The imaginary dictionary of all urban things often refers to growth in relation to swelling populations, unruly sprawl and less than mediocre commercial development. However, the science of the human mind and brain might offer deeper insights into growth in relation to our urban mindset, resilience and ‘the vibe’ of a place as drivers of prosperity.
Stanford Professor Carol Dweck has led ground breaking work on human mindsets which is echoed throughout classrooms around the world and provides insights into how individuals might foster success. Dweck’s work demonstrates that an individual with a growth mindset exhibits curiosity, courage, and confidence, embraces challenges, sees effort as the path to mastery and finds inspiration from the success of others.
Grit is important too. Psychologist Angela Duckworth’s work on the psychology of achievement sheds some the character of grit and resilience, and while it’s much more than “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” it proves to be an important cog in the engine of social mobility. Duckworth’s take home message is simple: define your higher purpose, then persevere.
Confidence is another factor and the balance with capability is crucial. In these times where self-confidence and posturing often exceed competence, perhaps there is something to be learned from grace and discernment, being true to oneself and creating clear boundaries.
On the flip side, Dweck also demonstrates that an individual with a fixed mindset, exhibits the opposite — avoids challenges, gives up easily, sees effort as fruitless, ignores feedback, is threatened by the success of others. We tend to associate a lack of confidence with being discouraged, fretful, hypersensitive and annoyingly indecisive. It’s all about the ‘F’ word. Fear. Fear of failure, fear of being judged, fear of not being taken seriously, fear of being rejected.
Failure can however have a function — its asks us if we are serious, if we want to go again, but being a little wiser. It’s arguable that it’s only when we scrape ourselves up, from the floor of failure and go on, that we really benefit. If we don’t, it haunts us. It becomes a reference point for almost everything else we try, and with what we know about how our brain wires itself, it becomes us. We become so risk averse we are at risk. We languish.
The astonishingly good news is that we can rewire and change our brain. Neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield, among others, has enlightened us to plasticity of the human brain and its astonishing capability to reorganise itself by forming new connections between brain cells, whenever something new is learned and memorised. Intelligence can be developed. Mindsets can be changed.
So, what does a capable, confident and resilient city look and feel like and how might we rewire urban ‘neural’ pathways; the urban mind, for a better future?
Let’s consider purpose. Defining one’s individual higher purpose or raison d’être, requires a deep and often lengthy search of the self and begins with acknowledging one’s identity.
Cities and places have 3.8 billion years (or thereabouts) of natural biological and geographical history. This deep time offers an immediate potential source of shared place identity. The rich culture, customs and traditions of Australian Aboriginal people, as well as contemporary narratives, coalesce with diverse migrant stories and experiences to blend and shape our connection to place.
In the quest to define the identity of a city or place, branding strategies can often result in municipalities allocating a politically-driven aspirational and gentrified city tagline such as ‘Smart City’, ‘Creative City’, or ‘Open City’ — but unless it comes from deep within the cultural bones of the people, it’s not only meaningless and naïve but it reeks of desperation and lost opportunity.
Some cities are busy posturing in the endless quest for global attention yet grappling to get a grip on the basics of inequality, homelessness, addiction and violence. Other cities and regions, however, are deeply focused on the question, “How might we sustain ourselves in this wondrous place?”, and gently curating the conditions conducive to ‘the good life’ enabling prosperity for all its people and the planet.
It has been a year since Adelaide and South Australia were thrust into absolute darkness amid a wild and squally tempest. It is glorious to think that in our darkest hour, literally, in the aftermath of the state-wide power failure, it seems we stumbled upon a defining moment — a pivotal re-boot, a shift in mindset and some seemingly crucial rewiring has taken place in the transition from “just keep swimming’’ to “infinity and beyond’’.