Weekend musing: On Nixon in China

While musing about China these days, and particularly about how they are handling policy and invement decisions involviing  transport, mobility and public space during this period of possible change of thinking at the highest policy levels there (See World Streets http://wp.me/psKUY-2Kb), I am listening this weekend once again, decades later, to the still surprising Nixon in China of John Adams. And wondering how my Chinese friends might react to this.

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Weekend Musing: Asking the mayor of Freedonia to walk the walk

Asking the mayor of Freedonia to walk the walk

groucho at deskFreedonia City Hall, 12-Jan-13.09:00. The mayor is comfortably seated  at his  imposing desk, looking fondly at an unlit cigar.  The editor of World Streets knocks lightly and waits timidly at the door, entirely drenched and  more than a bit disheveled. Not a pretty sight.

The Mayor: Well sir, you are a fine mess. Careful, you are dripping on my favorite chair. Continue reading

Musing: What do you get if you use an iPad to access World Streets?

An iPad is not a PC, for a number of reasons. Always on, always near, always open, it provides the user with an entirely different and far more personal 21st century interface with the Internet and its extensions.  So for this reason we  decided to give a bit of attention to seeing how it might be useful to retrofit World Streets so that it provides a friendlier and more creative source for those deciding to come in via iPad or similar tablet technology. We shall look into this more analytically in the coming weeks; however for this weekend day let us simply invite you to point your iPad to us and tell us what you think. Continue reading

Mile upon mile of emptiness

We do not normally “do” roads here in the pages of World Streets, our primary focus, even fixation, being not on vehicles and highways but rather on streets and people. But we would be foolish to forget that making full and continuing full use of our peripheral vision is critical if we are ever to understand context and to be able to see broader patterns. So from time to time we do, usually with the help of others, have a look at the roads end of our business. Continue reading

Whence Social Media on World Streets

If anyone knows where this whole business of balancing what just might be highly useful linking with the constraints imposed by a seriously time-challenged 24 hour day, I hope they will let the editor of this journal know. True there is a great deal that is out there, and every bit of it is in constant kaleidoscopic evolution. My first temptation is to stick to what I know works, and give the rest a pass. But another part of my brain tells me that this could be a big mistake.
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Musing: “Old Mobility” = mechanical solutions to biological problem

I like this concept, and while by itself it may not move the earth I would like to invite your comments and suggestions on this formulation which, self-evident though it may seem, some of us at least may find of use from time to time.  We need to get a firm handle on the reasons why old mobility thinking is proving so hard to dislodge. This quick characterization may be of help.

In a conversation yesterday with Katherine Freund of ITNAmerica, during which we were discussing her   participation in the forthcoming World Share/Transport Forum in Kaohsiung next month, the conversation rolled around as to the reasons why the narrow binomial choices which seem inevitably to frame the transport policy issues/choices in most places – i.e., either spend money to help cars or public transit as the two main options – are destined to fail. And in the process we eventually worked our way around to the phrase . . . Continue reading

Songs without Words. (Or trying very hard to get a commentary on reversing sprawl)

We invite our readers to write the words to the following “song”: 150 words max please, signed with your name, email, affiliation if any, city, country, and URL if you wish. You may either place your contribution just below clicking the COMMENTS link, or by email to editor@newmobility.org. At one point a selection of these comments will be sorted and integrated into a collaborative piece on this theme. Sorry, no other clues.

Population footprints: Barcelona vs. Atlanta

Now what?

Editor’s note: 22 May 2010 I have been scolded by several of our number who make the point that the above “song without words” title/proposal is far from clear. So with apologies, let me try to put it right.

The idea is that the graphic strikingly demonstrates one of the most important, and close to intractable, challenges of the move from Old to New Mobility, the huge dispersion of populations and activity that has been caused by the totally unthought-out shift from city living to a car-based hyper-spread life style. I was hoping to elicit comments on that, which is, it must be admitted, something like the proverbial challenge of getting the toothpaste back into the tube. There are responses, of that I am entirely sure, but it is going to be a tough job. So now, hopefully, your comments and clues?

Kind thanks to Lois Sturm, New York City for the heads-up on the graphics. (And to Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy for the inspiration.)

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Supplemental figure and food for thought:

Urban density vs. transport energy consumption

"Drive for sustainable mobility" (You’re kidding me, right?)

What a great idea! Fresh from the ever-busy “You’re kidding me, right?” Department” of World Streets, this title headlined an article appearing today in the “environment” section of a UK journal. No kidding!

For the full text of this thoughtful piece, you may click to http://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/the-environment/2010/05/19/we-all-value-our-mobility-the-ability-to-move-around-freely-and-quickly-to-do-the-things-we-want-and-need-to-do-84229-26477125/

Bodhisattva in the metro

The Sanskrit term Bodhisattva is the name given to anyone who, motivated by great compassion and wisdom, has generated bodhichitta, a spontaneous wish to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. What makes someone a Bodhisattva is her or his spontaneous and limitless dedication to the ultimate welfare of others.

(May we suggest that you view this at least two times? Get comfortable.)

It’s not the destination, it’s the voyage.

Merci Christine.


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The scenarist and director of “Merci” is Christine Rabette (she is the one reading the book). Produced by Patrick Quinet and Artémis Productions, Belgium – www.artemisproductions.com With the support of the Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Communauté française (CCA), Belgium — //www.audiovisuel.cfwb.be/


Paris, Monday, 29 March 2010

PS. What is it supposed to mean?

I was afraid I might be asked this question, and indeed I have on several occasions in the last day. So in all respect let me give this a stab, although I really do hesitate because in a way I see this as an intrusion on your interpretation, which is the only one that counts. So be it.

Essentially I had three thoughts lurking at the back of my mind in wanting to share this short film with you. None of them being ha-ha jovial.

The first is that I see it as pure Zen, by which in this case I mean it is what you want it to be. If you have the patience for it (your call!), it is well done, it is about life, and it is oh so gently about people. So to me, even as a World/Streets guy, the fact that it takes place in an urban transport mode is not at all the main point. But to each of us, her/his own.

The second idea was to see if this might serve for some as a quiet, close to subliminal call to encourage us all to get comfortable with different thinking about our mission, and more generally that of planners and policy makers when faced with the challenges that World/Streets among many others attempts to address. I hope I am hurting no one’s feelings greatly when I make the point that much of the work that is planned and executed in our sector all too often combines high technical virtuosity, or at least talent, with a bit too narrow vision as to what cities are all about. Too much attention given to infrastructure, and not enough to people. (Did that come across for you?)

Finally, I wanted to see if this might reinforce one of our fundamental precepts here at World/Streets, which is that we need to give more attention to happiness as a goal of our work and choices. As a reformed economist I certainly do not want to surrender all of the terrain of happiness vs. your favorite indicator to Amartya Sen and Joe Stiglitz (as per their exemplary contribution via the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress). They have helped to blaze this path, but we now need to take it further in our own work.

More happiness in transport, more happiness in cities. Tell me that this is not a noble goal?

Eric Britton
Editor, World/Streets

PS. And oh yes, tell us what you think this is all about. That’s what the Comments section just below is for.

Mid-week recess: STOP right now!

The transportation sector has around for a long long time. And over all those centuries and years of heavy hurtling dangerous traffic we have learned some lessons and done some things that, well if you really think about it, do not always add up. Here is one of those old ideas that Gary Lauder, co-creator of the Socrates Society at the Aspen Institute, takes four and a half speedy minutes to demolish for us. The humble stop sign. Or in this case the humble two million dollar stop sign. Oops!

[This presentation is part of the TED "Ideas worth spreading" series. And if Gary speaks too quickly for you (he does really rattle on at quite a breathtaking pace), you always can call up sub-titles, though thus far only in Bulgarian, English, and French.]


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Thanks to Robin Chase for the good heads-up on this. (Robin muses well at http://networkmusings.blogspot.com. Her latest postings regularly appear in our “Latest from the world’s streets’ rubric which you will see if you scroll down a bit in our left hand resource column/section here.)

Musing: Thoughts on Communicating Science Losing the battle for hearts and minds

Food for thought as we try to turn our great ideas into reality (at which most of us are not so hot. Present company included I am afraid.) Here is a think piece musing on our communications skills by our long-time colleague Keith Sutter from Australia. He takes us into “minds”, “hearts”, “gut”, and then, since it is the weekend and we can deal with it, “reproductive organs”. His source argues that that these are the four “layers” of communication, rather like a pyramid, with the layers getting broader as they move towards the base. Oops.



On February 3 2010, while being the Crawford Miller (Oxford-Australia) Visiting Research Fellow at St Cross College University of Oxford, I was able to attend the Commonwealth Partnership for Technology Management (CPTM) Smart Partners Hub meeting in London.

The meeting was on “Smart Partnership, Climate Change and Science”. I was asked to say a few words on the state of the Australian debate. That statement was based on a short aide memoire I had prepared for The Club of Rome. (This will published in due course by the European Support Centre of The Club of Rome: www.clubofrome.at) A summary of the total meeting has published by CPTM. (http://www.cptm.org)

The purpose of this note is to amplify a few comments I made in the context of reporting on the Australian climate change debate: the problem of communicating science.

Science and the Media

I am not a scientist and so I look at the science profession from the outside – that of being, among other things, a foreign affairs presenter on Australian television and radio. It is evident that the science profession is losing the battle for hearts and minds when it comes to the climate change debate.

Welsh physicist Sir John Houghton has been quoted as saying something similar. He told BBC Wales on February 12 2010 that most scientists were now in a “PR war” with [climate change] sceptics: “We are in a way and we’re losing that war because we’re not good at PR. Your average scientist is not a good PR person because he wants to get on with his science”. (“Climate Change Scientists Losing ‘PR War’ to Vested Interests”, reprinted: Common Dreams: http://www.commondreams.org/print/52766)

This is not necessarily a new issue. Walter Isaacson, former managing editor of Time magazine, has produced a large biography of Albert Einstein. (Walter Isaacson Einstein: His Life and Universe, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007, p 269.) After his work on Relativity, Einstein became a very famous scientist. He became a trend-setter: “In the current celebrity-soaked age, it is hard to recall the extent to which, a century ago, proper people recoiled from publicity and disdained those who garnered it. Especially in the realm of science, focussing on the personal seemed discordant” . He became the world’s most famous scientist – but his fame got him into trouble with other scientists!

In May 1959 another dispute erupted: CP Snow (1905-80), a celebrated novelist with a science background from Cambridge, spoke about “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution” (annual Rede Lecture, University of Cambridge) . He argued that there was then a gap between scientists and “literary intellectuals”: scientists didn’t read Charles Dickens and humanities professors didn’t know the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Snow warned that many key decisions in public life were being made by people without much knowledge of science. The situation probably has not improved in the past half century. (Robert Whelan “Fifty years on, CP Snow’s ‘Two Cultures” are United in Desperation” The Daily Telegraph (London), May 5 2009)

Communicating Science

One of the best books I have encountered recently on this problem of how to communicate science is by Randy Olson Don’t be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style (Washington DC: Island Press, 2009). Olson was a science academic who changed life in mid-career and went to California to learn movie-making (he now specializes in science and environmental movies). One of his theatre lecturers told him “not to be such a scientist” and the reprimand stayed with him.

I have found his book helpful to understand, how in effect the Australian Labor Party Government headed by Kevin Rudd could move from winning an election in November 2007 partly on the climate change issue, to losing the public debate over climate change in two years (with the then Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, losing his own position to a rebellion within his own party and for him to become the world’s first party leader to lose his position because he was supporter of taking action against climate change; he has been replaced by a climate change “sceptic”)

Olson argues that there are four “layers” of communication, rather like a pyramid, with the layers getting broader as they move towards to the base.

1. At the top of the pyramid is the “mind” – which is where most scientists spend most of their time. They communicate learnedly with each other in a careful, heavily foot-noted style.

2. The next layer down is the “heart”: the locus of love.

3. The third layer is the “gut”: locus of fear.

4. The base of the pyramid are the “reproductive organs”, which is why so many people, companies and organizations use romance etc for marketing – it is the easiest way to reach the broadest number of people whatever is being sold: cars, chocolate, clothes etc.

Applying the top three layers of the Olson model to the Australian climate change debate, we can see how the model helps explain the change within Australia.

In the years 1996-2007, the Australian Prime Minister was the conservative John Howard. Australia had been committed to the Kyoto Protocol process and for a while it seemed that the incoming Howard Government would continue that process. But then, under pressure from US President George W Bush, Howard suddenly announced that Australia would not proceed with the Kyoto Protocol. The US and Australia were the two developed countries to stand outside the process.

Howard was lobbied by some of his more moderate colleagues, such as his eventual (albeit temporary) successor Malcolm Turnbull, to accept the Protocol and so negate the support going to the Opposition Labor Party headed by Kevin Rudd. Howard remained stubborn to the end and he lost the November 2007 election (and even his own seat – only the second time since federation in 1901 that a prime minister had been rejected by his own constituency).

Rudd’s Labor Party had campaigned on many issues. The climate change one had struck a chord with most of the electorate (including moderate Liberals). Rudd (in Olson’s model) reminded Australians of their love of the Great Barrier Reef (the “”world largest living object”) – the “heart” – and the fear of the risk that it could be destroyed by climate change – the “gut”.

Rudd argued that Australia should act to protect the Great Barrier Reef. This was rather misleading because Australians account for only 1 or 2 per cent of the total global emissions and so no matter how good Australia’s climate change record might be, Australian actions alone could not save the reef. However, this was overlooked by commentators in the interests of securing the dramatic Labor victory in November 2007.

But then Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister moved up Olson’s model. He left the “heart” and “gut” and he started to read out speeches written in the “head” style by public servants. He – and his colleagues – failed to communicate with the same skill they had had before the election to the “heart” and “gut”.

Meanwhile, the conservative Opposition initially disowned the Howard climate change policy and endorsed the Rudd Government’s December 2007 ratification of the Kyoto Protocol – the first time that the first action of a new Australian Government was to ratify a treaty.

But the climate change sceptics then got to work – as per Olson’s model – on the “heart” and “gut”. They argued that the proposed Rudd emissions trading system (ETS) would really be an “extra tax system” (appealing to the “gut” and fear of a new tax). They warned that climate change policies would cost jobs (“heart” and the love of being employed). In late 2009, the sceptics within the conservative Opposition party rebelled against their moderate leader Malcolm Turnbull and replaced him with one of their own (Tony Abbott).

As at early 2010, the Rudd Government has no new emission trading system, little chance of securing any ambitious climate change measures, and a declining popular interest in the subject of climate change. It is unlikely on current showing that Rudd will make as much fuss of climate change in the 2010 election as he did in 2007.

New Thinking on Communication

Being smart is not much use if that cannot be communicated. The lesson of the Olson book is that much more attention needs to be given to the basics of communication.

A good lesson here is from the oil industry. The industry distinguishes between “upstream” and “downstream” activities. The upstream activities relate to finding oil and drilling for it. The downstream activities relate to the distribution out to the consumers. Science needs to pay more attention to the “downstream” activities. The Olson book provides some ideas.

Another good example comes from nurse Georgia Sadler. (See: Malcolm Caldwell The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, London: Abacus, 2000, pp 253-55.) She wanted to educate women on certain health issues. She did the right thing – speaking at religious institutions, community organizations etc. But the women who came to hear her were already aware of the issues. How could she reach the women who were not coming to her presentations?

Sadler used creative thinking. An American woman has a more intimate relationship with her hair stylist than with virtually anyone else. She realized that a hairdressing salon would provide women with a relaxed atmosphere in which to hear new ideas. She sought advice on how to educate hairdressers on how they could in turn inform their clients about the health issues. She then created a highly successful education programme.


The conclusion is, then, we need to find more innovative ways of communicating science to the general public. There are certainly plenty of “lateral thinking” ideas available on communication. It just needs a more innovative mobilization of those techniques. Perhaps this could be a CPTM “Smart Partnership” project?

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About the author

Keith Suter is a futurist and media personality in the areas of social policy and foreign affairs. His first doctorate was in the international law of guerrilla warfare and his second in the economic and social consequences of the arms race. He is a member of the Club of Rome, President of the United Nations Association (NSW) and President of the Society for International Development (Sydney Chapter). He lives in Sydney Australia and can be via webeditor@keithsuter.com. .

Musing: Chopin, sustainable transport and sustainable lives

All of us who show up here, well most of us anyway, have come to understand that we can’t simply cut matters of “transport” with one snip away from the rest of the fabric of our daily lives. Which is why we continually keep repeating phrases like “sustainable cities and sustainable lives” (perhaps much to your annoyance, eh?). Which brings us on this early and cold Sunday morning in Paris to the perhaps surprising link between World Streets and Frédéric Chopin. That’s right, Frédéric Chopin.

Is this too much of a weekend stretch? You tell me.

For starters, Chopin and World Streets were born on the same day but one, March 1st for the great composer, March 2nd for your favorite (and the planet’s only) sustainable transport daily. One day and one hundred ninety nine years, that is.

Still too much of a stretch? Admitted. So let’s try this. But first, let me invite you to listen to this Nocturne (Opus 15, No. 1, in F) while I give this my last late Sunday morning try.

Chopin reminds us — you can hear it right here, can’t you? — of the importance of quiet and reflection in our daily lives. Quiet and reflection yes but with plenty of ideas, drive and passion — not at all a “sit back and wait for it to happen to you” life.

Here in this spirit are three quiet and to me really quite thrilling moments in the life of sustainable ways of getting around (which of course and exactly is why we are all here and what I want for you and all our children).

- On any day in any city in the world, being able to walk quietly and safely on an ordinary street holding the hand of someone you love

- On a visit to Ludwigsburg in southern Germany, on a chilly autumn afternoon as school is just getting out, hearing a distant flutter of almost bird like noises which soon materialize into a gaggle of chaotically peddling schoolchildren, girls and boys, large and small, chatting and laughing as they safely and joyfully make their way home on a reserved bike path. (Shouldn’t those be your children?)

- Warmly ensconced in a seat on a clean train getting where we wish to go while comfortably reading a big fat book as the wheels turn beneath us.

Then, and finally for this end of a long week musing, there is the concept of shared space, so important to the composer, writer, painter, playwright and film maker – the vital shared space they seek and create by means of our eyes, ears and minds. No one can listen to Chopin, or Chekov or Molière or or . . . without being drawn into the special space they first create and then draw us in.

We now know this. This concept of shared space is critical for us as well. It’s an indisputable fact. There can be no sustainable development, no sustainable cities, nor real well-being for all without deeper and wiser sharing. We have a lot to learn about this.

Yes, the young Pole was telling us something very important, so we really need to listen and learn. And then do.