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(© Rick Knief / Citi Web)

Jonathan F.P. Rose is founder and president of the Jonathan Rose Companies, a multidisciplinary real estate development, planning, and investment firm. In his new book, Rose uses a metaphor from classical music to explain how cities can achieve harmony among competing needs and interests. The title refers to The Well-Tempered Clavier, two series of preludes and fugues completed by Johann Sebastian Bach in 1722 and 1742, which Rose says were composed to prove that a new system of tuning notes, called tempering, should replace a system that had been used for 2,000 years. Through tempering, Rose writes, keys were tuned in a way that sounded pleasant when more than one key was played together. This tuning system allowed Bach’s music to flow across keys in ways that no one had explored before, Rose writes. “It is a model of the task we have today in designing and reshaping our cities.”

welltemperedcity-hc-c-webHaving completed $1.8 billion of work, the Rose Companies is a firm focused on working with cities and nonprofit entities to build affordable and mixed-income housing, as well as cultural, health, and educational infrastructure. In 2005, the firm launched the nation’s first green transit-oriented acquisition and redevelopment fund, and in 2013 the firm’s Via Verde housing development in New York City won a ULI Global Award for Excellence.

Entwinement

The Fitness of the City

Kenneth Burke, one of the most important American literary theorists of the 20th century, wrote that “people may be unfitted by being fit in an unfit fitness.”

The current state of many of our cities is an unfit fitness. They may be sufficiently adapted for short-term growth, but they lack the adaptive capacity to thrive in the high-stress environment of the future. They are fitted to unfitness. And that is because they do not understand their true purpose.

Recall that [environmental scientist] Donella Meadows wrote that “the least obvious part of a system, its function or purpose, is often the most crucial determinant of a system’s behavior.”

Fall Meeting: The Well-Tempered City and the Future of Urban Life | Register

From the rise of Uruk, the world’s first known city, the purpose of cities has been to provide for the protection and prosperity of their residents, to oversee the fair distribution of resources and opportunities, and to maintain harmony between human and natural systems. In this time of increasing volatility, complexity, and ambiguity, the well-tempered city possesses systems to help it evolve toward a more even temperament, one that balances prosperity and well-being with efficiency and equity in ways that continually restore its social and natural capital. And having a greater purpose will help it set the course to achieving these goals.

The first aspect of being well tempered, coherence, grows from a pervasive vision; community health indicators that reflect the vision; and a dynamic planning, governance, and feedback system to keep the city moving toward its vision. The second, circularity, requires an adaptive, multiscaled, interconnected infrastructure. The third facet of the well-tempered city, resilience, emerges from the integration of technical and natural urban ecologies. The fourth aspect of temperament, community, requires the stable base of a healthy cognitive ecology, accompanied by fairly distributed opportunity. And the last aspect, compassion, requires a pervasive sense of altruistic purpose. Taken together, these qualities create a city that keeps adapting in a VUCA time [marked by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity] by integrating across the scales of the individual to the larger region, while increasingly advancing toward its altruistic purpose. Its people fit into a fitted fitness. It is pervaded by wholeness.

Wolf Singer, director of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, observed that the healthy brain coordinates its different functions not by central control, but by what he calls “binding by synchrony,” in which the various systems of the mind share a common wavelength, and send coordinating messages on its pulses, forever talking and listening to one another. Goodness, beauty, truth, dignity, and compassion all share the cognitive signature of neurological coherence, bound by synchrony. When the mind is pervaded by these qualities, we feel deeper, more alive, and more whole.

Healthy cities are also bound by a synchrony in which individuals, organizations, neighborhood groups, companies, and city agencies continually perceive their larger environment and independently adapt to it, making adjustments, improving their performance in a distributed but coherent way. And when they are bound by the synchrony of goodness, beauty, truth, dignity, and compassion, they too become whole.

Baroque clavichord keyboard. (© Jorge Royan/www.royan.com.ar/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Baroque clavichord keyboard. (© Jorge Royan/www.royan.com.ar/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Composing Fitness

Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the second book of The Well-Tempered Clavier in 1742, when Europe was undergoing an enormous cultural transition from the Reformation to the Age of Enlightenment. The Enlightenment unleashed scientific rationalism, releasing Europe from centuries of religious dogma. This new thinking gave rise to the American and French revolutions, and to the Industrial Revolution. The sacred and the secular began to diverge. Philosophy and science shifted attention from the cosmos to the individual, from the holy to the human, from the complex to the complicated. But Bach never wavered, and his greatest works resonate with us to this day because they integrate harmonic genius with a deep spiritual aspiration, qualities that were separated in the Enlightenment.

In 1747, three years before he passed away, J.S. Bach was invited by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach to visit the court of King Frederick the Great, where the younger Bach held the position of chief keyboard player. Frederick the Great was powerful, sadistic, difficult to characterize: a series of opposites. He was both liberalizer and despot. He ruthlessly conquered Poland, yet he also created the world’s first public education system. He loved nature, but he drained swamps to create new farmland, decimating the area’s biodiversity. He believed in the power of science and disdained the idea of universal morals. He loved his era’s new modern music, commissioned to entertain and delight the senses, and he had no interest in Bach’s belief that the universe was a sacred and integrated whole suffused with love.

So King Frederick set out to embarrass J.S. Bach, known by then as “Old Bach.” Prior to the great composer’s arrival at his palace, the king, an amateur flautist, composed (almost certainly with the help of Bach’s son) a 21-note theme called the Royal Theme, carefully devised so as to be impossible to harmonize under the strict rules of composition of the time. The moment J.S. Bach arrived from his grueling multiday coach journey, without even a chance to rest or bathe, Frederick took him on a tour of his collection of 15 claviers, a transitional instrument between the harpsichord and the piano. And then, in front of an audience of educated musicians, the king challenged Old Bach to create a three-part fugue, harmonizing the Royal Theme in three interwoven harmonic threads, and to do it on the spot.

Old Bach sat down at one of the claviers and improvised a magnificent piece of flowing music, incorporating the Royal Theme 12 times in 17 minutes. Unable to harmonize the theme directly, he created three variations that harmonized with one another, and wove them into an extraordinary tapestry of music. The music soared, each note moving independently yet in perfect relationship to the others. The audience was astounded. Bach had created wholeness from unfitness.

Chagrined, King Frederick recomposed himself and demanded that Bach create a six-part harmony, something that had never been done before. Old Bach said that this would take a bit more time. A few weeks after his return home he delivered a composition integrating six fugues on the Royal Theme, titled “A Musical Offering.” It was Bach’s answer to the question as to whether harmony had limits—an extraordinary testament to the capacity of humans to create magnificent harmony beyond the dualism of sacred and profane.

The scientific rationalism that Frederick the Great so admired unleashed remarkable technologies. Over the next centuries they gave rise to an extraordinary increase in the prosperity of humankind and enormous environmental destruction. They have been used to save lives and to destroy them.

Technology has produced cities that would have been unimaginable in Bach’s time, advancing in waves from the tower of Jericho to the megacities of today. But the essence of humans and nature has not changed. We still feel a great sense of peace and joy when our minds are bounded by the synchrony of music, beauty, truth, dignity, love, and compassion. Our cities today contain many of the technical achievements that Frederick the Great would have been so pleased by, but little of the harmony that Bach and the original makers of cities sought.

The purpose of our cities must be to integrate the science sought by the Enlightenment with the harmony of Bach, to compose the conditions of fitness of their people, their neighborhoods, and nature.

The Great Lisbon Earthquake

Eight years after Bach’s encounter with Frederick the Great, another event shook the ground of religion in Europe, hastening the Enlightenment and giving rise to the era’s first urban reconstruction. On All Saints’ Day, November 1, 1755, a great earthquake struck Lisbon, followed 40 minutes later by a powerful tsunami, which itself was followed by five days of raging fire. Eighty-five percent of the city’s buildings, including nearly every church, collapsed, burned, or were destroyed by flooding. Lisbon’s extraordinary art collections, its libraries, and the records of its extensive colonies all vanished. The royal Ribeira Palace, sitting astride the Tagus River, collapsed in the earthquake and then was inundated by the tsunami’s massive waves, its 70,000-volume royal library destroyed. Paintings by Titian, Rubens, and Correggio were never seen again. Lisbon’s new opera house burned to the ground. It is estimated that 25,000 people, one-tenth of the city’s population, perished. The only neighborhood fully spared was the red-light district.

The Great Lisbon Earthquake shook the faith of the faithful. How could a tragedy of such proportions take place on such a holy day? How could churches, houses of God, be destroyed and their occupants crushed while the city’s whorehouses were spared?

What role did God really have in the affairs of humans and the ways of nature? Was this an expression of His anger over the Inquisition or a sign of His absence?

Intellectuals all over Europe seized on the event to advance the philosophy of the Enlightenment and the sciences of natural phenomena. Immanuel Kant wrote three texts on the subject and proposed what would become the science of seismology. Jean-Jacques Rousseau concluded that cities were too densely populated and proposed that people live a more pastoral life. The earthquake provoked Voltaire to write his satire Candide, which mocked the Church and the idea that the world was directed by a benevolent deity. The much-used metaphor of “solid philosophical grounds” was replaced with the concept that certainties were in fact shaky. The Enlightenment replaced absolutes with relativism.

A month after the disaster, King Joseph I, who was spared from the collapse of his palace because his daughter had insisted that the family leave the city for the countryside after sunrise Mass, met with the chief engineer of the realm, Manuel da Maia. Da Maia presented the king with five plans to reconstruct the city, ranging from using the rubble to rebuild it as it was to razing the remains and rebuilding the city in a different location, “laying out streets without restraint.” The king chose to build it anew in the place where it had long been.

The reconstructed Lisbon became the first modern city of Europe, laid out with large squares, wide avenues, and buildings engineered to be earthquake resistant. Da Maia’s plan mandated that each block in a neighborhood be built to a universal design, permitting building components such as windows and doors to be mass-produced. This promoted a new egalitarianism—no longer could the wealthy distinguish themselves with individualized, ornate palaces. Lisbon’s reconstruction gave birth to the field of modern urban planning, integrating both resistance and resilience to future disasters.

The earthquake also gave rise to a seismic shift in ways to deal with large populations under stress. The government’s first response was to call in the army and set up gallows for looters, but Portugal’s secretary of state, Sebastião Carvalho, recognized the need to unify Lisbon’s residents rather than repress them. He surveyed them to get their perspective on the earthquake and in the process figured out that it had moved eastward in waves, laying the foundation of seismic science. He expelled the powerful and fundamentalist Jesuits, who blamed the earthquake on the sinfulness of Lisbon’s people and claimed that there was no use in rebuilding such a wicked city.

Carvalho seized the opportunity created by the disruption to rip apart the institutional barriers of the old hierarchies and open the gates of human potential. He disempowered the Church and the powerful families who had filled the court with intrigue, continually jockeying for advantage. He mandated the construction of 800 national primary and secondary schools. He added mathematics, natural sciences, and the Enlightenment’s philosophers to the University of Coimbra’s curriculum, and built it a botanic garden and astronomical observatory. His goal was to create novos homens, new men, free from fundamentalist prejudice, educated in the latest scientific, philosophical, and social theories. The central power of the king was strengthened, but he broadened the base of his support to an empowered class of entrepreneurs. The reimagination of Lisbon, with symmetrical streets radiating from squares, standardized building blocks, and an overall sense of harmony, became a model for the great Haussmann plan of Paris and much that was to follow.

The Power of Trust

To address the coming megatrends of the 21st century, cities need all of the solutions described in this book—smart, dynamic regional plans, circular water and sewer systems, renewable energy–powered microgrids, regional food systems, multimodal transportation systems, integrated natural and technical systems, biodiversity, green buildings, and collaborative consumption. They need affordable housing and health, education, and job-training systems. To inform and inspire their citizens, they need museums, libraries, performing arts centers, clusters of arts and creativity. To operate well, they need inclusive, transparent, efficient, corruption-free governments that tune their progress with clearly defined well-being outcomes and exchange lessons and best practices with other cities. They need to govern sufficiently to protect humans and nature, but with a light enough hand so that innovation and entrepreneurship thrive. And they need a pervasive culture of compassion, grounded in neighborhoods, nurtured in houses of worship, places of reflection and retreat, enhanced by the collective efficacy of for-profit and not-for-profit social entrepreneurs, funded by social impact bonds that capture the future value of a healthy society and provide the current funds to make it so, and inspired by selfless leadership. This is the meh of the 21st century. And it can grow only in the soil of trust.

When hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck New Orleans, looting and violence increased. When the planes of 9/11 destroyed the World Trade Center, New York City’s residents responded with an incredible outpouring of compassion, connection, and courage. Rebecca Solnit, the author of A Paradise Built in Hell, describes how people often come together to care for each other in the wake of disaster. After the San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fire of 1906, people spontaneously set up food kitchens to feed the homeless and hospital tents to care for them. She celebrates this mutual aid: “Every participant is both a giver and a recipient in acts of care that bind them together. . . . it is reciprocity, a network of people cooperating to meet each other’s needs and wants.”

This innate human capacity for mutual aid was described by the Russian economist, geologist, and revolutionary Peter Kropotkin in his 1902 book Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution. And he was right—science is now clear: when there is evolutionary stress, there is a small chance that selfish individuals will do better by being selfish, but there is a much larger chance that if altruistic individuals cooperate, they will collectively outperform those just out for themselves. The fitness gain of altruism exceeds that of selfishness.

The collective tendency to be altruistic in a crisis arises only in a society with a high degree of trust. And too many neighborhoods in our cities have lost that capacity. When a city is infused with ignorance, intolerance, fundamentalism, selfishness, and arrogance, it becomes unfit. The unfitness solidifies into the walls of racism that disconnect people from opportunity; fundamentalism that represses the freedom of expression of all of a community’s people; selfishness that distorts the distribution of opportunity; fear that corrodes its cognitive ecology; and ignorance that undermines the emergence of wisdom.

These conditions create an unfit fitness—such a city can never adapt to the shaky ground of 21st-century megatrends.

The ground of fitness begins with a sense of collective efficacy and neighborhood order. A city’s residents must trust that, individually and collectively, they can make a difference, and they must palpably perceive the results of their collective efficacy as order.

To build trust, a city must ensure that its landscape of potentiality is not divided by mountains of unfairness. If opportunity is perceived to be fairly distributed, then people will grow toward opportunity the way trees grow toward light.

In cities across the world, protest movements arise from decades of thwarted opportunity. In the United States, the Black Lives Matter movement is a legacy of the “Baltimore idea” [a 1911 city ordinance that called for block-by-block segregation according to race] and its stepchild, the U.S. Federal Housing Administration’s restrictive covenants [in effect from the mid-1930s through the implementation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968] preventing black families from building home equity for generations. As we’ve seen in Louisville, such barriers can be overcome. The future of a nation’s children does not have to be determined by the ZIP code in which they are raised. We know how to dissolve the structural barriers to opportunity of housing, education, health, and transportation—and as we do, cities build tremendous trust among their people. That trust is the soil from which adaptive capacity grows.

Collective Impact

The second factor needed to generate altruistic fitness is collective efficacy.

The French aristocrat and political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville came to America in 1831 with the charge to study its prisons. In fact, his real goal was larger, to observe American society firsthand. His classic book Democracy in America, written in 1835, celebrated the contribution of the young nation’s informal, nongovernmental social institutions to the county’s resilience. He described how effective they were in generating the social cohesion and connectedness needed to maintain a pluralistic society.

America’s nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, continue to enhance collective efficacy in our cities. Cities should encourage the flowering of these traditional and new community-based organizations. The 150-year-old YWCA, now carrying out its mission to eliminate racism and empower women, provides housing and health services to low-income women. Settlement houses such as New York’s University Settlement and the Educational Alliance and community development corporations such as Philadelphia’s Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM), with deep roots in their neighborhoods, also provide job training, social services, and a collective voice for the communities that they serve. Community service networks like the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies and Catholic Charities share best practices with other agencies. Regional affordable-housing alliances like the Cleveland Housing Network, along with national partners like Enterprise Community Partners, bring resources to fund the revitalization of lower-income neighborhoods. And the national Trust for Public Land supports local community gardens to bring fresh food and nature back into neighborhoods.

Many of these programs, however, are working independently of one another. How can a city integrate them to create communities of opportunity? One way is through a process called “collective impact,” a framework for tackling deeply entrenched social problems that was first described in the Stanford Social Innovation Review by John Kania and Mark Kramer. The approach has its roots in the work of Strive, a nonprofit devoted to education and job training based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Strive achieved excellent outcomes despite local budget cuts and a national recession that hit Ohio particularly hard. How did Strive succeed when so many other not-for-profits working on the same issue were losing ground?

Strive brought together a core group of community leaders—funders, educators, elected officials, university presidents, and corporation executives—all of whom agreed to a common set of goals. These objectives, derived from extensive research, focused on key leverage points in educational development of children, such as preschool attendance, fourth-grade reading and math scores, and high school graduation rates. Rather than focus on one favored educational curriculum or program, the Strive partners collectively committed to an entire ecology of programs with one overriding goal: educational excellence. That goal was then divided into 15 student success networks, each focused on a different part of the educational environment, such as after-school tutoring. Funding decisions were based on independent assessments of effectiveness, the more successful ones receiving more funding. The system was designed with a feedback loop to help it evolve toward excellence.

Kania and Kramer went on to study a wide range of successful urban initiatives and from their common elements derived the five conditions of collective impact: a common agenda; shared measurement; integrated actions through mutually reinforcing activities; continuous communication; and investment in infrastructure to achieve the goals (which they call the backbone of support). The collective impact model’s scope should be enlarged to integrate multiple sectors into a whole community health model, using community health indicators as a guide.

But transformation cannot just be brought to communities; it must also grow from communities, harnessing the power of mutual aid. Perhaps the best advocate of mutual aid was Mahatma Gandhi, whose ideas sparked collective efficacy around the world. A superb example is the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement, founded by A.T. Ariyanate in Sri Lanka. Initially, Ariyanate set out to put Gandhi’s principles of self-reliance to work by engaging students and teachers to build a rural school. To get materials to the site they had to build a bridge across a river; to get materials to the bridge they had to improve the road leading to it. By the time they were finished, they had not only built a school but significantly improved the connectivity of their village. And they did it themselves, without waiting for the sluggish national government. Empowered by their success, they began to tackle other village issues and to spread the ideas of self-reliance across the country.

Sarvodaya means “awakening all” in Sanskrit, and shramadana means “to donate effort.” By 2015, Sarvodaya Shramadana served more than 15,000 villages with schools, credit unions, orphanages, the nation’s largest microcredit network, and 4,335 preschools. It provides communities with clean water systems, sanitation, alternative energy, and other infrastructure improvements. And almost all of this work is performed by donated, community-based labor. Sarvodaya trains thousands of young women and men with methods that motivate and organize people in their own villages to meet their infrastructure, social service, educational, spiritual, and cultural needs. It’s an extraordinary model of collective efficacy, sparking engagement, building trust, providing real results, and connecting across scales.

Paul Hawken [environmentalist, entrepreneur, and activist] described the emergence of hundreds of thousands of locally based environmental and social organizations around the world as the “blessed unrest.” In a 2007 book with that term as its title, he observed that these organizations are beginning to have a collective impact, serving as a vast immune system, working to heal people and the earth. These movements have arisen spontaneously, have no central leader, and are dealing with big problems whose time for solutions is running out. They are a super-wicked answer to the 21st century’s super-wicked problems.

Taken together, a community vision, scenario planning, strong and compassionate leadership, dynamic feedback systems, infrastructure investment, the tools of governing, collective impact, and self-reliance help create well-tempered cities.

But to truly succeed, cities need to integrate two worldviews. The first is a systems view, an understanding that nature is deeply interdependent. The second is the evolutionary fitness of altruism. Cities can heal their whole only if they heal all of their parts. This understanding of the interdependence of all living systems, human and natural, is inherent in all religions and science; it is the basis of morality and spirituality; it opens the pathway through the megatrends.

Entangled Altruism Is Entwinement

Quantum physics began with the study of the particle, but quickly observed that particles were interrelated. Quantum theory posits that particles are entangled, or interconnected, across space—change the status of one, and its sibling, even if on the other side of the universe, will respond instantaneously, beyond the speed of light. Albert Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance.” The Nobel Prize–winning Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger called this “quantum entanglement.”

Entanglement is a necessary condition of life. Isolated subatomic particles, atoms, and molecules are lifeless on their own. Life does not exist as an independent property; it emerges from the relationships between energy, information, and matter. And entropy, the wearing down of systems, the dispersal of heat and information, is also not a condition of individual particles; it too is a quality of an interdependent system.

Cities are magnificently entangled. Every tree, person, building, neighborhood, and business is entwined with every other. And just as living biocomplex systems draw from the same pool of DNA, cities share a metagenome that ties their elements together. Too often our economy, cognitive biases, and social structures amplify disparate expressions of pieces of the code, creating disorder. This may create small zones of fitness, but pushes the larger ecology toward unfitness. For example, our economic system, ignoring what it calls “externalities” of government tax breaks and subsidies, pollution, and natural resource depletion, encourages companies to undertake activities that fit for them, but create a larger unfit fitness for the well-being of their communities and for life on earth. Racial segregation may create a community that thinks it fits together, but in fact its “people may be unfitted by being fit in an unfit fitness.”

But we have also evolved with an innate metacode that can bind us together with synchrony: altruism. When altruism flows through every bit of a city’s interdependent social and cognitive ecologies and is embedded in the morality of its systems, it can generate synchrony. When altruism profoundly influences every decision, every project, every action that a city makes, then the city will become an extraordinary city. It will become well tempered.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Power properly understood is . . . the strength required to bring about social, political, and economic change. . . . One of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites—polar opposites—so that love is identified with the resignation of power and power with the denial of love. Now we’ve got to get this thing right. . . . Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

The Well-Tempered City Infuses Its Power with Love

The Greeks described three kinds of love: eros, philia, and agape. Eros is passionate, sexual love that fills us with the urge to merge. Philia is a deep, pervasive attraction, the propensity of things, a quality of the natural world, like gravity. This is the philia of [biologist and theorist] E.O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis, the human love of nature and life itself, “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.” Philia physically and spiritually weaves us into the fabric of the world. It entangles us. The third kind of love, agape, is a universal love. The theology professor Thomas Jay Oord describes agape as “an intentional response to promote well-being when confronted by that which generates ill-being. In short, agape repays evil with good.” Agape is the impulse to create a society grounded in well-being for all.

When these three kinds of love are woven into the fabric of a city, they create an energized and altruistic culture. They add intention to nature’s entanglement. I call this altruistically directed interdependence “entwinement.”

Entwinement lies at the core of the world’s major religious traditions. In Buddhism the combination of pervasive altruism and the recognition of interdependence is called bodhicitta. In Islam the mix of interdependence and altruism is called ta’awun, and ithar is the peak of altruism. In Judaism, tikun olam is the recognition that we have a responsibility to repair any tears in the fabric of the world with acts of goodness, or mitzvoth. The Hindu leader Gandhi taught satyagraha, the power of nonviolent action toward truth and social justice, and Pope Francis’s encyclical letter “Laudato Si” calls for an integral ecology to create a universal communion that “excludes nothing and no one.”

Composing Wholeness

Bach’s music was composed of many notes, but the notes alone lack meaning, grandeur, energy, a sense of purpose. The Well-Tempered Clavier’s beauty emerges from patterns of notes that weave across scales, where a pattern of notes may be expanded into a theme across many bars, contributing to a larger multiphrase wave, each phrase composed in counterpoint to another. The note, or particle, through the power of relationship, becomes a wave.
The universe is enlivened not by its notes, or particles, but by their ever-unfolding, complex, adapting patterns. Think of a whirlpool, in which no drop of water ever stays fixed in place, and yet the overall pattern can be very stable. Music, art, film, writing, performance, religious services, prayer, and meditation can all evoke these larger patterns, and help us to align with wholeness, so that our swirling lives may fit into a larger system, helping us understand a bit of the universe and our place in it. And the design of our cities could do the same.

In the aftermath of the astounding suffering caused by Rwanda’s uncivil war, aid workers noted that the most traumatized people in refugee camps displayed remarkably different capacities to recover from the unspeakable events they had endured. Those who had a deeply held cosmology that they believed could explain the events they experienced were much more likely to rebound than those who didn’t. It was as if the traumas were sharp shards embedded in their minds, and their cosmology helped them assemble the shards into a smooth whole, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Having a cosmology is a protective factor.

Bach wrote music to make such a wholeness. Christopher Alexander, the architectural theorist, wrote, “Making wholeness heals the maker. . . . A Humane Architecture does not only have the power to heal us. The very act of making it is itself a healing act for all of us.” And so, making a well-tempered city that reflects a larger harmony increases not only its resilience, but also our own.

Recall the first settlements, with their systems for sharing the responsibility for building irrigation ditches, maintaining them, and equitably distributing their water. These systems succeeded because they were rooted in altruism, in fairness, and with them came the pleasure of being part of a well-tempered society. These qualities are wired into our very neurology; they are the ground of our well-being. As our cities become more ethnically diverse, we cannot rely on one overarching religion, or creed, or race, or power to give us a common language of entwinement. But we can call upon something deeper: our overarching sense of purpose. When the purpose of our cities is to compose wholeness, aligning humans and nature, with compassion permeating its entire entwined system, then its ways will be ways of love, and all its paths will be paths of peace.

From the book The Well-Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life, by Jonathan F.P. Rose. © 2016 by Jonathan F.P. Rose. Reprinted by permission of Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.