Cheat Sheet for an Agile Nation

 
 

Cities only exist because they make us more productive than the alternatives. And they can only survive if they, themselves, are productive enough to stay afloat. So if we want to ensure a healthy future for our cities, we have to make them more productive than the other places a person might choose to work and live.

But productivity isn't as simple as we think.

There are two fundamentally different systems for achieving productivity: scale-driven thinking and agile thinking. Each of them can be productive, but under different circumstances. So we have to know our circumstances to choose the system that will work for us.

In pre-industrial times, that was easy. Nearly everything was agile. You could turn on a dime, because you only made a few things at once. Making only a few things at a time was the only way to go, because your markets were so small that you couldn't sell in volume anyway.

But as history progressed and the movement of goods became easier, the scope of markets expanded. And scale-driven thinking (or mass production) enabled you to become more productive than your competitors who were still making things by hand. Even accounting for the cost of transport to the broader market, your stuff consumed less resources than stuff that was made to order, so you could price it lower to sell more. And you could sell more, because markets were big enough to absorb what you made.

We've been in this phase of history for so long now that something funny has happened. We've taken mass production and scale-driven thinking so far that we've begun to achieve DIS-economies of scale. We've become unproductive with that system of thinking that made us productive before, but the principles of mass production are so embedded in our way of doing things that we don't even see that these principles are the problem.

Under these circumstances, agile thinking becomes the antidote. So if we want to help our cities become more productive and prosper, we need to help them figure out how to become more agile. This cheat sheet is a start.

Think of it as a statement of guiding principles, or a checklist to help you diagnose what's going wrong in the place you call home.

Guiding principles are just a start. If you need a hand applying them, please get in touch.

"Cheat Sheet for an Agile Nation" debuted on May 1, 2015 at the 23rd Annual Congress for the New Urbanism.