interview 8)

“I feel that way too much money is spent – overspent - on design & planning, talking &
meeting, than actually putting stuff on the ground. You have all these people give expert
opinions, and I know about liability and all that, but if they would cut back on the red tape
we’d have much better preservation. They are still talking about when they are going to fix
Northgate Park. Because of delays and red tape. For years! …Someone on a board might
know why those delays are happening, you have that perspective. But a regular citizen, they
are just going to see the delay, ten fifteen years, why are we spending the money? It can be
explained, but still.” (Interview 2)

Each participant seemed to have a different concept of why this has happened, but all seemed to feel
there should be changes in the formal governmental processes to allow for positive change to occur

Oddly enough, I heard from several people that Durham’s civic processes are sometimes “too
democratic” – they felt that government processes sometimes get bogged down, whether by many voices
speaking at once, or one or two participants dominating the conversation without concern or respect for
the other participants (Interview 1,2,3,6,7,10,11).
“Durham’s very democratic. Sometimes to a fault democratic, so democratic that we can t
get anything done.[…] Sometimes when you are working with a group… you will have
people who are competitive, who can’t ever agree. Durham has its fair share of those, who
show up at its meetings. You don’t want to ignore them, particularly if they are the only ones
bringing to the Council a real concern forth e community. It’s hard to say if they are really a
gadfly like Socrates or if they’re just bored retirees seeking entertainment. “ (Interview 6)

Contrastingly, at least one individual seemed to feel this extreme openness was a point of great value, in
terms of demonstrating to the citizens that, indeed, everyone has a voice in Durham’s governance, and
will be heard.
“… my hope is that we can continue to speak to the wonderful diversity of Durham and the
wonderful spirit of contention, of kind contention, that exists in Durham. You can fight like the
Durham school board and be cruel and mean and not take care of each other, or you can
fight in a way that creates lasting and ongoing change, or speaks to problems in a way that
creates lasting and ongoing change. […]From what I can see, any crazy person from off the
street can join the government! [laughs] We’ve elected a lot of crazy people, and allowed
them to participate. And I’m OK with that. It can look really awful from the outside, but I think
it’s like family. You’re helping it move, and if you’re not fighting, you’re not moving. I believe
in the dialectic. I believe that that conversation happens in Durham, more openly than in
most places. […] I like that about Durham. Its dialectic is always out in the open. Even if it’s
not always good or right, it’s pretty much out there. “ (Interview 10)

However, a few participants also noted that local government bureaucracy itself was too often a source of
delay and obfuscation (Interviews 1,2,5,10,11). At least one person felt that local government was not
being responsive to citizen desires for accountability, and that many internal processes needed significant
improvement, especially in terms of transparency (Interview 3).
“…my impression of the city is that it’s not about systems, it’s about individuals. You could
go to get a permit from one person and it’s easy, and from another person it’s difficult, or
they have a different idea of how it should be done. In a lot of areas, it’s not well
systemized.” (Interview 1)

However, at least one other participant noted that accountability in the long term is difficult to actualize in
a political setting, as electoral cycles are simply too short to provide the continuity of vision necessary for
large initiatives (Interview 8). This was echoed by another participant, who also felt that elections created
an emphasis on the short term rather than the long term:
“The problem I see with government in general is that it is a very “now” driven process.
Because people have terms of office that are limited, they make decisions based on getting
elected for the next five, seven, year term, and not in the best interests of the city. [An
elected official’s] job is to get elected in 2, 4, 6 years or whatever. It’s not to decide how the
interests of someone 50 years from now are going to be taken care of. None of us have a
really clear vision of our interests for 50 years from now. Some of us will be dead and we
won’t care! [laughs] But some of us understand that we are sharing this world with the
people who live here 50 years from now. I think there are those politicians who do care, who
are in it for what happens 50 years from now, but I think the systems are set up so that the
direction is four or six years, not 50. “ (Interview 10)

Several people felt it was more the duty of citizens to hold this institutional memory and maintain focus on
issues of long-term significance to the community (Interviews 8,10,11). Unfortunately, another individual
with a long history of involvement noted that current political leadership often did not even appear to have
any interest in tapping this sort of knowledge, a sentiment also expressed by at least one other participant
(Interview 8, 11).

As I noted earlier, at first look there appears to be a disproportionate lack of African-American participants
in the formal channels of citizen participation in land use planning. Very few African-Americans appear to
participate in neighborhood associations, volunteer conservation organizations, or community email
listserves in Durham. However, as I discussed issues of diversity with many of the participants, it became
clearer that black community participation in Durham often focuses on housing, economic development,
crime, schools, and specific instances of zoning changes or development, as opposed to general
concerns of planning, zoning, and land use issues (Interviews 1,4,7,9). Additionally, it would appear from
discussion with several participants that, after decades of existence as a repressed minority, the black
community in Durham already has developed informal channels of communication and civic engagement
separate from those of the formal government; many of these center on churches and religious
institutions, which would tend to sway attention to sociocultural issues more than to issues of land use
(Interviews 1,3,4,7).

One particularly interesting dialogue revealed the reality that, although their existence is formalized in city
and county ordinances, citizen boards are “heard” only at the will of the elected officials – there’s no
requirement in law for those officials to heed any recommendation at all (Interview 8). Several participants
felt that there was a real need to formalize at least some requirements for citizen approvals into the
planning process (Interviews 3,7,8). A suggested example would be to require that City Council have a
supermajority vote to overrule a unanimous DRB denial of a rezoning, rather than the simple majority now
“… the citizen planning commission. … I think there needs to be more weight there. If the
planning commission unanimously disapproves of something, then there needs to be a
higher hurdle for the elected officials to go over that recommendation, of that citizen
commission.” (Interview 3)

One unique complaint I heard was that overloaded governance systems aren't keeping up with issues of
growth and change, and that private developers are becoming the primary source for long-term vision in
Durham (Interview 8). Although only noted by one participant, this certainly would appear to be the
physical reality, as private developers have been the primary source of the downtown transformation, as
well as being at the forefront of green building and alternative energy development in the area. As we
discussed at the time, it’s difficult to know now what that particular trend might mean for Durham’s future,
although we did speculate how government, and specifically the planning department, might change to be
able to better cope with current growth.

Almost all the participants seemed to feel that a long-anticipated tipping point has finally been reached in
terms of sprawl in Durham, as people are moving back into downtown neighborhoods and businesses are
once again seeking to locate in the downtown core. However, several also noted that this turning of the
tide has also brought with it fears in communities of accelerating gentrification, and of what will happen to
the poor and elderly residents of these rapidly changing areas (Interviews 3,4,6,10). Although these fears
are real and justify attention, it seems that the majority of those interviewed also felt that there's a strong
sense of optimism in the community as a whole.
“The more I’m involved, and the clearer my perspective gets, I think Durham has everything
it needs to get to a much, much better place. We have the people, the intellectual capital.
We have the folks who care, more than any other city, that kind of compassion. We have the
financial resources, the tax base continues to grow, more and more businesses are coming
to RTP and that’s Durham County’s tax base. And folks really have a passion for what’s
going on in Durham. To get it the right way. That respectful way of getting involved, of
working with folks who are a little out of phase with whatever your particular thinking is.
Knowing that nobody is off by all that many degrees, and that your goals are really
overlapping. To get your egos out of the way and work together. You can make so much
more progress, we’d run out of things to do!” (Interview 9)

Also, almost everyone noted a desire to retain the diversity that many participants mentioned as being an
attractive factor in their decision to live in Durham. Many felt that love of diversity, along with Durham’s
noted tolerance and creativity, may still help mitigate the worst effects of class difference and
“That’s part of why I like Durham: because black people live here, white people live here,
gay people live here and we all work side by side to make a city. I love that about the city.
But it is sometimes a struggle that’s out in the open, which is another thing that I like about it
- that we talk about it. “ (Interview 10)

Although many of the participants noted that their involvement in community projects or organizations
originally arose because “nobody else would do it,” (Interviews 1,2,5,8,10,11) their initial frustrations
seemed to me to have been transmuted by time and success into feelings of ownership, pride, and a
certain joyful responsibility. For several of these individuals, becoming civically engaged was literally a
life-changing event (Interviews 2,8,9); two people mentioned having changed careers as a result, while
another deferentially noted that he has completely altered the operation of his private business to allow
him more time and money to work with community organizations.
“I heard an interview on WUNC in my car and [someone from a local commission] was
talking about this new commission and what they were trying to do. I was struck by that. Just
struck. I was an interior designer [then] and I was struck by the sensibility of preserving the
best and helping that with great development. In my mind, that balance is immediately
positive. And very contrary to character I turned around and called him up and went to a
meeting. I had not previously been much of a joiner. (laughter)” (Interview 8)

Many of these people mentioned having a strong sense of personal responsibility as citizens to their
communities (Interviews 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,9,10,11). Several people noted having come from family
backgrounds in which their parents also participated in civil society (Interviews 2,4,5,6,7,9,10). I find it
worth noting that this sense of citizenship, this collective value system, seemed to be independent of
class or educational background; although this may just have been a function of my sample population, it
is still interesting to speculate as to the potential meaning. One person felt there once was a sort of “civil
service caste” in the United States (Interview 6), wherein both blue-collar and white-collar workers
engaged with the political system across all levels of government, although they also felt that this caste
had dissolved in recent years with the incursion of big media and big money into the political system.

Yet, an extraordinarily important consensus among the interview participants was that it's still very
possible in Durham for one person or a small group to bring about tremendous change. Nearly every
participant had a story of how they as an individual or as part of a small group had been able to influence
and alter some specific aspect of the community or environment that made a significant difference in the
lives of others in the city.
“When we started [working on a greenways plan] with the city, there were no consultants
hired, no funding provided, nothing. Two women who were on the city council … got the
council to adopt the concept, [and] we basically wound up writing our own master plan and
developing it at a table. […] I insisted that it be done. When I got to be chair the first time,
everybody kept saying, “Oh, but we don’t have funding. We can’t do this. We can’t get a
consultant.” And I said, “This is getting us no place. If we’re going to be sitting here talking
and not getting anything done, let’s just do it ourselves.” “(Interview 8)

“We found out about a cement plant being proposed for the Eno River on Monday, … so we
got together some facts, generated a few emails on some community listserves (which are
invaluable in Durham), and generated enough reaction to the proposal that by Wed
afternoon, two days before the vote, the Chair of the Durham County Commissioners, Ellen
Reckhow, was suggesting to a reporter that we might want to have a temporary moratorium
on cement plants. In three days, you can go from nothing to the head of the County
Commissioners calling for a moratorium. You can’t do that in Charlotte, or Winston-Salem or
Greensboro or Raleigh. That’s a challenge and a celebration at the same time.” (Interview 7)

At least one participant noted that he chose to live in Durham specifically because he felt it was a place
where he could be involved.
“Durham feels like a place where you really can stand up and take the lead on something
and make a difference. A lot of places, particularly in the South, have a real good ol boy feel
to the leadership. You feel like, if you aren’t invited, you don’t have any ability to say
anything. Durham’s not like that.” (Interview 6)

Certainly, the interviews were an enlightening experience for me, personally. I was continually fascinated
by the many stories that the participants told, about Durham’s history, their personal life experiences, and
anything in between. Generally, I find myself drawn in by narrative, much more than by recitation of bare
facts; although I don’t intend to explore this here, I believe that narrative may be more useful or valuable
in some situations for its “cross-quadrant” properties - stories invoke meaning and context, and share
forth emotions and perceptions, that objective facts simply cannot portray.

When conducting these dialogues, I was most satisfied with the result when I felt that I’d really engaged
with the other person in a meaningful, connected way, not as an isolated individual. Unfortunately, when
that sort of connection occurred, it often became tempting to go off on tangents not related to the topic at
hand. However, in several cases, these “tangents” turned out to offer some deep insight into the
worldviews of the people speaking, insights that have significant value in understanding how they
approach their role as leaders in the community, as well as how their varying perceptions of Durham

One that particularly resonated with me was an individual who, in discussing our family histories, noted
that “My family’s a bunch of people from the land. My grandmother is half Cherokee.” I remember thinking
as we continued talking that, although this particular person was involved in a number of business and
personal ventures that could have been very environmentally destructive, he spoke about each of them in
ways that showed what I would call “whole systems awareness” – paying attention to the bigger picture in
which he was working, both social and environmental.
“I’m not gonna[sic] shove something down your throat. In fact, I went & met my neighbors
out there [at a project site where he’s purchasing land]. Went and talked to them about what
I wanted to do. Now, some of them, we’re good buddies. They want to sell me more of their
land! I meet them like this, like I am.”
While the two are not necessarily linked, it would seem to me that his declaration alone would indicate he
felt that to be a meaningful aspect of his personal history.

Similarly, another person spent a long time describing her personal history, including time spent outdoors
and growing up in a diverse, racially-integrated community, and mentioned specifically how her early
experiences continue to influence her life today. An excerpt:
“I grew up in Fayetteville beside the woods, dead end road near the woods. and spent all
my time playing in the woods. Just like this. Both my parents are biologists, my father taught
genetics and he would take all the kids in the neighborhoods to see some of the last wild
Venus flytrap in NC, all the time. My mom is a botanist, whenever we would go on walks in
the woods I would learn what every plant was. I’ve forgotten all of them now, but you know,
how you look to tell what family or group it is, all of that. They were both farmers, and so our
little quarter-acre backyard was a farm, with a huge garden, and animals that we killed, and
ate - that wasn't my favorite part, but I learned a lot. […] So, growing up I had lots of
connections to woods just like this. And I always wanted to be back in my woods. And now I
feel like I am.
[I asked,] So you came to Durham...?
[Response] Thirteen years ago. Because I wanted to live in NC, always wanted to live in NC,
and this was the place that was liberal enough for me to live in. Otherwise I'd have to live
back in some crazy place like Fayetteville or eastern NC, or the mountains, and I've lived in
all of those places and none of them are... none of them called to me.
[I asked,] Before that, were you not in NC?
[Response] I went to Atlanta for a year & a half. But my parents are from Iowa and Missouri,
so I've had exposure to other parts of the country, but this is right for me. It's not just NC, its
The Triangle that's right. And I love Durham, because it's more like Fayetteville in that it’s
really diverse, in a way that 13 years ago, the other areas of the triangle didn’t feel as
diverse to me. Raleigh seemed too businesslike, Chapel Hill seemed too academic and
monocultural. I like Durham because it isn't so monocultural. When I was in Fayetteville, I
went to school with people from all parts of the world, and race to me was black white and
everything else. It took a while for me to figure out that race clashes were about just two
cultures, instead of a thousand different cultures, because in my school when we talked
about race it was VERY diverse. […] When I grew up the three main cultures in my school
were black, white, and Indian, as in Lumbee Indian, and there were significant populations of
all three, and then people from Europe and Africa, and Central and South America, and
everywhere else.”

These personal stories in some ways were the capstone of my research; they most often were the pieces
that formed the bridge between quadrants, the parts that brought the personal into the systemic and the
experiential into the concrete. It is from this awareness that I now wish to dive back into the four
quadrants of Integral Sustainability, to emplace some of the responses and hopefully help discern their
meaning for my central question of the role and potential of citizen participation in Durham’s sustainability.
7. Analysis: Sustainability or…?

There are many possible ways of “mapping” these dialogues within an integrally-informed analysis to
discover useful information; however, I chose to focus as much as possible on the central issue at hand,
of citizen participation as an essential requirement of a sustainable city. Although there are numerous
quadrant models available from integral theorists, I was not able to find one that I felt succinctly described
the reality of citizen participation in urban governance, as practiced in Durham today. Therefore, to obtain
the focus I needed for my analysis, I first needed to define what I’ll term the “Four Quadrants of Citizen

Structures of Participation:
Perceptions of Participation: How do I act…
How do I fee/experience…
Meeting spaces
Friendship & Affiliation Transportation systems
Duty & Responsibility Communications tools
Personal fulfillment Documents (in English or other
Safety/Security languages)

Systems of Participation:
Cultures of Participation:
How do we act…
What do we believe…

Electoral process
Family or Community groups
Formal Government structures
Social/Friendship networks
Nonprofit groups/NGOs
Churches/religious groups
Issue-specific Coalitions
Subcultural affiliation
Neighborhood Associations
Relationships/“social capital”

The Four Quadrants of Citizen Participation

This diagram helps illustrate where various aspects of citizen participation might lie in relation to the
quadrant model. The physical realities of the Upper Right exist as manifestations of the systems
described in the Lower Right, which in turn embody the cultural values and meanings of the Lower Left,
all of which are influenced in relation to the perceptions and attitudes of the individuals involved as per the
Upper Left. For instance, the creation of a specific planning document, such as a pedestrian plan, is
performed within the systems structures of the formal government, while the decision to write it in English
only might have arisen from a shared value of the individuals participating in its creation, or the decision
to fund that creation. This quadrant perspective was helpful in emplacing the various goals of my
research, to provide a framework for more appropriately evaluating the dialogues.

For instance, from the perspective of Societal Systems (LR), I’d sought to look at what structures and
processes exist for citizen participation in urban planning and management today, and whether citizens
are actively engaged, i.e. do the systems as they are encourage participation, or confrontation, or even
lethargy. Obviously, whether people are currently participating, and who is or isn’t, is important here - if
government isn’t perceived to be working, citizens often build alternative processes outside government.
Empowerment can come from either route, but is more likely to have staying power if supported by
government rather than actively thwarted.

Also, given that Durham’s governance is entwined with a dynamic social system with multiple pathways of
communicatory interchange constantly in action, and that each participant in my research dialogues is
part of many informal social networks throughout the city, I’d hoped to develop an awareness of how
those networks operate, and what individuals within them are seen as critical or pivotal. Networks such as
these could contribute to building sustainability or create resistance to such efforts.

From the perspective of Cultures, (LL), finding ways to "manifest meaning" for the community that fosters
development of a more sustainable culture is imperative. The “insides” of our societies – our own feelings
about what is right, true, and good - will alter our actions and color outcomes across the board. Therefore,
I’d hoped to discern if there were commonly-held ethics & values among the citizen leaders, or the sort of
informal “social capital” that contributes to building a sense of cooperation and trust in the community.

From the perspective of Experiences, (UL), I hoped to understand how these various leaders perceived
their own involvement, as individuals and as part of a community segment. As I touched on briefly in
chapter 3, leaders who have themselves developed sufficiently to be aware of and see value within
multiple levels of development stand to be more effective in roles and situations of greater diversity. By
this, it is also reasonable to assume that those individuals will often be the ones to function as connectors
and change agents across social networks.

Cultivating this type of “Integral leadership” within the community may be a significant method of creating
positive avenues of change. As Integral ecologist Sean Hargens has stated,
“[T]he cultivation of mutual understanding between perspectives is an essential
component in addressing our environmental problems. Mutual understanding, as it is
understood here, refers to the cognitive, emotional, and interpersonal capacity to hold
perspectives that are contradictory to one’s own position and to do so as if they were
one’s own position. In particular, mutual understanding requires one to inhabit an
approach that is considered to be at odds with your personal, political, or professional
viewpoint. […] anything less than a worldcentric capacity of holding multiple perspectives
will cripple viable solutions to environmental degradation. […] The solutions to our
environmental crisis are largely to be found in our increasing capacity to see through and
beyond our ideological, class, cultural, racial, and gender differences” (Hargens, 2004,
Although this was not a primary focus of the dialogues, I did hope to discern in review of the discussions
whether any of the participants are already engaging in their work in Durham with this sort of integrative
personal awareness, and if so, how that might have affected their actions within their community networks
of influence.

Working from this quadrant-defined awareness of the various aspects of the dialogues, I then needed a
system for helping identify where various specific aspects of the information from the dialogues might “fit,”
as well as to discern their meaning in application to the larger question of Durham’s sustainability. For
this, I have chosen to use a model developed by consultant Gil Friend from Barrett Brown’s Q-DyTS
(“Quadrant Dynamics: Thwarting or Supporting”) problem-solving process, and first presented in Brown’s
“Four Worlds of Sustainability” (2006b, pp 51-53). With the issue at the center of the inquiry, the model
emplaces the various aspects of inquiry surrounding the issue not only by quadrant, but also by whether
they may function within the dynamic of that quadrant to support or thwart a successful outcome.

(Brown, 2006, Fig. 27, p.52)

The model applies specifically to the first three steps of Brown’s process, which are:
1. Clarify the initiative or central issue to be addressed.
2. Identify the forces revealed by each quadrant which might support the initiative or help
resolve the issue.
3. Identify the forces revealed by each quadrant which might thwart the initiative or hinder
resolution of the problematic issue. … (Brown, 2006, p.51).
The diagram that follows is an example of a completed chart used in applying the Q-DyTS process to an
urban sustainability initiative.
(Brown, 2006b, Figure 28, p.53)

For my analysis, I’ve attempted to emplace the major questions and topics I’ve considered and
information gleaned from the interviews into the quadrants they are most relevant to, from a holistic
sustainability perspective, and then to locate specific information from the dialogues not only by quadrant,
but also by their qualities of what Brown called “supporting or thwarting” – in this case, supporting citizen
participation as an essential aspect of a sustainable city, or thwarting citizen participation and therefore
hindering Durham’s development toward sustainability.

First, let’s look at the upper right – the individual physical environment of participation.
Supporting Factors discussed/disclosed in the interviews:
• Communications tools such as email
• Individual notification process
• Providing food at meetings
Thwarting Factors discussed/disclosed in the interviews:
• Language barrier: can’t understand what’s being said in meetings
• Meeting times and locations / accessibility
• Contention and lack of leadership

The lower right – the physical and social systems of participation.

Supporting factors:
• Formal citizen Boards and Commissions
• Strong history of citizen involvement
• Attention to increasing racial diversity
• Neighborhood and civic group informal processes
• Successful shared actions
Thwarting factors:
• Continued lack of racial and economic diversity
• Inflexible or unsystemic formal processes
• Lack of clear information on formal processes
• Lack of communication in/across formal government
• Unclear or ineffective boundaries of influence

The lower left – cultural beliefs and value systems that affect participation.
Supporting factors:
• Historic culture of civic involvement.
• Tolerance and diversity
• Shared cultural value of responsibility to the greater community
• Belief in the value of communication
• Shared visions
• Energy and commitment to inclusive change
• Rapid innovation and flexibility from informal groups
Thwarting factors:
• Some communities do not share values or visions of others
• Lingering racism
• Lack of clear meaning or purpose to activities
• No sense of value in participating

The upper left – individual perceptions of participation

Supporting factors:
• Sense of belonging from involvement
• Personal investment in outcomes
• Pleasure and fulfillment from acting for the greater good
• Enhanced sense of place
Thwarting factors:
• Lack of respect for contributions
• Too much needed for one person to handle
• Mistrust

To provide a sort of narrative summation of this process, Durham’s strong history of citizen involvement
through neighborhood and civic groups holds major significance for continuing and growing citizen
participation, both informally and formally. Additionally, continuing informal participation cultivates greater
attention being paid in formal governance systems to diversity, and also fosters a city-wide culture of
openness and communication that is essential for generating change and accountability in those formal
governance systems.

The participants all felt that some governance systems need to be remodeled to better accommodate
diversity, rapid change and the complexity of our current society. Attention needs to be given to both
physical and systemic failures of formal systems in creating fully inclusive and diverse participation,
examples being the lack of Latino participation or assumptions as to transportation availability to attend
meetings. Current citizen “input” alone isn't enough – the government will need to go the extra mile and
work toward greater inclusiveness, to build personal feelings of trust and meaning that support community
investment in positive change.

In the bigger picture, the informal social environment of the city appears to be healthy and vibrant.
Certainly, the presence and involvement of such grassroots organizations as the InterNeighborhood
Council, Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, and People’s Alliance indicates there is a deep dynamic
of involvement and energy for change in Durham. Locally-focused events such as the monthly Artwalk
and the Troika Music Festival engage and support the growth of creative communities, while the
overwhelming success of the Durham Farmers Market is another strong indicator of an increase in
neighborhood involvement and individual participation in overall civic life. Per Paul Knox, physical events
such as these are a positive sign of a vibrant community:
“Fostering respect for seasonality and traditional rhythms of community life propagates
recurring and interlocking patterns of events that make for cultural transactions and public
sociability in the public realm. Elements of daily rhythms (such as mid-morning grocery
shopping with a stop for coffee, the aperitivo en route from work to home and the after-
dinner stroll) are all critical to the density of routine encounters and shared experiences that
underpin the intersubjectivity that is the basis both for a sense of place and for a structure of
feeling within a community. The same is true of elements of weekly rhythms, such as street
markets and farmers’ markets; and of seasonal rhythms, such as food festivals, craft shows
and arts festivals. .… the way in which we make sense of our own actions and the actions of
others—and the way we generate meaning in the world—is rooted in routinized day-to-day
practices that occupy a place in our minds somewhere between the conscious and the
unconscious” (Knox, 2005, p.8).
Additionally, the success of such community-based social welfare programs as TROSA (Triangle
Residential Options for Substance Abusers) also shows a commitment from the greater citizenry to
support change efforts across a wide spectrum of sociocultural groups. Durham’s diversity in both
sociocultural and economic groups contributes to a vision of the city as a welcoming, tolerant place,
where new ideas can be heard and flourish. There’s a definite sense that “locals invest locally,” in local
businesses and local organizations.

Similarly, the physical infrastructure of the city is slowly moving to catch up to sustainable principles,
whether driven by private or public monies. There’s significant support in government for infill
development in core urban neighborhoods, while affordability is still a drawing point in many existing
neighborhoods, despite some aspects of gentrification. Downtown is beginning to fill in, with new
restaurants, retail spaces, social venues, and residential units refurbing spaces that were vacant
plywood-covered blanks less than a year ago.

Successful brownfields developments and HOPE VI projects have also built a sense of overall optimism
that changing infrastructure can motivate changed communities. The American Tobacco Trail has brought
new attention to alternative transportation; new Bicycle and Pedestrian Plans passed just months ago,
and a monthly Critical Mass ride is highlighting the surging desire for bicycling to be more than just for
weekend fun in the area.

However, the picture for Durham as merely a junior player in the region is not so good. Negative
perceptions of Durham, while helping to defer much of the unsustainable growth being experienced in
other areas of the region, also unfortunately deter even some of the more progressive outside private and
public investments. Regional light rail remains at best a political talking point, at worst an idea that will die
along with the cars on I-40 when fuel scarcity becomes more of a reality.

On the state level, legal limits on local ability to regulate land use, such as imposing impact fees and
certain aspects of zoning, continue to be roadblocks to true reform in planning and zoning. “Old school”
mindsets in many state government agencies create and perpetuate disconnected, top-down plans that
force citizens to waste energy and time in preventing or altering, such as the Alston Avenue widening
project mentioned in Chapter 2. The loss of manufacturing in the American South throughout the 90’s has
resulted in a regional economy with extreme income disparities, widespread poverty, and the
accompanying social problems. As a consequence, the more affluent metropolitan areas are often left to
fend for themselves as the state focuses its efforts on areas with greater perceived needs. This is also
evident at the national level, as highly visible issues such as immigration, poverty, and health care
continue to pull government attention - and funds - away from climate change, peak oil, and
accompanying future sustainability issues that are not as frequently presented in the political discourse of
the mass media.

All these negative influences might make one lose hope that Durham could ever effect enough change
from within its existing governmental systems to become truly sustainable, especially as it is embedded in
larger state, national, and global systems that are clearly hindering that change. However, as I’ve
attempted to explicate throughout this paper, the potential for sustainability (in the Integral sense) in any
city is made up of far more than the external measures and processes of its physical – or governmental –
systems. Informal networks of trust, communication, and participation are at work building resilience and
flexibility into the larger community, as new worldviews emerge and new individuals become connected.

As Hallsmith noted, “Research has shown that communities where there are high levels of volunteerism
and many opportunities for people to have contact with non-family members outside of work or school are
also more resilient and can pursue projects that require collective action more successfully.” (Hallsmith
2003 p.59) The culture and systems of participation developed in Durham over many years have
significant potential to cultivate the sort of sustainable society that is essential to found and propel the
necessary physical and governmental changes that must occur, to respond with flexibility and resilience
to the tremendous global changes we now face. To quote again from Barrett Brown:
“All of the exterior things that sustainable development (SDv) calls for—opportunities,
health, and education for all; clean air, water, land, and food; poverty alleviation; industries
with zero harmful emissions; culturally and environmentally sensitive development; zero
population growth, etc.—are made possible by interior human motivators that make us
voluntarily want to bring about these changes. If these motivators are not geared toward
sustainability, behavior will not be either. Unless these motivations are tapped, the exterior
results we desire cannot come about with any degree of permanence” (Brown, 2005b, p3).

Integral theory thus tells us that sustainability is both a physically-observable condition of environmental
systems, and a level of human development, a worldview; exterior, observable sustainability is actualized
through attention to interior development, a model that resonates and interacts throughout all quadrants.
Although Durham could not today be termed “sustainable” by such an Integrally-informed definition, the
city nonetheless has significant potential for becoming exactly that. The diversity and tolerance that has
kept away so much of the explosive growth experienced by other cities in the region is of significant value
in building inclusive community, as well as inadvertently pushing what development that has occurred
away from unsustainable physical patterns of sprawl. The citizen involvement and “kind contention” of
many of Durham’s governance systems has resulted in a populace well-versed in civic engagement, while
also cultivating engaged and committed leaders with broad networks of communication. Looking from an
Integrally-framed perspective, it is now possible to see that Durham is rich in factors that contribute to
urban sustainability across all four quadrants, especially in the areas related to citizen participation. As
one of those citizen participants, I sincerely hope that these factors will be enough to carry us through to
the realization of a holistic, Integrally-sustainable urban community.

7. Postscript: A Personal Note on Things Integral

When I began my degree program at Prescott College, I was excited in my belief that I would now have
the opportunity to delve in a scholarly manner into the world of Integral theory, and concurrently to learn
of the potential benefits in specific application of what I then saw as a fascinating theoretical model with
great potential. However, over the time of my enrollment, I have become rather disillusioned, as I have
gained greater awareness of the problems at the core of Ken Wilber's Integral edifice, and with the caliber
and tone of discourse he has espoused in writings such as his infamous “Wyatt Earpy” blog entries from
2006. I find myself in the rather precarious position of writing a thesis and obtaining a degree based on a
philosophical model I no longer have faith in, and with which I am almost, at times, embarrassed to be
I discovered Ken Wilber's writings and the field known as "integral studies" almost four years before
beginning my Master’s study at Prescott. As an undergraduate at New School University, I enrolled in a
course taught by Greg Wilpert, a political scholar who was at the time working in Venezuela under a
Fulbright scholarship, and who afterward became a founding member of the Integral Institute (although it
is unclear to me at this time if he’s still involved with the “I-I,” as they term it). Throughout the conduct of
the New School course, ostensibly on globalization but really on integrally-framed political theory, Mr.
Wilpert was careful to put forth Ken Wilber's writings alongside other known and respected theorists from
various realms, such as Carol Gilligan and Immanuel Wallerstein, in a way that seemed to support
Wilber’s Integral quadrant model and theory of social development, especially as applied to global
politics. I was intrigued by the potential of Wilber's Integral models for creating a structure of common
discourse that could bridge cultural and political divisions, and contribute to positive change at high levels.

Although I did not delve much further into Integral theory over the next few years at New School, when I
enrolled in the MA program at Prescott and began to look for tools for creating viable change on large-
scale environmental issues, I gravitated to Wilber's Integral framework as a foundational philosophy
around which to construct my degree program. Wilber's approach appeared to support the concept of
holistic learning, and as an autodidact with varying interests, it "felt right" to me to include as broad a
background into the philosophies and systems of environmentalist discourse as possible. I was
disappointed by what I perceived as a lack of breadth or inclusion in many environmental and ecological
theoretical models, and felt that using an Integrally-framed perspective would create the sort of open
framework that could allow scientific, intellectual and common-sense approaches to coexist.

At first, this was useful and fulfilling to me – I explored everything from ecopsychology and the religious
foundations of environmental worldviews to adaptive ecosystems management and international
environmental politics, and began to feel that I could discern common threads and inter-relationships
between each, predicated on the integral models I was becoming more familiar with. However, while I
was on the one hand developing my own “Integral” awareness of interconnections and meta-processes
for understanding and changing socio-environmental systems, I was simultaneously beginning to see a
sort of chaos and fragmentation in the Integral community, occurring mainly around Ken Wilber himself,
and unfortunately focused on the quality and validity of his Integral models, as I discussed in Chapter 3.

Now, in many ways I could care less if Wilber has found in Integral a way to cash in on a good idea,
especially not if there’s any possibility of the offerings of his Integral Institute also spreading a meaningful
new model of holistic problem-solving to the world. I see nothing particularly wrong with Wilber making a
living off his life’s work, or even with (as I perceive it) cultivating a perception of himself as a guru,
because some people want gurus, and that’s an excellent way to reach them and help create positive
change in their lives. However, nobody is perfect, and certainly when working with very large and
complex theoretical models, there should always be space for refinement and criticism to occur. Of
course, if someone has a truly revolutionary idea, such criticism may at first miss the point, but in the end
the idea itself should still stand up to rational analysis, especially if the criticism is derived from a model
explicated initially from the idea itself. For example, models of certain phenomena derived from Einstein’s
theories are frequently tested by scientists against actual observed data, and in some cases, significant
refinements to his original theories have resulted, but the basic theoretical concepts are still seen by the
scientific community to be strongly valid. This process of critical analysis and refinement is part of nearly
all academic and intellectual discourse in the world today. Unfortunately, given what I’ve seen of his
responses to critics, I do not believe this to be the case for Wilber. And while I am deeply appreciative of
Ken Wilber’s works and feel they have great value as a basis for continuing thought, I have no wish to
isolate myself intellectually by putting on blinders to the problems within them.

I’m sure that my personal emphasis on seeking “what works” rather than concentrating on the deeper
theoretical grounds of the effort will be interpreted by some as a lack of intellectual rigor, or a personal
deficiency of understanding. I freely admit that I am no philosopher, and there are many aspects of
integral theory that are well outside my realm of expertise. However, as I said earlier, I believe that there
is value to be had from integral ideas regardless, and we need good, inclusive ideas now, to help us with
real problems in real communities. It is my hope that those who read this work will be able to look past the
problems within Wilber’s insular Integral community and the still-evolving greater world of integral theory
to extract value and meaning from the effort I have undertaken. Just as espousing a pacifist philosophy
doesn't mean you stop using a hammer to pound a nail when a nail is needed, disagreeing with Ken
Wilber or his methods doesn't have to mean throwing out the potential value of tools created using
Integral theories, either.

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Appendix A: Documents and Correspondence of the Research Interview Process
1. Informed Consent Document
2. Contact email sample
3. Interview outline

1. Informed Consent for Participation In Master's Thesis Research Interview

My name is Paula Childers. I am a Master of Arts student at Prescott College, 220 Grove Ave. Prescott,
AZ . I am conducting interviews on citizen participation in urban open space management in the city of
Durham, NC, as part of research for my Master's Thesis on that topic. I have asked you for an interview
because you are a private citizen (not an elected official or paid staff) active in some aspect of land use
planning and/or management in Durham. I have asked approximately 25 persons throughout Durham to
participate in interviews for this project.

The interview will take approximately 1.5 to 2 hours, although this is a rough approximation and may
change as you wish. Your responses may be used in the final thesis by reference to position (e.g. "a
member of a local conservation organization"), but it is not my intent to use individual names or
specifically identifying information. I will do my best to keep your participation anonymous, by using a
numbering system on transcript documents and other paperwork, although it is always possible that
someone may be able to determine who you are, anyway. I do not believe that you will be under any risk
from your participation. You will not receive any direct financial compensation for your participation,
although you may receive a token purchase of coffee, dessert, or similar if we have mutually arranged to
meet for the interview at a public venue.

Unless you request otherwise, I will record the interviews via an audio recorder, for later transcription. The
recording and any corresponding interview notes will be erased or destroyed within one year of the
completion of the project, although the Consent Form may need to be retained for a longer period due to
legal requirements. You can request that the interview be conducted without being recorded, in which
case I will only take notes. You can also refuse to answer any question, or to stop the interview at any
time. Doing so will not result in any negative consequences for you. I will also provide a copy of the
interview transcript for you to review. You will also receive a copy of this Informed Consent document.

You may contact me at or 407 E. Lavender, Durham, NC 27704, if you have
questions after the interview. If you have further questions or concerns, you may contact my Graduate
Advisor, Darcy Riddell, at, or the Associate Faculty for the Master of Arts
Environmental Studies Program at Prescott College, James Pittman, at, or either
c/o Prescott College, 220 Grove Ave. Prescott, AZ 86301.

By your signature below, you agree to participate in the research interview.


Please initial here _____ if you agree to the audio-taping of the interview.

2. Contact e-mail sample

Dear [potential participant];

Would you be willing to be interviewed, as part of thesis research on citizen involvement in Durham's
open space management?

My name is Paula Childers; I am a Board member of the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, and serve
on the Durham Open Space and Trails Commission. I also have volunteered through the Colonial Village
Neighborhood Association (where I live). In addition to these various
efforts, I am also a graduate student. I am currently working toward a Master's in Environmental Studies
through Prescott College (, researching citizen participation in urban open space
management and sustainable community development.

You were suggested to me as someone deeply involved in the real day-to-day work of citizen participation
in Durham's governance. I know the work of INC definitely includes deep citizen involvement in issues of
planning, zoning, and lands management in Durham. Would you
be willing to take a few minutes to chat with me about your personal experiences, and those of your
neighborhood and INC?

I will be happy to meet at your convenience, and even spring for coffee or dessert for your time,
especially if you'd like to meet somewhere like Mad Hatter or Blue Coffee. I would estimate it will
take about an hour and a half, but this could vary, especially if you have a lot of information you'd like to
share :-) The interview would be very free-form, more like friendly coffee talk than a job
interview, although I will have a few specific questions to keep us on track. If you don't mind, I will record
the interview to make it easier for me to draw upon later, but I can also refrain and simply
take notes if recording would make you uncomfortable.

I'm available nearly any weekend, or evenings after about 6:30 pm. If you're willing, please just drop me a
reply note with a couple of times and places that are good for you, or give me a call at 317-4205 (home)
or 949-2702 (cell). I would greatly appreciate it!

Many Thanks,
Paula Childers
Durham, NC
3. Interview outline

PART I - Personal & Organizational Background

How are you personally involved in managing or affecting the management of public lands and/or open
space in the city of Durham?
How did you first become interested or involved?
What is your personal background (education, career)?
How does your background affect your current involvement?
How would you describe the main local problems where environmental and economic interests are
What do you feel is the biggest issue overall in re: lands management in Durham today?
The biggest governmental issue?
The biggest environmental issue?
The biggest economic issue?
The biggest social issue?
Are you currently part of any organized group that acts in regard to land in Durham? (THIS SHOULD BE
YES, except in a few very special instances – may not need to ask this, just note)
What is that group's mission or purpose?
What can you tell me about the founding of that group, or its history?
Who are the principal actors in the group?
How would you describe [your or your organization’s] goals and overall philosophy in re: Durham?
Did this change over time (e.g. single vs. multiple issues, shifts concerning goals)?

PART II - Citizen Organizations and Process

How many members do you have in your organization?
As of today how is your organization structured? How does it generally function?
How are decisions made within your organisation?
What groups are included in your decision making processes in regard to strategic priorities?
What were/are your funding sources? (high level, not detailed)
Do you employ staff and/or outside experts? (If so, number, prevalent skills of the staff? What fields of
expertise have you needed?)
Do you cooperate or interact with other local nonprofit groups or civic institutions on a regular basis?
Do you interact regularly with Durham City and/or County government? If so, in what ways/capacities?
(Informally, such as org members who also are city or county staff, or more formally, through attending
public meetings?)
Is your organizational structure or activities altered or shaped in some specific way by the structure of City
government and/or its processes? (i.e. a regular meeting to review rezonings prior to the Dev Review
Board meeting, or hiring of a staff member to attend daytime meetings)
How do you mainly pursue your organization's goals?
What tactics and strategies did/does your organization apply to try and meet its goals (e.g. direct action/
protest, "going through channels", partnering with government, partnering with other groups)? Have these
been successful?
What other actors have been/are involved? What role did/do they play?
How do you feel your past experiences have changed your future tactics and strategies?
Did your relationships to other institutions/actors change over time?
Did your organizational structure change?

PART III – Local Government Systems

Do you feel that you have a strong relationship with local government?
*** How do you find out about governmental actions or potential actions of interest (rezonings, road
construction, etc)?
*** How would you make a suggestion or request an action in regards to a City-owned property? A
privately-owned property?
*** Do you feel you have a good understanding of the current processes in place for managing lands in
Durham today?
*** Do you feel that your voice is heard in planning and open space issues?
Do you feel the current system of land use planning and management in Durham is an effective system?
Is it successfully addressing the major issues of the city?
What issues, if any, do you think should be focused on more? Less?
Should the city engage more outside expertise in its decisionmaking on land use issues? Of what sorts?
Do you feel the current system of land use planning and management is equitable and fair for all
Are there any barriers that currently prevent you from engaging in greater participation? Others in your
Should the city create more avenues for citizen participation? If so, of what kinds?
Do you feel the current system will help or hinder Durham's long-term sustainability?
If you could, how would you change / improve the system?
Do you see any need for a general change in the course of environmental action and basic attitudes in

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