Monday, June 23, 2008

Mature Citizen Index

The Kiplinger finance web site just released its "best places to live" list for 2008. These types of lists look at conventional measures like housing affordability, amenities, crime rates, etc. These are logical choices for constructing an index of livability. theirs is no different than the dozens of "best places" indexes that come out every year. But should we be looking at places less as consumer choices and more as places to nurture and develop our character?

Richard Florida has created a cottage industry out of the idea of creative cities. A better word for these cities might be controlled chaos cities. Cities that succeed at attracting knowledge workers are those that are generally able to maintain a sense of playfulness and creativity while eliminating the less savory aspects of difference. I was at the Solstice parade in Santa Barbara this past weekend and struck by the balance maintained between colorful zaniness and complete order. The parade had all of the trappings of sixties rebellion and dissent, but little of the danger and uncertainty that accompanied those movements.

This is a victory for the city of Santa Barbara. Cities realizes that escapism and play is essential to the human condition. Critical to that sense of play is difference, novelty, uniqueness. Being able to play that out in public spaces with throngs of others is good for places that want to stay competitive and is good for the soul too. That sense of play, becomes threatened by any encroachment of despair so cities try desperately to keep much of that despair out.

It would be interested to, instead of having a livability, or best places to live, index. There was something of a "mature citizen" index that tried to examine the extent to which a city's residents engage with diversity to its fullest extent. Where are the places that are most likley to encourage the creation of mature human beings?

Flyvbjerg (2007) makes the case that social science should be engaged in the practice of helping citizens develop phronesis, the Aristotelian term for wisdom. Flyvbjerg argues that this widsom only comes from individual engagement in a varying range of situations. Individuals who have acquired a high level of phronesis are able to act appropriately in a wide range of situations. He likens it to the musical virtuoso knows when to apply the rules and when to be flexible enough to work outside of the rules. This to me is the central case for diversity. Only through heterogeneity of experience is someone able to engage this.

Any ideas on creating a "moral cities" index?

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