How Do We Respond When Systems Fail?

Tomorrow I'm going to visit Detroit. I'll be missing my economics midterm exam to go - which is ironic, as I'll be going to see what our current economic system has done to Motor City. I'll be on a learning journey led by leadership author Margaret Wheatley and The Boggs Center for Detroit to learn how citizens are responding to the fact that the jobs that created Detroit America's fourth largest city, are not coming back.

I'm studying public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School at the moment - but so far little of what I'm learning has a coherent answer to the questions I'm asking. If we accept that 'business as normal died in 2008', how do governments enable a transition to a sustainable economy? How do we redesign governance institutions to handle the complexity of 'wicked' problems?

I think Detroit has some answers.

"Like abandoned citizens everywhere, when people realize that no one is coming to help, the possibility of community arises. As people stop looking outside themselves and turn to one another, they discover the richness of resources to be found within themselves, their cultures and their land. No where in the Western world is this discovery of community-­as-­resource more vibrant than in Detroit. Intentional experiments are underway to explore:

  • Food self-­‐sufficiency. 1600 vacant lots have become gardens and small farms.
  • Reimagining work. Distinguishing work, which is purposeful and contributes to community, from jobs that employ individuals in existing capitalist systems.
  • Reimagining education. Creating place-­‐based public schools rooted in community and culture.
  • Public safety. Creating Peace Zones to put “neighbor back in the hood.”
  • Arts for social change. Training youth to give voice to their experiences through music, theater and visual arts.
  • Conscious conversations. Determining future direction and actions based on decades of experience with social movements and a profound understanding of society, economics, and the role of grassroots change."

I'll be visiting the individuals and communities at the heart of this transition - including Grace Lee Boggs, who is nearly 100 and is one of the most inspirational people alive today. I hope to share some of the stories I hear and lessons I learn on the blog over the coming four days.