About the Council

[In progress: The working draft that follows has been taken directly from the 2005 background note on the Council and is being revised and updates. Please come back next week for the final on this. And if in the meantime you have suggestions or criticisms, it would be great to have them. Thank you.]

The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him. The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself. All progress depends on the unreasonable man.
- G.B. Shaw, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, 1893

Who are these people? The International Advisory Council brings together a very broad cross-section of the outstanding leaders, thinkers and activists in the full range of fields involved, representing many countries, disciplines, areas of expertise and points of view — “unreasonable people” in Shaw’s words, who in their work are leading the way to show how we go about the difficult task of rendering our mobility systems and cities more efficient, livable and sustainable.

What are they doing here? While each has very little available time, they have agreed to keep an eye on us to make sure that we respect the mandate to which  they have signed on. To this end, they receive occasional progress reports and work plans and collaboration statements. In some cases they may take a much more active role as their time and interest permit, including more direct participation in any given project, including follow-up discussions with cities and agencies in their bailiwick.

Is this list too long?

As we answer this, let’s bear in mind that there are close to five hundred cities world wide today with populations of more than a million. There are several hundred thousand towns and cities large enough and important enough to have a properly functioning set of mobility arrangements. Almost all of these however are currently locked into old thinking, which is creating real problems for the people who live and work there, and for the planet as a whole. Our target is to have one thousand cities on board in this international exchange program within the year and who by their examples demonstrate that there is an alterative to inertia.

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The International Advisory Council

Thus far you will see here eminent, unreasonable thinkers, practitioners, activists and supporters of these ideas from: Abu Dhabi, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Chile, China, Colombia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zeeland, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa,Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, UK, USA, Venezuela. . . Stay tuned. It’s far from over.

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About the Council

“Sustainable development is a weak goal – the future should be awesome”.
- Saul Griffith

Who are all these people? No less than the Principal Voices of Sustainable Transportation. In a phrase: among the outstanding thinkers, practitioners and leaders in many parts of the world who over the last years have been working on the ground to reshape the transportation agenda, bringing it step by step closer in line with the precepts of sustainable development and social justice.

And why exactly are they here? Because they have each had a good look at the ideas and goals behind the Agenda, and are in this way going on public record to signal their personal support of the urgent call for near term actions. For more on each, you are invited to click the links beside their names. As you will see there is great variety in their views and approaches, as it should be in this changing world of many mixed messages and incomplete visions. This great diversity makes for lively discussions and the policy ideas and measures that emanate from them will be all the more effective for having been put through this meat grinder of informed collegial discussion.

Unreasonable people: In the full knowledge that the force for major change such as is needed to reshape our cities will not come from those unwilling to challenge the existing system and habits of the past, we have purposely sought out individuals who are bold and risk taking – including mavericks and others who work outside of conventional reward systems. Shaw’s unreasonable people, if you will. But there is another dimension of their work that needs to be noted: and that is their long term commitment and sheer staying power. As one Indian colleague from Pune put it some years ago: “Eric, we are in this for the long slog!”. Exactly!

Grassroots/Personal engagement: Each signature that you see here is that of a concerned individual world citizen — and not the stamp of approval of a government or organization (for the latter, have a look at our institutional partners here). This is thus at its core not an institutional initiative but rather a personal, grassroots, citizen based activity. Each individual whose name you see here has shown themselves to be highly motivated and distinguished by a high sense of personal responsibility for what goes on in their cities and on the planet, the quality of their ideas, proven capacity for innovation, high energy level, persistence in the face of personal and conceptual obstacles, and stubborn commitment to the long haul. Each moreover has demonstrated in their work real cultural and social sensitivity, high competence in at least one major field, an ability to transcend traditional boundaries, an enthusiasm for creative ideas and important issues within and outside of their areas of expertise, and a capacity to synthesize disparate ideas and approaches.

Diversity: As you will quickly see as you click down this list they come from many different disciplines, countries and political outlooks, and share the understanding that the kinds of improvements needed to make a real difference requires not only technical capabilities but also the ability to negotiate change. They are careful observers and good at listening, including to people with ideas and values that may be rather different from their own. When it comes to changing anything as complex, conflicted and emotion-charged as transport in cities, that’s a good start.

Peer support network: Certainly one of the clear advantages of this impressive list of outstanding international thinkers and practitioners who have signed on here, is that the day any citizen group approaches their mayor with their own carefully prepared proposal and an outline plan for a New Mobility project for their city, they will be able to buttress their arguments with exactly this list. The fact that World Streets and its associated programs are also trying to put in their hands useful guidelines, materials and references for their efforts is useful, but this ability to cite these names puts steel behind their demands for attacking today’s problems today.

“Swarm intelligence”: But there is one other important aspect of this group which has not escaped our attention. In addition to their outstanding qualities as individual agents of change, we have also kept a keen eye on how they may, both in the short term and over a much longer period, function and interact as a group with many common interests and potentials for creative interaction. We are thus looking for many forms of group knowledge building through creative interactions, and our particular variant of “swarm intelligence” (“SI provides a basis with which it is possible to explore collective (or distributed) problem solving without centralized control or the provision of a global model.” That’s us!)

The Bridge: We are giving full attention to various ways in which we can link and bring all these disparate voices together, including by means that are more “Kyoto compliant” than popping us all without a second thought onto airplanes and burning our way to a common physical destination. Our model is an electronic town meeting bringing together world wide peers, reinforced by local (physical this time) meetings in support of specific city projects as the program advances. We are working on it, combining an evolving set of free or low cost software tools on an ad hoc case by case basis.  Careful though: once you start to adapt, it will almost certainly change the way you work and organize your daily life. For the better.

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The Fruit of Diversity

If you have clicked through here a bit, you will certainly have noted the extremely wide spread of backgrounds, disciplines and approaches that you will find represented in this group. This is important given the level of ambition of this effort. The North/South, East/West mix is intentionally very rich, as is the spread of ages and major emphasis on bringing in a full quorum of outstanding female leaders.

And in all this you will thus find not only a very wide array of highly distinguished transportation specialists, but also operators and planners; architects and urbanists; teachers (of youth and people of all ages) and researchers; medical and public health workers; psychologists and social workers; specialists in modeling, logistics and operations research; practitioners of old and new media; experts in a wide array of internet, networking and communications technologies; community activists and keen users; thoughtful bureaucrats and administrators; local and other politicians willing to push for new ideas; mayors and city Councilors who wish to make a difference; industrialists and entrepreneurs; and yes even a few economists, lawyers and others who are pushing the frontier of policy and practice when it comes to using economic, financial and legal instruments to do a bit better in our transportation/environmental arrangements.

Why all this diversity for what many may think of as straight-forward transportation problem that simply needs a straight-forward transportation solution (read more infrastructure, new technology, more buses or what have you). Well, from our point of view there are several strong justifications for this.

  1. First, these problems are in truth terribly multi-faceted — so if they are ever to be solved in the very short periods we are targeting here, a very broad range of skills and capabilities are going to have to be brought in and put to work.
  2. Another goal of the Council is not only to bring in their individual competences and reputations to advance the sustainabilty agenda, but also to see if we can by networking them within this focused high profile international program elicit group or even swarm intelligence that just may come up with ideas and achievements that none of us individually might have arrived at working alone.below).

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Cognitive Dissonance

Then there is the matter of “cognitive dissonance” as a learning device, an old favorite of ours here at The Commons. The idea is to create a purposeful, rich imbalance of views and positions within a shared forum (this program replete with its great variety of actors and attitudes), and then let them rip. The first consequence is usually (if you get it right) to remove “comfort zones”, which occur when people tend to adopt thoughts or beliefs so as to minimize the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions (people present).

Now this is fine if the challenge at hand is straight forward and well defined within a given approved value set, but the present dilemma of transport in cities is anything but that. Thus we are counting on this great variety, the strong voices, the continuing vigorous dialogue over the next two years or so, to remove the all too usual easy comfort zones and to bring about new thinking and new solutions. Because certainly the ones that most people are considering today when and if they get around to the problems at all, will surely never do the job. That much we know for sure.

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The Sub-Rosa Agenda – A 20% Solution (for starters)

We don’t wish to make too much of a public fuss about this – because we feel that it is more important to perform than to announce loudly – but there is an extremely important parallel agenda to this entire exercise – and that is the active mobilization of female participation and leadership, both in the Challenge and, more important yet, when the real action begins in the cities you and we live in.

As we all know all too well, the basic facts of life, the values, the shape and the workings of the transportation sector as we all know have been largely dominated by males, whether as engineers, planners, administrators, politicos, or suppliers. So, not surprisingly, we have a made-to-order male transportation system. Bingo! A set of daily life arrangements that work well enough for women, maybe, but for women who accept and adapt to the dominant male pattern. Hmm.

Strange as it may seem, this tradition of long male dominance is an important part of the problem. And anything that sets out to fix it, had better be shaped from the beginning by strong female presence.

This is no new concern of The Commons and the New Mobility Agenda as those of you who have followed our work over the years. But it turns out that in a field that is still largely populated by the other sex, it is not all that easy to find and located females who are available to come in and through their own presence, authority and, yes when needed, guile shape that agenda.

Our task this time around is greatly facilitated in part because of the nature of the sustainability challenge as defined here. It is not, as you will have surely noted, a purely transportation exercise. Indeed one of the central theses of the Challenge is that a very great part of the solution in each case lies well outside of the traditional transportation sector and its technical and jurisdictional competence. This brings us into a myriad of “new” areas, and in many of which women are increasingly appearing in leadership roles: community organization, local government, schools, children’s issues, psychology, social work, public health, the law, journalism and the list goes on. Moreover, since we are seeking to bring in more than usual proportion of people early in their careers, this too helps in righting the long-held imbalance.

So this give us both our problematique, and our challenge. Just to make sure that we rise to the challenge, we have set ourselves what may appear to be a too modest goal: at least 20% participation of the stronger sex (It’s that extra X chromosome) in our International Advisory Council. And then once we have achieved that – a goal which by the way will make us a rather unique group in international transport policy circles — we can then take off the gloves and get serious;. But for now, let’s get started, and if you are a member of our Council, well please help us to stretch our wings and fly.

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No Fear of Youth here

All too often Councils and governing boards of this sort tend to bring together ‘proven values’: people who have made their mark and are widely recognized as leaders in their field. And if you look through this list you will see that we have a very large number of people of truly outstanding talent and accomplishment here. And we are of course very glad to have them with us so that we can benefit from their experience and wisdom. Which gives us a good beginning.

But if you take the time to go out on to the street, whether in Toronto or Amsterdam, Delhi or Bogota, Bhaktapur or Tallinn, you may be surprised at how many talented and dedicated young people you find working out there, doing their best under often pretty trying circumstances. Planners, urbanists, engineers, activists, administrators, researchers, social workers, trainers, coaches and public health workers, and the list goes on.

So we have some compelling reasons to make sure that we bring in a good cross section of these young people here. First because they are very good at what they do… we have watched them study the problem, work it, fail, try again, run into unforeseen problems, go back, fix it and finally make the damn thing work. That’s one reason.

And another of the reasons they are doing well is that they have come to the challenges in many cases substantially less encumbered by old thinking and patterns than those of us whose education and early work experience was in another time, when the issues and values were rather different on the whole from the reality of this new century. They are thus in many ways better equipped for thee new and trying circumstances than us old folks who were brought up in softer and more staid times.

But finally, let’s not forget that they are our future. So we might as well take the strong ones already showing that they can perform, and bring them into positions of responsibility without waiting for their hair to gray. They will be able to make their own mistakes, but the odds are — am I an incurable optimist? — that they’ll do a lot better than we have.

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Transportation Virtuosity

This is the sine quo non of New Mobility success, and is something that should not get lost in the push to greater diversity. Transport and traffic planners, together with their colleagues in transport systems operations, have come a long way in the last two decades. Their perspectives have broadened considerably and their tools have expanded and evolved hugely in terms of their sophistication and on street potential. If in earlier decades the dominant mindset and activities were primarily oriented toward traffic accommodation and infrastructure building, at the leading edge of the profession both thinking and practice have changed considerably.

As a result today we have a new generation of planners and practitioners who are better equipped than at any time in the past to deal with the challenges of sustainability in our cities, and it is with them at the core of the necessary technical adaptation that the Kyoto Challenge is going to be met.

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Levels of engagement and participation

As you will appreciate, the people whose names appear here are in all cases already hugely over-booked. Thus it would be unreasonable as well as unrealistic to expect that most of them are going to be able to put a great deal of time into this specifically . . . unless, as will surely be the case for some, the approaches, tools and contacts grouped here turn out to be directly applicable to their own work and responsibilities immediately at hand.

The most immediate thing the signatories offer to the Kyoto Cities Challenge program in this first instance, is that by posting their names here they are announcing to any and all that: (a) they believe that not only are the transport-related problems racking our cities of great importance and urgency, but also (b) that it makes good sense in most cases to look to see what can be done by way of strong remedial measures and policies to make a very large impact on the city within a very short period, i.e., the two or three years immediately ahead.

One thing that we can expect to see as the project gains momentum will be a certain amount of creative clustering, both as specific organizations begin to get together here and there in their work and projects, but we will certainly also see specific city, project and program clusters emerge as the group expands and as Council members suggest and bring in additional experts with the kinds of competences that are going to be needed to make this whole thing work. (See just below for more on this.)

In conclusion: Those colleagues working in various ways on these issues around the world are making a contribution by their public support of more aggressive approaches to the challenges as hand — and it is up to us here to make sure that we give back to them in turn ideas, tools and information that make this a fair trade. Stay tuned.

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