Mindful Cities

Right now, a generation of civic leaders is aspiring to bring mindfulness practices into their efforts to create flourishing communities, and we are inspired to help them do so.

Cities are the primary social and political entity of our times yet engagement is low and civic dialog is deeply troubled. Mindfulness is our ‘infrastructure renewal’ program.

Civic leaders are seeing the benefit of mindfulness programs in their local schools, hospitals, and businesses, and they have a vision for how these programs can help make civic collaboration more fruitful.

The Mindful Cities Initiative was born from the requests for help we’ve received from civic leaders throughout the country who are seeking to apply the best mindfulness-based and social/emotional learning programs in their cities but just don’t know where to start.

What is the Mindful Cities Initiative?

Mindful Cities is a social innovation initiative designed to support the wisdom and best practices already emerging from within communities and enhance their chances for success. We are not defining the model of a “mindful city” and asking cities to conform to that. Rather, Mindful Cities supports local champions who know the variety of approaches that will help their cities achieve success.

Mindfulness training programs—as much as roads and bridges—can be part of rebuilding the necessary infrastructure for flourishing communities.

Neuroscientific research suggests that mindfulness and social/emotional practices can foster a set of superpowers for people who want to work together, from overcoming stress and modulating emotions to fostering resilience, from enhanced listening and communication skills to innovative and collaborative leadership. These are no longer “soft skills;” they are lifetime strengths that will serve us all in whatever we seek to accomplish.

Indeed, mindfulness training programs—as much as roads and bridges—can be part of rebuilding the necessary infrastructure for flourishing communities. Mindfulness is the tool we can’t put down. It is the one that makes all the other tools more effective. The Mindful Cities Initiative is one effort to support local champions doing this work.

What will the Mindful Cities Initiative do?

The primary goal of the Mindful Cities Initiative will be to help each city achieve success with their unique plan to bring mindfulness-based programs into their community.

We have identified four ways we can help:

  1. Building Community Awareness—of mindfulness and its benefits.
  2. Consulting with civic leaders—to provide an overview of how and where mindfulness program can help civic leaders achieve their goals.
  3. Identifying Effective Programs—helping local champions gain low-cost access to the program(s)they choose.
  4. Connecting the mindfulness community—Bringing in other civic leaders with similar goals and aspirations.

What does a whole-systems approach to mindfulness look like?

As mindfulness and social/emotional learning initiatives spread throughout the country, most of the focus has been on individual benefits: my pain, my stress, my anxiety, my leadership skills, etc. Recently, however, there has been switch.

Leaders are now increasingly talking about the benefits of mindfulness practice in systemic terms. It’s now about personal wellness and public health, about mindfulness in the classroom and its role in public education.

Civic leaders are in the forefront of this development. They are envisioning the benefits mindfulness programs can bring to cross-sector leadership training programs by improving civic dialog and collaborative efforts. Supported by scientific research, civic leaders are inspired to apply mindfulness in order to strengthen their communities.

Mindful Cities does not promote mindfulness-based programs as the sole solution, we see it as one element in the mix, an element that can both help in itself and also support other programs.

It’s important to note that Mindful Cities does not promote mindfulness-based programs as the sole solution, we see it as one element in the mix, an element that can both help in itself and also support other programs.

Also, rather than promoting any one mindfulness program as the sole option, Mindful Cities will promote a variety of programs which meet the standards of being evidence-based, having a proven track record, and showing the capacity for collaboration.

What are our goals for the Mindful Cities initiative?

The main goal of the Initiative is to help each partner city achieve success with their particular mindfulness programs. While doing that, we will also accumulate a set of effective practices that will make it easier for communities new to this work.

Many civic leaders who aspire to bring mindfulness-based programs into their city have no idea where to start, and they report spending too much time and money trying to figure out the best way to proceed. By creating a Mindful Cities map,we can help short cut this process, and enable cities to get up and running more quickly with a greater chance of success.

Underlying this description of Mindful Cities is our theory of change. We are not imposing “solutions” from the outside; we view internal community champions and local wisdom as the assets to build upon. By capitalizing on existing energy provided by local champions, by connecting that to others, by creating a supportive environment in the community, we can build momentum for effective action.

We believe that when independent, smaller, self-generating networks make genuine collaborative connections to other small networks, larger, more robust networks emerge. These larger networks often develop capacities and strengths beyond what was present before. The new whole is often greater than the sum of the parts, and we discover possible futures we cannot now imagine.

Which cities are included in the Mindful Cities initiative pilot project phase?

The Pilot Project Phase of the Mindful Cities initiative will enable us to put our inspiration into action, to test our theories and prove our concepts. We will launch in a few cities first where we have identified local champions who are already doing this work, and who have support networks in the community that are ready to build upon. At this time pilot phase cities include:

  • Flint, MI
  • Jackson, WY
  • Boston, MA

Who is funding the Mindful Cities initiative?

We are now seeking philanthropic support to launch the next phase of the Mindful Cities Initiative Pilot Project. In order to go forward, we need to hire dedicated Mindful Cities staff within the core organization, the Foundation for a Mindful Society, as well as local staff needed to shepherd the projects in participating cities.

Philanthropic support is critical because, as city budgets are already challenged, we do not foresee funding the Mindful Cities Initiative by charging cities for services rendered. All the costs of the Mindful Cities Initiative to date have been underwritten by the Foundation for a Mindful Society.

Mindful Cities is an initiative of the Foundation for a Mindful Society, a 501(c)3 nonprofit whose mission is to support mindfulness champions to increase resilience, health, well-being cross-sector and compassion in society. The Foundation publishes Mindful magazine and Mindful.org, sponsors conferences, and spearheads special initiatives.  

If you are interested in supporting the Mindful Cities Initiative and would like further information, please contact James Gimian, Executive Director of the Foundation for a Mindful Society.
[email protected] or (902) 452-3098.

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