Public Value and the Integrative Mind: How Multiple Sectors Can Collaborate in City Building

Date01 July 2014
Published date01 July 2014
Thomas Fisher is professor in the School
of Architecture and dean of the College
of Design at the University of Minnesota.
Previously, he served as editorial director
of Progressive Architecture magazine.
With degrees in architecture from Cornell
University and intellectual history from Case
Western Reserve University, he was recog-
nized in 2005 as the f‌i fth-most-published
architecture writer in the United States, with
seven books, 47 book chapters or introduc-
tions, and more than 325 articles.
E-mail: tf‌i
Public Value and the Integrative Mind: How Multiple Sectors Can Collaborate in City Building 457
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 74, Iss. 4, pp. 457–464. © 2014 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12133.
Thomas Fisher
University of Minnesota
Creating the public realm in an era of constrained
resources demands a level of cooperation among multi-
ple sectors rarely seen before and a recognition that the
boundaries between what we have considered “pub-
lic” and “private” have become porous and blurred. A
number of recent projects on either side of the Mississippi
River near downtown Minneapolis show what this means
in terms of delivering public value much greater than any
one sector could produce on its own.
In the United States, we have begun to shift from a
conventional, oppositional way of thinking about
the creation of public value to a more creative,
integrative way of thinking. In the f‌i rst part of this
article, I will compare these two ways of thinking
and talk about why we have seen a shift from one to
the other, and in the second part of the article, I will
show how this shift has manifested itself in a number
of recent, publicly accessible projects—buildings,
parks, bridges, and other infrastructure—along a
short stretch of the Mississippi River in downtown
Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Oppositional thinkers perceive situations in binary,
black-or-white terms and often see conf‌l ict in an
adversarial, win-or-lose way. Such thinking tends
to see conf‌l icts in terms of unattractive trade-of‌f s,
consider situations sequentially or as independent
parts, simplify the possible causes, and limit the
consideration of alternatives. Oppositional thinking
also frequently uses sports or military metaphors to
frame discussions, and it often has the combative
tone of trial law or partisan politics, where winning
can become an end in itself. Such thinking has
had a formative role in shaping cities in the past,
such that we have divided our communities in a
binary way, between public or private property
Not to sound too oppositional about it, but the
inverse of oppositional thinking is what Roger Martin
at the University of Toronto has called integrative
thinking. In his book e Opposable Mind: How
Successful Leaders Win  rough Integrative  inking,
Martin def‌i nes this mode of thought with a quote
from F. Scott Fitzgerald as “the ability to hold two
opposing ideas in mind at the same time and retain
the ability to function” (2009, 1). Integrative thinking
includes a much larger set of variables when address-
ing a problem, considers multiple and nonlinear
causes, visualizes the whole as well as the parts,
and searches for creative, out-of-the-box solutions.
Integrative thinking, in contrast to the oppositional
kind, takes a “both/and” rather than an “either/or”
approach to problems, seeks win–win rather than
win–lose solutions to them, and does so through
cooperative rather than competitive relationships.
Instead of the black-or-white world of the opposi-
tional mind, integrative thinkers tend to see the world
in shades of gray.
Integrative thinking has become increasingly
dominant as an approach to public problems, many
of which have resulted from oppositional thinking.
For example, we no longer accept, in the United
States, racially segregated or “redlined” communities,
which stemmed from an oppositional way of looking
at how people should live. And as we watch the
ideological battles and listen to the combative tone of
politicians in Congress or in our state houses, we can
see how oppositional thinking tends to lead, in the
end, to gridlock. In the ever more interconnected,
global reality in which we live, we have no choice
but to become more integrative in our thinking:
embracing diversity, welcoming dif‌f erences, and
keeping seemingly opposed perspectives in mind at
the same time.
Oppositional thinkers may see those with a more
integrative mind-set as lacking clarity or logic, but
that arises from a misunderstanding of the rigor of
integration. While oppositional thought tends to use
inductive or deductive logics, integrative thought
favors the abductive kind, a type of logic that makes
lateral connections among seemingly disparate ideas
in order to create something new and better than we
Public Value and the Integrative Mind: How Multiple Sectors
Can Collaborate in City Building

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