The Need

The conclusions of Kickert (2007) bring us close to the need for an integrated trans disciplinary and pluridisciplinary approach. there is a need for integration. Why then not directly go back to basics and take the science as starting point which already has this way of looking embedded: forest ecology and silvology. What wisdom of the forest could be beneficial and crucial for city management and governance. And why not design from here, because the science itself is integrated, cohesive, not fragmented and not segmented. Everything is connected. If the city is considered as an ecosystem, then the city could follow the definition of the ecosystem:

“A community of living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) components interacting through cycles of water, nutrients and energy flows.“ – Eugene P. Odum (1971)

Following major and crucial research on the architecture of and the dynamics within forest ecosystems it gives us first guidance how to structure our approach:

“A forest ecosystem can be conceived as a set of interactive subsystems. It is in fact built up from the basic components, the individual living systems – also called organisms like plants, animals and humans – via subsystems to the highest level. Organisms as such are built up from cells, tissues, organs and organ complexes. Upwards from individual organisms the system can be built up to community, unit, mosaic and finally forest.” – Roelof A.A. Oldeman (1990)

Forest & City
Can the consideration of the city as an ecosystem and the use of the highly developed forest language be helpful to diagnosis its state? The assumption is made that the city fully functions under the laws of nature and therefor is ground to make the comparison between the forest and the city plausible. Using the language of the forest can possibly contribute to a better understanding of its interactions, dynamics and resilience and even to morge integrated thinking, decision making and acting. Following the inspiration and clear lessons of Professor Oldeman (1990) we may find analogy and come to the following definition of the ecosystem city:

“The ecosystem city can be conceived as a set of interactive subsystems. It is in fact built op from the basis components, the individual acting systems – also called organisations like governments, civil organisations and businesses – via subsystems neighbourhood, area, district, suburb to the highest level, the city. Organisations as such are built up from individual people, teams, departments and holdings, but are considered as black box.” – Jack P. Kruf, 2018.

Let us follow and elaborate some basic building blocks from the forest towards the city.


Kickert, Walter (ed.) (2007) The Study of Public Management in Europe and the US. London & New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.

Odum, Eugene P. (1971) Fundamentals of Ecology. 3rd edn. New York: Saunders.

Oldeman, R.A.A. (1990) Forests: Elements of Silvology. Berlin Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.

Ecosystem City®

Ecosystem City®

Ecosystem City® is registered at Benelux Office for Intellectual Property by Governance Connect (GC), on the 25th of June 2019.

Ecosystem City® is een raamwerk voor gerichte diagnose van maatschappelijke themas’s, betrokken organisaties, interacties, processen en hun besturing. Het komt in de vorm van lesmateriaal inclusief een toolbox in de vorm van een set kaarten, Lego®-stenen en een online canvas. De belangrijkste kenmerken van een bosecosysteem kunnen nu worden toegepast op de stad.

Het is ontworpen parallel aan het concept van de Oldeman-Lezing in 2016/2017 door ir. Jack P. Kruf in nauwe samenspraak met Professor dr. ir. Roelof A.A. Oldeman. Het raamwerk is voor onderhoud, ontwikkeling en toepassing ondergebracht bij Stichting Civitas Naturalis te Breda.

Het raamwerk is geregistreerd inzake intellectueel eigendom bij het i-Depot (nr.118109) en voor het ontwerp als Trademark (nr. 1397978) bij de Benelux Office for Intellectual Property door Governance Connect (eigenaar Jack Kruf) met als omschrijving: “Considering the city as an ecosystem can create a holistic perspective on city life, its environment and its governance as a whole. Applying laws of the forest to the city can share new light on public governance diagnosis.”


City Resilience and 1-17-169?

Kruf, J.P. (2019) City, goal, target. Breda, Governance Connect.

The world, in its thinking in terms of resilience and considering society as a social-ecological system, is at drift. At least for public leaders and their civil servants, resilience is the new buzzword. It is rediscovered because our ancestors knew already what it was. So actually nothing new.

Resilience in itself is a deep and fundamental concept. It exists as a mechanism long before mankind populated the earth. But for most of us now it is a completely new concept. Maybe it is a psychological reaction, a gut-feeling, that back to basics is key and the search for arguments to improve present public governance is something elementary. There is something elementary about resilience, isn’t it?

Maybe it is wise to consider – to not start all over again and come in the sandbox of what resilience is and what it is not – to bring it close to the existing frame of the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is actually about resilience. The first principles for these were defined in the 1987 Brundtland Report Our Common Future, developed from there via the Millennium Development Goals (Battersby et al., 2017) and agreed as a set of goals (17) and targets (169) for 2030.

Agreed though is very relative, because every city today is allowed to take his own route, with its own defined scenario pace and policy planning, with own personal perspectives of its public and business leaders. Every city is in principal free to act, without legislation, without obligation, without formal contract or agreement, without consequences, without accountability, without defined responsibilities related to final leadership.

The resilience as the total sum of feed-back mechanisms may potentially be embedded in the present social-ecological system of society, but the fact that all the SDG goals and targets in their actual status arestructurally way out of balance (personal formulation, based on United Nations, 2019), showing significant deviations from the desired equilibrium, i.e. the optimum public value, suggests that it is not functioning as assumed.

Today’s society seem to be in a lower ecosystem status than we have declared ourselves as the ‘Belle Epoque’. It seems for many of us a far away over the mystic horizon picture, a dream scenario, a fata morgana. Nice but unreachable. We know (and see on the daily news) that we are not resilient – let us be honest – to tackle daily declines to lesser states of the ecosystem city and not be able to prevent, in some societies, to fall back to even the zero-state. Of course we may dream about, put hope in and give all our optimism (‘a moral duty’, Kant (1795)) in resilience. But the facts speak otherwise. The ‘ability to bounce back’ is relative or even absent.

Resilience is a nice word, suitable for politicians, policy makers and dreamers of far horizons. For those who have no food, no water, no freedom, for those who live in fear, in poverty or are completely lost in a war, it is an empty word, a missing link.


The SDGs are best defined in my view as a call for implementing collective ‘clear conscience’ for our children and grandchildren It is intentional, a frame for good governance, a manifest for respect and a caring-for-the-earth-attitude and for true stewardship. Noble and pure. It is styled, but also highly segmented. How can 1 city manage 17 goals and 169 targets with governmental councils that have an average of 27 political responsibilities and with a constantly shifting accountability city landscape?

The network of cities does cooperate in all kinds of ways. Necessary to come to results. No city can do this on its own. This has lead to a rich palette of excellent and above all inspiring initiatives and projects. But, there is one big but, the political landscape of cooperation in the city network of a total of 195 countries – with an average of 4 years between elections – changes every week. With the election frequency per country, state or province taken into account, this means that the overall landscape of cooperations changes every day!

Well, who will receive the Nobel Prize for Public Governance in 2030 to link 1 to 17 to 169 into one coherent approach? Since March 2020 there is a dashboard launched by United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) for following the SDGs with 232 indicators. That is a lot. It will be necessary to more and more play the holistic card. How? Interesting!


Battersby, J. (2017) MDGs to SDGs – new goals, same gaps: the continued absence of urban food security in the post-2015 global development agenda. African Geographical Review, 13(1), 115-129.

Kant, Immanuel (1795, republished 2003) Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing.

The Brundtland Report: World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) (1987) Our common future. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

United Nations General Assembly (2015) Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. A/RES/70/1.

United Nations (2019) The Sustainable Development Goals Report. New York: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

The Steward

Black king symbolising the role of government as a service provider.

A steward is someone who is responsible for the planning and management of resources, someone who takes care of an object. This focus on and attitude of responsibility is described as the ethic of ‘stewardship’.

It can be applied to the environment, economics, health, property, information, religion et cetera. Stewardship is often linked to the principles of sustainability.  Stewardship is now generally recognized as the acceptance or assignment of responsibility to shepherd and safeguard the valuables of others. (Wikipedia)

In our canvas, the logo of this role is the black king from the game of chess. The role of the inhabitant, its counterpart, is the white king.


Bringing back lost species?

The Thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus). Dr. Goding in 1902. Source: Wikipedia.

Throughout humankind’s history, we’ve driven species after species extinct: the passenger pigeon, the Eastern cougar, the dodo, the Tasmanian tiger …

But now, says American writer Stewart Brand, we have the technology (and the biology) to bring back species that humanity wiped out. So — should we? Which ones? He asks the big question. The answer is closer than you might think.

Quadruple Helix of Blokkendoos?

Kruf, J.P. (2019) Quadruple Helix. Breda: Governance Connect.

Was het niet James Watson die ontdekte dat ons DNA in een dubbele spiraal ‘door het leven’ gaat. Spiraal in het Grieks betekent έλιξ, helix.

Een helix kan in de wereld van publieke sturing ook uit vier spiralen bestaan – 0p een veel hoger niveau dan dat van ons DNA. Het bestaat in de hoofden van  politici, bestuurders en strategen. Het gaat als een metafoor voor of een gestileerde beeld van optimale samenwerking tussen families van organisaties, zoals bijvoorbeeld overheid, wetenschap, onderwijs (hier niet de burger) en bedrijfsleven.

Een quadruple samenwerking kan tot meerwaarde leiden in de sociale en economische ontwikkeling van steden en regio’s, zo is de gedachte.  De talloze verbindingen tussen organisaties en mensen in die organisaties vormen de spiralen en zorgen voor de stevigheid en de samenhang van de samenwerking. Klinkt logisch. Je hebt elkaar immers nodig – op  alle niveaus en vanuit diverse geledingen – om tot succes te komen.

In werkelijkheid zijn de spiralen niet zichtbaar natuurlijk en ziet de samenwerking er vaak uit als een een soort blokkendoos waar organisaties wel tegen elkaar aanliggen maar in beperkte mate samenwerken. Is ook moeilijk om aan dit idee van de helix te kunnen voldoen. Ontnuchterend? Misschien. Zie het als een begin. Fase 1. Hoe lang heeft het geduurd voordat DNA zich heeft kunnen vormen, gerekend vanaf de oerknal?

Hier mijn persoonlijke art impression – op basis van mijn eigen ervaringen in 30 jaar adviseur, projectmanager, directeur en gemeentesecretaris in regionale samenwerkingsverbanden in Nederland, Vlaanderen en Groot-Brittanië – van de Quadruple Helix (dus van de virtueel gemiddelde regio in mijn hoofd).

De organisaties in deze regio zijn weergegeven als vlakken op een schaakbord, op het het canvas van de samenleving. waarbij de betrokken organisaties zijn ingekleurd met Pantone®-kleuren: overheid (Imperial Blue), bedrijfsleven (Flame), onderwijs (Solar Power) en wetenschap (Beveled Glass). ‘Zwart’ zijn de organisaties die zich volledig hebben teruggetrokken en stand-alone opereren en ‘wit’ de organisaties, die de samenwerking nog moeten ontdekken (Pristine).

De helix is de idee, metaforisch prachtig natuurlijk, maar een blokkendoos kan ook zeer kleurrijk zijn. Zeker wel.